I try to leave Super Two out of my personal analysis of when a player is ready. That’s difficult when you cover a small market team, where Super Two can be a very real factor that determines when top prospects will make the jump to the majors. But as far as my personal opinion on when a player is ready, Super Two doesn’t enter the mix.
There have been players who I’ve felt were ready, and were only held back from a promotion until mid-June for Super Two purposes. There have been players who I’ve felt weren’t ready, regardless of Super Two potential, and continued to feel they weren’t ready after it was safe to call them up.
I’m assuming most know what Super Two means, but here’s a quick refresher. Players get three full years of league minimum pay and three full years of arbitration pay under their team control before free agency. Every year, the top 22% of players with between two and three years of service time are awarded an extra year of arbitration, replacing their third league minimum year. This past year the cutoff was two years and 123 days of service time (written 2.123), meaning anyone who finished the 2017 season with less than three years of service time, but more than or equal to the cutoff were eligible for arbitration.
The impact of Super Two can be big. If a player is a top prospect who goes on to be an impact guy, it can cost the team an extra $10 M over the long-haul. It’s usually less of an impact for guys who don’t perform like impact players, but the cost increase is still there. So even if you don’t agree with it, you can see the reason why teams would hold a prospect back a week or two, especially if he’s a top prospect who is projected to be an impact guy in the majors.
The interesting thing about this year is that the Pirates are ignoring Super Two right now with two key prospects. The first is Nick Kingham, who if he stays up, would finish with 134 days of service time at the end of this season. If he remains up (and he’s out of options after 2018, so he will have to remain up), he would finish the 2020 season at 2.134, and would likely be eligible for arbitration in 2021, rather than his previous league minimum year.
It’s not a guarantee that Kingham remains up. He was previously in the rotation until Joe Musgrove returned, and then was called back up to replace Ivan Nova. Since his debut, he has a 5.29 ERA in 17 innings, although he’s been unlucky, having a 3.93 xFIP. I personally think that he’s ready, as he’s shown some promising things with his new slider and changeup. I think he could really benefit from an increase in usage with his off-speed pitches, rather than throwing the fastball 61% of the time.
The question with Kingham is whether he would remain up for the rest of the season. That would require either another injury (which is possible), or for the Pirates to remove someone from the current rotation when Nova returns (with Nova being a candidate, and Trevor Williams being another candidate).
There’s a bigger Super Two scenario brewing, and that’s with top hitting prospect Austin Meadows. The Pirates called him up in May, which is a few weeks early for a top prospect to arrive. They’ve called guys up early before, with Neil Walker being the biggest example, so they’re not always by the book with the Super Two projections. Meadows was originally up as an injury replacement for Starling Marte, but the Pirates kept him up and went with a four-man outfield mix over the last week once Marte returned.
I wrote last week that their decision with Meadows would be difficult. Basically it’s not a problem to keep him up if they can find playing time for him. But if they keep him up, I don’t think it’s a good idea to send him back down when he starts to struggle and the league starts to adjust to him.
They didn’t do that with Gregory Polanco. He arrived, hit the cover off the ball for ten games, then struggled for the rest of that season, all while getting votes of confidence that he was in the majors for good, and could relax. The same approach needs to be taken with Meadows if he’s up. I don’t think it sends a good message to send a guy down when he starts to struggle.
We only have a small sample size to go on with Meadows. When I wrote my first article, he had played seven games. Since that article he has played in seven more games, with two of those being pinch-hit appearances. By comparison, Gregory Polanco has also started five games, Corey Dickerson has started six games, and Starling Marte has started seven games in the eight game stretch since Marte has returned.
That’s not a bad mix of playing time between the four outfielders, and Meadows definitely isn’t riding the bench, which is good to see.
As for the performance, Meadows continues to hit well, to the point where he was named the NL Rookie of the Month yesterday. I pointed out last week that his numbers wouldn’t continue, and would see some regression. That has been true, and some regression has kicked in. There’s still some on the way. But even with that, Meadows continues to hit well.
He hadn’t drawn a walk in his first seven games, instead relying on an unsustainably high BABIP to boost his average and OBP. In the last week he has a .333 average and a .409 OBP, due to a 13.6% walk rate and a .267 BABIP (which is actually low compared to his results in the minors). So his ability to hit and get on base have normalized, and he’s still putting up good numbers.
The power numbers still seem to be unsustainable. The latest stretch of games has a .389 ISO, which is something he hasn’t done in the minors. But even if the power comes down, the average and OBP would help to lead Meadows to good results when paired with normal power. We just don’t know what normal power is for him yet.
This is all based off the latest seven game sample size, which is too small to draw any conclusions. Even his overall sample size is too small. We’re talking about half a month of games. Things could look very different for Meadows in another month or two, for better or worse.
But right now, Meadows is hitting, and he’s showing some positive signs. He has been the fourth most valuable player on the team by fWAR, despite having a quarter of the playing time. The Pirates made the decision to keep him up due to that production.
He will eventually struggle. The league will eventually adjust. Maybe he can adjust back quickly, and it will barely register as a blip on the radar. I think he needs to stay up in the majors through all of that. The Pirates decided to keep him around, and that should be a long-term decision, giving him the comfort and security that other prospects received before he arrived.
That would mean the Pirates are likely heading toward Super Two with Meadows in a few years. I don’t think that should be a big concern at this point. If he continues working out, it’s going to cost them extra money. But that’s also going to occur after their next local TV deal, when hopefully they will have more money to spend. And Meadows will have his final three arbitration years under the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, where the arbitration process could look much different.
The Pirates are winning right now, and Meadows has been a big part of that. They’ve decided to keep him up in the majors. That has financial implications down the road. But since they might have a different financial situation, and since the league might have a different structure at that time, it’s not a good exercise to worry about those potential implications, as they may be totally different when the 2022 season rolls around.
I’ve felt the Pirates need to have one focus — either winning now or focusing on the future. They haven’t done that in previous years, unsuccessfully trying to focus on both things, which creates a conflict at times. Keeping Meadows up and ignoring Super Two would definitely qualify as focusing on one thing, the present, while ignoring any impact in the future.
Bradenton is in third place in their division, four games behind the leader with 15 games remaining in the first half.
West Virginia is in fourth place in their division, 7.5 games behind the leader with 17 games remaining in the first half.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 3-2 to the St Louis Cardinals on Saturday. They will send Nick Kingham to the mound for his fifth start today. He allowed three earned runs over 5.2 innings against the Chicago Cubs in his last start. The Cardinals scheduled starter is right-hander Michael Wacha, who has a 2.71 ERA in 63 innings, with 53 strikeouts and a 1.19 WHIP. He faced the Milwaukee Brewers in his last start and allowed one run over 6.2 innings.
The minor league schedule includes Tyler Eppler, who has allowed two runs over his last 11.2 innings, while striking out 16 batters. Pedro Vasquez gets the start for Altoona. Earlier this week, he gave up one earned run over seven innings. Bradenton’s Oddy Nunez has gone at least six innings in five of his last seven starts. West Virginia starter Hunter Stratton has allowed nine runs over nine innings in his last two starts combined. That’s after back-to-back games with one run over five frames. One day after their season started, the DSL Pirates have off today.
MLB: Pittsburgh (30-28) @ Cardinals (31-25) 2:15 PM
Probable starter: Nick Kingham (3.75 ERA, 25:4 SO/BB, 24.0 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (26-26) vs Scranton/WB (26-28) 1:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Tyler Eppler (3.14 ERA, 53:13 SO/BB, 51.2 IP)
AA: Altoona (26-25) @ Hartford (27-29) 1:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Pedro Vasquez (5.48 ERA, 16:7 SO/BB, 23.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (28-22) vs Charlotte (24-27) 2:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Oddy Nunez (3.92 ERA, 40:16 SO/BB, 57.1 IP)
Low-A: West Virginia (26-24) @ Greensboro (25-28) 1:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Hunter Stratton (6.41 ERA, 31:12 SO/BB, 26.2 IP)
DSL: Pirates1 (0-1) vs Cubs 10:30 AM 6/4
DSL: Pirates2 (0-1) vs Colorado 10:30 AM 6/4
From Altoona on Friday, Ke’Bryan Hayes picks up his fourth hit of the night, which was also his third double of the game.
6/2: Tyler Gaffney promoted to Altoona. Mitchell Tolman assigned to Bradenton.
6/2: Reymundo Pena released.
6/1: Jung Ho Kang assigned to Bradenton
6/1: Montana DuRapau assigned to Altoona. Elvis Escobar placed on disabled list.
5/30: Brandon Waddell promoted to Indianapolis. Jerrick Suiter assigned to Morgantown.
5/30: Eduardo Vera promoted to Altoona.
5/29: Dario Agrazal placed on DL. Bryan Reynolds added to Altoona roster.
5/29: Joel Cesar activated from West Virginia DL. Blake Weiman promoted to Bradenton.
5/29: Brett McKinney released.
5/28: Ivan Nova placed on disabled list. Pirates recall Nick Kingham.
5/28: Pirates released George Kontos.
5/27: Raul Hernandez placed on disabled list. Yoel Gonzalez added to West Virginia roster.
5/26: Starling Marte activated from disabled list. Jose Osuna optioned to Indianapolis.
5/25: JT Brubaker assigned to Altoona. Austin Coley assigned to Altoona.
5/25: Jacob Taylor retired. Kevin Mahala was released.
5/24: Trae Arbet released. Jesse Medrano added to Bradenton roster.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
One former Pittsburgh Pirates player born on this date, plus two trades of note and some old draft news. The only former Pirate born on this date is second baseman Nelson Liriano, who played for the 1995-96 club.
In 2009, the Pirates traded Nate McLouth to the Braves for Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernandez, a trade that worked out well. Exactly 103 years earlier, the Pirates dealt young Ed Karger to the Cardinals for veteran pitcher Chappie McFarland in a deal that didn’t go well. Karger went on to play until 1911 and he posted a career 2.79 ERA, while McFarland lasted six games in Pittsburgh before being put on waivers.
The Pirates have drafted some players of note on this date, taking Ryan Doumit during the second round of the 1999 draft and Jeff King as the first overall pick in 1986, the same year they took Stan Belinda in the tenth round and Jeff Banister and Rick Reed with back-to-back picks, going in the 25th and 26th rounds. In 1998, the Pirates pulled off some late round magic, taking Dave Williams, Joe Beimel, Jeff Bennett and Mike Johnston with consecutive picks in rounds 17 through 20.
On this date in 1955, the Pirates defeated the Reds by a 7-6 score, collecting 18 hits in the game. The day included Vern Law throwing 5.1 innings of relief for the win, and the Pirates scoring the walk-off run on a bases loaded single in the ninth by catcher Hardy Peterson, just his second RBI of the season. Roberto Clemente and Dick Cole each had three hits, while Dale Long had four hits. You can see the boxscore here.