Notes: Ray Searage on Cole and Morton; Holdzkom’s Focus, Polanco in Right Field

Over the weekend at PirateFest, several players and Ray Searage met with the media to discuss the upcoming season. Here are some notes from a few of those interviews, starting with a few notes from Searage.

**Gerrit Cole was up and down in 2014, but showed flashes of his ace potential, especially in the month of September when he had a 45:6 K/BB ratio to go along with a 2.55 xFIP in 39.1 innings pitched.

Ray Searage believes that Cole has matured a great deal, but still has plenty of room to grow. Cole made a couple of mechanical adjustments throughout the 2014 season to improve his arm action, but his mental approach was what really made the difference as the season progressed.

“His mental approach was max effort on everything.” Searage explained. “He had to learn how to pitch. He had to learn how to add and subtract because the way things were going he was one of those guys who thought more is better.”

This mental approach played a role on Cole’s lat injury that occurred in early June, causing a trip to the Disabled List until the end of August. The injury happened during the west coast trip when the Pirates visited Los Angeles and San Diego. Growing up in Newport Beach, Cole had family and friends in attendance at Dodgers Stadium to watch him pitch. Searage believes that Cole was pushing himself too hard and putting an abnormal amount of strain on his body in an attempt to perform his best in front of his friends and family. Cole’s next start against the Padres pushed his injury over the edge, where he was forced to leave the game because of the lat strain.

“He was maxing out on everything, and I was trying to tell him [to back off]. He’s young and he’s still impressionable, so we had to back him off and put him on the DL,” Searage said. Cole’s improved approach led to a stellar month of September, and Searage believes Cole will carry it over into 2015.

**Charlie Morton is progressing well in his rehab from off-season right hip surgery. Morton had a similar procedure to repair his left hip in 2011, so he has experience with the rehab process. As previously reported, Morton has already begun a throwing program and the next step for him is to start throwing off of the mound. Dealing with pain is the biggest challenge that Morton faces because of the range of motion when throwing off of the mound and the amount of stress that is placed on his repaired hip. Morton is optimistic that he will be ready for the start of the season, but pitching coach Ray Searage tempered those expectations.

“I have to see how he reacts in Spring Training to the bullpens and batting practices, and when he raises the intensity level facing guys in Spring Training. I’m cautiously optimistic,” Searage said. We will know more about Morton’s condition in the early stages of Spring Training.

**John Holdzkom’s story has been well-documented and was one of the best human interest stories of the 2014 baseball season. But what everyone quickly discovered is that the Pirates may have found themselves a dominant right-handed relief option with his firm mid-90s cutter that yielded a .136 BAA. A question heading into the 2015 season is whether or not Holdzkom can duplicate the success he had in 2014 and establish himself as the late inning relief option that the Pirates missed in 2014. Developing more consistency in his off-speed pitch that he can combine with his hard cutter is Holdzkom’s main focus heading into Spring Training. He relied heavily on his cutter, throwing it 94% of the time in 2014. If he is able to develop his off-speed pitch into a reliable secondary offering, it will be harder for the league to adjust to him.

**Gregory Polanco will head into the 2015 season with the knowledge that he will be the starting right fielder, but this has not changed his mindset heading into Spring Training.

“[It] feels good, but you never take it for granted; you have to keep working,” Polanco said. “You have to come into Spring Training ready, and to try to make the team every year. Even after 10 years in the big leagues, Albert Pujols says he goes to Spring Training to try to make the team. I will be ready to play from day one until the last day of the season.”

2014 was a long and grueling year for Polanco. Prior to the start of the season, Polanco played in the Winter Leagues in the Dominican Republic, then soon after reported to Florida for Spring Training. Polanco played baseball non-stop for over an entire year, which he admitted may have caught up to him and wore him out mentally and physically for the second half of the 2014 season. Polanco took some time off this winter in the Dominican, and feels rejuvenated and ready for the 2015 season.

  • IMO, they will hold Morton back for a month or so especially if it comes down to cutting Pimentel or keeping him.
    Locke should make this rotation, two left handers is a big advantage to a starting staff and Locke rarely gives a performance where the team is out of it because of his pitching.

    • Also no need for a 5th starter apart from 1-2 starts the first 3 weeks or so. Though the notion that Locke rarely takes his team out of a game isnt true, as i’ve had the pleasure of attending 3 Pirates games (out of state fan) and Locke ended 2 of them by the 5th inning. Locke is an ok 5th option, but when he is bad its bad.

  • Was down at PirateFest yesterday for couple of hours. Didn’t realize how HUGE Holdzkom is until standing next to him. Made me feel like a midget and I’m 6’2″. Somebody needs to teach him how to dress though, lol.

    My biggest takeaway from the management Q&A was that Hurdle LOVES Willy Garcia. Sounded like he wanted to figure out a way to get Willy to Pittsburgh this year for his RH power bench bat and maybe more. The context of the question he was asking was “What’s the backup option in case Pedro flops.” Neal talked about Lambo and then in vague terms of other options Bucs were looking into. When Hurdle stepped in with Garcia’s name, it was pretty surprising, given Willy hasn’t even seen AAA yet.

    • Nothing wrong with throwing it out there for conversation on a slow news day, but I think we all know to take answers in this kind of setting with a grain of salt.

      Wasn’t it just the day before that they said Tony Sanchez would be playing 1B with the hopes of possibly being C/1B/PH bench depth?

      FWIW, regarding 1B, ZiPS projections have been released for a few options with Pittsburgh ties:

      Ike Davis – .219/.322/.396 (102 OPS+) 0.4 WAR over 441 PA
      Kyle Blanks – .234/.309/.413 (102 OPS+) 0.3 WAR over 246 PA
      Nate Freiman – .238/.297/.398 (94 OPS+)
      Mark Canha – .235/.307/.364 (89 OPS+)

      • Couldn’t tell you what was said Saturday since I wasn’t there and hadn’t seen much written about Sat’s Q&A. Besides, what else can they do with Tony?

        While I agree you can’t give something like that too much weight, IMO it was out of character for Hurdle to come of of left field with answer like that. I’ve been to four of these things and he’s never called out an AA player before except in the vague “future is bright” context.

        I know I’m going to be paying more attention to Willy on this year’s ST trip. If Hurdle is excited, I might as well be too.

        • I love the kid.. We value pitching so highly , and rightfully so.. , but Willy represents an even hotter current commodity , RH power potential..

          Plate discipline is something that can be coached and achieved w maturity , and hopefully effect that concerning SO rate. He is also athletic as a corner OF and we all know of the bonus ‘cannon arm’ , making it a bit more palatable to have a little extra patience for him to find that needed discipline.

          • “Plate discipline is something that can be coached and achieved w maturity…”

            As can be said almost all baseball skills. The question becomes what is the actual likelihood of this happening, and that’s when the picture doesn’t look so rosy. Little to no chance Willy Garcia is a .300 OBP hitter, and you simply don’t find many successful big leaguers like that outside of up-the-middle positions.

            In the context of Pedro Alvarez and his issues, I couldn’t possibly think of a single player Clint Hurdle should like LESS than Willy Garcia.

            • Recd NMR ….emphatically !

              • The fact remains that Willy Garcia has one really valuable and marketable potential : A RH Power bat… Or we wouldn’t be having the discussion .

                • So does Stetson Allie, but neither really matters in the context of the Pirates roster this year thanks to serious faults elsewhere.

                  • No doubt about that.. It isn’t as though either one is necessarily stunted or behind at this point. There is no unmet expectation of seeing either of those boys in Pittsburgh anytime soon. Allie likely has even more slack due to his late start as a result of the move from pitching. Although it is only one tool , Garcia’s arm and mobility give him a bit more value , hence the choice of roster spot , that could be argued for either player.

                    • I havent actually read anything that rates Garcia as above average in terms of range or ability to track flyballs, so im assuming by mobility you mean playing 3 spots. On most teams, he likely is in AAA and they are thinking of, IMO, rushing him. For this team, no real reason to move him until he rounds out his game more. At least 4-5 guys ahead of him and he likely is overmatched as a bench hitter if moved up an entire system step.

                  • The fact that the Pirates protected Garcia and exposed Allie to the Rule 5 draft says alot about what the Pirates think of their relative potential.

                    • Actually, that isnt really “true” at this point. It could be they see more in one than in the other, but they also (and i think this is more the answer) could have realized that nearly no 1Bmen gets taken in the draft unless that are really close to the majors (like Canah this year, likely misspelled his name). 1Bmen like Allie (one great tool, an obvious flaw and needing a year or two to be ML ready) nearly never get taken. Its entirely possible they judged the market and decided the two players are similar and the OFer was more likely to get taken than the 1Bmen and saved them both accordingly.

                    • Could be, but do they see Willie as primarily an OF or 1Bman? Cutch/Marte/Polanco with Meadows and Ramirez on the way doesn’t leave much room for Willie in the OF. Too bad one of Willie or Josh Bell can’t play 3B.

                    • I think they wisely have not made decisions on where many of the guys in AA levels are going to be playing in the future. Versatility increases trade value. I see Willy as trade value as opposed to future team value, though having a deep OF with good options in AAA isnt bad.

                    • No, it doesn’t.

                      All it does is say that they felt Garcia was more likely to be selected.

            • I wish I had filmed the thing. I was paying too much attention to Clint to notice whether Neal had an incredulous reaction.

              As to your last para, it certainly seems there is a team meme that it’s up to Pedro and Pedro alone to fix his issues. So while it’s odd that Hurdle would give props to a guy that might be more Bad Pedro than Pedro himself might imply he’s been getting reports that what’s broken with Garcia might be getting fixed. I dunno… but I don’t see Hurdle saying that for no reason.

              Leo – what else do you see with Garcia besides plate discipline issues?

              • bucsws : his defense needs work, especially routes, anticipation for where the ball is going off the bat. His base running shows he needs work also. If anybody complains about Polanco and his routes, or Marte and his base running errors, they will see the same thing or worse. But that all is right now. What I am saying is he needs a lot more time. He will NOT be ready for MLB this year . My guess is he could get bumped to AAA out of ST, BUT, he will have to show more all around than he did in AA. One thing that doesn’t need work though is his arm !

            • Willy’s OBP, SLG, OPS have improved each year, as he advanced a level each year, from 2012 in lo-A to 2013 in hi-A and to 2014 in AA. Let’s give him another year to see if he continues on the same trajectory before we “pooh-pooh” him too much.

              • But the question is whether or not that has happened due to appreciable change in skills. I don’t believe it has. They only thing we can say for certain is that Garcia has been able to translate more of his raw power into game situations.

                That’s great, and I’ve never said I’m “giving up” on him, but he’s simply not a big leaguer without major gains in plate discipline.

          • Spoken like someone who has never watched Garcia play. He has a lot more to learn than his plate discipline.

            • Im sure that is true. But being that you do have the advantage to be there having eyes on all these guys , Leo ,would it be fair to say the great majority of them look raw , in many ways? In hindsight is it even true of guys you watched come thru that are now competent major leaguers ?

    • Monsoon Harvard
      December 15, 2014 12:22 pm

      Holdzkom himself has said he is 6′ 9”, so I don’t know why he’s being listed at 6′ 7″.

    • Nor does Garcia know the meaning of plate discipline. A 31 % SO rate along with a .209 ISO at the AA level pretty much means a prospect is a long way from the MLB level.

      • Yet he continually gets mentioned as an asset to the organization … Added to the 40 man roster… I take it you disagree w using a roster spot on Garcia? Maybe they intend to focus more instruction to him then is normally afforded, Idk. I do believe in a game where RH power is THE premium and in an organization that has even less of it then that , Willy Garcia’s value becomes quite clear and easy to appreciate .

        • I’d be a fool if my opinion wasn’t prompted by the management clearly being enamored w the kid.

          • You’re dangerously close to reading what you want to believe.

            Being added to the 40-man != “enamored”.

            • Not sure I received your intended message… If you’re bothered by the word enamored , it never came to mind until I combined the idea that a guy w such a concerning SO problem was protected, w what was offered , unprompted by Clint Hurdle… If you are not a supporter of Garcia then how would you describe the value placed on him? ‘Desperation’ , a better word ? For right side power , that is…

              • Garcia is on a good trajectory of improvement. It’s not clear what his ceiling is, but it’s clear that he hasn’t reached it yet.

              • Tim has gone over this many times…the decision to protect a prospect from the Rule 5 Draft has more to do with the chances of him being selected by another team than it has to do with the player’s overall prospect value.

                And I’ll say it again, if you’re taking something the Manager says during a fan Q&A at Pirate Fest with any sort of value, you’re believing what you want to believe. You WANT Garcia to be more than he is, so you’re latching on to any sign of that. We’re all fans, there’s nothing wrong with wanting your team’s prospects to succeed. I’m just more pragmatic about this particular one.

                • I have no need to even hope for the best for Garcia. I LOVE the MLB OF as constructed.. I believe the two boys flanking Cutch are nearly as equal potential once a generation player as he. In addition , I do have a personal like , and hope for Snider and I believe he should and will open the year as the starting RF , in spite of the propaganda being piped suggesting Polonco is their guy to open 2015.

              • This whole Pirate Fest Hurdle comment narrative makes me think of one of my good “friends” on another Pirate board. Every year he goes to spring training and every year he comes back with bits of “insider” info he’s sure will mean something in the upcoming year.

                This is how many times he’s been right:

        • I think you must have a reading comprehension problem. Or some kind of problem.

          • I am not disputing one single assertion you make… It only adds to the discussion of why his name comes up in such a positive way inside the organization.

    • Hard to use Willie’s arm if he’s at 1B.

      • Is there any precedent for an OF transitioning to 3B? Given Willie’s strong arm, and the relative absence of 3B-men in the Pirates’ system it would be nice if Willie could be successfully transitioned to 3B.

  • If Morton can be ready for Opening Day, that would be huge. If the Bucs can leave Spring Training with a rotation of Cole, Liriano,Morton, Burnett, and Worley creating a bullpen of Locke, Liz, Holdzkom, Hughes, Bastardo, Watson, and Melancon. With guys like Cumpton, Kingham, and Taillon at AAA. That is a very stellar rotation, a good bullpen, and some nice depth.

    • Somehow Stolmy Pimentel is gonna have to fit into that mix. If the Pirates haven’t taken him off the 40 man by now, they’re probably not going to before the start of the season.

      • I’ll be very surprised if Stolmy heads north with the team.

        • He’s out of options, he can’t go to Indy without going on waivers. They won’t just give up on him.

          • I know he’s out of options. I think the only reason he’s lasted this long on the 40 man is he does indeed have a good arm, and they’ve been able to dump guys with less talent to clear 40 man spots. If he doesn’t show a lot, and I mean A LOT, in Spring Training they won’t take him north.

            • I think you make a good point. What neither Doug nor Ron have done is offer up which guy from your list is getting cut when Pimentel hypothetically makes the team.

              Andrew brought up a really good point last week in that very few of the Pirates depth-type pitchers ( #5 starter, last three out of the pen) have options. Locke, Liz, Worley, Pimentel, Hughes, Bastardo all would have to pass through waivers in order to remain in the organization if not on the 25-man.

              • Well, unless they totally implode, Locke, Worley, Hughes, and Bastardo are all guys that will be on the 25 man all year, or go on the DL, and play a pretty large role most likely. I really like the idea of Locke as a reliever. So I do not think there will have to be much worrying about them and waivers.

                • Best case scenario, certainly.

                  I personally don’t trust marginal arms, especially in bullpen roles, nearly that much. Three of those guys you mentioned weren’t able to hold down big league jobs as recently as 2013. My worry isn’t so much that they’ll be lost to waivers as it is they’ll be kept on the big league roster IN FEAR OF being lost to waivers, a la just about every poorly performing middle reliever last year.

                  Also makes promotions for some of the higher upside minor league arms a bit trickier.

                  • Given our five starters it’s very unlikely that they all stay healthy for the whole season. Kingham and Taillon will get their shot in 2015. AJ is here for one season, so his job opens in 2016. Expecting Morton can remain healthy through 2016 is asking for alot. So I expect by mid 2016 the rotation will be: Cole, Liriano, Worley Taillon, Kingham. It will all work out.

            • One huge problem with this, which i really dont overall disagree with, is that its basically impossible for a relief pitcher to show “A LOT” in that amount of time. He can show during bullpen sessions and simulated games during ST that his stuff is good, but the team already knew he had good stuff. His control can be much improved as well. The problem is that fans wont see that, and for many fans that means it doesnt happen. He could improve all his stuff, have okay results in his less than ten innings work and people would be upset he made the team.

            • I pretty much agree with you marty. I watched him his entire time at AA, and he showed me about as much as Rodriguez did this past season. No clue as to where the ball is going most of the time, and a lot less velocity than everyone seems to attribute to them.

              • Rodriguez as is the case almost universally w starting pitchers , get an instant boost in velocity when moved the the pen… Stolmy had been suffering w a dead arm that was never allowed the chance to rest.. I was surprised at the workload he was given this off-season.

                • I am getting tired of this, but you are pulling stuff from somewhere. I watched Rodriguez throw as a starter and as a reliever last season, and in either situation he did not show 95 + velocity. As for Pimental, we are talking about him pitching in Spring and early Summer 2013, not 2014. He certainly didn’t have a ” dead arm ” while pitching in Altoona and then Indianapolis. He suffered more from lack of control and command. Where you get your information from I have no clue, but I suspect I know one source.

                  • I am referencing a personal exchange I initiated w John Dreker weeks prior to the Bastardo trade…

                    I am ‘pulling ‘it from 1st hand accounts shared by John and Tim…..

          • Why not? He struggled last season with a WHIP of 1.53 and an ERA of 5.23. Those aren’t stats which recommend making the team. He’s struggling in Winter Ball. He lacks a good third pitch and or consistent control to be a reliable starter. He’s the type of player who needs to go to Japan for two years where can add a pitch and grow in confidence out of the limelight so he can return to MLB with a complete package.

      • Somebody will get hurt or underperform during spring training, so ron you will more than likely get your wish. That’s just the way the game works.

    • I believe we only need a #5 SP once (4/12) before April 21st, so that should give Charlie quite a bit of extra time (presumably Locke could make that 4/12 start).

      • Jalcorn427 wins the prize.

        Charlie is going to stay behind in extended spring on the DL. Sort of keeping our powder dry, you know? Allowing the Bucs to keep one other guy on the 25.

        And I love the bullpen Marty lines up in the first post. I think the Bucs are going to be hard to handle this season.


      • j: Rehabbing from any injury is tough to do in April when the temp is going to be 30’s/40’s. If we have the ability (based on how we hit and field) to hold him back until mid-May, it may pay dividends down the road in August and September.

        • Emj, he won’t be rehabbing in cold weather, he will be in Bradenton. Charlie expects to pitch in spring training games and be full go by April. He would know how long it will take since he did the other hip a few years ago.

    • I guarantee you even if Morton is healthy, he will go on the DL to start the year. More flexibility, more time to rehab, keep a guy like Stomly on the team for another two weeks to see if another injury occurs. The Pirates will not just give up on Stomly and DFA him.