First Pitch

First Pitch: The Walking Dead

First Pitch: The Walking Dead

I spend Sunday night and most of Monday morning and afternoon avoiding spoilers on Twitter for The Walking Dead. The last thing I want to do is spoil any episodes for anyone in an article. So consider this a spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen this season of The Walking Dead up to last week’s episode (not the one yesterday), then proceed with caution. Or just skip to the links below. If you don’t watch The Walking Dead, then you probably won’t need to know the show to understand this article.


One of the biggest emerging themes on The Walking Dead this season is the constant reminder that eventually, everyone is going to die eventually. It’s just the reality of the zombie apocalypse they’re living in. There have been illusions of permanent safety, such as a remote farm house or a prison with high chain link fences that can only be taken down by a ton of walkers pushing up against them at once. And while on the subject, they had zero jobs at the prison, so why not spend all of their time killing the zombies outside of the fence, rather than the “hey, there’s a lot of them again” approach? Why not dig some sort of huge ditch, or set up a fence with spikes outside of the chain link fence? But I digress.

The idea that everyone will eventually die leads to the subconscious ranking of who is most likely to die, and who is least likely to die. I’m sure everyone has their own individual rankings based on risk. I’m sure Daryl is at the top of a lot of rankings as the longest to survive, while someone like Beth would be at the bottom. But eventually everyone from top to bottom will bite it, no pun intended. Even though you have an idea of who could go, you never really know who is going to go next, and it never goes in order from weakest to strongest.

In the game of baseball, injuries are to baseball players what death is to Walking Dead characters. No matter your risk factor, eventually everyone is going to get injured. We rank players based on their odds of getting injured. Some players fall in the Daryl category, and rarely see injuries. Some players fall in the Beth category, and you just know they’re eventually getting injured. I don’t know if these players are as self-aware as Beth in that they also possess this knowledge of their own weakness.

When you’re a Major League Baseball team, you have to look at injuries with the “Walking Dead” approach. You have to assume anyone can go down with an injury, and everyone could go down with an injury. Then you need to react to this assumption and add depth at any and every position you can.

We’ve seen two sides to the depth coin with the Pittsburgh Pirates in recent years. In 2011 they went through eight catchers at the Major League level. A lot of these guys shouldn’t have been in the majors at all. In 2013 they went through 12 starting pitchers. Despite all of the pitchers, they still had one of the best pitching staffs, statistically speaking, in baseball due to their depth. The Pirates didn’t have strong depth in 2011, and ever since getting burned it seems they’ve been focused on adding as much depth as possible. That paid off in 2013.

This off-season we saw them go out and add Chris Stewart to be the backup catcher behind Russell Martin. Many would have been fine with Tony Sanchez serving as the backup. Sanchez would be fine as the backup. But the depth wouldn’t be fine. Beyond Martin and Sanchez, the Pirates have guys who look like your typical #4-5 and beyond catching options. Carlos Paulino is strong defensively, and that’s it. Nevin Ashley and Omir Santos are Quad-A type depth.

The Pirates added Stewart knowing that they needed extra depth in the event of an injury. It turned out that Stewart was the guy who got injured. And now they’re back to a Russell Martin/Tony Sanchez combo, unless they add someone else. Don’t be surprised if they add someone else.

The Stewart injury means they’re just back to where they were before the Stewart trade (assuming Stewart needs surgery and will miss a lot of time). I can’t imagine the thinking now will be different than the thinking then. They’ll want depth, because you never know who is going to get injured, or when they’ll get injured.

They also wanted Sanchez getting everyday time in Triple-A this year. He is 26 years old, but he has missed a lot of development time. He was out for half a season in 2010 after a pitch broke his jaw. He struggled in 2011 after massive weight and muscle loss from that jaw injury. He broke his jaw pre-2012 after getting punched in a bar, leading to more weight loss. His power didn’t start coming back until the end of 2012, and the 2013 season was his first year where he was fully healthy and fully productive. So while he will be 26 in 2014, it will also be just his second full pro season where he isn’t injured, or feeling the impact of being injured. He’s the projected starter in 2015, and he’s the projected starter if Russell Martin goes down. Getting everyday playing time isn’t a bad thing.

I won’t be surprised if the Pirates go out and add another catcher in the next two weeks. I also won’t be surprised if that catcher is similar to Stewart in that he’s a defensive option who excels at pitch framing and blocking. If I’m throwing out a prediction — and it’s only a prediction and not a rumor — I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates add Francisco Cervelli. The Yankees have been shopping him, since they’ll have Austin Romine as their backup, and no room in Triple-A. The Pirates have expressed interest in the past, and came close to a trade. Cervelli grades well defensively, although not on the same level as Stewart. He also probably wouldn’t cost as much as Stewart, who didn’t cost much at all. But that’s just a prediction based on who is available, the skills of that player, and previous interest by the Pirates.

I don’t know if they’ll add Cervelli, but I do think they will add someone if Chris Stewart misses a lot of time. It’s what they did the last time they were faced with a Martin/Sanchez catching combo.

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is in stock on the products page of the site. The book features profiles, scouting reports, and grades on every player in the minor league system, including our top 50 prospects. The Prospect Guide has been mentioned as a resource several times on the Pirates’ broadcast, and has been purchased as a source of reference by opposing MLB front office members, opposing scouts, and media members. If it’s a good resource for them, it’s a good resource for you. You can order your Prospect Guide on the products page of the site.

**Chris Stewart Could Have Knee Surgery

**Luis Heredia Pitching Against Several Top Hitting Prospects (Video)

**Pirate City Notes: Cole Goes 5, Kingham vs Polanco, Heredia Starts

  • What are the odds the Pirates could trade a Vin Mazzaro/Bryan Morris type for Cervelli? That would be kind of ideal for the Bucs situation right now…

  • Monsoon Harvard

    I’d hope they don’t give up more than he’s worth, which is only a season at the most of back-up catching. I’d rather break one of those relievers fingers and put him on the DL until an opening shakes out, personally.

    • emjayinTN

      MH: Agree, but not to the extent of inflicting physical injury. Cervelli is AAAA at best and has not seen serious time in the majors since 2010, although he is having his best ST ever with 3 HR’s, 6 RBI, and an OPS north of 1.300. Is it possible to find a LH hitting “defensive, pitch framer” as a backup? Saving another pitcher was the reason I suggested starting the season with 13 pitchers, plus it allows for less pressure for the whole staff during the first month of the regular season, and storing more for a trade rather than losing them for nothing on waivers.

  • israelp

    I read someplace that Bob Friend was never on the disabled list. So if he was ever injured, it wasn’t significant.

  • Lee Young

    In a run of shockers, I’ve got to admit that Sunday nite’s Walking Dead shocked me. I am still thinking and talking about it. I NEVER saw it coming!

    Now….about that catcher….howabout that fella on the railroad tracks. He seemed to catch rats just swell.

  • Lee Young

    I agree we need depth, but your statement “Carlos Paulino is strong defensively (with no bat….implied)” would apply to Chris Stewart. So I am all for Carlos being the backup.

    The Red Sox are shopping Lavarnaway, although he is only average (at best) defensively.

    I wonder if we can make a trade with Colorado for “The Fort”? :) :) :)


  • dr dng

    Off the topic a moment, but a question for Tim or others.
    I’ve followed Indy for a couple of years and their teams and records have been really good. It would seem to me that at least for the first half of the season, Indy could be even stronger with good pitching, outfield, & experienced infield. Catching???
    Do you agree that they will once again have a great team (at least for the first half)?

  • Ron Loreski

    Just look at the flowers Volquez….

    • Teacher_in_Tejas

      Harsh, funny as all hell, but harsh. :-)

      • Ron Loreski

        I was hoping someone would get it lol

  • Joe Duke

    Kirk, I think that might be a little steep since Stewart rates higher and we gave a guy that didn’t even break the top 30 prospects in the system for him. Hopefully we could get a little more for one of those (somewhat) proven guys.

  • SportOMania

    I hope you are wrong about Cervelli. Volquez is already one PED user too many.

  • impliedi

    Seems like everyone is ignoring the obvious solution….and he’s already in the organization! Tom Prince. Great defensive catcher (I think he’s still younger than Barajas), and then he can return to Bradenton after Stewart returns or Sanchez has played enough of the season in AAA that sitting on the bench won’t hurt him (maybe August-ish).

  • impliedi

    I guess my feelings on this situation are this:

    Russell Martin rarely takes days off (except for the 2010 season-ending injury, he’s never appeared in less than 121 games in a season.) Plus, not to be uncaring, but he won’t be with the Pirates in 2015, so they shouldn’t worry about wearing him out too much.

    If Russell Martin DOES get injured at any point in the season, Sanchez becomes the starter.

    So this catcher they are looking to get, is strictly to sit on the bench with maybe 5 or 6 starts a month, so I’m not sure it’s worth giving up anything to acquire somebody else, since the difference in value between Chris Stewart and a warm body for the amount of playing, probably isn’t worth it.

    Personally, I’d be going dumpster diving looking for a warm body. Perhaps a Jason Jaramillo.

First Pitch

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, 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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