It’s good to be back Bucs Dugout; after a week of rushing due to the COVID-19 response by countless state governments and the federal government itself, I finally find myself back at home in Pittsburgh, isolated with my four siblings (which is pleasurable thus far but will surely take a turn sooner or later). Rather than focus on the MLB’s response to the pandemic and prospect of baseball being delayed until summertime, I wanted to share my observations on the last bit of spring training we were all able to witness. What could these developments mean when the season inevitably kicks off in a few months? Possibly (probably) little, but hopefully they are positive signs of things to come in a shortened season. Without further ado, let’s dive into the last bit of Bucco baseball we had before spring training came to an abrupt close…
On the field…
Nick Burdi was an unstoppable force
The right-handed flamethrower has surrendered one run in 4.2 innings pitched this spring, coming on a solo home run. Opponents are averaging just .188 against him; he’s only given up three base hits thus far and just one walk. He’s routinely touching 100 MPH on the radar gun, but nothing is more deadly than the filthy slider he pairs with his heater. Coming off the injury to his elbow, Burdi was largely an unknown heading into camp, many wondering if he would be able to bounce back after yet another injury. He has given the Pirates every indication that he came to compete; his stuff looks better than ever before, he carries himself in a competitive manner, and he looks to me like he’s a pure gamer. For a 2020 season that looks rather dim, Burdi has the chance to be a bright spot.
Trevor Williams and Mitch Keller pulled it together
Williams seemed to finally put some pieces together during his most recent outing two Mondays ago. Williams went three scoreless while allowing two hits, two walks, and striking out two. Williams’ standard low-velo stuff was finally playing, and he looked more pitcher than thrower against the Toronto Blue Jays, mixing his stuff well. Keller likewise had an impressive outing two Sundays ago against the Tampa Bay Rays in a little over three innings of work. The young righty allowed one run while striking out five, three of those coming over his last inning of work (one of which was our friend Austin Meadows). It’s good to see these two probable rotation arms making progress on their pitching strategy and growing their confidence by getting on-field results.
Off the field…
Oneil Cruz was *almost* assigned to Triple-A Indianapolis
While first baseman Will Craig was assigned to AAA without issue, the Twittersphere was buzzing two Mondays ago when the Pirates official account announced that shortstop Oneil Cruz was also on his way to Indy. The quick promotion seemed to be a sign that the front office was excited about Cruz’s abilities at the plate and on the field, eager to test him at a higher level rather than keep him in Altoona to “master” the level.
Sadly, this possibility was shorter-lived; the Pirates later announced that Cruz had been optioned to Double-A and that the previous announcement was a mistake. Cruz will hopefully make quick work of his 2020 tenure in Altoona, giving Cherington no choice but to promote him to Triple-A before summer’s start. Keep in mind, as I have stated before; Cruz is determined to make the majors in 2020. That mindset alone is a reason to be excited about his progress in the minors.
MLB.com’s Adam Berry reported that the organization has reached out to outfielder Bryan Reynolds, starting pitcher Joe Musgrove, first baseman Josh Bell, and prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes about possible extensions with the club beyond 2020. The Pirates seemingly liked what they say form the 25-year-old Reynolds in 2019 and believes in his consistency; the same applies to Musgrove and his untapped potential and Bell’s offensive prowess (less-so his defense I’m sure).
Approaching Hayes is the interesting move by Cherington and crew; extending an offer to a prospect who has yet to play at the major league level is not unheard of in today’s league. The Phillies did this with infielder Scott Kingery in 2018, buying out his arbitration years and giving themselves team options during his early years of free agency. The signing of a similar deal would all but guarantee Hayes a spot on the Opening Day roster