After a year-plus of building up the lower levels of the Minor League system, Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said that the higher levels will be a big focus heading into 2022.
Cherington spoke with MLB.com at the General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., on Wednesday afternoon, touching on a range of subjects, including big-picture plans with respect to the organization aiming to build a postseason contender. Where are they at in this process?
“We would like to start to focus a little more on improving specifically the upper-level talent base: definitely our 40-man [roster], definitely the upper level of our system,” Cherington said. “Just make that stronger and deeper.”
Part of those upper levels are the Double-A and Triple-A teams the Pirates will begin to pull from in 2022, a pair of rosters that should be full of top prospects. The club showed it wasn’t afraid to promote players directly from Double-A to the Majors, as they did multiple times with No. 25 prospect Rodolfo Castro.
And after Cherington, who was hired after the 2019 season, and his newly constructed player development team finally had a full season to see the farm system develop through game action, they feel much more comfortable with what to address at the affiliate teams and who needs to be at which level.
“Playing baseball games helped us get clearer on, ‘OK, we need to do this better, or we need to do this better,’” he said. “Probably by the middle of the year, that was clarified, so we’ve been able to focus on that a lot over the last several months, and we’ll continue to do that.”
But Pittsburgh will also seek opportunities to acquire Major League talent, too. It began that process by claiming outfielder Greg Allen off waivers from the Yankees. Allen had only 37 at-bats in New York last season, but his .907 OPS at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre over 73 games has Cherington optimistic that the 28-year-old has upped his offensive capabilities to complement the other strengths in his game.
“He’s a great teammate, hard worker,” Cherington said. “He can run, brings us a speed element that we haven’t had as much. So we’re excited to have him, and hopefully, he can factor into the outfield mix.”
The next gap to fill will be pitching, both starting and relieving. A good portion of the innings covered in 2021 came from pitchers no longer in the organization, including experienced arms like Tyler Anderson (103 1/3 innings), Chasen Shreve (56 1/3), Clay Holmes (42) and Richard Rodríguez (38 1/3).
Cherington said he hopes to see his largely young pitching contingent continue to mature, but reinforcements from outside will be in the cards this offseason.
“We definitely want to add to the pitching, whether that’s through free agency or trade,” Cherington said. “We’re looking at the different options there.”
Here are some other notable things Cherington told MLB.com at the GM Meetings.
• The Pirates are well into their interview process for hiring a hitting coach, a position that was vacated when Rick Eckstein was dismissed at the end of August.
How quickly do they anticipate coming to a resolution in the search?
“At this point, hopefully days, but certainly weeks,” Cherington said. “So, we’re getting closer.”
• Cherington said the Pirates are still conducting internal interviews for the third-base coaching position.
The club’s former third-base coach, Joey Cora, who was dismissed in October, also oversaw infield instruction, but Cherington doesn’t see that as a necessary area of expertise for the new coach. He mentioned bench coach Don Kelly as another existing member of the coaching staff with infield expertise.
• José Soriano, the Pirates’ first pick in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, may not be in the organization for much longer.
The Pirates designated Soriano for assignment to clear space for Allen after the right-hander required a second Tommy John surgery this season and did not pitch in MLB. While Soriano is still on waivers as of now, if he clears, he must be offered back to the Angels -- his former organization -- for $50,000 since he did not meet the requirement for time on the 40-man roster.
“We were all really disappointed for him, personally, when he got hurt, because he had really worked hard and he was looking good,” Cherington said. “He’s a really good kid, and once it happened, we just tried to focus on trying to help him with his rehab and hopefully we can continue that. But the rules are the rules.”