MILWAUKEE -- For the decade-plus Neal Huntington's presided over the Pirates' baseball operations, he's moved prospects through the system gradually, then promoted them to Pittsburgh only when management's deemed them ready. Only very rarely have they been rushed based on need.
I've regularly criticized this team's drafting and developing but never that specific component. It's a common-sense approach that prioritizes the player over the game being played that night at PNC Park.
So, when Huntington met with the reporters covering this trip Sunday afternoon at Miller Park, I felt compelled to ask, now that Cole Tucker's been optioned back to Class AAA Indianapolis after mixed results, how he felt about Tucker's experience.
"His ability to fight back to almost .200 on his way out the door speaks volumes about this young man," Huntington replied, referring to Tucker's 7-for-12 finish to raise his slash line to .196/.244/.321. "And that was where we felt, if there was a young man who could handle it, Bryan Reynolds was one, and Cole Tucker was another. Because they were both clearly rushed. It's worked out really well for Bryan."
Just a bit. Reynolds has been among baseball's best hitters, rookie or otherwise, at .348/.403/.553 with five home runs and 20 RBIs.
"For Cole, he ... survived," Huntington continued. "He played really good defense but survived offensively. And when you have holes, major-leaguers find them quickly. We joked with Cole, 'You know, they found your holes in five games.' And he joked back, 'It was five at-bats.' So he's going down to refine his approach and, when he comes back, he'll be better for it. But we felt both of these young men had the intelligence and maturity to handle a major-league struggle if it were to come their way. Not all players have that."
Turning visibly more serious, Huntington added, "Sitting with Cole yesterday was really hard, to send him out, because you love the young man and what he's going to do. But it just felt like it was the absolute right move right now, to get him to go play regularly and close up those holes."
Reynolds is still here, of course. So I then mentioned to Huntington that a cynic might suggest Reynolds is blowing up any hope of the Pirates preventing him from gaining Super-2 arbitration status. That's a complicated process, but it can be condensed to this: A player with three full years of major-league service time can be eligible to start their arbitration clocks a year early. That costs a team more money in the third year. Almost all teams, even the biggest spenders, maneuver to avoid that.
I asked Huntington if Reynolds is leaving the Pirates no choice: "Yeah. And we brought up both of those guys knowing full well they might be Super-2 in three years. And we're fine with that. So yes, if Bryan Reynolds continues to play the way he's played, we'll be more than happy to pay him a lot of money in three years when he's arbitration-eligible. That's a part of the game, and you love that part. He's helping us compete. He's helping us hang in this thing despite some tremendous adversity and self-created challenges at times."
Huntington somewhat defiantly added that he felt the Pirates can get unfairly labeled regarding Super-2.
"There's no doubt we knew when we brought him up he could be a Super-2," Huntington said of Reynolds, "just like Austin Meadows a year ago and Nick Kingham a year ago. We've put ourselves in a position to have guys be Super-2. It's not something that we won't do or don't do. That's probably a little overblown from some prior years. I'd even say that some guys who we took criticism for not bringing them up, we then took criticism for bringing them up too early."
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