“We’re always going to rely heavily upon developing our own talent”

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.

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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  • risefromtheashes89

    Because the Pirates have so many players on the cusp explains why they did not do what many think they should done in the off season. With Polanco seeming to be ready by mid year, you do not sign or trade for a starting right fielder that would block Polanco. That is why no new right fielder. If he comes up and looks like the real deal, you then look to move either Tabata or Snyder whomever gets you more. Not much in the way in free agents in the 1st Base market. I agree with the other articles posted here that Morales would not be worth the loss of a 1st round draft choice. Maybe if he is still available after the draft in June you look to sign him then. The guys being offered in a trade have been way over priced. No one has traded for any of the guys mentioned a a fix is worth losing Glasnow or Kingham for. Lambo is worth giving a shot to start the season unless the price comes down in the trade market closer to the season starting. Also on AJ, we would not be getting any drafts choices for him leaving if we had made the Qualifying offer of 14.1 million. Philly would have never signed him considering they would have had to give up a number 1 to do it. Not one of the guys who got the same qualifying offer and declined the offer has signed anywhere yet. Burnett getting 16 million is a stretch in itself let alone giving up a #1 in process. Philly would have never signed it and AJ Retires. Glad the system is finally growing players and we will start seeing the fruits of that labor in the majors with us and guys they beat out traded or if they can not beat someone for a major league job, they will get traded. You just do not want to start trading prospects for mediocre major league player.

    • IC Bob

      I agree with most of what you said. The only area I disagree with is I don,t think the Pirate philosophy would be different even if they no projects on the horizon. This team will NEVER be spenders in FA. We might now and then fill a need when absolutely necessary (Barmes two years ago or Martin last year) but we just are not going to spend on players to be that guy to get us over the hump. Last year it worked out that way but I think that was more luck then genius.

    • Mr. Goodkat

      Phillies #1 is protected as it is a Top 10 pick this year. They would have only forfeited a 2nd rounder for AJ.

      Pirates didn’t give AJ a QO because they didn’t want to risk him accepting and tying up their whole offseason budget before they had a chance to explore the market. At the time it was a strategic risk, in hindsight it looks like an obvious mistake.

      • joe g.

        I respectfully disagree. The Pirates have to be strategic about their money. They have pitching depth. $14 million to Burnett would hamper their ability to make a needed offensive upgrade that may take place at the trade deadline. Loved AJ. He’s a gamer but this notion of him as a leader developing our young pitchers is a joke. Just look at McDonald and Locke in the second half. We don’t need to pay him $14 million for his leadership, and we don’t need to pay him for his attitude toward our leadership.

  • honusty

    Good news for pirate fans in link below: Pirates budgeted $17-$19 million for free agency this year. They didn’t extend QO to AJ because they thought they could get Josh Johnson and James Loney. It made me feel better about why they didn’t extend QO.

    http://blog.triblive.com/bucco-blog/2014/02/13/the-burnett-timeline-more-from-huntington-and-how-the-pirates-wanted-to-spend-17-million/#axzz2sxGijGaH

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      Yep…I mentioned that on the PBC Asylum and lo and behold Travis puts up a new blog.

      Blogiarism?

      :) :) :) :)

    • Y2JGQ2

      Well considering that Loney and Johnson together signed for well under 17 million a year between them, someone REALLY F’d up cause we ended up with NOONE

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

    Blasphemy, I say, blasphemy!!!!

    Let’s get an owner who will go out there and spend spend spend.

    How can we survive depending on untested rookies??!!

    That will NEVER work!!!!

    • Mr. Goodkat

      To be fair, ABILITY to spend helps when the system fails. Mike Napoli would have looked pretty good at 1B, no?

      Prospects when you have them, FA’s when you don’t. I hate to say it, but St. Louis looks to have a sustainable formula doing that.

      • Y2JGQ2

        Having the money but being afraid to spend it as a bigger problem than not having it. Having a budget of 17-19 Million in FA money allotted and coming out with Volquez is as close to an epic failure as I can imagine.

  • glassers

    “We’re always going to rely heavily upon developing our own talent” Hurdle was honest when he answered this question . I one area that is really going to be tough in the future is catcher . I think Tim has a higher regard for Sanchez then I do . Maybe another year in the AAA will help but he is becoming a project at this point . This will be his 6th year in the minors . This kid has a boat load of personality and I wish him nothing but the best but I am not sold he can handle the challenge .

    • Y2JGQ2

      I think Sanchez is ready now. He would outhit Russell right now, and only his consistent throwing needs work behind the plate. IMO Sanchez would start on half the ML teams right now

      • glassers

        Well I doubt that but your certainly entitled to your opinion .

        • buster09

          And you Re entitled to yours, though you haven’t told us why you think Sánchez can’t ” handle the challenge “. Just what are you basing that statement on glasser ?

          • glassers

            Fair question , I have been watching him the last 4 years during Spring Training . I have watched him go through many drills with the other catchers and in my opinion after watching him he is less talented than others . He lacks in his ability to throw runners out , this was demonstrated while he was up last year , In my opinion ( everybody has one ) he is not ready . His War numbers are -.01 (limited time ) compared to a 4+ for Martin . Listen I love the guys personality and I really do hope he improves , he has made strides in his offensive numbers and some strides on the defensive side but there is more work to do .

            • buster09

              You have watched him in ST ? So that is enough to convince you he is ” less talented than the others ” ? Just which ” others” are you watching ? The only catchers I have seen in that organization over the past 5 years that were even close to him were Martin,( obviously better ) and Paulino ,( even as a receiver,better arm ) who is offensively challenged.

              • glassers

                The drills in Spring Training are with the other catchers on the roster so you can get a comparison between catchers . I am sure you know the drills they put them through . Last year it was McHenry , Paulino, Martin and Sanchez together . As far as the drills , all three outperformed him ( your right Paulino has a gun) . The year before , I had Ramon Cabrera ahead of him . I assume you have watched him and have a different opinion , like I said we all have one . I will be watching again this year and who knows maybe I will change mine .

                • buster09

                  I have watched Sanchez since he first came to AA,and I saw a catcher with a quiet glove and body,feet as quick as anyone other than Posey maybe,and a strong but inconsistent arm. I will leave offense out of the discussion because there is no catcher close to him right now,and that doesn’t include McGuire. By the way,if McKenry ( note the spelling ) looked better in drills than Sanchez,it must have happened the day you were there. Sorry,I just don’t get your reasoning at all.

      • SteveW

        I think that’s a fair assumption. Worst case he would start for at least ten.

    • SteveW

      Sanchez was one of the top offensive catchers in AAA this year – having an .872 OPS in the tougher AAA league for hitters. Also played well defensively. His OPS was much higher in AAA than Polanco’s was in AA. In fact, much higher than Polanco’s OPS in Single A also. (Yes, I realize Polanco is significantly younger so I’m not trying to say Sanchez is as good a prospect – just that he really hit well this year at AAA.)

      The only two reasons he is not going to start the year with the Bucs are (a) they want him to play every day to help development; and (b) staying in AAA keeps his arbitration clock from ticking. I could easily see him as an above-average MLB catcher in 2015-20. If something happened to Martin, Sanchez would be the main catcher at the MLB level right now.

  • piraddict

    So is Lambo damned by faint (as in no) praise? He certainly didn’t come quickly to Clint Hurdle’s mind. When Sadler or Thornton come to your manager’s mind ahead of you it’s time to be concerned.

    • piraddict

      On further reflection maybe Hurdle already has Lambo on his linecard at 1B so he is no longer a “prospect”.

  • Y2JGQ2

    Hurdle has been quoted as saying “Id play Lambo more if his first name was Clint” or if he had one previous good season 7 years ago with colorado. unfortunately, lambo has neither

  • Ecbucs

    One issue is if the Bucs had identified first as such a big hole at end of last season why haven’t they filled it by now? I didn’t particularly want Loney but if that is who the team targeted and wanted they needed to get him.

    Surely the Bucs knew that Loney was going to stay in Tampa if money was equal (otherwise why would he want to come to Pirates – he was already on a contender?)

    Yet the team wasn’t willing to overpay. They have brought in Barajas, Martin and Barmes in the past couple years. Why pay $2 million. For Martin and Barmes it seems like the Bucs were only team willing to go multi-year or the Bucs made an offer high enough that they didn’t shop around.

    So having a big hole at first base now is a fail. Still time for change but so far it has been poor off season.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      We had a big hole from the left side of first base last year and won 94 games!

      • Ecbucs

        it is basically because of quotes from NH. He would probably be better off not saying anything.

        Can’t bring back Burnett because we are using money to improve first base and bring in another pitcher.

        NH quoted in Trib:

        From a value you standpoint you can argue that $14 million should have been a no-brainer and we understand that. But the reality is in ten to fifteen markets a qualifying offer, if accepted, becomes a large chunk of payroll and something – right or wrong -we were not comfortable in doing at that time. It’s always easy to look in hindsight. If he’d accepted the offer it would have had a significant impact on what we could have done … If would have affected our approach on the first base market, the right field market, and bullpen market. If we had crystal ball and seen this is the way it would play out maybe things are different.”

        Certainly makes it look like the Bucs were more concerned with first, right field and bullpen than starting pitching.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

    To the above bloggers who panned our offseason….what part of “we need to rely on our own talent” didn’t you get?

    just wonderin’

    • IC Bob

      I think what the posters are pointing out is management suggested we needed help in RF and 1B and we didn’t address either position as of yet unless you want to count the Minor League players we brought in. We also didn’t sign a pitcher who said he would play for us or retire. There is certainly room to criticize here. I for one still want to believe we will get our 1B. That said until we do I would rate this off season a D.

    • Andrew

      Foo because the Yankees bought Jeter, Posoda, Cano, Rivera, and Pettitte. However IC Bob does have some good points.

      • https://www.facebook.com/will.sanchez.54 Will Sanchez

        fyi all players you mentioned above were signed and developed by the yankees ..jeter..Drafted by the New York Yankees in the 1st round (6th pick) of the 1992 amateur draft. Posada..Drafted by the New York Yankees in the 24th round of the 1990 amateur draft..Cano..Signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 2001..Rivera..Signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1990..and Pettite..Drafted by the New York Yankees in the 22nd round of the 1990 amateur draft..

    • pdad

      Maybe he believes this is the way the Pirates need to build the team or maybe it’s the only thing he can say.

      “Well, management really screwed up this year by not addressing 1b, and rf ” is not something he is going to say.

    • buster09

      lee : it seems there is a bit of a reading comprehension problem going on,don’t ya think ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/benjaminmcferren Benjamin McFerren

    I think we are now in a mind set that April through July (sometimes August) is basically tryouts for the post season.

    Sure’d be nice (and would help small market teams) if MLB would change the rules so we could have Taillon and Polanco on our opening day 25 man roster!

    Nutting trusts Huntington to spend his money wisely and conservatively. But the money is there.

    Huntington has proven to go out and make a trade in July/August if something isn’t working out in tryouts. In order to do that, there needs to be a budget. This year we have $20+mil to spend in July/August. Offering a larger amount of dollars in trade means least costly in terms of prospects surrendered.

    So if we want to go out and get a Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Mark Texiera, Sabathia, CJ Wilson, AJ Burnett at the deadline, then it would cost guys outside our top prospects.

    I think we could deal one of our “names” like Hanson or Heredia in the right deadline deal.

    • https://www.facebook.com/will.sanchez.54 Will Sanchez

      HA.HA.HA JA.HA JA HA..HILARIOUS..

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

    Why are some people so butthurt about firstbase? Firstbase was a giant hole last year and the Pirates won 94 games.

    • pdad

      Because the goal is to improve the team every year. The Cardinals appear to have improved their team. I am not convinced the Pirates have improved. Lambo may be the answer at first but who really knows

      • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

        Okay, so some people are just being armchair GM’s. Got it.

        Why not enjoy the ride? Current management is responsible for the current state of the team. Or am I to believe the Pirates won despite the GM/owner?

  • buster09

    Pad : so you are sure that Peralta will be an upgrade for the Cards at SS ? We know Bourjos will be an upgrade defensively in CF,but will he stay on the field,and if he does,will he hit ? And just what will the Cardinals do with Taveras if both Adams and Craig are doing well ? Leave one of the top 3 prospects in the game at Memphis ???? He obviously isn’t a CF er,or there would be no Bourjos there and,is almost ready for MLB. So,to let him play in AAA is pretty much counter productive. So what do they do ?

    • IC Bob

      You mention a lot of decisions for the Cards. Those are some great problems to have. You mentioned Peralta may not be an upgrade (he will be) and what if he didn’t work out? Well they would have last years SS moving into his prime. St Louis also will no longer have Westbrook to get pounded anymore and eventually Motte will come back. I am only touching the service of what St Louis did. I think its safe to say they improved there team. I don’t need the Pirates to go toe toe with the Cards. I just need the Bucs to be moving forward. I have a hard time right now with Lambo being part of the platoon. I guess I am not a believer that his last year is the norm. Especially after he laid an egg in a low level winter league. I hope I am wrong on Lambo because we really are going to need him.

      • buster09

        You mean Matt Adams was used an untried rookie last year,much like Lambo is now ? And you are certain that Wong will replace Freese’s bat in the lineup ? Remember,he is a rookie also. And you are certain that Bourjos will be solid offensively and in the lineup for 140 to 150 games ? Now you are sure that a guy the Tigers thought they should play in LF will be what he was at SS before PEDs ? Or,are you saying maybe they would go back to a SS who is as weak a bat as many think Barmes is if Peralta underperforms ? Andof course,none of their rookie or second year pitchers would EVER look like the first time around was a lot easier. Oh no ! To guys like you that sort of stuff only happens to the Pirates.

  • pdad

    I like what the Caridnals did this off season better than what the pirates did. As Mr. Stein above correctly points out, I am an armchair GM and enjoy being one. I am not sure about Peralta but I think he is worth the risk in an attempt to make the team better.

    I would love to have the Cardinals problem of having too much talent in the outfield. I hope Tabata and Snyder are successful so that there are tough decisions when Polanco is ready. There is no such thing as too much talent. Hopefully we will be discussing what to do with 3 good right fielders in a couple of months