First Pitch: In the Best Shape of His Life

Spring Training is a wonderfully optimistic time. Most players enter a new season by picking up where they left off the year before, and the assumption is that they will pick up where they left off, or they will improve. Then you’ve got the other group — the guys who struggled. You don’t want to think that this group will have another down year. You want to see if something has changed that might be the answer. Maybe a player is in better shape, or made an adjustment to his game, or my personal favorite, had Lasik surgery.

This kind of stuff happens all the time. In the last week I’ve gone over a lot of those changes. Gregory Polanco added 12-15 pounds of muscle, aimed at doing a better job of hitting in the majors and holding up over a full season. Corey Hart says he finally was able to build up strength in his knee, which hopefully will allow him to bounce back. Ray Searage already has an adjustment in the works for Antonio Bastardo to cut down on his control problems. Jose Tabata is trying to add leverage to his swing, so that he can avoid hitting ground balls and weak line drives.

All of these stories are usually met with one of two responses:

1. Maybe this is what the player needs to finally break out/bounce back/surprise everyone.

2. This will never work, and I’ll be pleasantly surprised if it does.

It’s optimism and pessimism. Some want to believe that it’s possible a player can make that switch from a guy who struggles to make the majors, to a guy who belongs in the majors. Others refuse to believe anything until the results show up on the field.

Personally I think the story should just be viewed as information. Take the above cases. It’s fact that Polanco added muscle, Hart had more focus this off-season to strengthen his knee, Bastardo is working on a mechanical adjustment, and Tabata is changing his swing. Whether the desired results happen or not, nothing changes the fact that the players had a specific focus to improve their game. And if the desired results do take place, it’s always nice to know what happened ahead of time, rather than wondering what suddenly happened to make this change.

As for where I fall on the optimist or pessimist scale, I’d land on the optimist side. I’d actually be surprised if there’s any prospect writer out there who falls on the pessimist side. It takes an optimist view to look at a player who is a mess of tools and potential, and suggest he could one day figure it out and be a star player in the majors. But I also have never seen the value in being pessimistic about these types of things.

My favorite story in baseball is when a player unexpectedly has success. From the extreme cases like John Holdzkom to the more common cases like Edinson Volquez, it’s always nice to see someone succeeding when everyone wrote him off. So when there is a player making an adjustment to his game, I’d rather hope it works for him, rather than assume it won’t. Either way, you don’t know if the specific change will work out.

As for the changes above (and all of the other adjustments we’ve been talking about so far), tomorrow begins the next step in evaluating those changes. The Pirates will start their game schedule, which means we can stop evaluating players in bullpens and batting practice, and get a look at them in games. Of course, that still leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s a step up from the evaluation opportunities we’ve had so far in camp.

**Here are the lineups for the Black and Gold game. Also, Clint Hurdle has announced the starting pitchers for the first three Spring Training games.

**We have about 100 hard copy books of the 2015 Prospect Guide remaining from the most recent shipment. We’ve already sold more than last year’s total, and I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the hard copy version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Every day I upload content on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the video features on YouTube. Be sure that you’re subscribed to all of those sites to follow everything we upload throughout Spring Training (there is different content for each social media site).

**Video features from the weekend:

Other features you may have missed:

**Jose Tabata Changed His Swing After Talking With Marlon Byrd. I’ll have more on this subject in tomorrow’s video feature.

**Q&A: Will PNC Park Burn Down When Neil Walker Eventually Leaves? I answered your questions on Friday, including a look at the potential reaction for what seems like the inevitable departure of Neil Walker in the next year or two.

**Don’t Forget About This Pitcher When Creating Your Pirates Dream Rotation. A look at a guy who gets lost in the Cole/Taillon/Glasnow/Kingham mix.

**Five Pirates Among The Top 100 Players Right Now

**Discussing Spring Training Battles With David Todd

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Minor League Spring Training Schedule

Draft and International Coverage:

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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paul maggio

I was at early spring training watching Stetson Allie hit. Like Pedro Alvarez, the ball makes a different sound when struck by Allie. I turned away for a minute to talk to someone all the while hearing the same sound. To my surprise when I turned back, it was Tabata making those sounds and blasting the ball. Does it mean anything? I hope so!


Timmy is there any updates on Klayton Richard?

R Edwards

How about Josh Harrison? Is there a better example of a career renaissance? Many people wanted to toss him on the scrap heap until May/June of last year. I was admittedly wrong about Volquez last Spring – I thought it was big mistake for him to come north with the team and I wanted to see him DFA’d in April of last year.


I have to disagree with the optimist/pessimist logic presented above.

To me, The-Best-Shape-of-His-Life memes aren’t expressing pessimism about the player, they’re rolling their eyes at the writer who trots outs the same tired story line year after year. Of course it’s a good thing that Player X got in shape over the winter. No other way to look at it. But spare me the accompanying themes of turning around his career for the better. Makes for good Sunday paper reading material for the casual fan, sure, but that isn’t what I’m looking for in baseball analysis, personally.

I also don’t believe it’s a journalist’s job to be optimistic or pessimistic about prospects. In fact, I want absolutely none of either in the writers I read. I want realistic expectations. The minor leagues are full of hard throwers and tool sheds who haven’t made the *correct* adjustments necessary to turn talent into performance. Players are *always* making adjustments. I’m looking for a writer knowledgeable enough to give me an idea of *which* adjustments actually have a realistic chance of working.

Luke sutton

Right, but “spare me the accompanying themes of turning around his career for the better” is the definition of pessimism. Not that thats a bad thing, but those people that take that view are being pessimistic as to the outlook of said player.

I’d also say wanting “realistic expectations’ from writers is a bit too subjective a thing to want, since every person is going to define “realistic” differently. Tim makes a decent point that when reading guys who do what he does, its not unusual to see them be closer to the optimist since they spend their time tracking the guy and seeing progression/regression.


Is that pessimism, or reality?

For every guy that actually turns his career around by being in better shape…I literally cannot think of a single example…how many Gaby Sanchez’s are there?

I also disagree a bit with you and Tim on the optimist/pessimist spectrum. I don’t read a single prospect guy who I’d consider an optimist on all prospects, especially as it relates to a change leading to a breakout. Every one of them acknowledges the chances of these uber-toolsy prospects putting it all together are very slim to start and diminish as time goes by without improvement. Maybe I’m misunderstanding Tim’s point, but just saying a toolsy 19 yo kid could eventually become a star isn’t optimism. It’s projecting possible performance based on talent and athleticism, which is essentially what scouting is in the first place.

Luke sutton

Every single pessimist says stuff like “im not a pessimist im a realist”. It may well be reality and may have reasoning to back up that notion, but because words have meaning it is pessimistic because it anticipates undesirable outcomes. Right or wrong, its expecting a negative outcome.

As for the writer thing, it seems to be splitting hairs. Yes, most writers say things like “a kid this young is full of projection and chances arent yet great he will be A,B, or C” but the go on to say why they think he will succeed up to such and such point. Rarely do you get a writer covering minor leaguers that predicts a negative outcome, the vast majority of the time you get an end like “while he has had issues in the past, a tweak of B could lead to a productive option”. Which is, at least partially, seeing an optimistic side of a players future. Otherwise, a writer might say “the guys K rate likely keeps him out of future considerations and he isnt likely to ever reach the majors” more often.


Yeah, at this point we’re arguing semantics, which is pointless.


Rumor has it that Russell Martin is not only in the best shape of his life, but is so in two languages this spring.

Brian Bernard

I know this article isn’t necessarily about Tabata, just featuring his comment and appearance, however I am intrigued about this new swing and attitude combo. His BP ‘sounded’ good. Crack off the bat, etc. I suppose he could find a role on this team but the other side would be if he has found something similar to Marlon Byrd then at his salary he could be regain if not exceed his value in a trade. I still think his future is elsewhere at this point, but it may be a bright future.


Every year throughout baseball we hear about this or that guy coming to spring training in the best shape of his life only to have a guy who looks like the john goodman version of babe ruth come in hits the cover of the ball and gets the job. Yes I know I’m streaching it a bit ( pun intended) but you get the point.


I’m more excited for this season than any I can recall…and I’ve been following long enough to remember how Sammy Khalifa and Marvel Wynne were hyped.

It’s wonderful to realize that the team is finally in a position to wonder who they’re going to have to cut instead of worrying who is going to step up and win a spot.

Bring the spring!


Who? : )

Scott Kliesen

Usually, us Pirates fans go through the exercise of saying if such and such player has a breakout season, and our SP’s surprise us and pitch better than they have before, than it’s possible this team will be competitive. It’s nice to have a mindset of even if everything doesn’t break in our favor, the team will still be competitive. And if things do go our way, we could very well be hosting a parade.

My biggest concern is seeing how this team deals with high expectations. Lots of people expecting them to dethrone Cardinals. Much easier to play loose when you’re viewed as an underdog. Hopefully they’re not reading their press clippings and letting them go to their head.

Stay hungry Buccos!


Are there still press clippings? And if so maybe they’re eating them. : )

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