Chris Mack: Bucs, Go For It With Youth

Rather Than Debating Whether Pirates Should Make A Move, Let’s Consider How Talent Already Present Is Being Used

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – We’re one month from the Major League Baseball Non-Waiver Trade Deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates are just 4 games back of the N.L. Central leading Milwaukee Brewers, and so naturally, the debate of whether the team should buy or sell has begun in earnest.

To borrow from their Manager, Clint Hurdle, when I ask a question he doesn’t like, “Stop.”

Rather than debating whether the team should make a move at the deadline or not, let’s consider how the talent already present is being used.

And while we’re borrowing, let’s look at a strategy that’s worked well for the other, championship-level teams in this city, and that hasn’t been explored enough by the Pirates this season: Ride the kids.

Far be it from me to compare a team that’s 5 games under .500 on June 30 to a team that’s won back-to-back titles or another team that’s perennially in contention for a Super Bowl berth. Look at what both the Penguins and Steelers did in their most recent successful seasons, though.

The Penguins, upon seeing talents emerge like those of Connor Sheary & Bryan Rust in 2016 and Jake Guentzel in 2017, stopped chasing after veteran wingers to place alongside Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin. In fact, the “Sid & The Kids” line was the most entertaining unit of the team’s 2nd consecutive Cup run.

The Steelers, despite their aversion for rookies, started three on defense by the end of 2016, and were rewarded as Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Javon Hargrave – along with 2nd-year linebacker Bud Dupree – all had a positive impact on the defense until they were shredded by Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game.

The Pirates have embraced youth as well this season… to an extent.

Rookies Josh Bell, Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, and 2nd-year players Jameson Taillon and Adam Frazier have all been given a significant opportunity this season. While Kuhl has struggled at times, Glasnow is the only one who truly bottomed out and underperformed. The success for the youngsters has been plentiful:

  • Bell’s power has emerged. His 15 HRs in the 1st Half have tied Ralph Kiner’s 71-year old franchise rookie record.
  • Williams’ steady consistency has led to a 1.19 WHIP and 63.6% First Pitch Strike rate in the Top 5 among rookie starting pitchers in the National League and 0.84 HR/9 and 3.71 FIP in the Top 5 amongst rookies in all of baseball.
  • Frazier’s .819 OPS in the month of April helped keep a sleepy Pirates’ offense afloat.
  • Taillon’s inspiring comeback from yet another life-altering surgery is off to a ridiculous start: A 2.42 ERA in the month of June is 5th best among N.L. starters, behind names like Max Scherzer, Chase Anderson, and Clayton Kershaw.

So why the antipathy toward what rookies Jose Osuna and Elias Diaz have done in their limited opportunities?

Osuna’s .487 slugging and .231 ISO (Isolated Power, or Slugging minus Batting Average) are both 2nd best on the team, and 4th best among N.L. rookies with at least 125 Plate Appearances, trailing only Cody Bellinger, Jesus Aguilar, and Ian Happ. Yet he’s been given just 4 starts in the month of June. All the while, Gregory Polanco continues to scuffle along, providing just one more home run and only 3 more extra base hits than Osuna despite twice as many trips to the plate.

Diaz’s cannon of an arm gives the team something it hasn’t possessed much of in the last few years: The ability to actually throw out opposing base stealers. (The Bucs have given up 292 stolen bases since the beginning of the 2015 season, 2nd worst behind only the Cubs during that span.)  Diaz is hitting .294 in limited opportunities to play, somehow getting just 5 starts in the last two weeks despite Francisco Cervelli’s second DL stint of the month and Chris Stewart’s .201/.293/.279/.572 slash line since the beginning of the 2016 season.

Playing Osuna and Diaz more is not the equivalent of eschewing Polanco and Cervelli altogether, either. Polanco clearly needs spelled while he figures things out, and while Osuna can also give Josh Bell a seat from time-to-time, as he’s never played more than 130 professional games in a single season, he can easily be found 3 starts a week between the corner outfield spots and first base. Diaz should be starting every day while Cervelli gets well, and can go into a 40/60 timeshare when he’s back, allowing the veteran the rest he clearly needs to stay healthy.

The Pirates, despite struggling to play .500 baseball this season, have been granted a golden opportunity to bypass their bugaboo, the Wild Card Game, as their division is surprisingly mediocre this season and they sit just 4 games back of the lead. They’ve seen youth be served on multiple levels as spring has turned to summer, both in their own back yard, as well as across baseball.

Yet the hemming and hawing continues regarding Osuna and Diaz.

Their biggest July addition will be that of a Gold Glove outfielder with a career .789 OPS. So for the time-being, let’s set aside our arguments of buying or selling, and ask instead why they’re not utilizing the assets they already have?

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