It is amazing how quickly things can go from “normal” to totally foreign. As I stood there taking this picture, I had already started to get alerts on my phone about the possibility of Major League Baseball suspending Spring Training. Earlier that day I had been walking around Pirates City, some 3 miles down the road, getting to see Oneil Cruz take on James Marvel in an exhibition game and watching a host of players interacting with one another, their coaches family and fans.
After walking the route to McKechnie Field at LECOM Park from the training facilities at Pirates City there I stood; IC Light in hand, with a Pirates 2020 Spring Training koozie wrapped around it, ready to watch some baseball. It wasn’t long before my phone buzzed again, actually my Fitbit because of the pairing. Spring Training was going to be suspended. At that moment it felt like everything around me stopped. My logical brain kicked into overdrive for a couple of minutes. I texted family, friends, acquaintances, associates, etc. to see how they were doing and to let them know what was going on. Then the illogical part of my brain powered through and took over, which is never a good thing.
Anxiety, shock and situational depression are all real things. All of a sudden I got very sad, anxious and hopeless; doing what almost every irrational person in my situation would do. I got incredibly drunk. For those of you that have never experienced a feeling like this, I don’t recommend it; actually I advocate against it. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I had just spent so much of mine and my family’s money on a “business” venture for my Podcast, Bucs in the Basement, and for the new website I just created with my friend, Gary Morgan to cover the Pirates for 5 days; including tickets for all 5 games (7 on Friday Night for all of my family that is down here). Luckily for the “crazy” person I had become, there was plenty of Bromosas from Big Storm Brewing Company to “comfort” me. (As a side note they are delicious).
As the game was ending I had a moment of clarity. I thought again about my friends and family and how lucky I was to have some of them down here with me, I worried about my two older children back home in Pennsylvania, I tried to put myself in the players’ “shoes”, many of them far from home as well and about the local businesses that would be affected by the number of people that had cancelled trips or would be heading home a lot early than expected. Before leaving I agreed to meet the gentleman from Big Sky Brewing Company on Sunday March 15th at a local establishment to promote them and their beer. I then walked around the corner and made a promise to one of the local breweries, Darwin Brewing Company, that I would use my social media “powers”, limited as they are, to put the word out about how much they could use your help. I also vowed to come back the next day to do a podcast recording at their location.
After “sleeping it off” and reading text messages from my friends and family, one in particular from my brother from another mother/partner in crime, Gary, that hit me right in the feels and kicked me in the ass all at the same time. I almost immediately reached back out to one of the people I had texted the day before and picked up the phone for a much needed conversation. Michael McKenry may be “The Fort” to many, but to me he is an friendly ear that I can count on and is just an all around amazing guy. I talked with him for almost a half a hour as we processed the events of the previous days. For me it was a cathartic experience and I am not going to lie, I cried both during and after the call. The rest of the afternoon I spent participating in a “jumping” competition with my youngest at the hotel pool. I needed and am eternally thankful for all of this; the texts, the phone calls and an afternoon at the pool.
Friday afternoon, true to my word, I showed up at Darwin Brewing Company, across the street from an ominously empty LECOM Park and was graciously welcomed by everyone that worked there and even did a little recording about one of my favorite things, craft beer (podcast episode forthcoming). For a few minutes everything seemed almost “normal again”. I came back to the hotel after dinner with the family, had a restful night of sleep and went for a run. Breakfast, a morning at an animal park and another afternoon of swimming made me feel almost whole again…Almost.
I still haven’t been able to wrap my arms around my two oldest, who were recently informed that they wouldn’t be going to school for the next two weeks. I honestly believe that my eight year old has no idea what is going on. He just knows he will get to play with his friends outside or on Fortnite for the next two weeks and I won’t be waking him up earlier than he wants to be up. I have no idea what is going on at work. Surprisingly this is not my full time job. I am technically “on vacation”. And for the first time in some 19 odd years there is no baseball. The game I fell in love with, since I could hold a bat and a ball. The one constant in my life. I miss it so much already, even though I know it will be back sooner rather than later. However, for many that sooner cannot come fast enough because it will mean we are finally back “normal”.
Many Americans are facing harsh realities brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, obviously, or it wouldn’t be a big deal. This column is not intended to single out MiLB players as the only people suffering or to indicate they have it worse than any one group. But this is an issue that has really caught my attention this season and it started before this virus came to our shores.
Earlier in the Spring some stories started coming out about MiLB players receiving no pay while attending MLB Spring Training camps. I’ve since come to realize not only is this an old story but it’s been covered well by Emily Waldon from the Athletic. Do give it a read if you have a subscription, its really eye opening.
The average salary for most MiLB players sits around 12,500 dollars a year. The lowest level players will earn somewhere in the 300 dollars a week range. A travesty that MLB lobbied the US Congress to keep in place. Providing a living wage to these players was seen as “Killing our Pastime” by MLB and their lobbyists.
The new issue is beyond even that. See now players won’t be paid at all while play is suspended. Sure, this is equal treatment as MLB players will also not be paid, but MLB players have the added benefit of having been paid at least half a million at some point. MiLB players on the other hand are still under contract so they can’t file for unemployment. Nobody will hire them because they can be called back to work at any time. The players are expected to stay in game shape even while practice facilities are closing all around them.
For every player that receives a multi-million dollar signing bonus, there are 200 who received a multi-thousand-dollar offer, long since spent perusing their dream and providing their own equipment. It’s enough to make you wonder why any players would sign out of high school outside of the first round, if you’re going to be dirt poor, might as well get an education in the process, know what I mean?
Many of these players rely on host families and the generosity of the communities they play in to get by. On a recent trip to Altoona I saw this firsthand, many restaurants have signs in front of the building notifying Curve players they eat free or at a nice discount. In lower levels there are literally networks of locals who offer free room and board to help.
This game is an incredible money-making juggernaut, and the riches gained by those who make it are at the very least well earned. What about those who don’t make it though, how do they fare? The answer is fairly obvious. And right now, it’s simply unconscionable to expect them to just be ok.
We see these players as the finished product they become when the reach the Majors and we cavalierly question the work ethic of 75% of the players who make it. At the very least, think of the journey they’ve taken and what they’ve given up getting that one call up. One chance to get an MLB paycheck even if for one game and how life changing that chance could be.
This issue isn’t going to go away, and I want to use my admitted small platform to highlight it. Most seasons, Spring training ends and attention turns immediately to the MLB club, the special circumstances of this season have created an opportunity to keep the focus on the suffering the league is actively working to keep in perpetuity.
Please keep these players in mind, we aren’t the only one’s suffering without baseball.
Each prospect gets a grade for their “tools” and the Pittsburgh Pirates Top 30 are no different.
Anyone that has ever studied MLB prospects, even for a second, sees the tool grades front and center. It gives you a snapshot of skills that each player possesses; a guideline to judge them by if you will. Some are elite, some are not so great and all are based on human judgements/assessments, but at least it gives you an idea of how each player stacks up compared to “average”. For project junkies like myself, this will be a nice little recap or refresher, but for any newbies this will be crucial information when examining the intricacies of prospect rankings and player evaluations.
So where did the grading system for prospects come from? The credit as far as history sees it goes to Branch Rickey and for all intents and purposes the general idea is there; an average grade of 50 and standard deviations in increments of 10, with 80 being the highest/best and 20 being the lowest/worst. As it pertains to position players there are “five tools” that are graded; 1) Hitting 2) Power 3) Running 4) Fielding 5) Throwing/Arm. A player is then given an overall grade; a projection for the player’s potential future value. With Pitchers there can be less (or more) than five “tools” graded due to the number of different pitches that one throws. The tools and/or pitches generally graded are, 1) Fastball 2) Changeup 3) Best Breaking Ball 4) Command/Control. As with the hitters, pitchers are also given a overall grade, which utilizes all of the pitches they throw along with their command/control to assist the scout in making a final decision.
All prospects at all levels are graded to some degree and as it is with most of my prospect articles, this could turn into an novel, instead of a simple and compact column if I chose to tackle all of them. For the purpose of this article I have decided to only focus on the Pittsburgh Pirates Top 30 Prospects according to MLB Pipeline; looking at each individual tool and discussing the top of the class for each, starting with Pitchers and moving on to top position players. Unfortunately the Pirates do not have any Catchers in their Top 30 at the moment, so that is going to have to be its own article at some point.
1) Fastball-#28 Blake Cederlind (70)
For anyone that has seen Cederlind pitch, which should be almost of you by now, it is apparent that his fastball is electric. A two seamer with sinking action, it has already fooled many a major league hitter. He was recently optioned to the AAA Indianapolis Indians, much to the disappointment of the “Baby Thor” Fan Club. Not to worry though, I expect his flowing locks, his fastball and his K-strut back up in the majors sooner rather than later.
2) Changeup-5 Tied (50)
The good news is that 5 pitchers and all 4 in the top 10 have at least an average changeup. This includes #1 Mitch Keller , #4 Quinn Priester, #7 Brennan Malone, #10 Cody Bolton and #26 Travis MacGregor. It is also pretty nice that there are only two pitchers (#13 Tahnaj Thomas and #28 Blake Cederlind) who have a grade of 40, the lowest of any Pirates’ Pitching Prospect. For Thomas it is a newer pitcher and one that he doesn’t use as much. Cederlind uses his primarily as an “off pitch” to keep batters on their toes. Some bad news is that Stephen Strasburg change up that has batters guessing, swinging, missing and freezing.
3) Curveball-#4 Quinn Priester (60)
Priester’s curveball is no joke and just so everyone remembers, this kid taught himself how to pitch. With the combination of spin rate, movement and drop in speed (low-80’s) this secondary pitch projects to miss a lot of bats. Esp when paired with a low-90’s two-seamer and a rising four-seamer that tops out at 97 mph. This young man had the possibility to be something special.
4) Slider-#7 Brennan Malone (60)
Acquired as part of the Starling Marte trade with Arizona, this young man was ranked just one spot behind new teammate, Priester, at #19 in the MLB Pipeline Draft Prospect Rankings prior time them both being drafted in the 1st Round last year at #18 and #33 respectively. It should be noted that his slider (60) has a lower grade than his fastball (65), but still has the “stuff” to get the swing and miss from many opposing batters.
5) Control-3 Tied (55)
#17 Steven Jennings, #21 Max Kranick and # 27 Aaron Shortridge have all exhibited the ability to be fluid and repetitive in their deliveries; leading to precision with each pitch and every pitch type. Jenning’s is far from flashy, with the slider (55) being his only above average pitch. However, he doesn’t throw anything graded below a 50; the vision of consistency. Kranick has show the ability to pepper the strike zone with regularity, reducing the chance for giving up walks. His fastball is now rated above average at 55 due to an increase in velocity, reaching 97 mph at times. Shortridge uses changes in his delivery to mask pitches without compromising command and control; a very difficult task that he completes with easy. He has made improvements to his fastball (55) and slider (50) by dropping his curveball in order to provide clearer focus on these two pitches.
6) Overall-#1 Mitch Keller (55)
It’s not really surprising that the Pirates’ Top Prospect has the highest overall grade of all the pitchers on the list. He has shown the potential; just look at the 12.19 K/9 and a 3.19 FIP. These statistics give us hope for the 2020 season and beyond. However, then you see the .475 BABIP and 7.13 ERA and that hope begins to sink. It’s hard to tell what direction this young man is going to go after small sample size. 48 innings does not make or break a career. I lean much closer to the former numbers and the 55 future value being a better representation of Keller and what we can expect from him moving forward.
1) Hit-#2 Ke’Bryan Hayes (60)
For the most part Hayes has shown his ability to put the bat on the ball; plain and simple. Last year in AAA-Indianapolis was the first time in the past three seasons that he has struggled to hit consistently. This could easily be explained away as the result of an injury early on in the year. He started off fairly strong, had two months where he struggled and then finished on a high note. The .291 AVG and 7 homers in July and August seems to be more indicative of the type of hitter that Hayes is, rather than the .207 AVG and 3 homers that accumulated the rest of the season.
2) Run-Ji-Hwan Bae (70)
This guy is lighting quick. There’s no arguing that. This past season with the Greensboro Grasshoppers, Bae swiped 31 bases, legged out 5 triples and turned quite a few singles into doubles with his aggressive approach on the base paths. Add in the fact that his On Base Percentage was .403 for the season and you have the making of a legit lead off hitter for years to come.
3) Field-Ke’Bryan Hayes (65)
Hayes has won the MiLB Gold Glove at 3rd base three years in a row. He is the best fielding 3rd basemen in the minors and is in the conversation for the best overall defender in the league. His glove can play at the MLB level immediately. For a club looking to upgrade from one of the worst defensive teams in the majors last year, Hayes’ presence at the hot corner would be a shot in the arm to move in a positive direction.
4) Power-Oneil Cruz and Mason Martin (60)
Cruz is a batting practice monster. When he is in the box/cage players, fans and coaches alike are in awe of the sheer strength that this young man possesses. We have even seen this power on display thus far in spring training games. When he gets a hold of a ball, it is gone in an instant and even when he doesn’t, it ends up being an opposite field double over the left fielders head. He has experienced some difficulties with the off speed pitches, but not enough to effect his bottom line production.
Martin’s power was on display across two levels (Low A and High A Advanced) this past season. In 82 games with the Greensboro Grasshoppers Martin crushed 23 home runs and 45 total extra base hits, with a .935 OPS; earning a mid-season promotion to the Bradenton Marauders. With the Marauders his strength was in the forefront again. He hit 12 homers and 26 extra base hits, with a .862 OPS in 49 games. A true power hitter, Martin sometimes sacrifices his OBP and AVG for strikeouts and thus far it has worked out for him to the tune of a 160 wRC+.
5) Arm-Oneil Cruz (70)
When it comes to arm strength, not many in any team’s Top 30 prospect lists comes close to touching Cruz. Currently a short stop, it has probably been his arm that had prevented the Pirates from making a position change as of yet. I have seen many people online and heard them on podcasts speak about moving Cruz to 1st base because of his size. I can’t even think about “hiding” a arm like that at 1st. Right field has been laid out as a possibility. This makes a little more sense, but I lean toward keeping him in the position he is comfortable with and has played his entire professional career.
6) Overall-Ke’Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz (55)
As it was Mitch Keller, it is really no surprise that Hayes and Cruz lead all Pirates’ Prospects in overall projected future value for position players. As we discovered earlier in this article Hayes also leads in Hit (60) and Field (65) and is now far behind as it pertains to Run (55), Power (50) and Arm (60). He is clearly the closest thing the Pirates have to a “five tool” player. Cruz is the co-leader in Power (60) and leader in Arm (70). He has an average grade (50) in Hit and Field and is has above average Speed (55), which is not surprising as he can probably round the bases in 10 strides or less. Both of these young men have very high ceilings and high floors. This makes it an almost certainty that they will be contributing members in a Pirates’ uniform for years to come.
The Pittsburgh Pirates may not have a Top 10 Farm System as it stands right now, they are currently ranked #15 by MLB Pipeline. However, as you can clearly see, there is talent in the minors and a variety of players with fairly high potential; along with a few that have ceilings, where the sky is the limit.
As I wrote yesterday the events of the day are far larger than the Pittsburgh Pirates or Sports in general, but this is a Pirates site, and for this installment of Friday Focus, we’re going to spend some time talking about the questions that are now on the table for the Buccos alone rather than the endless possibilities the league as a whole will encounter.
First up is Derek Holland, specifically what will his role be now that the beginning of the season will be delayed. This should provide ample time for Steven Brault to recover as he is already making progress. So, is Holland valuable if he is a bullpen arm? Does that even make sense? Bad timing for everyone of course, but nobody more so than the Dutch Oven perhaps. On the other hand, he’s arguably outperformed some more established members of the Pirates rotation.
Next, if there were talks ongoing for extensions and or trades, do they come to a full stop or could there still be news on those fronts as we head into the hiatus? I had a lot of questions here already, but I’m inclined to believe player movement, a.k.a. trades won’t happen, at least not prior to an announced return date. Extensions could very well be accomplished but with uncertainty about how much money each team is going to lose in this whole deal, these too could be out of commission.
What happens to the Super 2 clock? Say baseball starts up in May, does Ke’Bryan Hayes now have to wait until July or August? Can of worms here for sure and I have no idea how they’ll handle it.
How do you keep pitchers stretched out or for that matter, continue the process of stretching them out? Joe Musgrove spoke to this a bit during the broadcast yesterday a bit when interviewing with Robbie over at ATT Sportsnet. To paraphrase, he doesn’t really know either, but he’ll just keep working out.
The hitters may actually be more of a concern, it typically takes two weeks for the bats to catch up to the arms as it is, now they’ll have to start that process again.
Baseball is a long season and I’m sure all options are on the table, so I’d imagine playing a shortened season is at least in consideration. If you think of all the shucking and jiving that shaving say 30 games would cause it starts to become pretty clear how long this could go to actually still have a season at all. Couple this with the CBA being up and baseball could be gone for quite some time.
We have a professional sports entity here that is older than some countries, it’s going to survive, what it looks like when it returns remains to be seen. Blessings baseball fans, this too shall pass.
Today the sports world completed a clean sweep as the NHL was the last domino to fall. Every major American sports entity has decided to postpone, delay or outright cancel all games.
First of all, let me say this, I don’t plan to take a stand on whether this is an overreaction, appropriate, forward thinking or too late. I simply want to discuss how unprecedented this is in modern times, and, I don’t know.
We now go from discussing who got cut and where they were assigned to wondering if the season will happen. If it does, do they shorten? How do the pitchers finish stretching out? If they just pick up and start the regular season, is it proof the Spring schedule is too long as it is? These are things we’ll talk about as darkness falls over the sporting world and indeed our daily lives.
I’m not here to tell you sports is more important than everyone’s health but man, this is gonna be awfully weird. I watch a ton of these Alaskan survivalist shows, especially when traveling for work and the way they follow the seasons and signs of change to guide their lives resonates with me. No, not because I could do any of that, hell I need a resin block to start a fire in my chimney. Because sports does that very thing for so many of us.
Starting with the Super Bowl, then College Basketball, NBA and NHL are really getting going. Spring Training, Stanley Cup and into the dog days of summer where its all baseball, right into NFL Mini camp and the World Series, College football kickoff and the NFL opening weekend.
They’re as part of our lives as sleeping and working, and if you disagree, you probably haven’t stayed up on a Wednesday night to watch the Bucs in San Francisco for a 10:20 first pitch and gotten up for work at 6 Thursday morning.
Our country thrives on sports and if nothing else, maybe we’ll all realize what we’re missing should this stretch on for a considerable amount of time.
As more clarity is provided to this situation I have every belief we as a people will rebound fully and things will creep back toward normal, but for now our games are gone but unlike some of our fellow citizens, the game will return.
Take care everyone, and more importantly, take care of each other.
With MLB Pipeline releasing their Top 30 Prospects last week , some people got their first glimpse into the “channel” from the Dominican Republic that the Pittsburgh Pirates have been trying to create over many years. Two members from the 2019 Dominican Summer League Pirates2 team that was so dominant found their way onto the list, landing at #24 (Alexander Mojica-3B) and #25 (Rodolfo Nolasco-OF) respectfully. However, these are not the only players to look out for from a team that posted a 56-16 record for the season; winning the Northeast Division by a full 21 games. I have previously described this team as completely “stacked” on recent episode of Bucs in The Basement while talking with guest, Gary Morgan and as we take a deeper dive into the team as a whole I am sure you will all agree.
For the season neither Mojica (.351) nor Nolasco (.302) led the DSL Pirates2 in batting average, although they were two of ten regulars that hit over .300 for the year. That honor went to outfielder, Randy Romero who batted an unbelievable .376 in a team leading 218 at bats. So, not a small sample size. In his second full season in the DSL, 19 year-old Romero also collected 19 extra base hits, a .418 OBP (on base percentage) and 36 stolen bases; only being caught on the base paths once. Mojica did lead the team in home runs (8), doubles (14), walks (37), OBP (.468) and SLG (.580); which is probably the reason he was the highest ranked player from this team on the new MLB Pipeline list.
Some other notable players on the offensive side of the game would have to be the Catcher Trio of 17 year-old Geovanny Planchart (.368/.433/.406), 19 year-old Jommer Hernandez (.317/.406/.423) and 18 year-old Fabian Urbina (.296/.397/.426); as well as Short Stop Dariel Lopez (.341/.404/.485), OutfielderJauri Custodio (.324/.358/.448) and Second Basemen Rayber Romero (.314/.438/.400). With all of this offensive output, many of you maybe thinking that the DSL Pirates2 just “out-slugged” every team they played. After you look at the slew of Pitcher for this team, it might just change your mind.
The DSL Pirates2 had 6 pitchers that combined for almost 60% of the team’s 56 wins, led by the 19 year-old lefty reliever from Panama, Jose Amaya. Pitching in 18 games and 39.1 innings Amaya was able to accumulate 10 wins, along with 35 strikeoutsand a 2.97 ERA. Second on the team in wins with 9 was 19year-old right handed starter Sergio Umana from Nicaragua. Umana had a 59K/8BB ratio and a 2.39 ERA in 13 games and 64 innings. One of the most dominant pitchers on the team that was not apart of that 60% was right-handed reliever/“closer”Enmanuel Mejia from the Dominican Republic. In 20.2 innings and 18 games Mejia struck out 37 and recorded a team high 7 saves, while posting a 1.74 ERA and a .823 WHIP.
Unfortunately for the DSL Pirates2 their regular season dominance did not lead to a championship as they were knocked out of the playoffs in the semifinals by the DSL Diamondbacks2 in two games. The DSL Diamondbacks2 would go on to lose to the DSL Royals1 in a full 5 game Championship Series. Now as most of us know, Minor League Championships are a nice bonus, but they are not the ultimate factor in determining success. Success is found by measuring individual development and growth, which is often hard to quantify using just one years worth of statistics. This is something that will have to be re-evaluated over and over again as each of these players move upward through the Pirates Farm System. For some this journey will continue with another year in the DSL, mostly dependent on age and experience; while others will move on to the GCLPirates, the Bristol Pirates, the West Virginia Black Bears, the Greensboro Grasshoppers or maybe even the Bradenton Marauders. Wherever each of these young men end up, the 2019 DSL season will be in the back of my mind, but my main focus will be on the future.
I’ve been reading news about the Pirates cuts and assignments they resulted in. Reports about who the team has approached for extensions. Trade rumors and silly ideas that Neil Walker is headed back to Pittsburgh.
I’m filled with more questions than answers if I’m honest on many of these subjects, maybe you have answers, but I’ll take a crack first. I’d love your take, comments are open. Refer to the number in your answer, I’ll take the best and add them into a fresh column.
- Colin Moran?
My Answer – He is all but gone. A dance partner away from a trade. And it’s not really about performance as much as some news. First, Ke’Bryan Hayes has capitalized on his opportunity, and it’s not only given him a competitive shot at outright winning the job as starting third basemen for your Pittsburgh Pirates, it brought rumors of an extension being offered. If I’m Colin Moran, I’m looking at my lease papers and seeing the writing on the wall. If the extension get’s done, Hayes starts opening day. Doesn’t and he goes down until Super 2 has come to pass. Either way Moran isn’t in the long-term plans. What say you?
- Why is Oneil Cruz still playing Shortstop?
My Answer – Honestly? I don’t know. I don’t doubt his ability there, sure the frame is odd to see out there but he’s smooth for his size and the arm certainly plays. No, my question is not his ability, it’s why approach Kevin Newman for an extension if you think long term Cruz will play the position? Is Tucker less than solid to be part of the plans? Why is Adam Frazier still here? Put Cruz at say third or right field, ok, I get that, this is just hard to think about. Any clue?
- Why did the Pirates sign Jerrod Dyson?
My Answer – Odd singing to say the least. Heredia and Martin provide more and the likelihood of both making the club isn’t huge. It took away an excuse for the JT Riddle signing as well, you could make a case for the signing if he can back up Center in an emergency and a middle infield spot, otherwise, where does he fit really? Dyson is on the downside of a relatively low hill to begin with, and he didn’t seem thrilled to be here either at first. Am I wrong?
- What in the world are they doing with Cole Tucker?
My Answer – Here is the best fielding shortstop on the club, a switch hitter, some pop with energy to spare, and I can’t find a way to see him getting playing time. Who is he going to beat out? Clearly the team thinks Newman is long term, do they see him long term at second then? Are we an Adam Frazier move from this situation making sense? Erik Gonzalez is still around too (he was hurt you might have forgotten), by God Jose Osuna is too! Plenty of people to play third.
- Why Joe Musgrove for an extension?
My Answer – OK I’m cheating here a bit, I’ve already written why I like Joe for an extension in another column. But I’ll elaborate and reiterate here a bit. He isn’t the best pitcher they have, nor the worst, but he shows signs of being fairly durable, and before telling me he is hurt a lot, take a look at how many starting pitchers threw as many games as him last season. 31 starts are above average in that category for sure. He’s a leader, anchor type and perfect for a constant face in the rotation, even if lower half of it.
Last night I watched a remarkable scene unfold as Robert Morris University punched their ticket to the dance by winning the NEC Championship. It was surreal watching the elation and happening in the same season they opened their new barn too. What a story, and it made me think about the Pirates, specifically the Wild Card runs experienced in 2013-2015.
The Wild Card at times is little more than what Robert Morris accomplished, making the tournament. Of course, with the subtraction of actually having a championship under your belt, albeit a division. For in that moment, Robert Morris wasn’t the DII school who has talent poached from its ranks year after year, the Pirates weren’t that team that hadn’t smelled postseason baseball for nearly a quarter century.
Next season, everything will go right back to normal for Bobby Mo, they’ll be a DII School, with one solitary chance to make the tournament and I hope they do. For the Pirates though, they were able to stick around, they actually got a chance to dance with the big boys for a couple seasons, sadly the result stayed the same despite the increased spending for a season or two.
There are two very big differences and I’ve already touched on them a bit, first, the Pirates did not get to say we are champions, and second, there is no DII in MLB, at least not on the books.
One thing above all pairs these situations together in perpetuity, they are both David in a league of Goliath’s. Oh, I could argue that the Pirates have the ability to give themselves better equipment to work with than the sling they currently employ, but rest assured, the weaponry would never do more than lessen the steepness of the hill they face most seasons.
But that’s the hope, that you make the tournament, either by Wildcard or Division and take the “Any Given Sunday” approach to advancing through the juggernaut of high priced, talent rich teams. If you do everything right, you get a three- or four-year window where even that level of success is realistic. Add in how hard and rare it is to see this executed properly anywhere and the odds get even longer.
Not to say buying a championship is a given, after all Goliath has at least one documented weak spot. It sure is easier to win when the tournament is the starting point, and right here, March 11th, 2020, I can tell you the LA Dodgers are the favorite to win the NL. Will they? Nobody knows, but they’ll be in the dance and I’d rather be in that position than a team that has to do all that stuff exactly right to have a small window of opportunity, especially when it’s an opportunity to try to match up with this particular Goliath.
Baseball’s economic system is an excuse given to owners like Bob Nutting, but it isn’t a baseless one. He uses it to his advantage and excuses himself by citing it far too often, and I say if he doesn’t do something active and visible as the owners and players negotiate, he should no longer be able to use it as a rationale.
It is wholly in his power to stand up for the unfair conditions he openly blames for his team’s payroll. He may not win, but he better fight. He expects his own roster to play David every season, I see no reason we shouldn’t expect the same from him.
I loved the scene the NEC Championship, but make no mistake, that elation comes from the knowledge that this is not every season thing. Its rarity highlights the improbability of victory and amps the energy, much like at PNC back when Cueto dropped the ball. Time to make the playing field more even and the ball is all yours Mr. Nutting.