Pirates Notes: Kang Ahead of Schedule, Jaso Chooses Defense, Upcoming Pitchers

BRADENTON, Fl. – Towards the end of practice today, I was camped out with the other media near the clubhouse, waiting for Clint Hurdle’s daily press conference. The last round of batting practice was taking place, and the press conference location is just beyond the left field fence on the Roberto Clemente field. It was a normal end of the day, until…

BANG

A home run ball clanged off the metal roof just a few feet above us, about 15 feet beyond the high chain link fence. We looked at home plate to see who hit the shot that almost hit us, and saw it was Jung-ho Kang.

Maybe it was intentional, due to all of the questions this Spring about his progress and whether he’d be ready for Opening Day. But that’s probably not the case. The reality is that it’s just another good showing for Kang, who has looked like he’s ahead of schedule ever since the start of camp. He’s still not taking swings off velocity, running the bases, or doing game-speed work at third base. But he’s doing everything else.

Kang looks like he’s going to be ready for Opening Day, or at the least, ahead of schedule to where he’ll return not long after Opening Day. But despite how good he looks, no one from the Pirates, or Kang himself, will admit that he’s going to be ready for the opener, or even ahead of schedule.

That was until this afternoon, when Clint Hurdle talked about his progress.

“We expect him to be a really good player for us when he gets back healthy,” Hurdle said. “He was doing really well. Had another really good day yesterday all over the park. He’s ahead of the schedule that we had set out. He has tremendous determination to pull through this and be, as he says, bigger, better, and stronger than he was last year.”

The original schedule was six to eight months, which could have put Kang back in the middle of May at the latest. What Hurdle said today was widely speculated, so it’s not a huge surprise. But it’s a great thing to hear from a team official, as this increases the chances that Kang will be ready for Opening Day, or at least be back shortly after the start of the season. That would be a nice boost for the Pirates if it happened.

Jaso Didn’t Have to Play Defense

John Jaso is a great hitter who does an outstanding job getting on base, and is one of the best in the game against right-handed pitching. The offense this year won’t be a challenge. The big challenge will be his work learning first base. But that’s a challenge Jaso didn’t need to take, as he had similar offers to what the Pirates gave him, only to just be a designated hitter.

“I go back to the point in our conversations with him early, he could have signed with a couple teams for a couple years for the same money, to go hit,” Hurdle said. “Don’t worry about the defense. Go hit. Be comfortable. He didn’t want any part of it. Wants to play defense, wants to be in games. For me, we’ll see where it goes. But when there’s want to, deep down inside a guy like that, I’ve always talked about trying to bring in men with hunger and an edge. He’s got both of them, and I’m a big believer that can lead to some pretty cool things.”

The work so far has looked rough, as you’d expect from a guy learning a new position. Hurdle said that they’ll get the real test once the games start.

“It’s early. These are drills. He’s doing the things we’re asking him to do,” Hurdle said. “They’re poring in to this side work we have him doing, him and Rogers, where we take him from the fields and put those two guys specifically in some situations with Kevin Young over there. The games are going to give us a much clearer perspective of how that’s working out. Right now, everything seems to be working in good form.”

As I wrote today, Jaso will get a lot of work at the position in Spring Training games, which means the Pirates will have to send their other first base options to minor league camp, in order to get their work in at the position.

Other Notes

**Clint Hurdle announced the pitchers for the first two games of Spring Training. On Tuesday, Kyle Lobstein will get the start and will go two innings. He will be followed by Wilfredo Boscan for two innings, then Neftali Feliz, Curtis Partch, Rob Scahill, and Trey Haley for one each.

On Wednesday, Jeff Locke will get the start and go two innings, followed by Juan Nicasio for two innings. Jared Hughes, Arquimedes Caminero, Eric O’Flaherty, and Jorge Rondon will all follow with an inning each.

**Hurdle said that the plan for Sean Rodriguez this year is to get him involved in their overall team defense, which based on his comments earlier in Spring will also include the outfield. Hurdle also said that the Pirates feel there is more offense than Rodriguez put up last year.

  • I am excited to see how the injured reclamation arms fare in the first few games. Personally I feel like one of the Lobstein’s, Nicasio’s, or another guy like that will step up in a major way and take Vogelsongs number 5 starter position, moving him into more of a long relief. I have viewed that signing from day one that way. If all goes wrong throughout camp they have him to be the 5, but again I personally don’t think that’s why he was signed.

  • So you deleted my first comment on this – I will not be renewing if you choose to delete this…

    “John Jaso is a great hitter who does an outstanding job getting on base, and is one of the best in the game against right-handed pitching.”

    SMH

    I expect better from you and this site – this guy is at best a 1 WAR player and a good bat off of the bench if he can play a bit at a number of positions and be an emergency catcher..

    • I didn’t delete anything. I never delete comments. I haven’t even read them until now.

    • Whine much? Tim leaves comments that are a lot worse than what you put . I am with scrappy that you were the one who probably hit the back button or something. Time to calm down a bit. I would be wrong to expect better from you.

    • The media is also conspiring to silence my voice but I won’t give up until the truth gets out on the chemtrails.

  • I wonder how much of the shortage of skilled first basemen around the league comes from the often expressed sentiment that it devalues a player by moving him to first. I don’t get how having a skilled player at first devalues them, a first baseman is involved in more plays than any single player short of the pitcher and catcher. A first baseman probably has more different responsibility than any other position yet it is considered the least desirable position on the field why? If you check average salaries first baseman make as much or more as third baseman so why are players reluctant to make the move? The Pirates did make a move with Bell but probably a year too late. They obviously had a problem at first for years, were top heavy in the outfield yet they delayed making the move.

    • 80% of the plays a first baseman “gets involved in” require him to do nothing more than catch a baseball headed straight for his rib cage. He almost never has to throw a baseball more than about 90 feet except during the routine drill when the defense takes the field for every half inning.

      The reason guys look awkward there when they change positions is mainly because they have been playing a fielding position similar to the one they played to get to the majors since they were 8 or 9. They have had thousands of hours to learn their “old” position, and are now expected to learn the nuances of another one in a few hundred hours.

      The measure of the difficulty of a position is in how many guys can actually learn to be competent in that short a time frame. Based on that measure, first base is really, really easy. The reason that organizations don’t convert a guy to first base early in their minor league career is that it’s one-way move. Almost nobody comes up as a first baseman and moves anywhere else but LF after they get there. And most of the guys that have been asked to do that have been dreadful left fielders.

      • You sound like Billy Beane. There is much more to playing first in the MLB than playing catch, that may describe the position for your beer league softball team, but MLB expects a lot more. Also pay a little more attention next time you watch a game and you will see how few of those catches are “headed straight for the rib cage” probably less than 30%.

        • One issue with this discussion that always becomes clear is that people argue different things. Learning to play league average defense at 1B in a short period of time can be, and often is, not easy.

          But its nowhere near as hard as learning any other position. So while its not as easy as getting 2 months of reps and being fine, it is about the easiest place to move to and place passable defense. For instance, everyone should expect Jaso to having growing pains at learning that spot and not always look smooth. But there’s very little chance he’s anywhere near Pedro levels of “how the fuck does he drop that throw”.

          • I would argue that RF is the easiest position to learn, fewer chances, and generally simpler plays to make.

            • I agree about the mental aspect RF being easier. But physically it is harder, arm strength and speed are a lot more important in RF than at 1B.

            • I’ve seen just as many infielders take 3 years to learn the OF and never be average at it.

              Garrett Jones had been playing OF for awhile when he showed up to PGH, and was never more than maybe average at best his entire career in PGH.

      • I still think 3B is easier than 1B.

    • I think it comes down to how much offense they bring to the table. You can live with a dozen plus errors and shaky play if the guys pumping out a high OPS.

      • Gotta be a pretty “high” OPS for 12 errors along with shaky play.

        Guys like Votto and Rizzo have higher single digit errors, but also see solid range scores and UZR scores. Couple that with clearly great offense and any team lives with it.

        12-15 errors and poor UZR scores would be upgrading from “historically bad Pedro” to “only one of the worst in the league.”

        • You know I was gonna say “a lot of HRS and RBIs” but wanted to be sabrey. Oh well. #wherehaveyougonecaptainwillie

          • If there is one team that wouldnt be in love with HRs at the expense of errors, id bet PGH is it. Fans love HRs and OPS, but i doubt PGH values HRs enough to ignore 13 errors and poor range. Dude better hit 40 DINGERZ

            • Think you’re gonna miss some DINGERZ this year Luke.

              • I think its fine for me to miss them since a ton of fans find them more important as getting on base and not making errors.

                Im not arguing HRs are useless, but that 30 HRs and 15 errors isnt a good tradeoff and acting like PGH is fine with that tradeoff is the epitome of fans not being logical. This team, nearly more than any other, seems to value competent defense over things like HRs.

    • My personal opinion is not that it devalues the player to move them, but more of it is a last resort position for players being moved. Your typical first baseman is a player that an hit, but lacks the range or arm to play any other position. Either that, or the bat is so good that it needs to be in the lineup, but the players original position is locked up, like the case with Josh Bell.
      Jaso is a very different case, in that, he is athletic enough to play in the outfield, has a good enough arm to play catcher, but due to his history with concussions, he is forced to learn a new position.

  • Fantastic news about Kang! Also nice for Hurdle to group Jaso (a lock for the 25 man) with Rogers. I hope Rogers spends little if any time in AAA

  • Great news about Jung-ho!

  • Hurdle might be wishing for something he’ll never get when he says Srod has more bat in him than what he has shown last year.

    • One of the worst signings in baseball – but then again he is Sean Hurdle 🙂
      This is why I am not a fan of Hurdle as a manager – he likes these guys – suspect it has something to do with his playing career – sees something of himself in them – but they SUCK!

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