First Pitch: What If…?

It was only three years ago that Michael Chavis was one of the top prospects in all of baseball.

The power hitting second baseman was ranked by Baseball America as the number two overall prospect in the Boston Red Sox system prior to the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He was ranked as the 85th best prospect in the game pre-2018.

It was only two years ago that Bryse Wilson was one of the top prospects in all of baseball.

The right-handed starter was ranked the 80th best prospect in the game prior to 2019, and was the Braves’ fifth best prospect entering the current season.

It was only a year ago that Mitch Keller was one of the top prospects in all of baseball.

The Pirates’ second round pick in the 2014 draft was their top prospect the last few years, and rated as the #52 prospect in the game as recently as pre-2020.

Today, the Pirates acquired Chavis for Austin Davis. They acquired Wilson in a deal for Richard Rodriguez. And, they recalled Keller to pitch on Sunday.

I bring Keller into this trio for reference.

The Pirates are a losing team right now. The best thing they can do for the remainder of the 2021 season is to improve their draft position for 2022, while giving experience to players who can help them in the future. That will include “post-prospect” players like Keller, who could still reach their potential, despite a drop in value from the time when they were top prospects.

I don’t think anyone has given up hope on Keller, though there’s definitely room for doubt. Keller has made 28 starts in his MLB career, with a 6.31 ERA and a 4.56 FIP. He’s struggled with his control and giving up the long-ball. Those struggles include 12 starts over 47.1 innings this year.

If I’m Ben Cherington, I’m planning on a future rotation with Mitch Keller.

I’m just not planning a future rotation around Mitch Keller.

The same could go for the second base position.

Michael Chavis is nine months older than Keller. He’s two years younger than Kevin Newman, who the Pirates are still hoping can live up to his first round status in 2015, one year after Chavis went in the first round.

Chavis has combined for a .234/.291/.413 line in 622 plate appearances so far. In total, that’s not horrible, though most of the production came in 2019, and he’s steadily declined the last two years. His power has been present, but the strikeouts have gone up and the walks have gone down.

The Pirates aren’t counting on Chavis alone at second base. They have given 22-year-old Rodolfo Castro the first shot at the position, post-Adam Frazier. They also acquired infielders Tucupita Marcano, Hoy Park, and Diego Castillo in recent trades. Chavis just joins a growing group of upper-level prospects and post-prospects competing for those middle infield spots. (Chavis could also factor into the first base mix, though I’m guessing the Pirates will want him at the more valuable position.)

Chavis stands out for similar reasons as Keller. He’s in his age-25 season (though he turns 26 this month), was a former top prospect, and has shown some of the skills in the majors that got him that top prospect acclaim (power, mostly).

What if the Pirates could turn one of these guys around? What if they can turn them both around? The upside with Chavis is at least better than Austin Davis, who the Pirates acquired last August in a trade with the Phillies for minor league reliever Joel Cesar. Turning a lower-level minor league reliever into an upper-level post-prospect who was once one of the top 100 prospects in the game, all in a little less than a year? Even if it doesn’t work out, it’s a good series of maneuvering and a good attempt by Cherington to address the second base spot.

Even better is the fact that Cherington addressed the spot many times over.

Second base is only one position, increasing the chances that the Pirates will land a future starter with the acquisitions this year (or, they’ll wait for last year’s first round pick, Nick Gonzales, to arrive).

The starting rotation offers five spots. Even if the Pirates turn Keller around, they will need four more guys.

That’s why the addition of Bryse Wilson today was my favorite of the deadline for the Pirates.

Wilson isn’t a prospect anymore, having already pitched 76.1 innings in the majors over the last four seasons. That doesn’t include post-season appearances, such as his game six start in last year’s NLCS.

Wilson also isn’t really a post-prospect. He’s in his age-23 season, and doesn’t turn 24 until December. For perspective, Wilson is five months younger than Max Kranick, who the Pirates are currently hoping can address one of their rotation spots for the long-term.

In addition to Wilson, the Pirates received right-handed pitcher Ricky DeVito, who was ranked 17th in Baseball America’s mid-season Braves top 30. DeVito was one of the top risers in the Braves’ system, after posting a 2.66 ERA in 20.1 innings in High-A, with a 27:7 K/BB. He’s currently on the IL with an elbow injury.

DeVito is only eight months younger than Wilson.

That makes me wonder, what might Wilson have been doing if he was in Double-A right now, rather than reaching the majors in his age-20 season? What might have happened if he reached the majors for the first time this year, like Kranick, rather than making an appearance for the fourth year in a row? What development did he miss in Atlanta, taking him from being a top prospect debuting at age 20, to one of two players traded for Richard Rodriguez at today’s deadline?

What if the Pirates can turn one of these guys around?

What if Chavis, Wilson, or Keller figures it out, and shows why they were top prospects in the game just three, two, and one years ago, respectively?

It’s not a novel approach for a building team to focus on post-prospects like these guys, whether they already existed inside the system, or they were targeted via trade. You need to find talent from all available sources, and finding players that other teams might have given up on too soon is a great approach.

For me, these guys would represent hope for the current build.

We’ve seen good things so far from Ben Cherington during this build process. The farm system has been stocked up via the draft and trades, and likely will end up a top five system heading into next year. The prospects in the system have been performing to expectations, or better, with very few players declining.

We saw a lot of that under Huntington during the last build. Ultimately, the prospects who excelled in the minors weren’t able to translate their stuff to the big leagues. That’s the same general problem that has hit Chavis, Wilson, and Keller.

The ultimate test for this build will be seeing if the Pirates can take top prospects and convert them into MLB players. If they can take former top prospects who have struggled in the majors, and turn those players around, it would speak well to their abilities with players experiencing a fresh start.

Not to mention, it would help to boost a young group that should start seeing waves of prospects arriving possibly as soon as next summer.

What are your thoughts on the Pirates’ deadline deals? Leave them in the comments below.

Daily Links

**Pirates Trade Deadline Discussion: Braeden Ogle Traded to the Phillies

**Pirates Trade Richard Rodriguez and Austin Davis

**Prospect Watch: Strong Outing from Quinn Priester Highlights Friday Night’s Action

**Pirates Sign 18th Round Draft Pick AJ Graham

**Game Recap: Crowe, Relievers One-Hit Phillies




**This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: July 30th, A Busy Day for Trades and Birthdays

**Card of the Day: 1972 Topps Vic Davalillo

PBN Updates

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