First Pitch: Clint Hurdle’s Awareness of the Minor League System

There’s a perception with Clint Hurdle that he prefers veterans over rookies, and might not trust prospects. That often comes up in situations where he won’t play a certain prospect, or will go with a struggling veteran over a younger player who might be able to help in the short-term and long-term. I’ve had this perception of Hurdle at times, but the more you look at his actions, the more it looks like he’s comfortable turning to prospects.

Hurdle definitely shows an interest in the minor league system and the prospects at the level. Rather than attending Saturday’s road game against the Rays, Hurdle stayed behind in Bradenton to spend a day at Pirate City. Today he talked about his time watching the players in the minor league system.

“Every day I go down there, I just walk away invigorated,” Hurdle said. “I walk away reignited. The work that’s being done down there by our player development group, it’s inclusive, it’s comprehensive, they’re having fun. It’s a baseball factory.”

Hurdle got a chance to watch the minor leaguers in action, but also had a rare opportunity to meet with the amateur scouts, who were at Pirate City over the weekend. This wasn’t just a one time interest for Hurdle. He spent five days in the Dominican Republic this off-season, touring the Dominican Academy and watching guys like Gregory Polanco in winter ball. He spent a week in the instructional leagues, which usually focuses on prospects in the lower levels of the system. He also said that he planned on going back to Pirate City later this Spring.

One thing Hurdle said that he does when he’s at Pirate City is asking every coach for a hitter and pitcher who has caught their eye. With so many coaches available, this gives Hurdle a wide variety of players to keep tabs on. Hurdle seems to have a lot of interest in what is going on in the minor leagues, not only going to Pirate City yesterday, but talking with Assistant GM Greg Smith for 25 minutes before today’s game about Smith’s takeaway on the last three days with the scouts.

“I just love that we’re staying with the process, we’re going out and looking for certain types of players, and then we’re staying true to the process,” Hurdle said. “But these [scouts] are gifted, these men are skilled. They’re committed to one another. Nobody cares who gets the credit. You can’t, as a scout, because you can be on three guys, we don’t draft any of them.”

It’s good to see that Hurdle places such a focus on the minor leagues. The Pirates are always going to be a team that needs to rely on their minor league system to produce the majority of their impact players. They’ve got a nice set of players prepared to arrive in the majors over the next several years, with Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco in 2014, Nick Kingham, Alen Hanson, Tony Sanchez, and Tyler Glasnow as possibilities in 2015, and guys like Clay Holmes, Harold Ramirez, Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, Josh Bell, Luis Heredia, and more in years to follow.

Having a manager who focuses on the minor leagues means that manager knows what is in the system and what is on the way in future years. That makes it more likely that Hurdle will turn to those minor league players when ready, especially if he’s getting good reports from a lot of the minor league coaches. And if Hurdle doesn’t turn to a specific player, then it makes you wonder what the coaches are saying or not saying about that player to make Hurdle turn in a different direction.

None of this is saying that Hurdle’s decisions are always correct when he decides which prospects will play and which won’t play. It’s just saying that those decisions are made with a lot of information, and a lot of studying of the minor league system.

Links and Notes

**If you haven’t ordered the 2014 Prospect Guide yet, I just got a small shipment in from the publisher over the weekend. This year the Prospect Guide has sold three times as many copies as last year’s version. I thank everyone who ordered for the first time, or continues to order year after year. As long as there is a steady demand, and as long as the publisher offers me discounts where I can sell the book to you for $21 instead of $25 on the publisher site, then I’ll try to keep the book in stock. But right now the orders will be small and limited, usually aimed at keeping the book in stock for a few weeks at a time. You can order your books on the products page of the site.

**Week In Review: Minor League Games Should Bring Major League Cuts

**Draft Prospect Watch: Virginia Is The Team To Watch This Year

**Spring Training Notes: Wandy Rodriguez, Jason Grilli, Jeanmar Gomez

**First Look at Jen-Lei Liao, a 6′ 6″, 264 Pound Pitcher From Taiwan (Video)

First Pitch

  • His interplay with Josh Bell during his multiple batting practice sessions was priceless. Hurdle went from field to field speaking to anyone with earshot, also greeted Pirates employee families and signed autographs for everyone. I almost had to ask him to move out of my way so I could watch bullpen sessions. I think he could run for and win the Pittsburgh’s mayor office (though that’s nothing to brag about).

  • It’s good that Hurdle is showing interest in the minor league players. But let’s not forget he gets paid to focus on the MLB team. That should be, and is, his number 1 concern.

    • PirateFanMan
      March 10, 2014 8:41 am

      But in order to focus on the big team doesn’t he have to have a deep knowledge of what he has to work with? Why have scouts if you aren’t going to listen and consult with them? Knowing and fully understanding what you have in the minor leagues is a key part of Clint’s, or any managers, job. It allows for him to best utilize the different talents and skills found within our ridiculously deep system.

    • Ron…I doubt that this changes his ‘#1 concern’.

      He can’t ignore the minors….Also, he doesn’t get to see them hardly at all once the regular season starts.