Pirates Q&A: Answering Prospect Questions and Discussing Development Issues

Here are the final questions from last week’s Q&A, all dealing with the prospects in the system. Most of them were quick answers, but the first question was a bit longer, with a few big picture topics to discuss.

clemo83 – The Pirates seem to be stuck in a never ending prospect cycle. We’ll have a top outfield but no infield prospects. We’ll have a solid pitching staff but no hitting prospects. They come in waves, but we never seem to have a complete team at any given time. It’s like in golf where you’re hitting your driving well, but you have no putting. The logical place to make up for these deficiencies is free agency. The Cubs had that stud class of infield prospects but supplimented it in free agency. Do the Pirates think they can put together a complete team solely through the farm system? They also seem to vastly underestimate the time it takes for a prospect to develop in the pros. We hand a guy a job and 2-3 years later he finally starts producing somewhere near an expected level, or like Glasgow never puts it together. Without the safety net of free agency, can the Pirates win with this model?

Tim: There’s a lot to unpack with this question, and my response could almost be an individual article. Instead, I’m going to have it as the first question, with the rest of the questions below being shorter answers.

First, the cycle you reference — where they have one thing but not another — is pretty standard across baseball. You’re not going to find farm systems that have every single thing the big league club needs. Every system has a strength and a weakness, and those strengths and weaknesses will change over time.

That brings me to your next observation about supplementing the talent through other avenues. No team can be fully built through one avenue of talent. That includes the farm system, free agency, trades, etc. The Pirates don’t believe that they can solely focus on the farm system, which is shown through their moves. They traded for Archer and Kela, and have traded for a lot of other guys in the past. They’ve signed free agents, whether that’s minor league free agents who have worked out, or big league free agents.

The one flaw here might be that their focus in free agency is largely based on value. They rarely even sign the mid-tier guys, which is probably why they get so much criticism for their approach. Some of that is warranted, and some isn’t. An example of the latter would be their approach last year. I thought the “they didn’t sign a major league free agent” narrative was dumb. Yeah, they didn’t sign a major league free agent. But they added the following players last offseason through other avenues: Corey Dickerson, Richard Rodriguez, Kyle Crick, Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran.

Just like you shouldn’t solely focus on one avenue of talent to build a team, you also shouldn’t put too much emphasis on one avenue and say that it’s absolutely necessary every year. I feel that only happens with free agency though, for some reason. If the Pirates don’t add anyone via trade in an offseason, you probably don’t see the same responses.

As for the part about developing talent, I think there’s more to this than your question. I don’t think it’s that they don’t understand how long it takes a guy to develop and adjust to the majors. They do understand that, and they actually get a lot of criticism for their approach to dealing with that, where they move guys slower through the minors and to the majors in order to ensure that those players are ready to stick in the majors when they arrive.

But I think you can also question their track record of developing players at that final stage and not only getting them ready for the majors, but getting them as close as possible to their upsides. The Pirates have had some legit talent going through their system in the last decade, and very few of those players have come close to their upside, or have reached it several years into their careers. This is a problem, for obvious reasons. Your question wonders if they don’t know how long it takes a guy to adjust to the majors. My answer would be wondering whether there’s a bigger issue at play, where the problem isn’t on their understanding of development timelines, but an issue with their development in general.

ironmike56 – At one point Stephen Alemais was the top defensive shortstop in the system. Now he has been shifted to second in favor of 1st round pick Cole Tucker. Who is the better defensive shortstop in your opinion?

Tim: Alemais is still the best defensive shortstop in the system. The Pirates shifted him over to second base because he doesn’t profile as the best shortstop prospect long-term. They view Tucker with higher upside, which is why he got the priority. Alemais doesn’t need to work on his defense at shortstop, but does need to work on the consistency of his bat. He could also use some work at second base and maybe other positions, to increase his chances of breaking into the majors. I don’t think that would be an issue. In short, they didn’t need Alemais working on his shortstop defense, but did need him working on his hitting, which meant moving him to another spot and keeping him in the lineup was the priority.

ironmike56 – At this point I am underwhelmed by the track record of Reynolds and Martin, particularly in light of what was said when the trades were made. What are your thoughts on their potential? Specifically can either become a big league productive starter. Am I right that this is a big year for both of them?

Tim: I’ve got Reynolds and Martin as average starters at best, and strong bench outfielders if they don’t make it as starters. They can both play all three positions, and both bring a different skill on offense to the table. Martin has good raw power, and managed to hit for power without sacrificing walks or strikeouts last year. Reynolds is good at hitting for average and getting on base, and has shown some power, with the chance for more as he recovers from hamate surgery.

The Pirates have had some top outfield prospects in the past, from McCutchen, to Marte, to Polanco, then Meadows. That trend definitely doesn’t carry over to Reynolds and Martin. I don’t see a chance for impact upside or 3+ WAR performances from these guys. But I could see a 1-2 WAR player, which isn’t a bad thing. They look like a nice bridge between Corey Dickerson and some of the higher upside guys in the lower levels (Travis Swaggerty, Calvin Mitchell).

tee-oh-dub-dee – Do you think there’s a chance that Kevin Kramer is given the chance to win the second base job in spring training? If he hits then Frazier can play RF until Polanco is ready and then when Polanco comes back return to super utility guy.
Or have they basically handed 2B to Frazier?

Tim: No. Frazier will get his shot at the second base job, while Kramer will go back to Indianapolis to iron out his game. That’s the way it should be, as Frazier earned his chance in the second half last year, while Kramer didn’t look ready. If Frazier struggles, and if Kramer looks like he might be ready for another shot, then I could see a switch during the season.

jaybell – Ke’Bryan Hayes – what are the chances the pirates explore his ability to handle SS in Indianapolis this year? As SS defense declines in importance (increased strikeouts, fly balls, and shifts) why not think outside the box and explore moving an elite defender like Hayes to a more difficult position? They can always move him back to third once Tucker is ready.

Tim: None. And they shouldn’t. They have a long-term need at shortstop, but also a lot of shortstop prospects who are candidates to fill that need. Outside of hoping that Colin Moran hits for more power, they don’t have the same situation at third base. Hayes is the answer at third base. If they didn’t have the need, it would make sense to try and move him, but they have the need at third, and no good alternatives.

jaybell – Cole Tucker – he had a very mixed year in 2018. Horrible start at AA, a mediocre 2nd half, then a great AFL showing. Where do you think he will start in 2019, and where do you think he should start?

Tim: He’s going to start at Indianapolis. This will be a big year for him. Tucker has a lot of good tools and skills, and they have translated over to the field, but not in a consistent way. His ranking and prospect status has largely been based on the potential and the tools, as he’s always been very young for his level. He’s now getting to the point where he needs to start showing production, and on a consistent basis. I don’t put much on the AFL showing, other than just recognizing that this type of performance is what he needs to show in Indianapolis this year.

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