Over the last few years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been in rebuild mode. How are things sitting for them as of the start of the 2021 season?
By now, the plan is in place for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The new regime truly started to rebuild this team in February of 2020 when they traded away Starling Marte. Since then, the team has been relatively quiet on the player acquisition side of things and have traded away more veteran pieces. This is a rebuild and it’s not an easy process.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are one of a handful of teams that operates differently in Major League Baseball. They are a small market team and operate as such. The owner has not really spent money and it is unfortunate to see the team have to go through this cycle, but it’s the current reality. The team operates like a small market, but has not been able to sustain success for one reason:
The Pittsburgh Pirates Farm System is and will always be the team’s pipeline to winning consistently.
The Bucs need a strong minor league system, something the previous regime was not able to sustain. They are going to lose veterans because of the current financial system, but the key is having the young prospects ready to go like we have seen in Tampa Bay and Oakland. Finding the talent was not necessarily the problem for the previous regime, it was more that they could not develop the talent and mismanaged their resources (staff, drafting strategy, trading strategy, etc.).
Part of this was the fact that they were not keeping up with what other, more successful teams were doing. They key is finding the players with the best tools, but also finding what makes the players be able to access those tools consistently. Rather than just looking at video and breaking down mechanics and stats, the Pittsburgh Pirates are now using technology that helps measure nearly everything the players do.
One of the biggest take aways from speaking with prospects on Rum Bunter Radio has been the step up in technology use. Pitcher Michael Burrows and Max Kranick both told us how last year was the first time they were really exposed to a Raspodo Machine. This is a tool that teams use to measure a pitchers release point, extension, break, velocity, spin rates, and pretty much any other number you could be looking for to evaluate a pitcher. Prospects are now able to fine tune their mechanics not based on natural feel, but rather on what will make their pitches most effective.
This is a step in the right direction, Burrows credited adding nearly fives miles per hour by using a Raspodo Machine and learning more information about him and his pitches that he never knew before. The same can be said for the hitters who are learning more and more about their swing plane, launch angle, and exit velocity. This is what led them to Phillip Evans, someone who was bit by the injury bug and blocked at the big league level. The new regime was able to identify that Evans had a lot of good traits such as he hits the ball hard, gets good lift, and uses the whole field.
This is what will make the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system more efficient at producing quality prospects. However, it is not full proof. Players still need to be able to perform based on what they are seeing with thew new technology. If a pitcher has his best spin rate and velocity at a certain arm slot, he needs to be able to consistently use that arm slot, which for some can be a tough transition.
Even with that being said, this is an extra level of information that teams like the Rays and Athletics have been using for years in their development system. The Bucs under the previous regime may have started using these things at the Big League level, but not in the development side of things.
These are all things the Pittsburgh Pirates need to invest into. For them, it is not as simple as grabbing proven free agents. The Pittsburgh Pirates will never be big spenders in the current financial structure MLB has in place. The goal is to produce quality players and spend to keep them here and put some complimentary pieces around them.
The team is not spending now because they are not as worried about results right now. Obviously the players and coaches want to play their best and win, but the overall picture is not 2020 or about what happens this year. Players are not all of a sudden going to get better, like I said this is a work in progress for a lot of these players who are trying to learn these adjustments.
The plan is to keep payroll low now, let the younger players play and define who will be a part of this team’s core going forward. Then they will spend when the team looks like it has the foundation for success. The team has quickly created a really impressive farm system, hopefully the development side of things has been fixed and the Pittsburgh Pirates can get back to being a legitimate playoff contender.
Right now, search for the silver linings with the the team. They are playing good baseball right now, enjoy it when they do because it’s probably going to be a bumpy year. Try to be optimistic when a young player is performing, but most of all just give the current Pittsburgh Pirates and staff a chance to see this plan through and do not blame them for the plan they are trying to see through. I can guarantee everyone of the players, coaches, and Front Office members is working the hardest they can, because this is a chance for them to make it, to have success. You can still root this the team and their future and still be upset with the Bob Nutting and Major League Baseball.