The Pirates drafted a lot of college hitters under Neal Huntington. Very few of them reached the majors, and in those cases, the Pirates got average starter production at best.
It’s difficult to say whether their issue was an inability to identify college talent, or an issue developing that talent. That debate doesn’t matter much now.
Huntington is gone and Ben Cherington is overseeing the drafting and development. We’ll eventually see the type of college players Cherington goes after when the 2020 draft rolls around. Before that, we’ll get a chance to see if the development improves for these college hitters.
Travis Swaggerty is a good barometer for the development changes.
Our rankings of Swaggerty are lower than some, but not to an extreme. Still, we’ve drawn concerns about Swaggerty’s tendency to swing through fastballs, and concerns that he has some swing and miss issues that will be highlighted in the upper levels.
The praise for Swaggerty is pretty universal. Kiley McDaniel mentioned him in a FanGraphs chat the other day, touting his defense in center field, his running and throwing skills, his plus raw power, his 120 wRC+ in High-A.
I don’t think we need to break down the defensive skills, the running, or the plus raw power. Everyone is in agreement that those skills exist. The running and defense has me projecting Swaggerty as a bench outfielder at least.
The offense is where the opinions split. Swaggerty did have a 120 wRC+ last year in High-A, but that doesn’t tell the story of how streaky he was. If his season would have ended in July, he would have had a 106 wRC+. Back it up to June, and it drops down to 92.
The flip side to this is that Swaggerty hit very well in July and August. He had a 158 wRC+ during that time, finishing stronger in the final month.
Those numbers drew my attention when evaluating Swaggerty this offseason. I did take them with the standard disclaimer that Swaggerty was a college player in A-ball, and the second half is usually when the best players move up to the next level, and the league is stocked with players who are new to the level after a promotion from Low-A. In short, I’d much rather see this production from Swaggerty in Double-A before buying in on those numbers.
The big concern we’ve had goes back to the need for a swing adjustment, and this is something that has been known since Swaggerty was drafted. It’s something we’ve pointed out, and it’s something we’ve heard confirmed from scouts who saw Swaggerty in action.
This is fixable, but just saying that is a massive understatement.
I didn’t have faith that the old front office could make the necessary changes, based on their track record. Swaggerty actually improved in my rankings once Cherington was brought in, just because I felt he actually had a chance at that adjustment.
Still, adjustments aren’t guaranteed. Some players can’t make them. Some players make them and it takes away from part of their game.
Will Craig is a perfect example of the last type of player. In his minor league career, he’s either been a guy who can hit for average with middle infield power, or a guy who can hit only for power, with a big hit to his average and OBP. The dream scenario is that he figures out how to do both, but obviously that’s extremely difficult.
Just like Craig, Swaggerty has that plus raw power. He has an ability to hit for average and get on base. The question is whether he can do it all at the same time for the long-term.
Further complicating the matter is that we don’t know how successful Ben Cherington’s development team or strategy will be. You hope that college guys like Swaggerty see an improvement in development under the new group. Projecting that to happen, without seeing any results or plans first, is not a good approach.
I’ve always hated the ranking process for this reason. If we remove rankings, almost everyone is in agreement on Swaggerty. Plus defense, plus raw power, showed some good signs at the plate at times, but needs a swing adjustment for the upper levels. If that swing adjustment works, he could be an above-average starting center fielder in the majors. If it works.
That’s what we’ll all watch for in 2020. Swaggerty is going to be a great barometer for the new front office and their development skills. He’s not alone. He’s joined by every other college hitter still in the system that was drafted under Neal Huntington. The Pirates need to see better development results from college hitters like Swaggerty, Will Craig, Kevin Kramer, and so on.
The old front office didn’t get these results. The new one might. The good thing is that they’ve got plenty of raw talent to work with in guys like Swaggerty.
**Wilbur Miller will have a live Pirates Q&A later this afternoon.
SONG OF THE DAY
RANDOM STUFF OF THE DAY
This was perfect.
Everything You Need To Know About The Current State Of Major League Baseball As Told By Mean Girls pic.twitter.com/2HrKoY0yJc
— Julia (@jquadddddd) January 17, 2020
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
By John Dreker
Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus some draft picks from 1984 and a transaction from the 1880s.
On this date in 1984, the Pirates drafted Jay Buhner and Tom Prince in the January portion of the 1984 draft. Buhner, who was drafted in the second round, never played for the Pirates. He was traded to the New York Yankees in a deal to get Tim Foli and Steve Kemp in December of 1984. Prince played parts of seven seasons with the Pirates, then managed off and on in their minor league system, as well as taking the reins for the final game of the 2019 season after Clint Hurdle was fired.
On this date in 1888, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys purchased outfielder Billy Sunday from the Chicago White Stockings for $1,000, after he agreed to play for an $1,800 salary for the 1888 season. Sunday was known as the fastest runner in the game at the time, and he played strong defense in center field, but he had his share of issues with getting on base. In 1887, he had his best career season since debuting in 1883, though he was always a backup player in Chicago. He hit .291 in 50 games in 1887, with 41 runs scored and 34 stolen bases. He was with the Alleghenys until late in the 1890 season, making him one of the few players on the team who didn’t make the jump to the Player’s League. In 287 games over three seasons in Pittsburgh, he stole 174 bases and scored 189 runs.
Jeff Tabaka, pitcher for the 1994 and 1998 Pirates. He was a second round draft pick of the Montreal Expos in 1986, but it took him until 1994 to make the majors for the first time. The Pirates were his fifth organization and he signed with them just before the start of that 1994 season, one day after he was released by the Brewers. He pitched just five relief games before he was put on waivers by Pittsburgh, the last game being a 19-7 loss in which he allowed six runs in 1.1 innings. He was picked up by the Padres on May 12th and finished out the season in San Diego. After spending time with both the Astros and Reds, he signed with the Pirates as a free agent on December 10, 1997. In 37 relief games with the 1998 Pirates, he had a 2-2, 3.02 record in 50.2 innings. He injured his elbow during the 1999 Spring Training and missed the entire season. He left via free agency following the season. His only major league experience after that was eight games for the 2001 Cardinals.
Jack Merson, second baseman for the 1951-52 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Washington Senators in 1940 and lasted just 12 games, hitting .135, before he released. He then went six full seasons without playing organized pro ball, with some of the time being spent serving in the military during WWII. He returned in 1947 as a member of the Pirates organization and hit .388 with 11 homers in the low minors. He moved up one level and hit .321 in 141 games the next season, then after spending two seasons in Double-A, he moved up to Triple-A in 1951, where he hit .295 with 94 RBIs, earning a September call-up to the Pirates. In 13 games he hit .360 with 14 RBIs, earning a starting job with the 1952 team. In his only full season in the majors he hit .246 with 38 RBIs and 41 runs scored in 111 games. He was lost to the Boston Red Sox in the 1952 Rule 5 draft and he would end up playing just one more major league game, which came in April, 1953. He finished his playing career in the minors in 1956.
Milt Scott, first baseman for the 1885 Alleghenys. He played one game in the majors in 1882 with the Chicago White Stockings (Cubs) before spending the entire 1883 season in the minors. He played the 1884 season for the Detroit Wolverines, a defunct National League franchise. He hit .247 with 50 RBIs in 110 games that season. Milt started the 1885 season with Detroit and was hitting .264 in 38 games before they sold him to the Alleghenys on June 25th. He played 55 games in a Pittsburgh uniform, hitting .248 with 18 RBIs. He was an above average first baseman defensively, and for the Alleghenys he posted a .986 fielding percentage, which was 20 points over the league average at the time. Just prior to the 1886 season the Alleghenys sent him to the Baltimore Orioles of the American Association, where he played his last Major League season.