PITTSBURGH -- Friday marked the turning of a page in the Pirates’ season, one that opens to a new chapter of development for a team building toward the future.
Shortly after the 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline had passed and all six trades the Pirates completed this week were finalized, the remaining pieces of the Major League team returned to the field to open a series against the Phillies with a resounding 7-0 win at PNC Park.
It was the first of 60 post-Deadline games left for the Pirates in the 2021 season. At 22 1/2 games back in the National League Central, this season’s hopes for a whiff of the playoffs are all but gone. But the opportunities the club has created through trades this week and even dating back to last season will give young players a lot of chances to vie for spots on what the Pirates hope will be the next playoff-contending team.
As general manager Ben Cherington pointed out on Friday, much of Pittsburgh’s lineup remained the same after the Deadline, and many of those guys will continue to get meaningful playing time in the coming days.
One of those raised as a potential trade candidate this season was right fielder Gregory Polanco. His hot July (.965 OPS in 14 games) brought discussion of whether a team would pursue him as a left-handed power bat, assuming the Pirates sent the bulk of the money owed to Polanco.
But no deal came about, and the longest-tenured Pirate was back in the lineup on Friday, when he drove in two with a pair of hits and raised his on-base percentage with two walks.
“[I’m] just trying to make contact, because I’m strong enough that if I hit it good, they’re going to go,” Polanco said of his adjustments this month.
On the flip side of the post-Deadline coin, there are going to be a lot of younger players -- both prospects and new Major Leaguers -- who will get shots to grow in the coming weeks.
Wil Crowe has had those chances this season after coming to Pittsburgh from D.C. in the deal for Josh Bell during the offseason. Things have not been easy from the start, though Crowe has gotten chance upon chance to show his development. On Friday, he flexed all the skills he’s had time to refine in 2021.
For only the second time in his MLB career, Crowe went six innings, and for the first time, he held his opponent to just one hit. He said it’s the best start of his career by far, and he’s had time to get comfortable with the consistency the Pirates have given him in the rotation.
“Anytime you're in the big leagues is a great opportunity, for anybody,” Crowe said. “It's a way to showcase you and who you are and your stuff.”
Since the Pirates traded for Crowe in December, they’ve also dealt many of his new teammates away. This week was the first Deadline that Crowe has experienced firsthand as a Major Leaguer, and he said it’s been tough saying goodbye to teammates who welcomed him in and gave him pointers, including veteran starting pitcher Tyler Anderson.
“Seeing those guys leave, we know it's a part of the business and we know what it's about,” Crowe said, “but they're going to some places where they're going to compete for some World Series, and that's awesome. We'll be wishing them the best.”
Manager Derek Shelton has echoed a refrain in Pittsburgh since Spring Training: “Development is the lifeblood of this organization.” Well, it’s prime time for the Pirates to develop the young talent they have drafted and acquired, not just in the past week, but the past few years.
Minor League promotions will be on the way shortly, but there will also be plenty of chances given at the Major League level, too. The newly acquired Bryse Wilson is expected to start for the Pirates soon. Michael Chavis and Tucupita Marcano are hovering at the Triple-A level. Then there are a handful of homegrown options in the fold, waiting to get their taste of MLB.
It’s time to see who will begin to seize the day.
“We talked about opportunities the first couple months,” Shelton said. “We definitely have opportunities now, and not only that, [what] comes with that opportunity is evaluation. We will be doing both of those things as we move forward, and we look forward to guys stepping up and grasping that opportunity and moving forward with it."