In A World of Uncertainty

When will Major League Baseball start again? No one knows! Every date given thus far is just a shot in the dark, grasping at straws for a beacon of hope. In the past few days it has gone from a two week to an eight week delay. That is the bare minimum; an optimistic outlook to say the least. What happens as that day approaches and another decision is made to push the beginning of the season even further back? How will Major League and Minor League players adjust? What will it mean for the sport as a whole, as well its individual teams and players when it actually does come back? Right now we are left with more questions than answers.

As a life-long, diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan and a fan of baseball in general, at every level; from the Little League World Series to NCAA Baseball to the Independent Leagues to Minor League Baseball to the MLB I find it hard to believe that everything has come to a screeching halt. All of the emotions pent up inside of me at the moment are those of a fan or a fanatic at their depths and as intense or extreme as they can be at times, it is obvious that they pale in comparison to those that are still actively involved in the game.

This very minute a kid who was just looking forward to riding his bike down to the Little League field in his brand new uniform to play a game with and against his friends is siting in his house wondering when he will be able to return to school to see them, a High School Senior that wanted another shot at the state championship or was longing to impress a scout one more time is in the cage working on his swing or on the mound trying to perfect a new pitch, a College Player who dealt with a slump or injury last season and is in the midst of a comeback splits his time between online classes in the dorms and individual workouts, a Minor League player that was attempting to make an impression on his coaches only days ago at the Spring Training facilities is now in a car or on a plane going home contemplating his future and a Veteran Non-Roster Invitee who was having a strong spring wonders if he will get a shot to “latch on” with a team, in the hopes of extending his career, once baseball finally returns.

Everyone’s world has been turned upside down to some degree and I feel like most of us have tried to make the best of it, but what are you supposed to do when one of your main outlets has been taken away or your career/pursuit of one has been put on hold? I guess only time will tell. So for now we all just wait, hold on to hope and try to make things as “normal” as possible.

Worth The Gamble

Every night at 7 PM no matter what was going on, my Grandparents’ television had to be tuned into the Pennsylvania Lottery to see if they won the daily number drawing and almost every time they came up empty handed. There would be conversations about how they were one number off or it was a number they used to play, but stopped playing weeks ago. Then every once in a great while all the star aligned and the numbers would come out perfectly in order, just like my Grandma or Pap had played them. Immediately all the days, weeks or months of “losing” went away and there was celebration. Each grandkid got a couple extra bucks in their birthday card or there was an extra special trip to the Dairy Queen.

Looking back on these days, there are a lot of fond memories, but as an adult with a mortgage, bills, kids, groceries to buy I can’t help thinking about how much they lost before they won; realizing there is almost no way in the world that they won more than they lost over time and that they never hit for the big money/never got the big check handed to them. It didn’t matter, they keep on playing anyway. They kept on gambling, with the hope of that big payday and the celebration that would go along with it.

To me Minor League Baseball Players are much like my Grandparents were back in the day when they played the lottery. Putting in more than they may ever get back with the slim chance of getting that big check handed to them in the end and celebrating every small victory along the way, which most of the time is just enough to keep them going. An 0 for 20 slump followed by a 4-5 night, feeling homesick during a long bus ride in a part of the country you have never been to and hit a go-ahead home run in an extra inning game or striking out the side for a save after giving up the game winning hit two appearances in a row all keep the dream of “hitting the lottery” alive for many young men. In the end most are faced with the decision of “soldiering” on or making the difficult choice to hang up the cleats for good. Currently this decision is much more difficult than it has ever been.

Recently I have had my eyes opened to the fact that some people believe that MiLB players have hit the lottery in being drafted and/ or signed by a Major League Baseball team and to some degree I don’t disagree with them. I mean, how lucky is it to be given the opportunity to play the game that you love for a living. On the other hand, only a select few players every year are offered the big pay day, while most are given enough to get by with for a few years while they figure things out. If you think about it two or three, maybe five at the most are given that live comfortably for the rest of your life money in the draft and international bonus pool, while countless others are given just enough to entice them out of going to college or entering the workforce. So with each organization having between 275 to 290 Minor League players in their system it would probably be safe to estimate at most there are 50 players (at the high end) at any given time that fit into the life changing money category. That leaves as many as 240 MiLB players that are “gambling” and or “betting” on themselves, while struggling to get by. Some of these guys will win the lottery, but as I stated in an an earlier article approximately 9 to 13% of MiLB players that are drafted/signed will ever make an MLB roster. The odds are clearly against them.

I will admit that these odds are much better than my Grandma and Pap winning the a Pennsylvania Lottery, but most of the time the results are clearly the same. A few extra bucks to put in the family birthday cards and a couple extra trips to the local ice cream shop, but not enough to bank on and rarely ever enough to retire on. Most of the time it creates a few fond memories and a lot of questions as to whether or not it was worth the gamble.

Bryan Friggin’ Reynolds – Immune to the Sophomore Slump?

Bryan Reynolds burst onto the scene last season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and as much as you get the impression he’d be just as happy you didn’t notice; you sure did. How could you not?

Check out these numbers and try not to dream, 4.1 WAR, 16 HR, .314 BA, 83 R, 68 RBIs (from the 2 hole), all in 491 at bats. Did I mention he is consistent from both sides of the plate? Majority of seasons this young man runs away with the Rookie of the Year award, but Bryan came up in a class of very impressive youngsters. Pete Alanso, he of the 53 home runs and Fernando Tatis Jr. with some seriously beautiful stats in only slightly more than 300 at bats.

If this is what the future of the National league looks like, I’m here for it. It’s easy to forget just how unheralded Reynolds has been in his time here. The pain of moving Cutch played a role in that, so did Kyle Crick making an immediate impact on the backend of the bullpen. See, it made Bryan seem like little more than a throw in, well, to those who don’t really look at and study the prospects anyhow. (Admittedly me far too often)

Right around that time, the Pirates acquired another young outfielder, and from the GM to the broadcast crew, Jason Martin got the lion’s share of attention. They talked up his power potential, they fawned at his smile and eyes (Sorry Greg, couldn’t resist), and they spoke to the excellence of his glove work. Then we actually got to see Jason play, and know what, he looked pretty good! Who’s that Reynolds kid again?

Then it happened, Erik Gonzalez and Starling Marte collided, Jason Martin was already on the IL the Pirates needed help, emergency help. I mean, why should the pitchers be the only one’s on the IL right? In steps Bryan Reynolds, tall kid, facial hair of a twelve-year-old, walkup music from the man in black (that’s cute), and he hit. Good for him. Something else happened after that, he kept hitting. He started sporadically at first, spotting Melky Cabrera and picking up the slack for injured outfielders all over the place.

Clint Hurdle to his credit avoided the urge to Austin Meadows the kid and my god, Bryan Reynolds just kept hitting, from both sides of the plate. Suddenly he wasn’t just a guy holding the outfield together with glue and twigs, now he was an obstacle for Corey Dickerson or Polanco getting back on it.

He understood his place on the team from day one, and he never gave them a chance to make the choice they always had. Bryan Reynolds not only stuck, he rose to the top two or three offensive threats on the club. Someday Bryan’s Gonna Cut You Down.

A sports cliché that has survived almost as long as the game itself is the curse of the sophomore slump, I hear History Channel has a pilot in the works, but I digress. One of Bryan’s teammates Kevin Newman has a stack of numbers that show he is primed for regression, if you’re honest you saw it in real life, just in case you’re one of those numbers is spooky types. He racked up a nice batting average by driving ball after ball into the infield grass and beating the dribblers out. Maybe for Kevin that is sustainable, but the numbers sure are stacked against him.

Bryan on the other hand has some numbers that show he could actually be trending up, in fact most projections for 2020 have him adding some power with a minimal drop in average. Obviously current events will alter what a full season looks like for all players, but none of that means he can’t have a strong sophomore season, and I’d never bet against this guy delivering on his promise. I’ve made that mistake before, and as Johnny Cash would say, I Hung My Head.

If Bryan is going to eventually be handed the keys to the Pirates club, it’s nice to know he only drives one direction, forward.

Is Pittsburgh Still a Baseball Town?

When I was growing up, the stories of the recent success experienced by Pittsburgh Pirates fans echoed in the pantheon of the city. Green Weenies, Famalee, Pillbox Caps, seats painted gold to show just how far Willie Stargell mashed a ball, Roberto Clemente’s ill-fated humanitarian trip, 71, 79, its quite a lot to take in as a young child.

Pittsburgh was the city of champions, the Steelers won four championships in the Seventies and the Pirates won two. I wasn’t aware really, but I grew up in that shadow. The expectations of every team I watched from the time I started paying attention to sports was shaded by the expectation that we were not only the top of the food chain in professional sports, but always would be.

Times changed, and sports changed.

The Pirates and Steelers of the 80s were abysmal to be kind but 1990 brought winning back to Pittsburgh. The Pirates were finally back on top in their division and while they didn’t get the job done that season, they seemed poised for more in the future. The Penguins of course won the first of two back to back Stanley Cups as well. As a 13-year-old I watched my entire generation gravitate toward hockey. We played it, we watched it, we lived it. And our baseball gloves collected dust as soon as the Pirates’ run was over in 1992.

Something else changed right around then, I became aware of the economics of sports. The Pirates were forced to let Barry Bonds walk away in free agency, and then came the trades that dismantled the team. Jim Leyland left and openly stated he didn’t want to coach for a team that wasn’t trying to win. The Penguins were in serious financial distress as they had spent far more money than the team could actually afford to win those two cups and it nearly cost them their franchise.

MLB was in trouble too; labor peace came to a halt in 1994 and for the first time in modern history the World Series was cancelled. Thinking back on this time it strikes me how different this game could be today had they just set up the league to handle the modern era and free agency by using the strike to build a foundation of economic success right then.

So, are we a baseball town? Does Pittsburgh still love the game that helped lay the foundation for the other teams in this city to build on? Or, has Bob Nutting destroyed that for you?

On the surface, let me say this, If Bob Nutting spending too little has eclipsed all of that history I just spoke to, man that’s giving an awful lot of power to a man you clearly loathe.

I remember sitting on my grandparent’s porch, listening to Lanny Frattare and Jim Rooker call a game against the Reds. The game ended and my Grandpa who rarely spoke due to hearing loss told me about what it was like when Maz hit the homerun to win the 1960 World Series. He and his co-workers were all allowed to leave the mill and join the party in the streets. This wasn’t downtown Pittsburgh we’re talking about; this was Beaver County.

See, when I say are, we a baseball town, I don’t mean the city proper, I mean all the territory the Pittsburgh Pirates OWNED baseball fans around here. Think of how incredible that must have been, in an industry that was still not easy for workers, to recognize the moment and willingly send people home to celebrate. That’s the kind of binding power baseball has held here in the past, and when you talk to that endless optimist and think he or she is off their nut, take a look at how bad the Pirates were before that season. That is the dream many of that generation hold onto, then you have the folks that grew up in the 70s when the Bucs were supposed to lose to Baltimore both times and not get there at all past the Reds.

We’ve been hurt here for sure, and much of it has been self-inflicted by ownership. Stewardship of that responsibility should be paramount to this new management group. Not to go all Field of Dreams corny here, but if they build it, we will all come back.

Just like we did when they put a winner on the field in the middle of last decade. We can quibble over the baseball town phraseology, what we really are probably looks more like proud. We’re proud of winning, and proud of trying to win. Say what you will of the Penguins and Steelers, and there are plenty who will say they both should have won even more with talents like Mario, Sid, Geno, Ben, hell I’ll even toss in AB, but you can’t EVER say they don’t try. Both spend to the cap every season and each make moves to improve every chance they get. Baseball of course doesn’t offer the same spending limit but to folks who want desperately to be fans of all three of our big pro sports squads, it’s hard to look at the Pirates and put them in the same “try” class.

Part of me wonders if that’s a fair expectation or comparison, part of me sympathizes and agrees with it completely. Whether perceived or real, the Pirates must start to show they have a pulse, or the heartbeat that used to pound for them in this town will eventually lose it’s rhythm. Perhaps current events will intercede and cause absence to make the heart grow fonder.

In my heart of hearts, Pittsburgh will always be a proud sports town, and I long for the day when this club, the Pirates, is ready to join the conversation again.

My Spring Training

Big Joe on the Bump versus the Blue Jays on Thursday March 12th.

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”.

MLB Suspension of Play Has Shined A Light on a Long-Buried Issue – MiLB Pay

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.

Who’s Got The Tools?

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.

Pitchers

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.

Position Players

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.

Friday Focus – Pittsburgh Pirates Questions Brought About by the Postponement of the Season

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.