Neal Huntington's life has to be pretty painful right now for all kinds of reasons--just walking through the streets of Pittsburgh must be difficult. But in some ways, it's a baseball dork's dream.
Some of the hardest of the hardcore Bucs Dugout baseball dorks play in a fantasy league each year that has 18-20 teams, with many more spots per roster than most fantasy leagues have. The number of players drafted is about twice that of the standard 12-team fantasy league. Which is great, because you get to indulge your weirdest flights of fancy in the draft. In the late rounds this year, I picked Matt Joyce, Homer Bailey, Brandon Moss and, much more successfully, Russell Branyan (who I also wanted the real-life Pirates to sign in the offseason). But the size of the league quickly becomes a problem in the middle of the season, when a couple of your players go down and you're forced to find new ones in the free agent pool. The problem isn't finding a guy who's talented, it's finding a guy who's actually going to play.
What the Pirates are doing with their big-league roster right now is like managing a team in a very deep fantasy league, except that they also can hand out playing time. So it's a sort of experimental method that, in the short term, is aimed more at answering questions than getting results. Can Delwyn Young play second base? (Kind of.) Can Ronny Cedeno hit enough to stick as a starter at shortstop? (Maybe.) Can Garrett Jones play? (No comment, although he's certainly done little to prove me right so far.) Can Andy LaRoche develop any power? Can Charlie Morton finally translate his ability to mow down minor leaguers to the big leagues? And what about Lastings Milledge? Or Steve Pearce? Or Kevin Hart?
This Q+A-based approach to handing out playing time often produces painful results; after all, there are reasons why a lot of these guys never got extended shots before now. But, in a way, these August and September games are more fun for me to watch than April or May games, because in August or September there's often much more value in getting a "yes" answer. If Jack Wilson has a good week in April that's great, but the only long-term upside there is that the Pirates get something better for him in a trade, and even then that's often wishful thinking, since everyone basically knows what Jack Wilson brings to the table. If Delwyn Young has a good week, though, that's much better, because you don't know nearly as much about what he brings to the table, and if it turns out to be something tasty, you get to keep him for five years.
The only Bucs rookie who's even close to a sure thing is Andrew McCutchen. Many of the others, perhaps most, will ultimately fail. The best of the Pirates' young talent is still in the minors. But the Pirates are still well worth watching this fall, because if a surprising number of their youngest players are successful, they could end up being in great shape if and when Pedro Alvarez, Tony Sanchez, Jose Tabata, Tim Alderson and some of their other top prospects are finally ready.
That's why--and not to count chickens before they hatch here, but I have to leave a little before tonight's game is actually over--it's been really rewarding to see the Pirates in general, and guys like Cedeno and Milledge in particular, do good things in this series. It may almost be football season, but these Bucs are still pretty interesting to me.