MORGANTOWN — There is a solid youth movement within the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organizations, which may be a scary notion these days.
That movement may begin with West Virginia Black Bears outfielder Travis Swaggerty — the Pirates’ top pick in the 2018 draft — but by no means does it end there.
It’s quite possible Swaggerty’s progress up the ranks could mirror that of 19-year old Calvin Mitchell, who is batting .309 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs for the West Virginia Power (Charleston) at the moment.
Deon Stafford — a catcher with the Power who played last season with the Black Bears — is already listed as the Pirates’ No. 29 prospect in just his second year as a pro.
Dylan Busby (Power) has the potential to develop into a third baseman with some power in his bat and speed in his legs.
Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes (Class AA Altoona) was just named to the Futures All-Star game, and middle infielder Kevin Newman rocketed through the minors since starting with the Black Bears as the Pirates’ top pick in the 2015 draft. He’s now hitting .311 at Class AAA Indianapolis and could get the call to the Pirates this season.
We have little doubt about the baseball futures of these young men. We have a ton of doubt about their futures with the Pirates.
And before you think this is just one more know-it-all who’s going to rip into the rebuilding job done by general manager Neal Huntington and owner Robert Nutting, it’s not.
This is a know-it-all who’s going to rip into every small-market theory on how to build a baseball team.
You can throw Miami, San Diego and Cincinnati all in the same boat as the Pirates.
Even Oakland’s “Moneyball” approach — no matter how entertaining the movie may have been — is destined to fail.
The Pirates’ rebuilding plan is destined to fail. OK, maybe “fail” is strong, but at the core of the plan, there is no strategy available to sustain any success that may head the Pirates’ way.
To me, that’s failing.
In short, let’s say all of the guys listed above turn out to be great pro players who turn the Pirates into a winner in 2021.
In a way, compare them to what Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker accomplished from 2013-’15 after they progressed through Pittsburgh’s minor-league system.
By 2024 — if any of them truly developed into the players Pittsburgh hoped for — they will have become too expensive for the Pirates to keep.
Or they will have become too expensive to afford the team the opportunity to place other quality players around them.
And then you rebuild again.
Tell me how that makes any sense? How can the slim hope of being better-than-decent for a few years outweigh the laugh-out-loud losing that has to take place before and after those seasons?
And you can blame the lack of a salary cap in baseball if you want. The problem with professional baseball isn’t the lack of a salary cap, it’s the lack of a salary floor.
San Francisco’s opening-day payroll of $221 million isn’t as much the problem as Oakland’s opening-day payroll of just under $63 million is.
And because of the luxury tax system, the small-market owners continue to make money despite the product they put on the field.
In any way, you may want to enjoy these young players while you can.
If they do reach the big leagues, it’s unlikely they’ll be in Pittsburgh after their 30th birthdays.