Changing Course: A Look at the Pittsburgh Pirates Rebuild
The Pittsburgh Pirates entered the off-season expecting to make big changes. After yet another great start to the 2019 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates suffered a second-half collapse once again. While their division rivals improved, the Pirates failed to progress in 2019. As a result, Bob Nutting made some drastic changes by firing Manager Clint Hurdle, General Manager Neal Huntington, and President Frank Coonelly all within one month.
With these organizational changes made, the Pirates are hopeful they are on the right path to being a successful franchise again. As many players are within their service time, the focus has to be the future as opposed to the present.
The Current Team
The Pittsburgh Pirates have plenty of exciting young players on the roster. For one, Josh Bell will be at first base for the next four years. Currently at twenty-six years-old; he does not become a free agent until 2023. The Pirates have to acquire or develop promising players around him.
Another key piece that excites Pirates fan base is Mitch Keller. At 23-years-old, Keller has the potential to develop into a top of the rotation starter. Keller is currently the Pirates top prospect according to MLB.com. He spent the 2019 season between Triple-A and the Majors. During 19 starts in Triple-A Indianapolis, he produced an ERA of 3.82 in 103.2 innings pitched with a WHIP of 1.244. The Pirates hope that Keller can become the future ace of this staff.
As most of the core will not become free agents until 2022; the Pirates have the opportunity to develop themselves around these players. Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove, and Adam Frazier can lead this team for years to come. Starling Marte will likely be traded shortly, hopefully, the Pirates can get key pieces in return. With such young talent, the Pirates have the opportunity to make baseball fun again on the Allegheny.
In addition to Mitch Keller, there are two other exciting prospects within the Pirates organization. Oneil Cruz is 21-years-old and comes from the Dominican Republic. He managed to get to Double-A Altoona as a 20-year-old, where he hit .269/.346/.412 in 35 games. The Pirates selected him to play in the Arizona Fall League in 2019 and could become their shortstop in 2021. He will likely play the 2020 season with both Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis.
Another name worth mentioning is Ke’Bryan Hayes. He is a Texas native who the Pirates drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft. The third baseman will 23 in January. Last season in Triple-A Hayes hit .265/.336/.415 with 10 Home Runs and 53 RBIs. While he may not play with the Pirates in 2020, he could be a key addition to the core in the years that follow.
Front Office Changes
The first change in the Pirates front office is through their new President Trevor Williams. Before he was hired, he was working in the business operations sector of the New York Islanders. Although he may be known to Pirates fans from his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In his 11 years with the Penguins, he was the Chief Operating Officer in eight of them. This hire likely was to address the business side of the operations rather than baseball operations. This is in contrast to former President Frank Coonelly who was heavily involved in baseball operations while President.
The second change comes to their General Manager, Ben Cherington. He was the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox from November 2011 until August 2015. In his tenure, the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series. Cherington lists his top priorities as bolstering minor league depth and the scouting department. This included the hiring of Steve Sanders to be his Assistant General Manager. Sanders was the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Toronto Blue Jays since 2016. In the process, he drafted and developed players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and T.J. Zeuch. Hopefully, these changes can benefit Pittsburgh in the long run.
The Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020 will try to improve from their 69-93 record in 2019. However, their division has gotten tougher as the Cincinnati Reds have made moves to make themselves more competitive. This comes along with the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs, who were contenders for the division in 2019.
If owner Bob Nutting is going to keep spending low; the only way for the Pirates to be competitive is through development and trades. While this puts the Pirates at a disadvantage, they need to be creative. With the acquisition of Steve Sanders, the Pirates have shown they want to focus on their development. As a result, the new regime will focus on the future instead of competing for the division in 2020.
The Pirates’ changes provide an opportunity to alter their direction. While there have been significant changes to the organization as a whole, not all of them will take one year to do. The Pirates ultimately need to keep fans engaged, and hopefully, that is by bringing them back to the postseason in the next few years.