Through The Prospect Porthole: Minor League Rosters Are Coming Together, And I Have Some Questions

As the affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates began to roll out their Opening Day Rosters on Friday afternoon, many of the prospect placements were really no surprise to those that follow the organization closely. However, there were several that made me do a bit of a double take; where I had to read over the names just to make sure I was traveling to the right location, to do my amateur scouting of the correct player.

You see, a couple of weeks ago when the Altoona Curve put their tickets for May up for sale, I purchased two tickets for the Saturday afternoon contest with the Bowie Baysox. In my mind, I had an idea of what Pirates Prospects I would likely see on PNG Field, while downing a Curve Burger and a tall boy of my choice. Most notably, not on that list, were Oneil Cruz, Rodolfo Castro and Cody Bolton-especially as a reliever on the depth chart.

For at least the past year, rumblings of Oneil Cruz finding his way way into the outfield at PNC Park , most times as early as this season, have littered Pirates Social Media; in blogs, on podcasts and even in articles written by those who are in the know within Pittsburgh Sports Media, in spite of Ben Cherington’s decision to continually list him as a shortstop first. However, this is a debate for another day. The more pressing issue at hand, or maybe just a general concern, is the fact that Cruz is on the AA-Altoona roster.

After reaching this level during the last Minor League season in 2019, Cruz’s development has suffered what could be seen as several setbacks; not to mention issues experienced in his personal life. During the Arizona Fall League he hit .190 with 21 strikeouts in 42 at bats and followed it up by batting .185 in the Dominican Winter League, while not hitting a single homer during either season. Then came this most recent Winter League and Spring Training, where these difficulties continued. His did raise his average to .245 in the Dominican, but still didn’t demonstrate any power. In the spring he managed only 3 hits in 27 at bats, which ultimately led to this disappointing placement.

With Castro the move is a little curious, especially after he was not only assigned to the Alternate Site during the shorted season, but also was added to the 40-man, invited to Spring Training and added to the Taxi Squad for away games; ultimately making his Major League Debut on April 21st of this season against the Detroit Tigers. After recording an 0 for 3 day, while filing in at third base, he was optioned back to the Alternate Site, and eventually sent to AA to begin a new season; this time in the Minor Leagues.

As far as Bolton is concerned, the starting rotation in AAA-Indianapolis seemed to be the most likely landing spot for the Pirates #10 Prospect according to MLB Pipeline, with an ETA of this year (2021). It should be noted that much of this hype occurred before Cherington acquired a number of pitching options in the Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon trades; specifically Wil Crowe, Miguel Yajure and Roansy Contreras, along with several Rule 5 and Free Agent acquisitions. However, he is now apparently the 6th option in a loaded AA rotation.

And this was only in Altoona. When you move to the Low A-Bradenton Marauders Roster, a name that definitely stuck out to myself and Gary, was Brennan Malone. Drafted in the first round of the 2019 MLB June Amateur Amateur Draft, compared to Quinn Priester and snatched up by Cherington as a part of the Starling Marte Trade to Arizona, I originally pictured him and Priester holding down the rotation in High A together to start the year. However, after a season off because of the pandemic, and no real organized ball to speak of, it seems that Malone has fallen further behind Priester than originally anticipated; but not to worry, he has time to catch up.

Following these news drops I anxiously awaited the announcements concerning the rosters in Greensboro and Indianapolis due to a few key names that could have shown up in Altoona. First, was possibly the least likely candidate in the form of 2020 First Round (#7 Overall) Pick, Nick Gonzalez; invited to both the Alternate Site and Spring Training, his assignment was one of the most anticipated in the entire system. Skipping Low A was almost a given, however some had been more bullish regarding his progression and concerning how aggressive Cherington would be with his first Pirates Draft Pick.

Next up was a player that I have not been as high on as some due to struggles with bat early on in his professional career, outfielder Travis Swaggerty. A guy I went to see in 2019 down at then High A Bradenton, I had no concerns about his ability to man centerfield at PNC Park; although his .265 AVG and .116 ISO (.140 is around league average) did give me some pause. Nevertheless, I also haven’t seen him hit, aside from a few Spring Training appearances, since then; so I am willing to trust Cherington and the process with this one.

And finally, the last guy I thought we could see in Altoona to start the year was the other member of the Marte, short stop Liover Pegeuro. Late to the party in spring due to some visa issues, the 20 year old made an immediate splash on the scene with surprising power to all parts of the field, and a .333 AVG with two well struck doubles to his credit. Already dubbed the short stop of the future by many it is possible that the even more surprising assignments of Cruz and Castro to the middle infield of AA had more to do with him starting the season in High A than anything else.

Since this article was first prepared, the AAA and High A Rosters have since been announced. More to come on the rest of the Pirates Minor League System in the coming days.-Craig

Pirates (12-14) Bullpen Can’t Keep the Cardinals in Check, Lose 12-5

Trevor Cahill didn’t have it tonight. He gave up 4 runs in the first inning, then he gave up another run, and somehow I looked up sometime early in the 6th and there he was, still pitching. He also didn’t end up being the story.

Derek Shelton made a very odd move, after Trevor threw a ball to Jack Flaherty who was trying to bunt, the runner took off for second and Perez drilled him with the throw which moved the runner to third. Then Shelton pulled Cahill for Sam Howard. In the middle of an at bat, against a pitcher, with one out. Brilliant move. Honestly.

You can’t just let Flaherty, who can hit a little, make contact and bring home the run there, so instead of the contact educing Cahill he went to the swing and miss stuff of Howard.

That’s different folks. That’s not just reading from the instruction manual. That’s not worrying about hurting a veteran’s feelings, because it was best for the situation.

That’s trying to win.

If you want to instill it in your players, it stands to reason you better show it. The reason this team can continue to fight back in games they could easily collapse in after shaky starts is embodied in the way their coach handled that very situation.

On the flip side, using Poppen in the 9th to preserve a 2 run deficit was questionable at best. The Cardinals would take the easy insurance and put the game away.

That’s not trying to win.

Bucs fall 12-5 and drop the first two games in the series to the Cardinals. They had a chance in this one, but the bullpen faltered.

Back at it tomorrow at 1:05 as Carlos Martinez faces Wil Crowe and the Bucs look to salvage one in the series.

News & Notes

  • Ka’ai Tom at the plate, looks competent. He takes a great approach and has shown the ability to make solid contact. In the field, he’s literally costing runs. As Derek Shelton said the other day, he was trying to make a play, and I get that too, but you also have to know your limitations. Surrender the single, instead of creating a double.
  • There was a weird moment in the 7th. Jordan Hicks had just thrown ball 3 for a full count and made a little face after the pitch. Nolan Arenado called time and for the trainers to come out and the Cards removed him from the game after he protested. Not sure I’ve ever seen a position player initiate something like that.
  • So, in that same 7th inning, Bryan Reynolds who stood around for what felt like 10 minutes with a 3-2 count, crushed the first pitch Genesis Cabrera threw for a double scoring Adam Frazier.
  • The Wooers must be found and banished for life.
  • Pirates 3-5 hitters tonight (Reynolds, Moran, and Polanco) were very effective. Racking up 7 hits in 16 at bats and 4 RBI. Adam Frazier continues to swing a hot bat leading off. This team is most nights a Ke’Bryan Hayes away from a legit good 1-5. The overall offense came into tonight ranking 27th in baseball for runs scored, lack of power will do that to you, but you can see how it could change with that one addition.
  • This game was very reminiscent of Wednesday night’s loss to the Royals. Starter struggled, long relieve didn’t hold the line, offense tried o fight back, middle relief didn’t hold the line, offense tried again but fell short. We’ve raved about the bullpen, and rightfully so, but there have been a couple now that fall squarely on their shoulders.
  • According to Ben Cherrington, expect this club to make Mitch Keller stay right where he is and work through things. They think they’ve found some things. (Just telling you, not telling you what to believe)
  • Ke’Bryan Hayes reportedly has not caught a ball or swung a bat. He is apparently going on the road trip with the club which you’d have to think means they think he’ll be back during the trip, but it’s so hard to say. Simply have to make sure he’s at the very least not at risk of making it worse before he returns.
  • As much as I respect the move Shelton made early in the game, using Poppen in the 9th to keep the team 2 runs shy was an odd choice at best. He would surrender 5 runs. What really made this curious is coming off a week with 2 off days, it seemed odd to use some of the best parts of the bullpen to keep it close all game, then not use one to keep it close when it really mattered.

Missing: Luis Oviedo 6-4, 234 LBS, 95 Plus Fastball and Wicked Curve

April 15th. That’s the last time any of us saw Luis Oviedo pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He pitched 2 innings and gave up one run. This was 3 days after his last outing in which he had by far his worst. In 1.2 innings he gave up 5 runs facing 12 batters.

He’s only had 4 total outings this season and as a Rule FIve pick who never played beyond A ball, I can’t say I expected to see a ton of him this year, but that was before I saw him pitch.

I liked his moxie, his stuff and I guess, I just liked the idea of using him rather than hiding him. I’d like to think when the Pirates send him down after the season and his rights are secured probably to AAA to work on building up into the starting pitcher he was before they acquired him.

Again, if the plan was to hide him, I’d get that too, but not after what he showed us. Sure you can look at those five runs alone and come to the conclusion he should just wear a number and sit at the end of the bench in the bullpen, but baseball players need to play as my friend Jim just mentioned to me as we discussed this situation on my Fan Forum Podcast.

So, what are the Pirates doing here?

They’ve been down big, they’ve been up enough it would seem to me to sneak him in. After his poor outing against the Padres, Derek Shelton mentioned the need to not go such a stretch of games without pitching the young fireballer and true to his word he trotted him back out again 3 days later. But that was it.

Now we’re back to another long stretch of not seeing him.

Here’s what I got.

Oviedo has a killer curve ball, and a really nice slider that he struggles to control. A mid to upper 90s 4 seam fastball, and a changeup he scarcely uses.

It’s possible the Pirates are working with him to develop that changeup. As it stands now, hitters can gear up on the fastball and pick up spin on everything else to either just spit on it or wait for a mistake. Adding to and building upon that changeup could help Oviedo both this year and in the future.

Maybe they’re working on his spin rate on his slider, after all controlling it has been incredibly difficult and has created more walks than the club can accept out of the pen.

No matter what, we’ll know soon.

At this point it’s unmistakable they don’t trust him and have no issue hiding him. The longer it goes on the more questions that will come up, especially as seemingly tailor made situations crop up to use him.

At some point this season the Pirates will have three rule five picks on their 26-man roster, Luis Oviedo, Ka’ai Tom and Jose Soriano. That’s going to be difficult to navigate even if they were to use each of them regularly, maybe that’s part of the reason they’re working with Luis behind the scenes so intently right now, so by the time they add in their third he is no longer a liability but instead a real asset.

Pirates Errors-Mental And Physical-Lead To Loss

In his first four starts of the year, JT Brubaker did everything that could be asked of from a starting pitcher, which is to give his team a chance to win the game; and in Friday night’s contest he did the same thing again. Sure if you just looked at the pitching line, or the summary, the picture might not be as clear, as he did allow seven hits and three earned runs; however, the only real mistake he made was on the fourth inning, no doubt home run off the bat of Tyler O’Neil. The two RBI doubles from Nolan Arenado were both bloops, one that was ridiculously misplayed by Kevin Newman and Ka’ai Tom; who didn’t have the best night in his starting debut for the Pirates.

On the base paths Tom somehow had a mental lapse that caused him to take a wide turn around second on sacrifice bunt from Brubaker; ending in a fairly unnatural double play. But hey, that guy can sure take a walk; three on the day to be exact. Although, it seemed like the Cardinal’s pitchers were giving out walks, a total of nine to be exact; as well as a balk and a wild pitch. Unfortunately, the Pirates couldn’t take advantage of these mistakes by only scoring one run outside of the two gimmes from Kodi Whitely, who somehow was awarded with a hold.

St. Louis, however, jumped on every misstep by Pittsburgh; capped off by a pitch that Duane Underwood Jr. left over the fat part of the plate to Matt Carpenter for a three run homer, to put them up 6-1, and the error by Adam Frazier that ended the scoring in a 7-3 victory for the Cardinals.

News and Notes:

  • After walking four batters in his first start of the season, JT Brubaker has given only one free pass over the next 23.1 innings. During the same time he has struck out 24, including 7 Cardinals tonight.
  • Kevin Newman looked more like the player from Spring Training than he has all year so far, with two well struck singles; finally bringing his average up over .200.
  • Pittsburgh area native, David Bednar has continued his early season success with three strikeouts in two scoreless innings of work. On the year Bednar has a 1.83 ERA, a .93 WHIP and 11 Ks in 9.2 innings.
  • The Pirates need Ke’Bryan Hayes back in the worst way, but mostly due to the void that has been left in the number two spot in the lineup in his absence; including Erik Gonzalez’s 0 for 5 night.
  • Adam Frazier already has four errors on the year. Only three more and he matches his combined total from the past two seasons.

Tomorrow the Pirates are in for a challenge as they face off against Cardinal’s ACE, Jack Flaherty (4-0, 3.18 ERA). For the Pirates, Trevor Cahill (1-2, 7.11 ERA), looks to break his good start-bad start pattern, and get Pittsburgh back to .500.

A Glimpse of the Pirates Future Now

The road to building a winner is rarely linear as Craig illustrated well in his piece yesterday. Recently, we Pirates fans have been given a stark reminder of the twists and turns I’m speaking to today.

Before the season started it wasn’t uncommon to see someone tweet out a projected starting rotation for 2023, or even 2024. You’d see dream lineups like Keller, Priester, Thomas, Malone and Mlodzinski.

What a great day it will be, right?

Well in just 24 baseball games we’ve already seen some potential cracks in that Emerald City view at the end of the road. Look at what Mitch Keller has done this year versus what JT Brubaker has done.

Oh wait, we didn’t even think about the possibility Brubaker would turn out did we? Certainly didn’t consider Keller wouldn’t be the stud he was supposed to be.

We also didn’t mention Cody Bolton, Wil Crowe, Miguel Yajure, Jared Jones, Roansy Contreras, Luis Oviedo, Jose Soriano, Max Kranick, Omar Cruz or Michael Burrows. There are more, and I mean more I personally think will start to crop up on the top 30 prospect list very soon.

The draft pick the Pirates will choose in 2021 will be in all likelihood yet another pitcher, this one with almost unmistakable pedigree.

They’ll probably trade for more of them too. That aspect of all this isn’t over by a long shot.

So what am I getting at here?

Simple, the reason teams need so much pitching when building isn’t just because some of them will get hurt, it’s because some of them will never get here.

Every guy I mentioned in this article with the exception of JT Brubaker and Mitch Keller are top 30 prospects. Each and every one of them has a high ceiling. Each and every one of them could get hurt, underperform physically, lack the mental fortitude needed to become a MLB player, or potentially themselves be moved to patch a hole not covered by drafting and acquiring at other positions.

Every single one of them could be part of the team that wins here in Pittsburgh, they’re all that kind of talent. For some of them, that will be in a bullpen role, one that seems like a stepping stone when they start but quickly becomes their permanent home. Clay Holmes is a perfect example of that. (And yes this now technically means I’ve mentioned 3 guys who aren’t in the top 30)

As we anxiously await the great savior to be drafted in a couple months, we should come to understand, the magic is in the numbers. That’s the safety net being built.

Quinn Priester has a highly developed pitch mix, and when Baseball America says he could be the top pitching prospect in all of baseball by the end of 2021, I buy it 100%. He has the goods. In fact his slider is almost as good as this kid I used to watch in Altoona, oh what’s his name now? Kid blew my socks off, really.

Oh! I remember, Mitch Keller. Yeah, that Mitch Keller. He controlled it effortlessly. It mystified every hitter and even if it didn’t they couldn’t touch it. He painted corners with his fastball, he dropped his slider on the edge, he was in command. At the same time, I liked Brubaker more, and I didn’t even know Craig yet so trust me I didn’t just agree with my partner.

And then he got to MLB. He’s on his second pitching coach now and each spoke highly of his stuff and how he practiced. Each spoke about how he just needed to trust his stuff. Even at the end of 2020 when he tasted a little success it was while walking or striking out everyone he faced.

The success Mitch had throughout the system and some of his foot down performances in the Bigs seemed like a sure fire bet he’d be here for the long haul. Even prompting many to suggest him as a big extension possibility.

Now, I’m not ready to wash my hands of Mitch Keller. He’s just too talented to give up, not yet. Neither should you quite frankly. Yes, even you’re a guy who played some baseball in college and think you’re two stained Hawaiian shirts away from being an actual scout.

This is a process, one that isn’t going to allow you to look 4 years into the future and pinpoint the picture. That’s baseball.

If you told Angels fans 4 years ago that one day Jose Soriano, one of their top pitching prospects would get injured and have surgery, their club would leave him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft and they’d never see him on the mound in LA I’d have to imagine they’d have scoffed.

The Yankees fans probably liked what they saw from Miguel Yajure last year too. It’s probably not as prevalent in NY as it is here for obvious reasons but they have some rather prospect heavy, nerdy fans who raved about the kid. Look it up, article after article about how they didn’t need to go get another starter because they had Miguel. And they found that kid for 30K, not a top ten pick.

Its hard watching a pitcher like Keller struggle, it can be demoralizing to your overall picture of what this club is doing, where they’re headed. Just remember, he isn’t done yet himself, he may yet turn out, and also that there is a very real reason why this team doesn’t just pick 5 guys and cultivate them.

History shows the Pirates will need more options than that, and for once from that list I just put up there you can see they actually are setting up to have it. Just understand, they won’t all work out, they won’t all be Pirates when they do, and this isn’t a small to mid-market speech, this is just prospect development.

Another aspect of all this that I didn’t really speak to but certainly plays a huge role is the actual success of the organization to develop and identify talent in the first place. As I write this, I certainly can’t tell you Ben Cherington and crew have this on lockdown, we haven’t seen one pitch in MiLB after all, but rest assured, the last one certainly failed the franchise in this area.

I already spoke to the very real challenge it is to turn potential into prosperity, but the Pirates under Huntington rarely turned anything out that wasn’t self motivated by the player, add up all the deficiencies and you have a game of chance with even longer odds of finding a guy and getting him across the finish line.

Failure is part of the process for more players than it isn’t. That’s just fact. Having options means you can probably count on having a very good starting five and bullpen by 23-24, but maybe you should refrain from giving them names just yet.

It’s A Rebuild

Over the past few weeks, the Pirates have shown life beyond some of the original expectations; especially when it comes to the near shutdown nature of the game once it reaches Pittsburgh’s bullpen. However, there is no mincing of words even as they reached beyond the .500 mark; this is a rebuild plain and simple; not one that necessarily sells off every piece not nailed down after 2023 or 2024, but at the very least stays true to the original plan, and doesn’t change course due to a winning record after only around 14% of the season has been completed.

Sure this has been fun, and could continue to be off and on for the remainder of the season; and in all honesty I hope it is as far as competitiveness, and specifically individual growth are concerned.

The Pirates are, as currently constructed, are not built to do anything more than compete, on a game to game basis; all the same they could find themselves in a one run game, or just as quickly in a 10 run deficit. Some of these possibilities have easily, and often, been clouded by the overall performance of their relievers; which many people have not let us forget.

Clearly this is a strength of the ball club, but in the long run it has very influence on the long term success of the Pirates. We have to be impartial in this situation, as we recognize that contending teams aren’t built around a bullpen. Contending teams obviously need a strong bullpen, but I don’t see it as a place where the groundwork is laid. Undoubtedly, there are some pretty straightforward trade candidates or pieces that are marked as potential members of the rotation, or at minimal, long relief option; however, in all actuality it is safe to predict that less than a handful of these guys can maintain their current production over the next couple of years.

In looking at the current roster, this train of thought can be replicated over and over again. As we move forward, decisions have to be made concerning many other players; with a select few locked and loaded moving foward, and many with a year or so left to determine their future with the club.

However, I have been told there is depth, so I shouldn’t be worried. Nonetheless, I have yet to see much of this outside of pitching; specifically when they have a non-outfielder playing left field and batting second, usually reserved got the team’s most consistent hitter, batting .115 over the last week. But, why not keep him in that spot for the past 11 games without question.

In the infield, Kevin Newman hasn’t been able to get his average up over the Mendoza line since April 13th; with continuous weak contact, outside of his homer on Sunday. But once again, who will take his place if he sits? Unfortunately, the questions at this position, and the outfield, do not have any immediate or even impending answers because at the moment I don’t see any players pounding on the door to force Ben Cherington’s hand to give them their shot.

This is not a harsh judgment or a declaration that things will eventually go south, but this is the reality that the Pirates exist in; in conjunction with the frustrations of a lifetime, diehard Pittsburgh Pirates fan. The current rebuild is happening for a reason, and in all actuality, many reasons. They don’t have to have all the answers right now, but they better have them when push comes to shove a couple of years down the road.

Now, on a side and final note, for Pirates Fans who want Keller to go back to AAA; what do you want him to work on, what can he prove that he already hasn’t at that level and do you remember what they- the previous regime-did to Keller early on in his MLB career?

Mitch Keller either fixes the problem, or he doesn’t, but it the solution doesn’t have to come this year. Ideally, it would, but with almost two full seasons before he is guaranteed a pay bump with arbitration, and real decisions need to be made, it’s sink or swim; not only for Keller, but a number of other players on the Pirates current roster.

Pirates (12-12) Fall to Royals Behind a Brutal Keller Outing

Today didn’t go as I planned entirely. I knew my wife was going to a work function tonight at PNC Park, but my plan was to just watch the game and write the story.

My entire focus was on game prep for things to watch, players to key in on, performances that could make a difference and then I got a call to come with her which turned into a boat ride into the stadium and up the Monongahela.

I knew it was a Mitch Keller game tonight, and as happens often to me lately, everyone knew, “Gary’s the Pirates Guy”. So when you’re that guy, you’re going to get asked what’s gonna happen of course, which is hard to explain to people you’re pretty sure have no clue who’s on the team.

That said, I went on to say Mitch Keller is pitching tonight, you’ll know by the first inning if we have a shot or not in this one.

As if he was listening, the ever mentally fragile Mitch Keller stepped to the mound and quite possibly had his least impressive outing of the young season.

2.1 innings, 3 hits, 5 walks, and 4 earned runs. As bad as that line looks, he looked worse. He threw 47 pitches in the first inning, and this was after retiring the first batter on a routine ground ball to second.

Calls from back in the box started coming my way. “Gary, you were right about Keller”

Now, I know I didn’t predict he’d stink tonight, but what do you say when people important to your wife think you know your stuff? Thing is, anytime he toes the rubber an outcome like this is just as likely as watching him struggle through five.

He simply doesn’t trust his stuff.

You can say he was wild. You can say the Royals were fouling off a ton of balls. You can say whatever you want, but you won’t find out everything from reading the stats.

After 47 pitching to wiggle and shake his way through the first, I saw from my seat, Derek Shelton, Oscar Marin and Jacob Stallings all standing near Keller in the bullpen. Nothing animated. Nobody throwing Gatorade coolers at him. Looked like a good talking to.

He came back out for the second and put up a relatively easy zero.

So I thought to myself, well, a ton of stuff.

First, I thought hey those guys got through to him. Then I thought, why the hell didn’t he listen in the first? Then, why the hell do they have to get through to him inning by inning?

This was his fifth start of the season, and even the one last week that many of us looked to as progress was filled with painfully slow and deliberate dragging of the feet in between each pitch. Overthinking, over pitching, and it’s hard to not be over him if I’m honest.

I don’t think it’s the best course of action to send him down, but I also can’t sit here and tell you it should be off the table entirely. On one hand, there isn’t anything left to learn in the minors on the other you can’t allow one kid who can’t get out of his own way to hurt the bullpen so much that it damages what this young team is trying to do.

No, the record still doesn’t matter this year, but part of development is making sure when 25 guys are rowing in the right direction you don’t let one turd in the punchbowl spoil everything

I think my first official tweet from the game summed up what I see.

I still believe his stuff plays, but he doesn’t. Mitch is a perfect storm of lack of conviction and control. I honestly don’t think the Pirates will send him down, I’m not hearing rhetoric that would lead me to believe that’s on the horizon in the near term. Honestly I’m not at a point where I’m going to rail for it, but I’m close.

Be careful what you wish for though, especially if you’re someone who thinks the Pirates screwed up Glasnow, because never forcing him to face his demons is what soured that kid for ever finding it in the Burgh.

But enough about Mitch, after all he was only 2.1 innings of this game.

Mike Minor wasn’t all that much better. He only lasted 4.1 innings and surrendered 4 earned.

The Bucs tried to come all the way back in this one and at one point made it 6-5 but Chris Stratton who has been up and down himself this year gave the runs right back.

Bucs fall to the Royals 9-6 at PNC tonight. Off tomorrow, JT Brubaker vs John Gant and the Cardinals on Friday for a 3 game set.

News & Notes

  • Special thanks to my hosts tonight for the invite.
  • Todd Frazier got his first hit tonight and it was a big one a two run double. He took great at bats all night though drawing two walks and seeing 14 pitches in his first two at bats alone.
  • Eric Gonzalez and Jacob Stallings went back to back. Gonzalez hit a fastball 452 feet to left center and Jake crushed a ball 402 to left center that Turner nearly caught before crashing into the wall and dislodging the ball.
  • Phillip Evans looked good tonight racking up two walks and a base hit trying to find his way out of a slump.
  • Eric Gonzalez had another excellent defensive play, scrambling and sliding to his left to pick a ball and start a slick double play.
  • Ka’ai Tom (I guess he likes being called Blaze) made his Pirates debut still wearing Oakland green stirrups and walked. So he’s already better than Alford. Relax it’s a joke. Ok maybe not.

What Makes Richard Rodriguez So Good?

This headline could have been so many things. Why can’t anyone hit his fastball? Why can’t players square up anything RichRod throws? I’ve scarcely been so confused watching a player succeed.

Sure, it’s going well and we should let sleeping dogs lie right?

He has a 0.00 ERA in 2021, and he’s given up 1 single. A batting average of .031.

We’re talking heart of the lineup, bottom of the lineup, pinch hitters, designated hitters.

I’d love to sit here and tell you he’s painting corners and keeping hitters off balance, but take a look at his results.

If it’s in or around that zone, he’s thrown it. And largely, nobody has hit it.

In fact the only thing I can see with Richard is that he’s a flyball pitcher and he’s given up a few that might be homeruns if he were in a different ballpark.

Looking back to 2019 because you have to go back there to find a time when he struggled all you’ll find is that people were hitting his slider down in the zone and some fat fastballs right down the middle. I’d love to tell you that’s what he’s changed, and he’s missing the middle of the zone, but you saw that chart up there, he isn’t shying away from throwing the ball down the middle.

The Spin rate on his fastball is near the top of the league, and his average velocity has ticked up from 92.9 to 93.2, basically a statistical anomaly.

The one thing that has really moved for Richard is actually a combination of things. His average launch angle given up is now 29.7 up from 16.6, couple that with the change in his hard hit rate which sits at 31.8, down 19.2 from 2020’s figure of 51. This means more harmless fly balls and pop ups.

Shockingly his Whiff Rate is actually down this year to 28.6 from 36 which is totally counter to his performance. And the last number I’ll get into is his first pitch strike percentage which is up to 72.7 from 63.4.

So why is Richard Rodriguez so good?

Well, all of those numbers indicate that he’s found a way to turn at least in the early going, what used to be homeruns or at the very least damage into harmless contact.

He also has always done a good job of being tough to pick up, which doesn’t physically add velocity but virtually makes the ball get on the hitter faster. Coupled with elite spin rate and you have one hell of a tough guy to barrel up.

How tough? He hasn’t had one ball barreled this season against him.

He isn’t a prototypical closer. I’m not sure another team would use him in that spot, I’m not sure he’ll get closer value on the market. I’m not sure how batter after batter can stand there knowing exactly what he’s going to throw them and still continue to miss it.

In fact I’m only sure of one thing with Richard Rodriguez, this is one of the best waiver claims this team has ever made, and man is it fun to watch a pitcher so comfortable with himself that he just does it like a robot with zero fear.

Another team might not use him as a closer, but he and his non-existent ERA make him an excellent choice to be the Pirates closer.

Anderson And The Pirates Give Kansas City The Royals Treatment

Over the course of five starts Tyler Anderson has performed as advertised, and possibly a little over expectations at times; which is kind of a welcomed consistency every five starts in a somewhat inexperienced and/or unpredictable rotation, outside of the calm hand of JT Brubaker. He won’t blow you away with velocity or dazzle you with knee bending air benders, but the command and control often speaks for itself out of the pause and hitch delivery from this crafty lefty; who allowed only one run, after a questionable call by the umpire, on three hits, while striking out five and walking two on 90 pitches across six innings.

For the Royals a formidable foe, Jakob Janis, kept the Pirates bats in check outside of a nicely directed RBI single off the bat of Colin Moran and a bloop, go ahead single from pinch hitter Wilmer Difo; giving the Pirates a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh.

From there, and actually from the half inning before then, Pittsburgh’s bullpen did exactly what they have done pretty much all year; as Duane Underwood Jr., Sam Howard and Richard Rodriguez allowed only one hit, struck out three and walked none to preserve a 2-1 victory over the Royals in the quick two game, middle of the week series.

News and Notes:

  • Your Pittsburgh Pirates are now 12-11 on the season, after starting the year 1-6. They now have their longest winning streak of the season, three games, and are firmly planted in the second spot in a struggling NL Central.
  • Colin Moran has a 3 for 4 night after going into a slight slump over the past week. He currently leads the team in RBIs (17) and OPS (.854), while playing a solid first base.
  • Derek Shelton needs to get Phillip Evans a breather. Over his past 7 games he is batting just .148 and if I am being honest, just looks overmatched at the plate recently. Unfortunately the Pirates outfield options are limited at this time, and with the Ke’Bryan Hayes injury last longer than expected, he and Erik Gonzalez have been forced into regular duty rather than the intended utility roles.
  • It is worth mentioning again that this Pirates bullpen has pretty much been lights out. Lead by pretty much everyone, but also highlighted by RichRod with his 0.00 ERA, .19 WHIP, 4 Saves and 10 Ks in 10.1 innings.
  • Duane Underwood Jr. earns his first win as a Pirate, and has been nothing short of impressive in the majority of his 9 appearances.

The Pirates and Royals are back at it again tomorrow inside the friendly confines of PNC Park tomorrow at 635 PM EST. For Pittsburgh, Mitch Keller (1-2, 7.16 ERA) takes the mound looking for two strong starts in a row, against Mike Minor (2–1, 4.64 ERA) for Kansas City.

Maybe I Was Unfair to Derek Shelton

It was July 27th, 2020, and the Pirates were playing the Milwaukee Brewers in game four of a 60 game abomination we called a baseball season. The Pirates were 1-2 after opening the series against the Cardinals so the sky hadn’t fallen yet.

For many of the reasons the current team was expected to be historically bad, last year’s squad was expected to perform at least a little better than they eventually would.

So when we got into the second series and the Pirates had an early chance to get back to .500 by taking the Brewers to extra innings it felt like a slap in the face of every fan to see Derek Shelton bring in Dovydas Neverauskas to pitch the 11th.

Of course the Pirates lost. You probably gathered that by the mere mention of Dovy and the fact that when discussing last season it’s a good bet.

I didn’t come right out and hammer Derek, after all we were 4 games into a season and I was much more miffed at the bats faltering than I was at the coach for pushing the wrong buttons. Ok, so I started to wonder what he was doing with the lineup everyday.

After the game Shelton said the same things he always did, he was evaluating everyone. Seeing if Dovy could handle that situation. Seeing which players fit in where in the lineup.

I think, speaking only for me, I follow the team so closely that swallowing a need to figure out what you have fell on deaf ears. I knew Neverauskas couldn’t handle that situation because I had 3 years of watching this team pretend he had MLB stuff under my belt.

I knew Jacob Stallings wasn’t a number five hitter, no not even against left handed pitching.

I knew Josh Bell changing his stance and approach mid at bat would happen all season long.

And when the season really came off the rails, I grew increasingly irritated that Derek Shelton somehow wasn’t seeing some of these basic truths.

In other words, I understood the need to evaluate, I guess I just supposed some of that should have been educated by what some of these players did before these guys got here.

Certainly the stated goal of making the players we had already better wasn’t playing out on the field as the season went on.

I closed out the 2020 season feeling pretty iffy about whether the Pirates chose the right guy to coach this ballclub. So many of his moves made no sense to me as a fan. It felt at times the approaches at the plate were screaming to me “This guy thinks he’s still coaching the power blessed Twins”.

Fast forward to this Spring.

The team made a flurry of moves. Sending out some big names for a bunch of prospects and bringing in a new approach across the board.

The team all looked like they had a unified approach at the plate. The Pitchers were going after hitters for the most part. The youngsters, the veterans. Guys Ben and crew brought in as well as guys who were retained from before.

Now with a clearly lesser roster than many teams they’ve faced, Derek Shelton seems to push all the right buttons. Man a good bullpen can really make a manager look smart, let’s not discount that.

But the lineups have been fairly consistent, he hasn’t felt the need to rest players every other day. He also hasn’t been too tolerant with players taking bad at bats. It’s not results based as much as approach based. Alford wasn’t benched or DFA’d because he had bad results, instead because he was completely lost at the plate and wasn’t absorbing whatever they were trying to get through to him, same with Fowler.

Bottom line, almost everything I had an issue with last year, Shelton has shined at this year.

Look, we’re 22 games into a 162 game marathon, I haven’t lost sight of that and clearly there is a long way to go. I’m simply saying very quickly here, Derek Shelton has shown me he has better answers this year and much like the young players improving, the coach has too.

The very reason I never went nuclear on Shelton last season happened to be an effort to live up to the mantra of our website, “Fair Pirates Coverage”. And trust me, Craig had to talk me down a couple times. Those former catchers stick together you know.

22 games in he has his ballclub 8 wins shy of his win total in 2020 and at least on the surface he’s done it with less talent, at least in the everyday lineup and starting rotation. If you had strong feelings about the job he did last season, at the very least he’s earned a clean slate to view him through this season.

I’m certainly not ready to call him Leyland or Tanner, but I’m ready to stop judging him by how he handled 2020.