First Pitch: Major League Day at the Minor League Park

You’re a minor league player, stepping into the on deck circle to get ready for your next at-bat. You’re getting the timing down while watching a few pitches of the at-bat taking place in front of you. Then suddenly, you get a tap on the shoulder. You turn and see it’s Gregory Polanco. He just grounded out in the other game, and now he’s here to take your spot. You quickly accept this, then walk behind the fence while he takes your spot on the on-deck circle, and you hope that the inning reaches you and gives you a chance at the plate.

Just another day at Pirate City.

Clint Hurdle has talked about how the Pirates can send MLB players over to Pirate City to get extra at-bats if needed. The result is that those players can definitely get their at-bats, although that comes at the expense of a few minor league at-bats. Typically the Pirates will send two hitters over to Pirate City, and both hitters will lead off every inning, or bat second and third in every inning of each game. This will last for the first 5-6 innings, giving about 6-8 at-bats total, since they don’t always bat in every inning of every game.

It’s not like the minor league at-bats are important. Today Gregory Polanco and Jung-ho Kang were getting reps, and if that process costs everyone on the West Virginia team one at-bat, then it’s well worth it. Even if it costs several at-bats on that day, it’s worth it, because the MLB hitters are the priority.

What this does create is a day that is dominated by MLB coverage at minor league camp, which is what happened today. Gerrit Cole threw 100 pitches in one of the games. He struggled, making it through 5.1 innings, giving up four runs on seven hits, with three walks and seven strikeouts. Out of those 100 pitches, 56 were strikes. Cole was throwing mostly fastballs in the first inning, but quickly switched to his off-speed stuff and seemed to be focusing heavily on that in the later innings, to the point where he wasn’t pitching off the fastball like normal. He has been working on his breaking pitches this Spring, and that seemed to be the main focus of the off-speed stuff. His curve was missing low, leading to some of the walks and struggles.

There was also the fact that the wind was blowing extremely hard today, leading to a few wind aided homers. Gregory Polanco hit a routine fly that carried for a home run. Afterward, he smiled at Kang on the way back to the dugout and shook his head slightly, with a look of disbelief on his face. Edwin Espinal went opposite field for a homer to right, also benefitting from the wind. So while both had big hits, there was really nothing to take from them.

Kang also homered, and did it on the field where the wind wouldn’t help him as much. That said, the home run comes with the disclaimer that it was against an A-ball pitcher. The only other notable hit I saw today was Elias Diaz with a double to the right-center field gap, although once again, this comes with the lower level disclaimer.

Between Cole, Polanco, Kang, and the wind, there wasn’t much to take away from the day’s events. Add to that the fact that one of the teams was bunting excessively every time a runner was at first base (it seemed to be a day for bunting practice), and the fact that Cole would occasionally step in for an at-bat, and you’ve got a very quiet day at Pirate City in terms of prospect reports.

The one player who had a chance to stand out was Mitch Keller, who was a second round pick in the 2014 draft. The prep pitcher went three innings, and looked good, giving up one hit, no walks, and striking out one. He was sitting 91-94 MPH, mixing in an 85-88 MPH changeup and a mid-70s curve. I saw a few starts from Keller last year. He’s got some impressive stuff, and can be dominant at times. Other times, his command is way off. He had a few command issues today with the fastball, but overall looked good. I’ll have an article on Keller and the other two over-slot 2014 prep pitchers tomorrow (would have been today, but it was bumped back due to today’s news).

As for the rest of the day, here is the rundown.

**The weekly Q&A returns tomorrow after a week off. Submit your question using the form at the bottom of the page.

**If you missed our big announcement on Wednesday, the site will be changing over to a subscription site soon. More details can be found here, as well as how to subscribe: The Future Of Pirates Prospects.

**My friend Dave Bryan, who runs the outstanding site Steelers Depot, has purchased a one-year subscription to be given away on Twitter. I’ll have the details tomorrow on my Twitter account (for real this time…today got kind of crazy with work). While you’re at it, you should also follow Dave for great insight and all of the latest news on the Steelers. I haven’t had much time to follow the Steelers in recent years, but anytime I’m looking for an update, Steelers Depot is always where I go.

**Pirates Prospects Is Looking For Paid Writers In Altoona And West Virginia. This is priority number one before we add an analyst for the MLB team.

**Notes: Richard’s Role On The Pirates, The Fifth Starter Battle, And Upcoming Cuts. A look at the upcoming decision for Clayton Richard, and when the fifth starter battle might be determined. Also, expect cuts in the morning.

**Pirates Release Zack Von Rosenberg And Four Other Minor Leaguers. I wrote about how Von Rosenberg had a tough situation, being the only interesting prospect in the system for the better part of a year, which really elevated the hype and expectations to an unreasonable level.

**Improving His Two-Seam Fastball Will Make Nick Kingham A More Effective Pitcher. Video feature with Kingham talking about how he will be using the two-seam as a situational pitch this year.

**Draft Prospect Watch: College Shortstop Has Become A Position Of Strength In The Draft

  • Off Topic:

    This morning, using my *paid* subscription to Baseball Prospectus, I read a rather shallow four-sentence Bradenton Marauders season preview that ultimately linked to an article Tim wrote here at Pirates Prospects.

    How anyone can question Tim’s audacity to be paid for the work he does is beyond me.

  • Minor question I was thinking about after reading the Kingham article:

    Tim, do you have your own gun, or are you getting readings from someone with the team who is monitoring the workouts?

    • I get the radar readings from the players charting behind home plate. I just read it off the gun as the pitch comes in. I used to have a radar gun, but it was pointless when I’d be showing the exact same reading as the guys charting in front of me.

      • Nice.

        Was also wondering how you were getting such detailed pitch usage data out of what amounts to a spring instructs game, but your answer explains it. Very cool.

        • I also will ask the players what they were working on, as shown in the video above. And in some cases, I just know by watching it, and not by looking at a chart, as was the case with Cole.

  • Eldon Yeakel
    March 27, 2015 1:23 am

    Tim for the Q&A-Why do the cubs only have to send Kris Bryant down for two weeks to gain a year of control, when the pirates had to wait until mid season to bring Marte and Polanco to gain a year of control?

    • I’m clearly not Tim so apologies if this is misplaced or taking away from the Q&A, but mid year doesnt actually deal with year of control, it deals with Super 2. CHC doesnt appear to mind a potential star hitting Super 2 status and costing them a great deal more overall during the rookie deal years (assuming the player does turn into the quality player), but PIT is always wary of how that changes the overall team during those years. So PIT was worried about both years of control and cost, while CHC is merely trying to gain the year.

      PIT could have promoted those guys earlier and met requirements for the extra year, but risked the player being Super 2 and making a great deal more overall in his cheapest years. 4 years of arb prices as opposed to 3 aint nothing.

  • pilbobuggins
    March 27, 2015 1:00 am

    It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing, duwap,duwap,duwap! : )

    • Lee Foo Young
      March 27, 2015 8:30 am

      ohhhhhh, Pilbo…that was badddddddddddddddddddddd. 🙂

      • I agree lee, just please cut me a little slack it’s not easy coming up with these one liners day after day. : )

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