When I first started running this site, the Pittsburgh Pirates were still seen as a joke. They were starting down the right path to a rebuild by spending in the draft, investing in Latin America, trading away veterans for prospects, and trying unconventional strategies on the field in order to try to gain an edge.
Some of the early results were rough. The Jason Bay trade. The 2009 draft. The “no triples” defense in the outfield. All three were early attempts at processes that eventually led to success. The Pirates didn’t get good results in the Bay trade, but a year later they landed Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke for Nate McLouth, and the trades have gotten better since. The 2009 draft saw a lot of prep pitchers drafted, but none have really worked out. Since that draft, they have added Nick Kingham, Tyler Glasnow, and other promising prep pitchers in the lower levels as mid-round picks. And the “no triples” defense was an early dabble in defensive shifting, which the Pirates have gotten much better at in recent years.
All of that happened way too close to the previous management group, which was a combination that led to a lack of trust. If you were optimistic about the future of the Pirates because you liked the strategies they were employing, then you were in the minority.
It’s different now. The Pirates have made the playoffs two years in a row. They enter the 2015 season rated as one of the best teams in baseball. If you’re still complaining about any move, or saying that they don’t know what they are doing, you’re in the minority.
The Pirates have become a model organization, one that other teams can look at as a guide for how to operate.
“It didn’t happen all of a sudden for us,” Clint Hurdle said about becoming a model for other teams. “As I said, if you do the timeline, there was so much work done before I got here. And the last piece of the puzzle for us as an organization is tangible evidence at the Major League level. Neal’s leadership of creating a minor league system that’s fertile and vibrant. Kyle Stark’s involvement in that player development system. Greg Smith’s involvement from the scouting aspect. We all work together. We’re a group of men that are selfless. We all have the same goal in mind. We don’t care who gets the credit. It’s not about who gets the credit, it’s about finding ways to get a little bit better every day as a group.”
Hurdle mentioned in his press conference today about how the Pirates used the Twins and the Athletics as models when this group took over. At the time, the Twins and the Athletics were two of the most successful small market teams in the game, and the model for anyone else. The Pirates are now becoming the latest model, and not just for small market teams.
The Texas Rangers hired Jeff Banister as their new manager this off-season, grabbing the former bench coach away from the Pirates. In his conference call with the Texas and Pittsburgh media, Jon Daniels talked about how the interview process with Banister made him realize the Rangers were way behind when it came to using analytics in the game. Banister will take aspects of the Pirates’ approach to Texas this year.
Then there’s the Philadelphia Phillies to consider. I’m not talking about the fact that they seemingly pick up every ex-Pirates player (A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Ronny Cedeno, Brad Lincoln, Chase d’Arnaud, Xavier Paul, Chris McGuiness, Brian Bixler, Jeanmar Gomez, Joely Rodriguez, Andy Oliver). I’m talking about their attempts prior to the 2014 season to sign Jim Benedict as their pitching coach. Benedict has been a huge aspect of the Pirates’ turnaround, helping to revive the careers of a lot of pitchers, which has allowed the Pirates to be successful with a lower payroll the last two years. The Phillies were reportedly impressed with Benedict’s interview, but he turned them down.
Hurdle said today that the Pirates are getting more attention now because they are winning more games, and that this is always something people look for. Most teams try to use successful teams as models, and as we found out earlier this week, that includes teams from other sports. So how can the Pirates continue competing when other teams will start using them as a model and trying to take away their advantages? Hurdle had a simple solution.
“We are an organization that we feel confident in our abilities,” Hurdle said. “If somebody wants our playbook, we’ll give them some of our playbook. We’re just going to run the plays better.”
**A quick count shows we have less than 120 hard copy books of the 2015 Prospect Guide from the most recent shipment. We’ve already sold more than last year’s total, and I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the hard copy version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.
**Every day I upload content on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the video features on YouTube. Be sure that you’re subscribed to all of those sites to follow everything we upload throughout Spring Training (there is different content for each social media site). Today’s uploads include the Taillon video, and a few quick batting practice videos from Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.
**The Next Steps In Jameson Taillon’s Tommy John Rehab Process. Today’s video feature talks with the top prospect about his bullpen session yesterday, along with his next steps in the rehab process. Also, I broke down what you can expect from him moving forward.
**Bob Nutting On An International Draft, 2015 Payroll, Winning The Division, And More. Nutting met with the Pirates this morning, then met with the media afterwards. There was a lot discussed, with the most notable things being that he thinks an international draft would be good for the Pirates, there is pretty much room in the payroll for in-season additions, and the expectation is to win the NL Central this year.