When evaluating what kind of production a positional player can bring to a team, most look at stats like batting average, home runs, and RBIs, but the Pittsburgh Pirates seem to be amassing a stable of prospects with a different, often overlooked skillset. If you look through MLB.com's list of top 30 Pirates' prospects, you will see that ten of the sixteen non-pitchers grade out as above-average runners, and half of those ten grade out as plus runners. That's a lot of speed.
Base-stealing is becoming a dying art. The top mark of the decade (68) belongs to Juan Pierre in 2010 and that is good for only 135th all-time. So it's easy to see why base-running doesn't get the love that the power-hitting numbers do, but I don't think it's a coincidence that seven of the ten World Series this decade featured at least one team who was in the top five in the majors in stolen bases. There's still something to swiping that extra bag. The question I'm raising here is, can the Pirates utilize their organizational speed to translate into wins?
I'm a big fan of building a team around a strength. An intentional approach to do something better than everyone else puts opportunistic teams in a unique position to be pioneers who are followed rather than ones who are always trying to catch up. Look at the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL this season. NFL defenses are built to defend the pass. This was a reaction to a rising trend away from the ground-and-pound offenses of the late 90s and towards a pass-heavy approach. The Ravens went against the grain and developed a unique offense that is dominated by the running game and earned themselves home field advantage in the playoffs. The MLB is experiencing unprecedented power, with more home runs hit this season than any other. The Pirates didn't, and probably won't, contribute very many to those record-breaking numbers. If they try to keep up with the home run trend, they will be left in the dust. They will just be lesser versions of what is already out there. This is why I think developing a team around speed has some credence. No one else is doing it.
Speed is also cheaper than power. Dee Gordon is the most expensive base-stealing champion of the last five years and his price tag in 2017 was just a little under $8 million. When you compare that to the massive contracts that some of the more notable hitters receive, Dee Gordon, and his 3.6 WAR was a bargain.
So let's take a stab at what this future roster would look like:
Position - Player - Run Grade
1B - Will Craig - 35
2B - Kevin Newman - 60
SS - Ji-Hwan Bae - 60
3B - Ke'Bryan Hayes - 55
OF - Travis Swaggerty - 60
OF - Jared Oliva - 60
OF - Bryan Reynolds - 50
C - Who knows?
Pinch runner - Lolo Sanchez - 60
You know that uneasiness you felt every time Billy Hamilton reached first base when the Pirates were playing the Reds? Or the attention pitchers had to pay to him to keep him close? Now, imagine that, but with almost every guy in the lineup. I'm not saying it will work, nor are any of these players the caliber of base-runner of Hamilton, but it would sure be a fun experiment. It could also be a relatively cheap way for a small-market team to try to get themselves into contention by being the best at something.
There is certainly a lack of power in this make-believe lineup that may render it useless, but I do feel some conviction on building around speed. Maybe you need another hitter to help bring those guys around. Maybe Hayes becomes that guy. It's also important to point out that all of the above-mentioned players (except Craig) have at least average hit grades. So, getting on base with regularity shouldn't be a problem, but getting runners from second to home may be.
The Pirates are not going to retain and develop enough power hitters to out-slug teams like the Yankees and Twins, but the prospects in their system may allow them to manufacture enough runs to compete. Like I said, it may not work, but this is the reality of our prospect system right now. Ben Cherington will need to address this at some point, because it's likely that all those players will be either in the majors or ready to be at the same time at some point in the future. I'd like to see him try it. I mean, Pirates steal things. So, it makes sense.
Follow Jared on Twitter: @a_piratelife