If there’s one Spring Training question I get asked more than any others, it’s the following:
“Who has impressed you the most?”
There’s different variations. Sometimes it’s just the vague “out of the 150+ people in camp, which player stands out” variety. Sometimes the question narrows down to a group of prospects. Sometimes it’s only two prospects. But every single time it’s almost impossible for me to answer.
First of all, I probably see these guys more than anyone else, outside of people in the organization. So for the most part, when I’m watching them, there’s nothing that impresses me, as I’ve seen it before.
Take Stetson Allie, for example. I watched him in an intrasquad game yesterday. It was hard to take the game seriously, since it was more of a practice than a game. But I watched Allie hitting 95-96 MPH almost every single pitch, all while keeping the ball around the zone.
I first saw Allie around this time last year, during an intrasquad game in Spring Training. I’d describe his lack of control, but I think this video would do a much better job.
I saw Allie again during his debut with the State College Spikes in late June. The control was a little bit better, but he still had some problems. The next time I saw Allie was at the end of the year, when he was pitching out of the bullpen. It was only one inning, but the results were much improved over the video above. He didn’t have pinpoint control, and he lost control of a pitch or two, but that’s a big change from where he was at the start of the year.
That carried over in to instructs, which was the next time I saw him. And I’ve seen him several times down here, whether it’s bullpens, live batting practice, or Sunday’s intrasquad game. Here’s a few videos I shot.
Allie still has some work to do, but you can see the difference, especially with that second video where he struck out Josh Bell on three pitches. Now if I hadn’t seen Allie at all last year, I would definitely be impressed with the change.
A lot of guys are the same players that they were the last time I saw them. For the majority of the system, that was in late August/early September, then again during instructional leagues at the end of September. I’d imagine it would be hard to make significant changes from October through February, and any changes that would be made probably wouldn’t show up at this point in camp.
So who does impress me? It’s mostly the guys I haven’t seen before, or the guys I haven’t seen that much. In the “I’ve never seen them before” category, there’s a lot of the international guys, specifically Elvis Escobar and Harold Ramirez. I still haven’t seen a lot of either player, but my first impression is that I’m impressed with their approach at the plate, their quick swings, and their ability to hit line drives to the gaps. There’s a video below of Ramirez hitting a line drive against Zack Dodson.
In the “I haven’t seen them much” category, the big two are Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco. I watched a lot of video of Bell last year, and I got to see him for a bit during instructs. But I’ve really gotten a chance to focus on him down here, and I’ve been impressed. I won’t be surprised if he gets near 30 homers this year in his pro debut. His power is legit.
I saw Polanco last year during Spring Training, then again at the end of the season during instructs. I’ve always been intrigued by his combination of size and speed. He’s very tall and lean, giving him that projectable frame that could one day produce some power. He has the speed and defensive skills to play center field.
What has impressed me the most so far this Spring has been his hitting. I’ve only seen him in batting practice and live bullpens, but he’s been crushing the ball every time. Line drives to the gaps. Home runs. That’s impressive for a guy who seemed to struggle at the plate in the GCL last year with a .237 average and a .694 OPS. I think I was most impressed when the left-handed Polanco homered off left-handed pitcher Nathan Baker during live batting practice.
My guess is that more players will stand out as camp goes on, especially starting Wednesday when they begin playing other teams in real games. For now most players look the same as they did at the end of last year. Therefore, my reports haven’t really changed.
The Pirates didn’t play much today, with two games lasting about four innings each. Because of that, and the live chat I held at 2:00, I don’t have much to report on.
Zack Dodson started in one of the games, throwing two innings. He was throwing 85-89 MPH, showing that his velocity isn’t there at this point in the Spring. Last year Dodson threw 88-91 MPH, touching 93. Dodson did flash a nice curveball, something that has always been a good pitch for him.
Zac Fuesser started opposite of Dodson and was in the same situation. He was throwing 82-87 MPH, which is down from his usual 86-91 MPH range. Fuesser also flashed a good curveball.
Jason Townsend pitched an inning, and was mostly working in the 88-91 MPH range. Again, that’s down from his 92-95 MPH range. He just threw his first live batting practice at the end of last week, so it’s still early.
I’m reporting the velocities just because I have them, but I’m not putting much stock in them until the last two weeks of camp. What’s more likely? That Dodson, Fuesser, and Townsend have all lost velocity? Or that we’re in week three of camp and people aren’t throwing at max speed yet?
Gift Ngoepe hit a nice line drive down the right field line against Fuesser. He would have easily had a triple, but the Pirates were doing a drill where pitchers were throwing with runners on base. Gift rounded second and was half way to third when he realized the runner stopped at third. The throw went to home, so he had enough time to get back to second.
Harold Ramirez hit a few line drives today. The one off of Dodson is below.
VIDEO OF THE DAY
Harold Ramirez was signed for $1.05 M last year out of Colombia, which was the second highest amateur international bonus the Pirates have given out in franchise history. Here is his at-bat today against Zack Dodson.