Every Friday we run a Q&A with questions that I’ve received throughout the week. You can submit your questions all week by using the Q&A form on the right side of pretty much every page on the site. Below are the questions for this week.
Larry Cole: After seeing the Korean cartoon which calls out Neil Walker, and after reading on another website that there is some ignoring of Kang, is it possible that there will be issues in the dugout?
The cartoon didn’t really call out Neil Walker. It just said that Kang was looking for a starting spot, and Walker’s might be the most likely. That’s something a lot of people have said, myself included.
As for the idea that there might be issues in the dugout because of Kang, that’s totally ridiculous. As someone who has been observing Kang at Pirate City for a month (longer than any other media), I don’t know where the idea comes from that players are ignoring Kang. A week before Spring Training, after his first few days in Pirate City, Kang told me the following through his translator:
“I can’t name one of them, but all of the guys are very friendly. I’m very welcomed.”
Then there was this photo I snapped the first week of Spring Training, when Gregory Polanco was greeting Kang with a bow.
What the photo doesn’t show is Kang being greeted by everyone else in that 3-4 player batting group.
In the early days in camp, I’ve witnessed players asking Kang’s translator how to say simple phrases in Korean, so that they could tell Kang to “have a good day” and “see you tomorrow” in his native language at the end of the day. On that same note, Kang knows simple phrases in Spanish, and I see him using those simple phrases for quick greetings with a lot of the players who speak Spanish.
I’ve stood at the batting cages when people have commented on Kang’s power. No one makes a big fuss over it, because that rarely happens. Clint Hurdle is usually the loudest when giving praise in batting practice. The one big celebration this Spring came after Chris Stewart put a home run on the roof of the left field batting cages. And everyone was celebrating because it was Chris Stewart hitting a home run. A Chris Stewart home run is like Halley’s Comet. When you see it, you celebrate, because you know you’re probably never going to see it again in your lifetime.
I’ll also add that Kang has been showing off his power in the cages since day one, and has been doing so on a daily basis. It would get kind of old if, a month later, players were still expected to cheer every time he hit a batting practice home run. As for a home run in a regular game, we saw his team cheering that, and we saw Kang flash his first Zoltan. If he’s being ignored, then who taught him that you throw up a Z after a big hit?
Finally, there’s the idea that Kang’s potential to eventually take Neil Walker’s job could cause a rift in the clubhouse. I fail to see how this situation is different from Alen Hanson with Walker. Or how it’s different from Tyler Glasnow/Jameson Taillon/Nick Kingham/Adrian Sampson and any of the current members of the rotation. Or how it’s different from Pedro Alvarez and Josh Bell (with the latter not being in MLB camp, but still being viewed as the guy at first base in the future). Or last year with Gregory Polanco and Travis Snider. I could go on, but the point is that this is baseball. It’s a business. If your name isn’t Andrew McCutchen, then there’s always going to be talk of someone eventually replacing you. And I don’t think that reality is going to make people resent Kang any more than any of the other players who are potential future replacements for current members of the lineup or rotation.
That’s my rant on the idea that Kang is a problem in the clubhouse, coming from someone who has seen none of that over the last month while being in the clubhouse.
Eddie Harkins: Last year we heard that a couple of the Pirates including Russel Martin were practicing in body monitoring shirts. Has that continued? This seems like it could offer a huge competitive advantage…
That has still continued. I don’t have a count for how many players are wearing the shirts, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more than half the locker room. I feel that the next big advantage for teams will be finding a way to keep people healthy and productive more often. The Pirates seem to be looking for this, whether it’s with these shirts, or the Golden State Warriors approach. If you look at their current team, they’ve got a lot of guys who would be really good players if they remain healthy and can avoid injuries. That’s true of a lot of teams, and the one that finds a way to prevent these injuries will have a huge advantage.
Donn Carpenter: Any truth to the rumor that next year the parent club will not work out at Pirate City at all. Only at McKechnie Field.
This is true. The Pirates won’t need to go to Pirate City next year, since McKechnie Field will now have everything they need. This will include two full fields and two half fields (currently there is just one of each). I’m sure the big leaguers will be over at Pirate City on occasion, just like they are right now, even though camp has moved to McKechnie.
Joe Giardina: I love 22, but he’s an undersized CF who relies on bat speed on offense and foot speed on defense. I’m afraid his skillset won’t age well, making a hefty extension not such a great idea. Thoughts?
I think that the Pirates have several years to see how McCutchen is aging. That said, a lot of people lose speed as they get older because they add weight and lose athleticism. I’m not sure McCutchen is a big risk of that. But once again, there will be four years until his contract is up, and we’ll learn a lot in those four years.
Jason Flower: Where will Rinku Singh play this year? Does he have a shot at a AA roster by the end of the season?
Singh is coming back from two years off after having Tommy John surgery. Right now he’s battling for a spot on any team. And since he’s missed so much time, and hasn’t been above A-ball, I don’t see him making it to Double-A by the start of the year. As for the end of the year, that will largely depend on his performance after two years off. If he’s got a shot, it would be a long shot.
William Fries: Bill Parcells said it was sometimes tough to tell when a player would “fall off the cliff.” Are there metrics to give us comfort that AJ Burnett won’t be a Wandy Rodriguez-type cliff diver?
I think Wandy’s quick fall was due to his injury. Burnett was injured last year, but pitchers have returned from that, and many have done well the following season. I don’t know if Burnett will return to his 2012-13 form, but I do think he’s got a shot at being better this year than he was last year, for a number of reasons. He was pitching hurt last year, and enters the 2015 season healthy. He also will benefit from the pitch framing approach the Pirates focus on, since his spiked walk rate was a big issue last year.
Casey Maurer: Who do you see in our minor league system as our biggest asset to the big league team this season?
The Pirates have a lot of depth this year, but most of their offensive depth is currently in the majors on the bench. The depth for the pitching is mostly going to come from the Triple-A rotation. Jameson Taillon would be the big name here, but his return from Tommy John surgery limits his impact. Therefore, I’d have to go with Nick Kingham. He’s the top prospect who could make the jump to Pittsburgh this year, and he also has the upside to be a solid number three starter or possibly better, who can go 200 innings per year. It’s not going to be on the same level as Gerrit Cole’s debut a few years ago, but Kingham has a chance to provide the Pirates with an impact if they need a starter for the second half.
Bob Lucas: Stetson Allie has always intrigued me. He’s settled in as an everyday player, showing very decent power and the ability to draw walks. He doesn’t always make contact. Can he be a MLB player?
I think Allie can play in the majors, but his role will largely depend on his strikeouts. Right now he’s a three-outcomes player, with the majority of his plate appearances ending up as strikeouts, walks, or home runs. That approach is fine in the majors, but players who do that in Double-A don’t usually carry the same results to the majors. His power is some of the best in the system, but the big focus will be on his strikeouts.
Austin Shirley: When J-hay becomes a free agent do you think that Kang (if he pans out) could take over the starting 3rd base role?
Harrison isn’t a free agent until after the 2017 season, which means the Pirates will need a replacement in 2018. This assumes he’s not extended before then, another option doesn’t come up, and it also assumes that he actually works out through the 2017 season. I’m going to punt this question by pointing out where the Pirates were heading into 2012. They had Pedro Alvarez as their third baseman, and no one who could replace him in the future. Take a look at the write-up in this article after the 2011 season to see how thin third base looked at the time. Three years later, they’ve got Harrison as their starter, and Kang as a potential backup. Maybe Kang will be the starter three years from now. Or maybe it will be someone who is a long shot, like Harrison seemed a few years ago. Or a prospect in the lower levels who could break out in the next few years, like Connor Joe or Wyatt Mathisen.