Pirates' loss overshadowed by looming roster decisions

June 23rd, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- There are a lot of decisions to be made in the coming weeks. A lot.

Many players have been hit by the injury bug this season for the Pirates, who lost 14-5 on Wednesday at PNC Park to the Cubs, but most of them are on the mend. Just how many, exactly? Here’s the rundown.

Kevin Newman, Josh VanMeter and Yoshi Tsutsugo began rehab assignments with Triple-A Indianapolis on Tuesday. Ben Gamel and Jake Marisnick, who’s also on the COVID IL, might begin their own assignments soon. Duane Underwood Jr. and Tucupita Marcano are currently on the COVID IL, with the former having already returned to the stadium. Zach Thompson might return from his injury in the minimum amount of time. Dillon Peters is making his way back.

That’s roughly 30 percent of the Opening Day roster that’s on the injured list. There are a lot of decisions to make. When it comes to these decisions, general manager Ben Cherington has a simple formula.

“Wait until the last possible minute, because things change all the time,” Cherington said in early June. “My experience is you spend too much time worrying about what’s going to happen 10 days from now and something else is going to happen anyway, so let’s not worry about it.”

Soon, though, Cherington and company will have to figure out the calculus. Several of the Pirates’ young bucks are on the active roster due to the aforementioned injuries. Some players will have to be optioned. Some players will have to be removed from the 40-man roster, likely by way of being designated for assignment.

Cherington is right in that trying to devise a plan is a fruitless endeavor. While there are some guys who make sense as candidates to be optioned or designated for assignment, circumstances could change in a snap. That said, there are a couple cases worth examining, beginning with Diego Castillo.

In a season that has seen 12 players make their debuts, Castillo was the first of the bunch, cracking the Opening Day roster with a fantastic stretch in Spring Training. Castillo was solid in the season’s first month, but since then, his offensive production has cratered. Entering play Wednesday, Castillo was hitting .157/.212/.287 since the calendar flipped to May. In June, even with two home runs in the last three games, he’s batting .100. His defense has been solid, but with a bevy of position players due back, Castillo makes sense as someone to be optioned.

Another young player who falls in the same category as Castillo is Cal Mitchell. The rookie has had his bright spots, but through 24 games, Mitchell is hitting .192/.229/.333. Mitchell hasn’t graded out well defensively either, being worth -2 defensive runs saved in his time in the outfield. With Gamel and Marisnick inching closer to their returns, Mitchell is an option to be sent down for additional seasoning.

Out in the bullpen there’s the matter of a pair of rookie relievers in Cam Vieaux and Yerry De Los Santos. They’ve each impressed in their brief time with the Pirates -- Vieaux has thrown all of 2 2/3 innings thus far -- but working against their cases of staying is that they both have Minor League options.

Due to circumstance, the Pirates have been defined by their influx of youths. The rookies have had bright spots. The rookies have had learning moments. In the coming weeks, the team will have to figure out where those bright spots and learning moments unfold.