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Real Decisions in the Farm System

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If you’ve been reading Tim’s articles on the minor league rosters, one thing that should have become apparent is that the Pirates have had to make some difficult decisions in assigning prospects to the various levels, or to extended spring training.  It’s been all the more apparent to me because I’ve been updating all the player pages to reflect opening assignments and other recent developments.  (As I write this, I still have the pitchers and the depth chart to do.)  In the not-distant past, the toughest “decision” the team seemed to face was whether to send a struggling Joe Prospect back for his third season at Lynchburg.  This year there’ve been a lot of real decisions.

At the upper levels, the Pirates have a lot of infielders to juggle.  The real crunch at Indianapolis will come when Josh Harrison, Matt Hague or Yamaico Navarro gets sent down around mid-April.  Chase d’Arnaud and Jordy Mercer are going to play, and it’s also to the team’s benefit to find time for veterans like Nick Evans, Jake Fox and Jeff Clement, as they’re all players who could conceivably end up helping the big league team over the course of the long season. 

The presence of d’Arnaud and Mercer in AAA meant that Brock Holt will have to return to Altoona.  You have to have some sympathy for Holt—he had a good year in 2011—but it’s a good thing for the team to have to make these choices.  So is the fact that Elevys Gonzalez and Adalberto Santos, both of whom had big years in 2011, won’t have everyday jobs when the AA season starts, although the team will undoubtedly find playing time for them.

There’s also the catching logjam, although this is less of a good thing because it was created by the need to send Tony Sanchez back to AA.  Ramon Cabrera will have to share time with Sanchez, and with the other claimants on DH appearances.  Carlos Paulino, another guy who had a good year for Bradenton in 2011, will have to return to high A. 

At Bradenton, the Pirates will have four outfielders—Mel Rojas, Jr., Evan Chambers, Dan Grovatt and Wes Freeman—who all have enough potential to merit regular playing time.  Good thing there’s a DH every day at that level.

Another logjam is the Marauders’ rotation.  With Quincy Miller and Hunter Strickland both looking healthy this spring, Zack Dodson and Zac Fuesser will both return to West Virginia, where they both pitched well in 2011.  Too many pitchers is definitely not a problem. 

The Pirates faced some other tough choices with the West Virginia outfield.  They’re going to go with a very young, inexperienced trio in Josh Bell, Willy Garcia and Gregory Polanco.  The group will probably struggle at first, and Garcia and Polanco especially are high-risk prospects.  The Pirates could have gone with Rodarrick Jones and Taylor Lewis, 2011 college draftees who have some potential, but they’ll both stay in extended spring training.

Even with all these tough decisions, it’s possible the Pirates will get little or no help at the major league level from these players.  That remains to be seen.  But tough decisions are better than no decisions.

Wilbur Miller
Wilbur Miller
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.

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