PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Pirates manager Derek Shelton has a bit of advice for his players as they prepare to report to spring training.
Tune out the outside noise. All of it.
Shelton is aware expectations aren’t particularly high for a club in the midst of a massive overhaul under Shelton and general manager Ben Cherington. The Pirates finished with the worst record in the truncated 2020 season and spent the winter flipping established major leaguers like first baseman Josh Bell and starting pitchers Jameson Taillon and Joe Musgrove for prospects, most of whom won’t arrive in Pittsburgh for a year or two, if they arrive at all.
While Shelton is fully on board with the process — saying on the eve of pitchers and catchers reporting to Pirates City in Bradenton, Florida that he is in “alignment” with Cherington — he also is aware there could be some short-term pain involved.
“Like I said before, man, this is going to be a fun journey, because we’re going to win,” Shelton said Tuesday. “And if it takes time, I’m all in for the time. But I can’t wait for our fans to ride this journey with me and the group.”
His group lacks star power and leadership, at least for now. Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes is the closest the Pirates have to a face of the franchise, finishing sixth in National League Rookie of the Year voting following a fabulous September. Still, Shelton is in no rush to anoint Hayes or anyone else to become the most important voice in the clubhouse.
“I don’t think that you can establish that one person is a leader because of X, Y and Z,” Shelton said. “With the people that we traded away that were leaders, we’re going to see some guys step up and take those roles. I’m excited to see who those people are but I’m not going to tell someone they have to do that or appoint someone.”
The departures leave Shelton with a variety of positions to fill over the next six weeks. There’s at least one spot open in the starting rotation, maybe more. Shelton declined to endorse Richard Rodriguez as closer, even though Rodriguez filled in capably when he inherited the role over the final month. The middle of the infield and center field are both a bit of a mystery.
“Last year, I think the competition was more me learning our players and learning our group,” Shelton said. “And this year having a good idea of the people we brought in and the people that were here, there’s some open spots in terms of what we’re building and how we’re building it, I think that’s how it creates the competition.”
Shelton stressed he’s still in the middle of the learning curve when it comes to in-game managing. He only really had a chance to do it 60 times during his first season on the bench. He spent a portion of the winter evaluating his performance. Like his team’s, it needs some work.
“There were times I maybe second-guessed myself in terms of if we should have moved offensively or if we should have hit-and-run or stole,” he said. “That’s something I reflected on a lot, maybe being a little bit more aggressive in that regard. I think that’s the first one and probably the biggest one I spent time looking at and talking to our staff about.”
And that will be one of the many topics of conversation during the team’s stay in Florida and not the projections that predict a bumpy 2021.
“I don’t really worry about what’s said outside our clubhouse,” Shelton said. “I worry about us preparing every day to win, and people can say what they want to say and speculate all they want, but I don’t pay much attention to it.”
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