Another Starting Pitcher With MLB Experience Who Picked the Pirates to Fix Him

One of the big topics this week in Pittsburgh Pirates camp was the opt out clause for Clayton Richard. The lefty decided to stick around in the organization, which meant he would go to extended Spring Training and eventually go to Triple-A.

There is another opt out situation in minor league camp. The Pirates signed Chris Volstad as a minor league free agent this off-season, but didn’t give him an invite to Major League camp. The right-hander has an opt out clause. Or maybe “had” is the right word. Honestly, I don’t know. Because Volstad doesn’t even care about the clause enough to know the date.

“I couldn’t even tell you what day it was, or if it’s even passed yet or not. It wasn’t anything I was ever concerned with or thinking about,” Volstad said.

This makes two situations this week where a pitcher with MLB service time has ignored his opt out clause in order to stick around in the Pirates’ minor league system, hoping they’ll fix him and get his career back on track.

“They have a great track record for working with guys,” Volstad said. “I knew through the coaches over here, from past teams and organizations. I had a lot of friends that came through here, and they had nothing but great things to say. All of those factors were the reason why [I signed].”

The right-hander talked with a lot of his former Marlins teammates who came through the Pirates’ organization — Tim Wood, Logan Kensing, Rick VandenHurk — and got great reviews. The biggest influence was Wood, who was the closer for Indianapolis in 2011 and 2012, and made it to the majors for a brief call-up in 2011.

Volstad has plenty of experience in the majors, throwing 703.2 innings between the Marlins, Cubs, and Rockies. He had some success when he first came up in 2008, but has largely struggled since then, looking like a number five starter at best. In his career, he has a 4.94 ERA and a 4.28 xFIP. He checks off a lot of the boxes you see with typical Pirates’ reclamation projects — high ground ball rates, the ability to get some strikeouts, and a high walk rate that could be fixed by pitching to contact and benefitting from the organization’s focus on pitch framing.

Despite these trends, Volstad isn’t the typical reclamation project. Those guys usually have had success in the past in the majors, and the Pirates are trying to get them back to where they were mechanically during those successful times. Volstad is a different case. He’s a guy who has the talent to be a good MLB pitcher, but has lacked the little bit extra needed to stick at the major league level. A big reason for that was his inconsistency with his off-speed pitches.

“If hitters only need to focus on one pitch because the other two are inconsistent at times, or you haven’t really shown you can’t throw it for a strike at the big league level, it makes it really easy for them,” Volstad said.

He has been focusing this year on that consistency, especially with his curveball. He’s been working on a few mechanical adjustments to improve the secondary stuff, giving him better command of the pitch.

“Because of little mechanical flaws, it was just inconsistent at times,” Volstad said of his curveball. “The biggest thing is just controlling it, throwing it where I want to. Working with these mechanical adjustments, staying back better, getting my hand more on top of the ball, I’m able to locate it better. It just opens up a lot of things when you’re able to throw it for a strike, when you can throw it in the dirt, you can attack guys in different ways.”

With Richard starting in extended Spring Training, and Jameson Taillon unlikely to be with Indianapolis until mid-season, a rotation spot was opened up for Volstad. He will start for the Indians at the beginning of the year. He hasn’t been mentioned as an early season depth option, but if all goes well, he could definitely work his way into the majors at some point.

“We talked coming in that I’d be a starter, and just kind of see how things develop. You’ve got a lot of great arms in this organization,” Volstad said. “I definitely want to be in that position. Hopefully that’s the case. I’m just trying to focus on what I can to put myself in that scenario and hopefully be at least considered.”

For now, he will remain in the organization — opt out clause or no opt out clause — and hope that their pitching coaches can work their magic with him and get him on track to eventually stick in the majors for good — even if that means he’ll be pitching in the minors. That’s the same decision Richard came to earlier in the week, when he said his experience in the organization has been terrific.

“I feel the same way,” Volstad said, in reference to Richard’s comments. I love the guys I’m working with. The players in the organization. All the guys coming up, and the guys that will be in Triple-A. It’s been great.”

  • weltytowngang
    April 4, 2015 5:45 pm

    Seems to me, he should be paying the Pirates, not the Pirates paying him.

  • Tim… Help!!!

    Can they still put Morton back on the DL and
    send him back to Florida?

    Not the way we want to go into the season.

    Last night Sanchez (after a good spring)
    throws one into rt field and now Morton
    looks out of sync.

  • Just threw behind another hitter. , more wild pitches.. just terrible

  • Morton better be kept in Extended ST

  • Ya see what I mean about Morton. In the first inning so far he has thrown behind the hitter twice. Hit a batter, given up 2 runs and throw 2 wild pitches because he keeps crossing up Sanchez. Not to mention Revere got a HUGE jump on him and gave Sanchez no chance. Wait no he has hit another batter 3-0. Please cut this clown

    • Darkstone42
      April 4, 2015 2:15 pm

      He looked out of sync. His motion wasn’t smooth or consistent. I think the attempt at a mechanical adjustment cost him, because it didn’t work, and he can’t find his old mechanics. I’m just not sure there’s anything we can do with him except for bringing him north and hoping the team can sort him out quickly, though.

      His stuff was filthy today, but he couldn’t locate it, which screams repeatability issues in his motion to me.

      • Luke sutton
        April 4, 2015 4:17 pm

        Clearly could use a few extra weeks to figure out his ability to repeat his motion.

        • Agree. He cannot help this team as he is presently, and a lot of it right now is between his ears. He did not feel good about the mechanical adjustment, and he is going to need the time to get comfortable and confident in his delivery.

          • Good lord when did everyone decide that all of Mortons issue clearly indicate mental and not physical issue? He changed his mechanics, so its just as likely its the mechanical adjustment itself that is taking time to figure out, which has nothing to do with his ability to mentally get ready or compete. Barring you knowing him and talking to him, we dont know. I dont see any reason why its more likely its between his ears as it is in his arm slot.

  • Nutting’s gonna start charging these guys.

  • I like the idea of the Pirates becoming a destination for talented pitchers looking to get back to form, but I dunno… Call me skeptical, but I have trouble believing that they’ve hit on a reliable and repeatable way to rehab struggling pitchers.

    But now that I think of it, maybe it doesn’t have to be some magic formula or method that works. Maybe it’s enough that Benedict and Searage and the rest of the coaching staff are smart and talented enough to work with struggling guys and give them a shot at improvement. If that’s the case, they’ll keep getting talented pitchers for rock-bottom prices and odds are at least a couple will work out.

    • Yup, they don’t even all have to work out. Pitchers see enough guys improve significantly (even if not enough to really contribute in a crowded and talented Major League rotation) and parlay that into an opportunity elsewhere, we’ll keep getting options like this. And since most of them are just depth anyway, we can afford for not all of them to work out.

      A track record of maximizing pitchers could also help with draft bonuses a little bit. Not a ton, but maybe shave some dollars here or there and make “unsignable” prep pitchers more likely to give the organization a shot.

    • Check this out Steve. It throws a little more light on their methods.http://triblive.com/sports/pirates/7986790-74/benedict-searage-pirates#axzz3WBgUuPp8

    • Tony Ventimiglio
      April 4, 2015 1:29 pm

      I dont know if reliable and repeatable is possible. Much like the draft there will be many that fail but if you utilize a profile that you have success with and sign enough people that fit that profile you will have enough success to make it a worthy effort.

  • Scott Kliesen
    April 4, 2015 10:31 am

    This is a perfect example of why I believe management wealth is more important in baseball than financial wealth.

    Pirates finished with better record last year than 7 of top 10 teams by payroll.

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