PITTSBURGH – Prior to suffering a 9-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday night, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was asked about the recent article from Bob Nightengale in USA Today that talks about how recent changes made by hitters in their approach has led to baseball becoming a game of homeruns, walks and strikeouts.
“The games running a different course,” said Hurdle. “There are reasons why it is running this course; there has been a different importance put on different things.
While his take on how the game is changing came off mild and was nothing close to a “headline grabber” what Hurdle would say next is was certainly thought provoking.
“(The Pirates) seem to be an outlier from an offensive standpoint of everything they’re talking about,” said Hurdle.
The Bucs skipper then went on to speak about how the franchise’s mentality of going against the norm in the batters box has been at times not an easy sell to young players who are joining the Pirates organization.
“The offensive approach to hitting can be challenging to say the least,” said Hurdle. “What you hope to get is a young player at 18 that hasn’t had 20 hitting coaches. You get through college guys that have had a lot of different (coaches) and a lot of them are pretty much set in their ways.”
As the Pirates currently sit a few games under the .500 mark more than half way through the month of June it is becoming clearer each day that this group in 2018, though fun, is more than likely not good enough to make the post season. Though diehard fans had high hopes after the clubs hot start in the first month in a half of the season, to many, this team missing the playoffs for the third straight year is no surprise.
Sooner rather than later the clubs focus will be shifted toward 2019 and what will need to happen to make next year’s Pirates good enough to find their way back to “Buctober”. Although an argument can be made that getting consistency from starting rotation or finding more reliable options to use in the bullpen will be their biggest need, I for one think what the Pirates require most is the only thing they cannot find internally throughout their entire organization; a power hitter.
Answer me this question, who is the next Pittsburgh Pirate to hit 30 home runs in a season? Is there anyone capable of doing so on their current major league roster? If so, are they able to reach that level of production on a year to year basis? My guess is probably not. Players like Gregory Polanco and Josh Bell who were supposed to be “big bats” in the Bucs lineup have struggled with finding any sort consistency at the plate and though I am not ready to give up on them all together, I cannot see either of them being looked at as a long ball threat.
Left handed hitting rookies Colin Moran and Austin Meadows have both been pleasant surprises for the Pirates in 2018. While many are optimistic about them having long and successful careers, both seem like players that hit for average rather than power; similar to their teammate Starling Marte.
Considering that Corey Dickerson, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and possibly even Francisco Cervelli will be gone by the start of next season, who does that leave on the Pirates active roster that can send balls into the seats? Elias Diaz and Jose Osuna? Although I believe both have shown solid potential at the plate, it isn’t realistic to rely on a first year starting catcher and a guy who has no real place to play everyday in the lineup to match the production level of a playoff teams top slugger.
Knowing that the chance of the front office signing a legitimate major league power hitter in the off season is slim to none, the final place to search for the next Bucco to hit 30 or more homers is within, you guessed it, the minor leagues. Aside from hoping Jung Ho Kang can come up and hit to the same level or better that he did prior to missing an entire season of baseball, there is not much immediate help available in AAA. Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer will both one day be everyday players for the Pirates but like the many players on the Bucs current major league roster, their approach is all about contact.
Will Craig, Bryan Reynolds and Jason Martin have all shown some pop in AA for the Altoona Curve, but all three are still years away from being major league ready. Also, had any one of them been able to prove themselves capable of being an every day big league hitter do you honestly believe the front office would move Polanco, Marte, Meadows or Bell to clear a spot for them?
The point of this column was not to be pessimistic about the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I still believe this franchise has many young and talented players that could one day make up a solid core. However, what I would like to see the front office do is either use the tradeable pieces they have now to bring in a guy who can hit the ball over the fence or simply get with the times and start allowing hitters throughout the entire organization bat with the same approach the rest of the league does, rather than forcing young players to adopt an entire new style of hitting.
I am nowhere near a baseball expert but if teams like the Cubs, Astros, Yankees and Red Sox are all using the long ball to win games, it couldn’t hurt to take a page out of their playbook. Strikeouts might be ugly and walks are definitely not exciting to watch, however recent history shows that power leads to the postseason, which in the end should be the ultimate goal for any franchise.