Neal Huntington on Recent Injures and Plans for 2017

PITTSBURGH – General Manager Neal Huntington met with the media this afternoon, and addressed several topics that will impact the Pirates’ plans as they finish up the season and begin to look toward next year.

Injuries were a primary concern for the team this year, with several core players missing significant time or seeing diminished production due to both major and minor injuries. It was clear that Huntington felt that some of the problems were outside the team’s control, despite their focus on keeping players rested and health.

“Gregory Polanco’s [facial injury] is unavoidable; Cervelli’s [wrist injury] today is unavoidable”, Huntington said. “Anytime we have soft tissue injuries, tightness, strains or pulls, it drives [Head Athletic Trainer Todd Tomczyk] crazy. He takes a ton of pride in keeping these guys on the field.

“It’s something we’ll dig into in the offseason. Having to play every game with your playoff life on the line for an extended period of time, it can put additional stress on guys. We’ll evaluate and see if there are some things that we can do better.”

Obviously, the players’ physical performances are critical to a team’s success, but the grind of a long season also has mental and emotional aspects that the team needs to be able to manage over the course of 162 games. Huntington was asked whether the team’s mental conditioning programs are starting to pay dividends with the young players who have made their debuts this season.

“This group as a collective, they’ve come through our system, and as our system has evolved and we’ve gotten better, we do feel that this group is reflective of that,” said Huntington. “It’s a mature group. It’s a group that competes. It’s a group that seems to have a pretty good feel for how to handle some adversity, how not to get too caught up in their success. It’s a group that’s able to make adjustments pitch to pitch.”

Huntington expressed optimism that the current core of young players would help carry the banner of recent successful Pirates teams into next season, and that the development program the team has in place is helping build depth in the minor leagues as well.

“It’s a fun group to see, and [it’s] another positive sign that we’re doing some good things in scouting, some good things in development,” Huntington said. “There’s a good core in place as we look at the 2017 rosters. Indianapolis will have some complimentary players from outside the organization, but the core of that club is going to be Pirates.

“The core of our [major league] club next year is going to be a good number of guys that have come through our system. It’s a great spot for us as an organization. We need to continue to keep that pipeline flow wide open, and continue to help these guys get better.”

That core group of players would seemingly include both Adam Frazier and Alen Hanson, both of whom have been targeted for development as “super utility” players. Pending free agent Sean Rodriguez has occupied that role rather well in recent weeks, and the team has Josh Harrison under contract and presumably healthy for next year in addition to the younger Frazier and Hanson.

Huntington was non-committal when asked whether Rodriguez has a future in Pittsburgh.

“Sean’s just done a remarkable job,” said Huntington. “The defensive versatility and the impact, it’s hard to measure. It’s hard to quantify because he’s at each position so limited that it’s hard to truly value and understand what he can do defensively.

“And then offensively, the approach change and the impact that he’s made on us this year is terrific. Again, we’d love to have Sean remain in a Pirate uniform. Given what he’s done this year, we fully anticipate there’s going to be quite a market out there for him. He’s going to have a pretty good opportunity to do some things.”

Regarding the starting rotation for next year, it would seem that Jameson Taillon has the inside track on one spot, with significant uncertainty as to who will be joining him and Gerrit Cole. Chad Kuhl, Tyler Glasnow, Drew Hutchison, and Steven Brault–possibly among others–would seem to be competing for opportunities as well.

Huntington was asked whether the Pirates plan to supplement this young group of starting pitchers with a veteran starter in what is likely to be a weak offseason market.

“It’s going to be important for us to have eight starters that we feel good about,” said Huntington. “It continues to get reinforced to us that it’s not a five man rotation, it’s a seven or eight man rotation.

“In an ideal world, you’d like to have a veteran, but if you have good enough young pitching, good enough young starting pitching, to put a veteran in there just to have a veteran in there doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If that veteran is one of your best five, and is one that can take down innings and anchor a staff, that’s a good situation.

“If we end up with five young starters because that’s what we believe to be our best rotation with three guys in Triple-A, that’s where we’ll end up. But we’ll certainly explore, via trade, via free agency, if there’s someone that we think makes our rotation better.”

Ryan Vogelsong has played that supplemental veteran role for the Pirates this season, and Huntington took a moment to reflect on Vogelsong’s return to Pittsburgh, including dealing with a horrific injury earlier in the season.

“We went to get a veteran than could eat some innings as we were waiting for the next group of starters to come through,” Huntington said. “If he had prolonged success, he stays in the rotation, but we had some starters that we were looking forward to adding to our club this year.

“Ryan, coming back from the injury, he’s an absolute battler. I cannot say enough good things about the impact he’s had in our clubhouse on these young starters, these young pitchers, the young players on our club. The true professionalism, how he handled the disappointment when we took him out of the rotation. I love the person; I love what he’s done to help this young group grow and he’s done some good things for us.”

As Clint Hurdle did this morning, Huntington also took a moment to deliver a somber comment on the tragic loss of Marlins’ pitcher Jose Fernandez.

“[It’s] just one of those things that takes your breath away when you hear the news,” Huntington said. “[It’s] amazingly sad for his family and his friends and that organization. There’s nothing really more you could say. It’s a huge loss for this game; it’s a huge loss in general.”

Analysis

  • Since we’re all pessimistic here. Reasons to be optimistic for 2017:
    1. Gregory Polanco
    2. Starling Marte
    3. Josh Bell
    4. Jung Ho Kang
    5. Jameson Taillon
    6. Gerrit Cole

    Throw in a potentially healthy and rejuvenated Cutch and you’ve got an excellent core to build around. I think Nick Kingham is gonna make some noise next year and Adam Frazier is gonna get a ton of playing time. NH has done an excellent job supplementing the core in the past and really did a nice job of building a bench this last offseason. Remember what Tim wrote, if Cutch, Cole, Liriano, and Kang perform anywhere near to what they did in 2015, this is a 90+ win team.

    • No, it is not.

      • Yeah, it is. I’ll at Cervelli since his WAR has dropped significantly as well. Last year, Cutch, Kang, Cervelli, Cole, and Liriano combined for 22.5 WAR. This year, they’ve combined for 8 WAR. 8! That’s 14.5 WAR we lost from our 5 best players last year. They have 77 wins right. Add no regression from those 5 and they have 91 wins right now.

        • That’s not how baseball works. You cannot literally just add WAR to a win total and get an accurate result.

  • Who would have thought that the Pirates would still be in the hunt at this time. They have no chance but at least they gave it a great try. Now they should lose their remaining games to get a better draft position and more international cash to spend.

    • I feel like trying to compete down the stretch is the right move, if only because the core of the team is so young. If the organization/front office gives up then what kind of attitude/message are you sending to 22-25 year olds that you need to rely on for the next 4-5 years?

    • Sad, but true. I have to agree with Leefoo. Solid starting pitching is too expensive given the spending restrictions under the ownership of Nutting. Either the young pitchers come through in a big way or Nutting sells to a group that will get the budget where it needs to be to contend for a division title. Can Keller contribute as early as 2018?

  • That’s Huntington’s way of saying Rodriguez will not be with the Pirates in 2017.

    -Another sad performance by Glasnow…91-93 with the fastball.

  • Sorry, NH, I am no longer optimistic.

    Unless our young gun SPs come through, there’s not enough SPs out there in trade or FA to help us.

    I think JT and Kohl both look promising. Who knows what shape Cole will come back in?

    After that, you have Glasnow, Brault, Williams and Hutchison, all who underwhelmed in the majors. Maybe Duncan will get a shot?

    Nova looks like he is coming back to earth, so I am not sure he will help or even if we can/want to sign him.

    Btw, NH, did you happen to notice that Frankie’s Toronto ERA is a whole run lower than it was for us? He has 5 QS in 7 starts. We just gave him to Toronto along with two prospects. That, pretty much, has me soured on your attempt to get us back into contention.

    And then, there’s the Cubs with even more young prospects down in the minors.

    Sorry all, but I am fairly pessimistic at this point.

    • No real reason to be very optimistic. Nh fooled himself into thinking niese could not only help inn 2016 but 2017 as well. Rotation looks pretty bad at this point for 2017. They need a number 3 and to even try to get a competent one it will max their budget

    • Mos def give Duncan a shot.

    • Shhhh… no one’s allowed to be sour about the Liriano trade – and you’re CERTAINLY not supposed to talk about it.

    • All eyes on Happ and Liriano in the playoffs. Frankie has been Ok for Toronto and the comparison with Hutchison will live on all next year.
      Of course, we’ll be watching our catchers health and the development of Diaz too.
      A bad deal Neal.

    • I’m neither optimistic or pessimistic, the range of outcomes for younger pitchers is so vast that it is hard to have a sentiment about it.

      But agree on the Liriano trade it really lowered the confidence I have in the Pirates and their ability improve pitchers. It is hard to get excited about Nova well all around him is under-performance and disaster.

  • I’m curious if nh learned his lesson this year targeting niese and vogelsong types. Low ceiling guys who he overestimated the floor on

    • Vogelsong was low ceiling – but Niese clearly was not. Prior to his mediocre 2015, his previous three years had produced an ERA of 3.49 over 521 innings. FIP of 3.68. And with a weak defense behind him. And there was no age issue, with Niese just entering his Age 29 season.

      • He had a serious rotator cuff injury since that era and was barely replacement in 2nd half of 2015. Alderson took nh to the woodshed

        • Fact check:

          Niese was diagnosed with the partial tear in June 2013. Upon returning that August, he had a 3.00 ERA in 2nd half of 2013, a 3.40 ERA for the full year 2014, and a 3.61 ERA in the first half of 2015. Still very much #3 SP numbers.

          Of course, it was his knee, which he had surgically repaired last month, that ended his season, and not his shoulder. We have also learned that the knee was bothering him in the second half last year. It’s also probable that the Pirates’ pitching philosophy of throwing inside was a poor fit for his skill set, but you certainly can’t rule out the knee.

        • To the woodshed? For one year of an aging 2B – who ended up with back surgery.

      • Niese was *absolutely* low ceiling, and Huntington himself admitted as much.

  • The future looks to be anywhere from 500 to slightly above. With some good years by core players could challenge for wc. But the 2013-15 prime era is over. The new wave very unlikely to duplicate that

    • I couldn’t disagree more.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      September 25, 2016 10:33 pm

      It is hard to predict how the guys in the DSL may pan out, but as of today, we don’t have much in the way of position player prospects below the AA level. Hayes and who else? Tucker, Craig? I don’t think so. Once we get beyond Newman and Meadows, there isn’t much there to be excited about – as far as position players. Hughston and Santos have a lot of tools, but will they become consistent producers? Kramer and Luplow could become decent prospects, but I don’t see either one being a top 100 prospect.

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