Right now I’m on the road watching the minor league teams. Last night I saw Altoona for the second night in a row, and was able to see the gem that Rudy Owens pitched in person. I was able to see Matt Hague hit two homers, and because I saw those homers in person, I was able to realize that neither homer was cheap. Today I’m heading up to State College, where I will see the State College Spikes for a two game series, followed by one more game in Williamsport. I’ll be able to actually watch Zac Fuesser, Tyler Waldron, and Zack Dodson in person. After that it will be two more games in Altoona, which will allow me one more look at Justin Wilson and Rudy Owens. To wrap up my trip, I’ll be watching West Virginia and Brett Lorin, giving me the opportunity to look past his excellent numbers last year and see how good he might actually be.
The beautiful thing about all of this is I don’t have to miss a single inning of the Pirates while I’m on this trip. Thanks to modern technology, I can record every Pirates game at my house, and watch them later if I want. Or I can catch the highlights on my phone, thanks to the MLB At-Bat app. If I had MLB.tv, I could even watch the games on the road, and in-demand for whenever I wanted to watch those games.
The alternative is scheduling a trip to see the Pirates. Now I get the benefit of seeing the Pirates with my own two eyes, which provides a slight advantage over watching the game on TV. However, I miss out on seeing the minor league teams all together. There’s no way I can record the minor league games and watch them later. I can only access the Indianapolis Indians on TV, via MiLB.tv, and I have to watch that live. Any benefit of seeing the Pirates live, rather than on TV, is countered by missing out on seeing the minor league prospects.
There was a lot of discussion yesterday about how Neal Huntington attends the minor league games, and might be putting more focus on those games than the major league road games. I fail to see the problem here.
It doesn’t take much to understand that the Pirates are bad. You can watch every home game, and you’ll know which players are good, and which are bad. I’ve watched the majority of the games on TV, and have attended three games live this year, and that’s enough for me to provide my opinions on the team. I know that Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Tabata are good. I know that Neil Walker is having a surprising season, and is hitting the ball hard in the process. I know that Ross Ohlendorf can’t catch a break. I know that Chris Resop has looked very impressive in his short time with the team. I know that Garrett Jones probably isn’t any better than a league average first baseman, and might be best as a platoon player. I know that I can probably play the outfield as good as Lastings Milledge, and that’s not saying much.
Huntington probably has formed his own opinions. There are 162 games in the regular season. You don’t need to see all 162 games to get an accurate report on a player. Plus, it’s obvious that Huntington trusts John Russell, and Russell is at every game giving a report on how players play. You can preach about the lack of accountability, but as Pat at WHYGAVS described in his great take on the subject, accountability is definitely present with this team.
As someone who actually goes to see the minor league teams, I can tell you that being able to actually see the prospects is extremely beneficial. I was able to see that Rudy Owens was throwing 89-91 MPH last night, and that he was attacking every hitter, and making hitters look foolish as the game went on. However, you can look at the box score to see Owens was good last night. What about in cases like Bryan Morris or Jeff Locke?
Last year I saw Morris and Locke on several occasions in Lynchburg. Neither player had good seasons, but by seeing them in action, I was able to see that they had the talent to succeed. That’s why I had Morris as my breakout player this season, and why I’ve always been so high on Jeff Locke. It’s also why I think Chase d’Arnaud will bounce back, despite the poor average this season. I’ve actually seen the players play, which is something I couldn’t do if I decided to only watch the Pirates live.
If there is any time that Huntington needs to be watching the minors, it’s now. Wilbur and I were talking about this at the game last night: the Pirates have a big roster crunch coming up. A lot of players need to be added to the 40-man roster at the end of the season, which will leave plenty of tough decisions. Do you want Huntington spending his time watching the major league team for probably the 100th time, or do you want him taking every opportunity to see whether John Bowker is legit with his AAA success? Do you want him watching Zach Duke struggle in the majors, or do you want him watching Owens, Locke, and Morris, to determine whether they could possibly be ready to join the rotation by June 2011?
Like I’ve said, it’s not like Huntington can’t see the Pirates in action. There are plenty of methods to see the Pirates on TV if you’re not at the game. I’m sure Huntington gets a nice discount on the MLB.tv service to make this possible. However, there’s little to no opportunity to see the minor league players play. So what’s more important to Huntington? Getting additional scouting reports on the major league players who he has seen plenty of times this season, and who he can watch every night? Or getting live scouting reports on the minor league players, who are the future of the team?
My take on all of this is that the minor league reports are more important, as the Pirates are building through the minors. I have a feeling that the anger over this scouting approach goes to the anger over the process the Pirates are currently taking. Some think that by focusing on the minors, the Pirates don’t care what happens at the major league level. The truth is that the only way for a small market team like the Pirates to compete is to build through the minors.
The best players on the Pirates right now are either partial, or full products of the minor league system. McCutchen, Alvarez, and Walker were all developed here. Jose Tabata was slumping in the New York system, and turned his career around after joining the Pirates system. The Pirates traded for unproven players like Ohlendorf, Rule 5 drafted Evan Meek, and took on struggling major league reliever Joel Hanrahan, trading a productive-at-the-time reliever in Sean Burnett. No one is complaining about those moves now.
This time next year it’s very possible that the AA rotation could be breaking in to the majors. It’s possible that the major league bench players now will be replaced by some of the guys at the AAA level who don’t seem to be worse, and might be improvements to the 2011 team. Some people don’t like that, because it’s not an immediate upgrade, but building through the minors is a slow and steady process when done right. As for the players in the majors who don’t like the idea that Huntington isn’t around to see them, maybe they should take the message. If your GM cares more about the minor league players than you, then that means one of two things: either you’re locked in to the current role you have, or Huntington is looking to upgrade your roster spot. It doesn’t take much to figure out which players on the major league roster fit in to which category.
When it comes to long term success, the players at the minor league level are more important than some of the guys currently in the majors. Huntington has some very important decisions coming up, with the Rule 5 roster crunch, the amount of players who are out of options heading in to next season, and the players in the minors who could be candidates to upgrade the team next June, just like Alvarez, Tabata, and Walker did this June. So count me as one person who would rather have Huntington watching those minor league players, rather than getting another example of why the Pirates need an upgrade over Lastings Milledge in right field, or why the Pirates need a lot of help in the rotation. I’d rather have Huntington searching for a solution in the minors, rather than continuously watching the problem at the major league level.