Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle met with the media this afternoon, following the first day of Spring Training workouts. Hurdle was asked about some of the prospects in the system who could make the majors this season.
“We’ve got some much heralded young players coming up,” Hurdle said. “Guys like Taillon. Guys like Sadler, Thornton, Polanco, Hanson. Tony Sanchez is still right there, involved in that mix. Our farm system has continued to develop players that, when they get here, it’s not awe. It’s their time, they’re the next guy up to get something done. There’s a lot of opportunity in our camp this Spring in some different areas, and they’re aware of that. And we’ll look forward to getting that opportunity on the field, giving them the reps and the at-bats, the innings pitched and seeing where they can take it.”
Of the guys Hurdle mentioned, I think that Taillon and Polanco will definitely be up. Sadler could be up at some point this year, either as rotation or bullpen depth. Thornton could serve as bullpen depth, even though he’s not on the 40-man roster. I don’t think Hanson has a shot at the majors this year, but he could be up full-time by mid-season 2015. Tony Sanchez will be a depth option this year, but could take over as the starting catcher next year.
The Pirates have relied on prospects for a long time, although most of that had to do with their losing streak and rebuilding efforts. As they’ve moved to being a contender, there’s an expectation that they should go with fewer question marks and more certainty, and to act like a contender. I asked Hurdle if the Pirates were a team that would always have to rely on prospects, even though being a contender provided that desire for more certainty.
“I think that’s very accurate,” Hurdle said. “There’s probably 15-20 teams that probably fall into that category. And also there’s something to be said, where you can get in the position we’re in with our scouting and development system, that when these guys get there, they are ready. They’ve been brought up as Pirates, they’ve grown up as Pirates, they’ve played together as Pirates, they come up here. They know what the expectations are for them. It’s just to play their best baseball. To work, to contribute. That’s the challenge of any rookie coming up. Most rookies just fall into a survivor mode, just trying to hang on and get through it. And our guys have been developed that ‘no, your opportunity is now to go ahead and move upon it’. But we’re definitely, I think in that category, we’re always going to rely heavily upon developing our own talent as we continue to transition and change as the years move forward.”
Not many object to giving a job to top prospects like Polanco or Taillon, but you start to see more objections when it comes to lower ranked guys like Andrew Lambo starting at first base, or letting Russell Martin walk and replacing him with Sanchez in 2015. The Pirates have to make those moves, although one advantage they have is a farm system that is rated as one of the best in the game. That system, paired with a team that is already a contender, should make it easier to go with the unknown of prospects in future years, as the Pirates would no longer be relying entirely on those prospects to produce a winner. We’ve now entered a time where guys like Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco aren’t seen as the key to contending, but as a strong complement to a team that already looks good.