It was coincidental that we had two articles today discussing blocked prospects throughout the system. Part of that was due to a change in schedule, with a need for a follow-up interview pushing my story back a day. But another part of that was due to the fact that it’s difficult to write about any team in the system right now without discussing a prospect who is being blocked by someone in some way.
This could include Keon Broxton being held back in Altoona, despite having some of the best numbers in the system last year. It could include Stetson Allie and Jose Osuna having to learn new positions because of Josh Bell making the move to first base. Then there are college guys like Jordan Luplow and Chase Simpson who are playing down a level because of the talented roster in Bradenton.
A big reason for all of these blocked prospects would be that the Pirates have been drafting high upside guys for years, and targeting toolsy players, and the result is that they are now starting to see a log jam forming in the upper levels. But the biggest reason is due to the makeup of the team in Pittsburgh.
Yes, the team in Pittsburgh has been disappointing this year so far. I believe they are better than this, despite the fact that I end up questioning that thought after every loss like the ones they’ve had the last two nights against the Twins. But the reality of the Pirates is that they’re a team that doesn’t have a lot of long-term holes.
Their outfield is set. Gregory Polanco hasn’t made the successful jump to the majors, but the Pirates aren’t turning away from him anytime soon.
The infield is up in the air, but has plenty of options. Josh Harrison looks to be coming around at third base again. Jung-ho Kang seems to be stealing time from Jordy Mercer at shortstop, although I’m not ready to write Mercer off.
Then you’ve got first and second base, with Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker under team control through the 2016 season. The Pirates have options for each position. Josh Bell is the top guy for the first base position, and second base includes a lot of options like Kang (if Mercer rebounds), Alen Hanson, or 2015 breakout player Max Moroff.
The only other long-term hole is at catcher, although Elias Diaz should provide an immediate long-term solution there, and Reese McGuire could provide a much longer term solution.
The starting rotation will get help from guys like Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Adrian Sampson, and so on. Not all of those pitchers will work, but the Pirates haven’t exactly been a team that relies on just a few starting pitching options. If the top guys don’t work out, then the Pirates have plenty of guys in Altoona and Bradenton who could end up as legit back of the rotation starters in the majors.
Right now the Pirates are in a situation where a select few players will factor into their long-term mix. Those are guys like Diaz, Bell, and maybe Hanson or Moroff. Longer term, you’ve got guys like McGuire, Austin Meadows, and others who could be the next wave, taking over for the current long-term group. As a result, these guys will get the playing time preference, and everyone else will move around and be placed accordingly.
Those are still guys that the Pirates have to pay attention to, even if there is no apparent spot for them right now. Some of those guys might end up as trade bait this summer, or at a later date. Some of them might be toolsy guys with poor numbers who eventually put it all together. Hopefully that is what is happening with Max Moroff right now. And since baseball is so unpredictable, there could be a roster opening in the future at a spot we’re not thinking about right now, and one of the toolsy guys could step up in that spot.
As I mentioned today, this is a good problem to have. In fact, it’s hard to call it a problem, especially when you think about 5-10 years ago, when every single level in the system had several guys in the lineup who had no chance at all of reaching the majors. This is a welcome situation, even if it does hold a few guys back.