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 was excellent in his major league debut. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Gerrit Cole was excellent in his major league debut. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

**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!

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Stetson Allie Hits His 17th Homer of the Year.

**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.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Runs Hard To Come By As Pirates Lose Twice.

**Minor League Schedule: Three Doubleheaders on the Schedule.

**Draft Signing Notes: Landecker, Topa, Arbet.

Pirates

**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.

**Charlie Morton to Start Thursday, Wandy Rodriguez on Disabled List.

**Pirates Notebook: Colentine’s Day? Colearoo? Coleapalooza?

**The Book on Gerrit Cole.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • https://profiles.google.com/115522615427589477970 Mike C.

    great day indeed.
    Just wanted to ask if Cole threw any 2-seamers last night.
    Didn’t seem like he did.
    Just read Cole was also intructed to use his 2-seamer more to get quicker outs and go deeper in games, accordingly to Pirates system wide philosophy.

    I know it’s effective for pitchers like Locke with lesser “stuff” but wondering if it’s the best method for power arm StrikeOut pitchers like Cole alone.

    Also interesting how system philosphy differs from teams like Detroit, where it’s obvious they value and emphasize SOs SOs and more SOs.

    • joe g.

      Yes, he used the two seam and induced the ground ball that was almost a double play in the 7nth.

  • emjayinTN

    Tim: Love the performance of Cole and it was definitely a win for the system. The announcers talked about having Cole, Walker, ‘Cutch, and Alvarez on the field and leading this team forward. Pay attention to Pedro Alvarez, because he has been hitting straight out for the past two weeks. The line drive to the notch a few games ago, hitting up the middle, and last night he homered when he was given the pitch on the inner third of the plate. What set that up was his second hit where he undressed the SS with a line shot that he hit with a lot of authority. That came with two outs and drove in a very important run. I hope he continues to show that willingness to take the ball and hit it where it is pitched.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      I, too,love it when Pedro doesn’t get pull happy.

      Foo

  • kidic56

    I wouldn’t say ” everything ” is going good for the Pirates. You have 2 of you starting pitchers out with tightness in their throwing arms, and Barmes still isn’t hitting worth a squat. What I would like to see is Cole and Morton stay up, and release James McDonald and Contreras to make room for them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      And, there’s also that hole in RF.

      I had high hopes for Snider, but it ain’t looking too good.

      • joe g.

        Agree Lee, and wondering when we will see Tabata again.

        • joe g.

          Or maybe give Presley a little more playing time?

          • https://profiles.google.com/115522615427589477970 Mike C.

            personally I’ve never understood the infatuation with Presley some fans have.
            I sorta understand cause our RF has sucked so bad with Snider & Tabata both dissapointing.
            But we’ve seen Presley’s talent ceiling. What we’ve seen so far is it.
            I say stick with either Snider & Tabata, platoon with Sands or another RHB through a trade.

            • joe g.

              You answered your own question. If Snider/Tabata is not the answer, what would be a good fit via trade for the Bucs?

            • http://www.facebook.com/tyler.sweeney.1610 Tyler Sweeney

              Sands is hitting .202 in AAA. He’s awful, no way should he see the bigs this year

    • Henduck

      I don’t think he said “everything” is going good. I believe it was “so many things.”

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I only used the word “everything” once in this article, and it was referencing how Pedro Alvarez hits everything when he’s on a hot streak.

  • joe g.

    Many of us thought that Cole needed to improve in the strikeout department, then we come to find out that he’s been working on becoming more efficient – interesting. It will be fun to see him continue to develop. The guy is a horse. I cannot recall seeing this kind of starting pitcher in a Pirates uniform-ever. He was dealing 97 MPH in the 7nth. Think about that.

    • emjayinTN

      Joe: Numbers can be misleading, but at the end of the year the Top 10 or 20 SP’s will have a minimum of 2/1 K/W Ratio, and average a least a K/IP. It is just how we have been trained to see talent. But now is the time where he can learn – watching Liriano, Morton, Burnett, and Locke. He has the physical aspects, now is the time to learn clubhouse management, and being a productive student watching what guys with 10+ years throw in certain situations. He was just flat challenging them to hit the fastball early in the count, and throwing just enough breaking pitches to keep them off-balance. 97 was about the midpoint of his fastballs, and he did it with ease.

      • joe g.

        I agree, and think that we will see more strikeouts with better fastball location, and better location in general. He was able to throw a lot of strikes and get away with some fat pitches, because of his fastball velocity. However, many fastballs were put in play. He also has the potential for a devastating slider.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.ororke.75 Chris O’Rorke

    be humble! But yeah, Cole is a stud. I think what he needs is an actual off speed pitch or two and I imagine that would keep hitters off balance, decrease hits, and increase K’s. I honestly believe some guys might get lucky and run into a FB or be a little slow on a FB and it’s a change and getting lucky. He needs something with downward movement. Maybe throwing a split/sinker bc that would be a little slower. I’ve heard talk of a curve, but like he really needs something in the 84MPH range and then 79MPH range. Like FB, Slider, Curve, and something really slow with downward movement. Palmball or something that changeup he has is not a change up

    • meatygettingsaucy

      I take it you do not know a ton about Cole which is fine. Gerrit Cole has a pus fastball, plus slider, above average curve, and plus changeup. Last night seemed more like just getting the ball over the plate and pitching to contact since the debut was so huge for the fanbase.

  • smurph

    Cole was fabulous in spotting the 4-seamer at the knees and the ump was giving him that strike call. He was not as effective when he tried to spot pitches either high in the strike zone or on the edges of the plate. It was a good idea to rely mostly on the fastball because it is so fast and has good movement. The Giants announcers kept calling his curveball a slider. He actually threw more curves than sliders. One reason I think he isn’t getting a lot of strikeouts is that A. He doesn’t have good control spotting the curve, and B. The slider, though it has late movement, doesn’t really break much, so hitters are able to get a piece of it. He can be a good pitcher with mostly his 4-seamer, but to be an ace, he has to have better control of his off-speed pitches. Ray Searage, you’re up.

    • BostonsCommon

      I think you’re on to something here. It’s not that he doesn’t have off speed pitches, it’s that he didn’t throw it. I cant imagine he threw many more than about 10-12 all night. Why? “He didn’t need to” is the easy answer.

      I think “control and command” of his off speed pitches is probably exactly what Neal wanted him to work on before calling him up.

      MLBers see 97 almost every night out of the bullpen and can catch up to. I agree completely that his off speed pitches will dictate how dominate he will be in the end.

      • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

        he didn’t need to… or…
        he didn’t like how his slider was acting before game time. no matter how good or talented a pitcher is, hes gonna have some of his pitches not work on occasion.

  • smurph

    As for Pedro, I think the most you can expect from him at this point is .245 and 30-35 HR. OK, but not enough to carry your team. I will say his defense has improved a ton this season.

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

      basically mark Reynolds except with a decent glove.

  • deacs

    Honestly, what are the chances we get a deal done with Pedro? 3B is the one position in the minors where there’s no hope of a replacement. No offense Eric Wood. I’ll even take .220 if we get 30 plus HR’s a year and this defense. If you sign him soon you might be able to get some sort of discount. If he hits the market in a few years he’s as good as gone.

    • https://profiles.google.com/115522615427589477970 Mike C.

      2 words
      Scott Boras.
      history shows there’s very very low chance it’s gonna happen.

      • meatygettingsaucy

        I think it very well could. Alvarez isn’t a star and Boras definitely knows that. That being said, he isn’t going to come cheap but I don’t think it’d be impossible to sign him for 1 or 2 FA years.

  • smurph

    Pedro is a microcosm of the inequality of the major league baseball system. A team like the Yankees or the Angels could give him 3-4 yrs. at $8-10 million per. If he sucks, so what, they’ve got plenty of money. For the Pirates, it’s a big risk to do that.

    • emjayinTN

      smurph: 30 HR’s/85 RBI last year in his second MLB Season and projected to hit between 30-35 this year with probably 90-100 RBI’s. His D is greatly improved at 3B, he is starting to use the whole field, and he just turned 26. $2 mil signing bonus, 5 years $50 mil, 6th year Club Option at $16 mil or a buyout of $2 mil. Since this captures his most productive years, I may be conservative in my numbers. Take a look at the numbers of Neil Walker last year and realize that he accepted “only” $3.3 mil rather than go to Arb. If Pedro does the 30+/90 RBI in 2013, we will have a very nice year, and Boras will ask for a minimum of $6 mil in his first year of Arb..

      • smurph

        Emjay, is Pedro going to be better than a .230 career hitter? If you know that answer, you are smarter than me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.s.myers Robert S. Myers

    Pedro, when he uses the whole field, it great. The problem is he struggles when he gets pull happy. Hopefully he will realize this and become a more complete hitter instead of a slugger.

    As for Cole, he was pitching to contact last night. When he gets into trouble or needs a K, then he will go to the breaking balls. Why use something if you dont have too.