First Pitch: So Many Things Are Going Right For the Pirates
I wanted to keep this more of a notes article tonight, jotting down a few thoughts I had throughout the evening. A lot of things happened tonight which had me thinking about all of the things going right for the Pirates right now.
**Gerrit Cole made his major league debut, and was fantastic. You could make an argument that he could have been better. He was giving up more hits than you’d want to see, but overall I think it would be hard to ask for a better debut. I also think that this just shows what I said earlier about Cole: he’s got a higher bar to reach for than any other pitcher. With any other pitcher in the system, tonight’s start would have been amazing. That’s not to say it wasn’t amazing for Cole on his debut. It’s just saying that he’s got the potential to be much more. Would the Pirates be successful if Cole just did this over and over? Absolutely. But Cole could be better, and that could be a huge bonus if he does reach that next rung.
**I’ve talked about a potential rotation led by Cole and Jameson Taillon for the last two years. You talk about it, and you imagine the Pirates finally having not just one top of the rotation starter, but two top of the rotation starters. But seeing it is totally different. Maybe that’s just the whole “prospects aren’t guaranteed” thing. Maybe it was the fact that things don’t usually work out as planned for the Pirates. But when Cole struck out the leadoff hitter tonight on three pitches, ending with a 99 MPH fastball, you suddenly realized that this was unlike anything in the past. You realized the same thing when he needed 9, 5, and 10 pitches total in three consecutive innings. This isn’t hoping for Bryan Bullington, or hoping Zack Duke and Paul Maholm continue to be something more than what they are after a strong 2005 debut. This is for real.
**Pedro Alvarez also homered tonight, hitting his 14th of the year. Alvarez is on pace for over 35 homers this year, yet his season is seen as a disappointment. That’s kind of like Cole’s situation. Alvarez could be so much better, which makes a 35 homer season (albeit with a low average and low OBP) seem very ho-hum. The best part is that the Pirates have been winning without Alvarez. If he happens to go on one of his impressive runs where he not only homers, but hits everything, then that would be a massive boost to the offense. But I think that’s a great thing that the Pirates aren’t relying on one or two people this year like they have in the past. That shows this is a legit contender, rather than a fluke.
**I think if you can point to one thing that shows how the Pirates are different this year than previous years, it’s Charlie Morton and James McDonald. There was a time when the Pirates needed these two to step up. They needed Charlie Morton to be a strong middle of the rotation or better starter. They needed “good J-Mac”. Morton will come off the disabled list and start on Thursday in place of the injured Wandy Rodriguez. McDonald threw 90 pitches in a rehab start tonight. The question is, where does McDonald fit when healthy? And if Cole keeps pitching this way, where does Morton go when Rodriguez comes back? There was a time when the Pirates needed these two to lead the rotation. Now we’re approaching a time where those two may be the sixth and seventh best options for the rotation.
**I was hoping to have our mid-season prospect rankings out on Monday, but recovering from the draft, plus getting the rankings together with the new draft picks, plus Gerrit Cole’s debut delayed the process. The rankings will go up tomorrow, only they won’t include Cole. If Cole gets sent back down eventually, he’ll take the number one spot. For now, I’m assuming he’ll stay in the rotation. Or maybe just hoping he will.
**Stetson Allie hit his 17th homer of the year tonight for West Virginia. I’ve been asked all year whether Allie will be in the top 20 in the mid-season rankings. I’ll give a spoiler alert and say that he did make the list, ending up in the top 20 of every list that factored into the overall rankings. However, he didn’t make the top ten, which is partly because of upper level concerns with Allie, but also because the top ten is almost impossible to crack.
**I mention those last two points to highlight how strong the system is right now. The Pirates are losing their top prospect, and the system isn’t going to see a huge blow. You take Cole out, and you’ve still got Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco at the top. You’ve got a player with 17 homers already in low-A who has no shot at cracking the top 10. There was a time when promoting Gerrit Cole would send a huge blow to the talent level in the system. There was also a time when a guy putting up the numbers Allie is putting up would be a lock for the top ten, and probably even the top five.
Overall there were so many things to like about today. The Pirates are legitimately contending. They just promoted their top prospect, who should provide a boost to the rotation. They just beat the defending World Series champions. They’re not relying on one or two players to have success this year. Their hopes used to be pinned on guys like Charlie Morton and James McDonald reaching their absolute upsides, and now anything those two do is extra. Their farm system is extremely strong, with a ton of success stories, and not many negative marks.
There are definitely things to worry about. There are a few issues with the offense. There could still be some regression from some of the starting pitchers (at which point the depth from guys like Morton and McDonald will be huge). There’s the possibility that the rotation could lose A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez next year, which is more of a long-term rotation concern. But for now it feels good to just focus on the moment and realize how great it is that so many things are going right for the Pirates. It’s definitely not a feeling we’ve experienced a lot over the last 20 years.
Links and Notes
**Save $8 On The Pirates Prospects Books With the MLB Draft Sale. The sale only runs for one more week, so act quickly!
**Speaking of Allie, The Minor League Report, a podcast I’ve appeared on before, talked with West Virginia play-by-play man Adam Marco this week, who talked a lot about Allie. Adam sees Allie every day, and I’ve always respected his opinion on the players he sees, as he knows what he’s talking about. Check out the episode here.
**Tom Bragg and James Santelli were both at the game tonight, so you get two recaps. Plus both have great pictures from David Hague.
**Cole, Alvarez Lead Pirates to Series-Opening Win. Tom writes about the game.
**Gerrit Cole Does it Himself in Debut with Quality Start, Two RBI. James focuses specifically on Cole.