Site Updates: Free Pirates Prospects Day and a Change to First Pitch

Spring Training games begin next week, with the annual Black and Gold game on Monday, followed by the first game of the season on Tuesday at Detroit in Lakeland. We will have three people covering Spring Training on those two days, with Wilbur Miller and Sean McCool both in town to help with the coverage in the next week. Ryan Palencer will also be coming down later in the Spring, which means that starting today, 18 of the next 30 days of Spring Training will have at least two people from the site providing coverage.

The day of the Wild Card game, we did a free Pirates Prospects day. Everything on the site that day was free. I wanted to do another day like that, to show off the content we’ve already had this Spring (and the content you can expect from us all year, both in quantity and quality). I can’t think of a better time to do this than the first game of Spring Training.

On Monday, Pirates Prospects will be free all day. For those of you who aren’t subscribed, this will give you a look at our content, and allow you to check out some articles you might have wanted to read over the last few weeks. Of course, I hope that after reading these, you’ll sign up for one of our very low-priced plans, with the annual and Top Prospect Plans getting discounts on the 2016 Prospect Guide.

This brings me to another similar topic, and that involves free articles on the site. I have a difficult time setting free articles, and usually only do it about two or three times per month. There are many reasons for this.

The first reason is that we’re not a new site by any means. We are entering our eighth year covering the Pirates and their minor league system. This is the seventh Spring Training where we’ve had live coverage. This is the fifth Spring Training where we’ve had live coverage from start to finish. This will be the fifth year where we will be credentialed to cover the Pirates all throughout the season, after being the first independent website to receive credentials in 2012. And of course, we’ve covered the minor league affiliates live since that first year in 2009.

In short, we’ve been around. Before we went subscription, you knew our coverage and the quality prospect analysis we put forth. That has only increased since we went subscription, which allowed us to afford more live coverage, including places we couldn’t cover before, like the Dominican Academy and the Arizona Fall League. And as someone who checks all Pirates forums throughout the year, I couldn’t help but notice an increase in comments this past year about not having any information on specific prospects. Meanwhile, I would always look on the site and find 2-3 featured articles and reports on that player. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, as the only site that covers the entire Pirates’ minor league system went subscription, and people who said they could find free information anywhere ended up discovering that the information we provided wasn’t that easy to find.

As far as the free articles, I had a hard time in principle making articles free, because my thought was that in our seventh year, you should know the quality of content we provide. At the same time, when we did post free articles, I noticed a trend where people remembered how good the site was, and jumped back on board with a subscription. I usually get e-mails of regret from those people shortly after they sign up, and the regret is in the form of “why did I wait this long?”

So I want to provide free articles, because it serves as a reminder of the site, and a reminder of the content we provide. At the same time, my next biggest struggle has always been deciding which articles to share. In a perfect world, I’d love to give everyone ten free articles to view, but the reality is that those “X free article” approaches are easily manipulated to make the site free. So I have to pick and choose the articles I want to make free, and that leads to a tough choice.

I want to show off the best articles on the site, since that gives the best example of what we produce. But if I’m always giving the best articles away for free, then that’s a real slap in the face to the current subscribers, who are paying for all of the articles (and the other ones are still good), but seeing the very best stuff go to the people who aren’t paying anything.

I’ve been kicking around an idea the last few months to solve this free article problem. The solution I’ve come up with is to make First Pitch a free article.

First Pitch was originally designed with the intent of rounding up all of the articles from the day, and putting them in an easy to find location, while also providing a bit more analysis on a subject each night. It’s a great promotional post, and that’s why I feel it would be perfect for the free article, as it would show off all of the articles that went up on the site on a daily basis.

I still have the issue of giving away articles to everyone, as I feel that cheats the subscribers. But the tradeoff here is that I think this move will bring in more subscriptions, which will only increase the regular daily coverage. And that coverage going forward will always be behind the paywall. First Pitch will be free, but there will never been another free article on the site from our daily analysis and prospect reports. Those will be reserved for the subscribers.

This isn’t a permanent switch yet. I’m going to try this out during Spring Training and see how it goes. Maybe try it out at the start of the season as well as we kick off our live coverage. And honestly, I don’t know how many free Pirates Prospects days we would do going forward if this approach sticks.

We switched to a subscription site a little over ten months ago. I don’t check the subscription numbers often, but we were over 5,000 at the end of 2015, which is outstanding. But I am in no way finished. I want to provide more live reports. I want to have a full-time writer covering the Pirates, which frees me up more for minor league coverage. This Spring Training we will have different writers coming down throughout the Spring, but next year I want to have at least two people covering things at all times, and maybe more than that when minor league camp starts.

We could maintain the current level of subscriptions and we’d be good for a long time, while still providing a ton of great analysis throughout the system. That’s something I couldn’t say a year ago, when I knew we had to make a switch from the free model to avoid the site shutting down in the future, and under the free model it probably would have shut down by now, based on the continued trends of ad networks.

But I don’t want to maintain. I want to improve. I want to take something that I think is great and make it better. I want to take a site that has content no one else has, and dig deeper to find even more content that no one else has. And as we saw all last year, the more the site brings in, the more I can afford to expand the coverage to provide tons of analysis.

So the site will be free all day on Monday. First Pitch will be free for the time being as I test that approach out (and the next one will be on Monday, since it’s hard to do this article daily at this stage in Spring Training). I hope a lot of people sign up after that, in part because of all that I want to do with the site in the upcoming year. The bigger reason is that we’re prepared to have a very busy Spring, followed by an even busier season, and I can’t wait for you to see what we can do in our second year as a subscription site, and our eighth year covering the system.

Pirates Prospects Meetup in Bradenton

I mentioned this the other day to subscribers, but I want to do meetups this year in every minor league city. This is in response to your requests for events like this. It also pretty much makes it official and organized, since last year I did meet with a lot of you when I was on the road, but it was in the form of you letting me know you were at the game, and me coming to say hello when I had a moment. So we’re basically making the meetups more official.

The first one will be on March 22nd in Bradenton. The MLB team is off that day, which means we will meet at Pirate City for the minor league games (with the Triple-A and Double-A teams in camp that day). After the games, we will go across town to Darwin Brewing Company, have a few beers (hopefully their collaboration with Rivertowne will still be on tap) and talk some baseball.

I’ve heard from about a dozen people so far who said they would be able to make the meetup, or at least the part at Darwin’s afterwards. Any subscriber is welcome, and honestly anyone is free to join us, even if you don’t subscribe. I’ll have more specific details as the date gets closer. If you haven’t already, let me know if you’re able to attend in the comments of via e-mail (tim@piratesprospects.com). And if you’re not in the area, don’t worry. We’ll do this throughout the year in other cities (and maybe one in Altoona during the opening series).

Other Updates

Just some brief notes on the site:

**If you haven’t downloaded our Android app yet, you can do that here. I’m still waiting on word for the Apple version. Apple makes things very difficult, especially if you’re selling something. They take 30% of all sales through the app, so we’re developing it in a way where it’s only for subscribers, with no way to buy the subscriptions to the site. So it’s a bit different from the Android app, thus the delay. Plus, there’s the longer approval process. I can’t tell you how much I hate Apple, especially when their product is so inferior to Android.

**I mentioned that we had a lot of live coverage last year, and I’m already planning out this year’s coverage. I’ve already got the first trip booked, which will be Pittsburgh for the opening series, followed by Altoona for their opening series. Sean McCool will be helping me during each series. From there, I’ll come back down to Bradenton for Marauders and extended Spring Training coverage, while Sean continues in Altoona and Ryan Palencer continues in Indianapolis. I’ve got plans for trips to Indianapolis and West Virginia in May.

**We’re going to be posting for new writers soon. We’re not adding too many at this point, mostly because we’ve got a good group in place. But the priority right now would be coverage of the West Virginia Power in Charleston, WV. I’ll post details next week, but anyone interested now should e-mail me at tim@piratesprospects.com.

**Any other questions or comments? Just leave them in the comment section below, or e-mail me.

  • I am sure many of us are pleased that the revised business model has been such a success. As you point out, ad networks and that whole sector has been struggling and the fallout has been painful for many. The subscription model move was timely and I’m glad it paid off and allowed you to expand. I have a two questions and a suggestion. First, are you saying that First Pitch, as a daily piece, will be offered free to the public to attract new members for a while? I could not tell from your post.
    Second, could you describe for us again the intent/content of First Pitch, Morning Report, and Prospect Watch as categories?
    Suggestion: With your staff at Pirate City for the spring would it be possible to have a daily summary of observations covering position battles and prospects. Not in depth, something that mentions personal observations or coaching comments on 6-8 players a day. That would certainly be a must read for many of us.
    The in depth researched articles with video are great(Taillon transformation and Bell swing )and they must have required many hours of work. The content and the analysis for those top prospects was well worth it. If there is a way to retain that content and have daily summaries while all the talent is in one place it would be great.
    By the way my Verizon rep switched me to the Samsung Galaxy line three years ago( because he had himself) and the products are fantastic and durable.

    • Yes, FP will be a free daily article. I’m testing it during Spring Training and the start of the year. If it works, I’ll make it permanent.

      Second, here are the breakdowns for each article:

      First Pitch – Basically a daily column by me, although it’s not always a column. Sometimes it’s just informal thoughts or expanding on analysis from earlier in the day to highlight a big article. Plus, it’s a gathering of all the daily links, so no one misses anything.

      Morning Report – The goal here is to provide a preview for the day, plus highlight a topic each day. FP kind of ends the previous day with a topic and the links from that day. MR sets up the next day with a topic and what to watch.

      Prospect Watch – The summary of the daily minor league results, with stats and all of our live reports from the games.

      RE: Suggestion. We do all of this. Right now there’s nothing to analyze based on batting practice, but we provide analysis of the roster battles throughout the Spring, anytime there’s an update (I did that in a minor way this week by saying Luebke probably is out for the lefty relief spot, due to his hamstring). I can’t do something with 6-8 players a day though, as I’d have to make up stories to write about. In this case, the updates come when they come, and not on a set schedule.

      As for the top prospect articles like Bell and Taillon, I’m not sure what you’re asking here.

      • Thanks Tim for the detailed response and clarity.
        On the last point I was just giving my opinion on how good the detailed articles on Taillon’s mechanics and Bell’s swings were and recognizing how much work went into them.
        On the suggestion I was trying to address the hunger for short bits of information from Spring Training…..not full articles on 6-8 players. Tidbits gleaned from observations and coaches.
        Hypothetically, something short like this put together by staff at close of each day
        Cutch running well and no signs of knee trouble…
        Holdzkom looking very sharp so far and shoulder seems fine….
        Jaso working hard but still very rough…..
        Morse and Kang put on a show today in BP………….
        Bell looking sharp, Hanson too….
        surprise of camp so far…….
        Coaches praise progress of……….
        Bullpen candidate___________looking ……….
        Roster battle shaping up at….
        Not an article…daily camp observations.

        • We do a lot of that stuff, but it’s not daily. The reason is sample size. There aren’t enough players to do that many updates daily, unless you’re going to go with a small sample. We usually do 2-3 per day in a notes article, along with position battle updates when needed.

  • Tim , what time will you be at Pirate City on Sunday ? I think that I’m going to drive over from the east coast to see the workouts. They start around 9 correct?

  • Will there be an automatic reminder of some sort when an annual subscription is about to expire? Not sure of the exact date on that. Thanks for the excellent coverage Tim and everyone

  • As someone who joined as a result of reading a couple of free articles first, I do think you need to occasionally offer a taste of the content outside the paywall. My primary reason for joining the site is that I decided to go a little deeper into fantasy baseball than I ever had before, and joined a newly launched 30-team salary cap dynasty league with roughly 2500 total players rostered. The Pirates were available, so I am trying my hand with them.

    I’m probably one of the few people in your subscriber base who is just as interested to hear the prospects that are NOT doing well as I am about the ones that are. Because I can trade them away at a premium price based on old BA, BP, FG, etc evaluations before the industry consensus catches up to the content found here.

    I wouldn’t have found this site without the free articles and certainly wouldn’t have joined without seeing a taste of the content first. I’ve been a casual Pirates fan since the mid-70s, but I had no idea this site existed until November 2015 because I didn’t have a reason to go looking for one like it. But boy am I glad I did. I currently live in China (just north of North Korea), and this site has gotten me through a brutally cold Chinese winter. We went three straight months without getting above freezing for even a minute, but Pirates Prospects kept me thinking about warmer days to come, and baseball just around the corner. Thanks. 🙂

  • I hope to meet up with folks at Charleston and Altoona.
    Great chance to thank the PP staff and all of those
    who comment and provide answers and insight when
    I ask questions (even though some are stupid because
    I am just learning about a lot of this).

    Again. Thanks to everyone.

    • Oh, and maybe Morgantown. I had the chance to check out
      the stadium the other day, and it is certainly as nice as
      everyone has said. What a great little venue.

  • Tim I don’t know if this suggestion was mentioned but can you develop a way that the first paragraph is free then a message comes up and says if you want to read more subscribe.
    I love the site and app. Great job!

  • Love this idea, Tim. Throwing out another: Make it easy for people (mainly non-subscribers) to sign up to get the First Pitch articles (in full or part) via email each day. Make P2 a daily routine when they visit their inbox. That could increase awareness and engagement, encourage them to click on links to articles they can’t view, and eventually purchase a subscription. And they could forward the email to other Pirates fans to increase your reach.

  • Do what you need to do.

  • Tim, This is good advertisement and will strengthen PP with the ability to expand. I think you should keep putting articles on Facebook. That’s a great way to get people that don’t even know about your site. I have posted you Facebook page on my page and also a group page dealing with Pittsburgh.

    • Every article auto-posts to Facebook the moment it goes up. We’ve been doing a bit more advertising this Spring on that front, and it has gone well so far.

  • I’m a subscriber, and I don’t have any problem with you giving away free articles. I understand it’s part of the business to get more subscribers. More subscribers means more that you’re able to do (you referenced Dominican coverage) so get as many subscribers as possible

  • Personally, I could care less if someone is getting some of the content that I pay for. Even if this site was totally free I’d happily donate the same or even more to the site. Love the info and can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon (both for the buccos and for the site)

  • Tim, you have to put up a Q&A for us fans to interact with you and your staff. I know you disagree with me regarding the Pirates blowing through their international signing cap but I would like to see what other site readers think about it, as well as debating other things that we might disagree/agree on. Please try to do this, it might increase subscriptions???

    • We’ve done Q&As in the past, but honestly the weeks go by too quickly for me to remember to do them. This week, for example, I felt like it was just Monday. Now it’s Friday. And I say that only because I had something planned on both days, so I knew which day was which. But most days you could ask me and I couldn’t tell you the day of the week or the date.

      That said, we’ll try to do more Q&As on a regular basis once the season hits.

  • Tim, as someone who has been here since the beginning, the coverage has always been tremendous, and it just keeps getting better! Continued success to you and your crew!

  • Just want to say congrats on everything Tim. I was admittedly on the fence when the site first went subscription mostly because there is just so much info out there that it was hard to justify paying for it. A year later I couldn’t be happier that I stuck around ,and I’m also excited that you are still so driven to make the site even better. Keep up the great work!

  • “Damn you Apple! Damn you!”
    – sent from my iPhone.

    • Currently reading on my Android app on my Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, which is basically the iPhone 8.

      • I can’t do it. I love how user friendly Apple is and I love the shared experience across all products.

        • Samsung is pretty much the same way.

          • Except that it is just a hardware OEM and does not make its own OS, so really it is nothing like Apple. That is why Apple’s UX will always have a leg up on Android. But, Android has done a nice job of substituting flexibility and enhanced control in lieu of a slightly worse UX. And their UI has gotten much better with the new material design stuff.

        • My brother says the same thing for the shared experience, since he has a Macbook. I’ve got the same thing though, and never have a problem. But I also don’t use iTunes or anything on the Apple store.

          Samsung phones are pretty simple. Plus they’ve got a ton of great features which are more advanced than Apple, but make things really easy. I also like the widgets, which allow me to see new Twitter or Facebook posts from the home screen, without having to open the app.

          But to each his own. I just have a problem with Apple because the quality of my most recent MacBook has been horrible since day one, their service was horrible in trying to fix it, they never did completely fix it, and now the harsh restrictions with the app. Plus, I hate when they say claim to invent something new (Apple Pencil) and it’s something I already had two years ago on a Samsung.

          • Good point. Honestly, I like my Roku better than my AppleTV so there’s that. My wife and my daughter have Apple too so I think at this point it would be difficult to make the switch. I actually have made the switch from iTunes to Amazon Prime Music. Hmmm… maybe I’m not as tied to Apple as I thought.

            • “Not as Apple as i thought”

              Its weird for me, because im a staunch Apple computer guy. Love the ease of use, never had Tim’s issues with new devices just being totally finicky. But i hate IPhones, because i can get the same needs from my phone via Samsung. But i think its mostly because Itunes and Apple store are also not anywhere near my biggest needs.

              People get confused when i get done advocating for all things Macbook and then go “but fuck IPhones”.

              • I’m kind of the same way. I love Macbooks over anything else. In fact, just thinking about it, I’ve only had two laptops during this site’s run, which is starting year eight. The first one was the white Macbook, and the only issue with that was the hard drive failed three times, but two were in warranty. The third one allowed me to upgrade my hard drive space. That laptop lasted about six years, which is a ton for how often I use it.

                I’ve been having weird issues with my Macbook Pro. The hard drive failed on this one, naturally, as that seems to be common with these (my brother has had two, and both had the same issues). But this one boots up incredibly slow, then sits there at the log in, but doesn’t let you type for a few minutes. Then it goes to sleep. Then you need to wake it up and it still doesn’t let you type. Then, after about five minutes, it lets you type. The keyboard is also broken, so the A-L row of keys don’t always register. So I had to buy a wireless keyboard to put on top of it.

                My big problem with Apple is mostly the attitude. I think iPhones are so much worse than Android, and hate the praise they get, especially when they act like they’re the first on the scene with something that has been out for years.

                I love Macbooks, but after many trips to the Apple store, I feel like I don’t want to buy another one just out of principle. They act like they’re doing you a favor by looking at the defective product they sold you, and most of the time it takes forever to get an appointment, followed by a long wait when you have one. I went to one store that just told me they had no available appointments for the next few weeks when I called. If that would have been my only option in the area, I would have been screwed.

                And after all of those trips, my laptop was never fixed, and it’s now out of warranty. So I had to buy the wireless keyboard, and still have to deal with the slow booting times.

                I think that you’re saying though is that you like Samsung phones for the same reason you like Apple computers, and if so, then I’m the same way.

                • 1000% agree with the Apple store trips and attitude. It is a pain to deal with Applecare directly, and getting an appointment is hell. I always go to a 3rd party store to diagnose my issues and if its busted in a big way that requires Apple, they send it off to them for me. If i had to deal with Apple on a regular basis i think id freak out.

                  • The worst is when you can’t use your computer and can’t get an appointment, but then you’re in the store trying to get them to fit you in while listening to old people getting help for an hour on how to set up their e-mail.

                    • Had a guy in front of me once at my 3rd party tech place take an hour to finally calm down enough to understand the worker explain how to retrieve data he thought he lost.

                      Data he lost that was still on his computer, which totally functioned enough to allow him to turn it on. While i was holding my $900 paperweight.

            • I just got Fire TV and I hate it compared to my Roku.

              • Roku is great. As an Android advocate, I can see why you like Roku over the biased ecosystem of Apple and Amazon. Best thing about Roku is that it is service-agnostic in its search and discovery features, presenting you with the best third-party options for a given piece of content. Apple tells you to buy it through iTunes, even if you have it for free (e.g., via Netflix). Agnostic search/discovery is huge for streaming TV.

                • I love that about Roku. I also have a lot of digital movies on Vudu or MGo, and neither is available on Fire TV. So if I want to watch a movie, I either have to hook up the Roku, or I have to go put the Blu Ray in like it’s 2008.

                  • Haha, you got me thinking of the good old days. I think I paid like $3-400 for my blu ray player in 2008. I’d order a blu ray from Netflix and 3 days later it arrived in my mailbox. I’d pop in the disc and wait about 60 seconds for the content to load (if the player’s cooling fan didn’t propel it into flight first). In 2015 I paid $99 for my Roku, and I watch unlimited digital content from Netflix that loads in 5 seconds over the Internet. Amazing.

                    • Remember when Blu Ray first came out and it took forever for the system to boot up? If you wanted to watch a movie on Friday, you needed to hit the power button on Tuesday.

          • I completely agree with you on Apple as a company, but I still feel their UX is superior for users since they develop hardware and software together as one cohesive platform. Android is much more flexible and open though, so as you said, to each their own.

        • I have no regrets about not drinking the Apple koolaid.

      • Tim,

        …I’m having issues with the app.

        Just got a tablet and logged into the site via Chrome…no problem. Downloaded the app and constantly get: “Login failed”. I reset my password, and re-logged in from Chrome…no issues…still cannot log in via app.

        Not really sure what the issue can be.

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