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The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the middle of a coaching search after firing Clint Hurdle. There is one candidate who should be an obvious hire.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates fired Clint Hurdle it was questioned why General Manager Neal Huntington was not also released by the club. The best reason fans and media can come up with is that Hurdle took more of the blame for not developing the players that Huntington brought in. Huntington has made some questionable trades yes, but overall Clint Hurdle seemed to resist developing certain young talent.

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Now that the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking for a new manager, they need to find one that is going to be good at developing young talent. Hurdle was a veterans coach working for a small market team where young players are always going to make up the bulk of the Pittsburgh Pirates roster.

Insert Twins’ bench coach Derek Shelton. Shelton is the name cited by numerous reporters such as John Heyman and Jon Morosi as a potential replacement for Clint Hurdle. For all the other names thrown around, Derek Shelton makes the most sense. Shelton has spent time working for the Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays and most recently the Minnesota Twins as a bench coach. With the Tampa Bay Rays he was the hitting coach under Joe Maddon.

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No Pittsburgh professional sports team tortures its fan base quite like the Pirates, and no Pittsburgh professional sports fan base tortures itself quite like Pirates fans.

Watching former Pirates players shine in the MLB playoffs long has been an annual rite of passage in Pittsburgh as fans lament what could have been if their team had been kept together.

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The starting pitching matchup for Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series between the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays was a textbook example as it matched a pair of former Pirates pitchers in Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow.

Cole and Glasnow represent not only the Pirates’ failure to maximize their talent at the major league level but, by far, the two worst trades general manager Neal Huntington has made.

Somehow, he’s still employed.

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What bothers me is not how former Pirates fare with other teams but how they underachieve here. Their post-Pirates success is an indictment on the way the organization operates at the major league level.

So, while Pirates fans took to Twitter to whine about watching them duel in a winner-take-all game, I watched in amazement how dominant Cole was in the Astros’ 6-1 victory.

It was simply mesmerizing.

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Jameson Taillon

@JTaillon19
So so fun to watch athletes at the top of their games. @GerritCole45 That was masterful from start to finish

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The 29-year-old right-hander followed a 15-strikeout performance in Game 2 with 10 Ks, throwing 74 of 107 pitches for strikes while allowing two hits in eight innings. Only Bob Gibson has had more strikeouts in back-to-back postseason games, with 27. And Cole threw 99 mph on his 100th pitch.

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Rob Friedman
@PitchingNinja
Gerrit Cole, 99mph on his 100th Pitch.

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Cole had recorded strikeouts in 73 consecutive innings, dating to Aug. 1, before that streak ended in the third inning. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that’s the longest stretch in the Expansion Era (since 1961) — by 33 innings.

Jayson Stark

@jaysonst
It appears Gerrit Cole’s day is done, after this:

10 strikeouts, 2 hits

All other pitchers in history with 8+ IP, 10+ K and 2 H or fewer in a win-or-go-home game:

Justin Verlander, Game 5, 2013 ALDS (8 IP, 2 H, 10 K)

End of list.

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That Cole was a 20-game winner with a 2.50 ERA this season — and is 18-0 in his past 24 starts — shows he is living up to the talent the Pirates saw when they made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft out of UCLA.

andrew mccutchen

@TheCUTCH22
Gerrit Cole out here pitching like a Create a Player. 99 everything

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More importantly, Cole’s postseason performance has dispelled doubts about his mental toughness. That was the knock on Cole when he lost deciding games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 NLDS (at age 23) and to the Chicago Cubs in the 2015 wild -ard game (against Jake Arrieta).

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But we saw glimpses of the old Cole and Glasnow in Game 5 of the ALDS. That Glasnow gave up four runs in the first inning and Cole allowed a home run in the second was true to their Pirates form. Afterward, the talk was about how Glasnow, who allowed four runs on five hits in 2 2/3 innings, was tipping pitches. That was a concern when he was with the Pirates.

Instead of wallowing in self pity, the Pirates should be self-evaluating. The success of Cole, Glasnow and Charlie Morton this season only magnified the Pirates’ mistakes and validated the firing of pitching coach Ray Searage.

Travis Sawchik

@Travis_Sawchik
How Gerrit Cole went from meh to the second coming of Nolan Ryan. “He’s essentially throwing laser beams, or as close to it as I’ve ever seen from a human,” said one MLB front-office official. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-gerrit-cole-went-from-so-so-to-unhittable/ …

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The Pirates attempted to build a pitching staff from within, by drafting and developing power arms in Cole, Glasnow, Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham. Only Taillon remains with the Pirates, and he’s out until 2021 after Tommy John surgery.

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The success of former Pirates pitchers in the postseason tells me the problem wasn’t as much about drafting and developing pitching but rather an inability to cultivate and maximize it at the major league level.

That should be the directive for the Pirates’ next manager and pitching coach, to practice patience while providing guidance. The Pirates can’t afford for Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove, Steven Brault and Mitch Keller to underachieve, especially if they’re not willing to add another front-line arm.

It makes me question the Pirates’ front-office strategy of trading their top young pitchers before they become free agents. Cole could have been the ace the Pirates lacked in this 93-loss season, then hit the market. Glasnow could have been their ace for the future, allowing Keller time to develop.

Until they change their ways, the Pirates and their fans are going to endure watching more former players in postseason games that are as torturous as they are tantalizing.

What do three out of the four teams listed have in common? The Tampa Bay Rays, the Cleveland Indians, and the Minnesota Twins are all small-market teams. This would likely mean that Shelton would have a good understanding of the expectation of a small market roster. At the end of the day, the Pittsburgh Pirates should spend more money, but they will always be a small-market team that has to build through their own organization first. Shelton working for the Indians, and especially the Rays, has had over 10 years of experience dealing with small markets.

Furthermore, he has had a lot of success with those teams, which also are made up of a lot of young hitters, and what do the Pittsburgh Pirates have? They’re currently a team in transition that currently has a core made up of Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds, Kevin Newman, and potentially a few other prospects.

Other than just being an experienced hitting coach who has worked with a lot of young hitters in small markets, there is one other important thing to consider. Shelton has been part of success everywhere he has gone. He helped build a really impressive offense for the Indians, helped propel Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays to some really good years from 2010-2016. Then this year he was integral to the Twins offensive emergence and helped lead them to hit the most home runs by a team in a season.

Derek Shelton checks all the boxes the Pittsburgh Pirates should be looking for in a new manager. He has built small market teams by developing their young hitters and has had a lot of success everywhere he has gone. Other teams around the league have interest in him, such as the Mets, but it sounds like he is the top candidate in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ eyes. Get it done.

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