Another major league season is coming to a close, and for Pirate fans, 2021 has been what most people expected; a rough rebuilding year filled with injury, growing pains, and an eye set on the future. Just because this season is a wash, it doesn’t mean fans should stop wanting to see things.
Several things need to be worked out, developed, and assessed before PNC’s gates close for the upcoming fall and winter. There are five things that fans should want to see from the Pirates as the final stretch is coming closer and closer.
More Lead Off At-Bats for Ke’Bryan
Hayes has seen a year that once looked like a lock for N.L Rookie of the Year turn to one filled with setbacks, injuries, and slumps. Since coming off of his recent injury, Hayes has been in the lead-off spot more often, and in 17 at-bats, Hayes has a .412 batting average and a .915 OPS. With Hayes trying to play catch-up, it makes the most sense to have him get as many hitting opportunities as possible, and the lead-off role provides just that.
Play Tsutsugo, Alford, and Gamel As Much As Possible
2022 will most likely have a similar result for the Pirates, but by playing Tsutsugo, Alford, and Gamel as much as possible, you then figure out who will be your stop-gaps until the wave of prospects come up.
If Tsutsugo is willing to play ball, maybe you extend a friendly team offer and see if he bites. Alford was set to fail at the beginning of the season with the Fowler/Alford flip-flop; it seems as if Alford may provide something of value after getting consistent at-bats.
Gamel has been a very pleasant surprise after the Pirates claimed him off of waivers; with incredible diving catches and a decent bat, maybe there is room for him on the ‘22 roster. We won’t know unless all three get the final stretch of games.
Get Creative with Bednar
This is going to sound like a broken record, but the Pirates will most likely not have many more save opportunities down the stretch. How do you continue to develop Bednar? You insert the young man in high-leverage situations like Shelton did in the 8th inning on Sept 10th. Bednar faced the heart of the Tiger’s order, and in all seriousness, that inning was like a save opportunity, and he shined and developed at that moment.
For all intents and purposes, Bednar is the best arm you have in the bullpen right now. What is the one thing you do with the best arm in your pen? You insert them in the high-leverage situations, letting their arm get you out of a jam. Since the season is based on development and not much else, it takes some of the pressure off knowing a pennant isn’t on the line.
Stop Hiding Oviedo
Danny Demilo wrote a brilliant piece on this subject, and this is just to reaffirm that article. Oviedo is, of course, very young, and if it weren’t for the Rule-5, he would be in the minors. In the days of yore, teams would hide their Rule-5 picks in the bullpen or on the bench, and when the time came, they would be sent down to the minors to develop.
In Oviedo’s case, the aforementioned logic should be thrown out the window. The young man will never get the experience in the minors that he can get while with the big club. Before he is sent down after the season, we should want to see Oviedo out pitching either in high-stress situations or even starting a game or two.
Find a Starter Who Can Lead the Rotation in ‘22
Maybe this goal is a bit too lofty; maybe there isn’t a pitcher on this staff that can take that role. Maybe we see someone step up and shock fans, writers, and scouts, or maybe the Pirates go out and sign a Tyler Anderson to mentor the young arms and take that “ace role.”
As it stands right now, the pitching staff is going to need a lot of work and will eventually need a leader to take the bull by the horns and steer the ship in the right direction. One of the biggest factors in this pitching staff is going to be Mitch Keller and his development; if Keller can take a step forward next year, one can argue that the window of contention may inch a little closer.