First Pitch: Some Third Base Prospects Stood Out the First Day of Minor League Camp

BRADENTON, Fl. – Today was the first workout day at Minor League camp at Pirate City, with early players reporting on Sunday. This is always a weird time during Spring Training. On one hand, it’s great to see so many of the prospects out on the field again. On the other hand, I just spent two weeks watching the exact same workout every day from big league guys, and now I’m going to spend another two weeks doing the same thing for the minor leaguers. But it’s usually during this process that the breakout candidates and the guys who took a step back emerge, so I’ll take it.

The Pirates started their Spring Training schedule on the road today, but rather than being one of five outlets covering that, I wanted to show Sean McCool around Pirate City, and be the only outlet covering the four fields of minor league practice. Seriously, the media room there is basically my second office for a month, and once Sean leaves town, I might see one other person there for one day total the rest of camp, at least until Ryan Palencer comes down later this month.

I always think of this kind of stuff when I hear that you can get free prospect information anywhere. You can see words written by someone who may have seen the prospect once or twice, and may have talked to him for a few minutes. But how many sites watch these guys on a daily basis all throughout the year, with years of background and live coverage backing up their reports? But I digress.

There always seems to be one group of prospects that immediately stands out, and today it was the third base group. It’s easy to get lost in the action and miss things at Pirate City. I was watching the catchers take batting practice on one field, followed by watching Wyatt Mathisen, Erich Weiss, Elvis Escobar, and Pablo Reyes taking batting practice on another field. That grouping includes three of our top 50 prospects, plus another who was in consideration for the list. But it wasn’t close to the next group of guys.

I looked at the next field over and saw some infield drills taking place. And I was pleasantly surprised when I went over to find that the Pirates had a nice prospect trio working at third base — Ke’Bryan Hayes, Connor Joe, and Jordan Luplow. Here is some of the video of the defensive work.

The Pirates were once thin on third base prospects all throughout the system, but they’ve actually got some interesting guys in the lower levels. Normally I post videos just to give you a look at what is going on in Spring Training, while advising not to put too much stock in one minute of action (especially on the first day like this case). However, if it looks like Hayes has much better defense than the other two, then I can tell you it’s not a sample size issue.

I saw Hayes a lot last year in the GCL and was very impressed with his defense. He’s fast, has good first step quickness, gets to the ball while setting up in good position for a quick throw to first, and while there were no throws today, he has a strong arm. He’s the best defensive third baseman in the system, and if his offense works out, you’re looking at an exciting player in the future.

Luplow is a bit of the opposite. He broke out at the plate in the second half last year in West Virginia, which we rate a bit lower in value due to the fact that he’s a college guy playing in a college league. He hadn’t played third base since high school, so re-learning the position was a big focus for him. He got more comfortable as the year went on, but still has a lot of work to do to adjust to the position. I equate him to JaCoby Jones, in the sense that you’ve got a guy who put up strong offensive numbers in West Virginia, while moving from the outfield to a difficult infield position. Jones had questions about whether his offense was real in the lower level, and whether he could improve defensively. Luplow will get a chance to answer the same questions this year.

Joe really doesn’t have a spot at third, since he projects to be at the same level as Luplow, who should get most of the playing time. He’ll probably be limited to first base action, where he shows off the fielding and quickness of a third baseman, but still has some stuff to smooth out, and gets work with Kevin Young during the season on these issues. He’s got some power potential in his bat, which could allow him to play any corner position if that develops. This will be a big year for Joe, as he shouldn’t be under any restrictions from his back injury in 2014, and needs to show what he can do.

Of the group, Hayes looks like the most likely to be a starting third baseman for the Pirates, although he’s a long way away. Until then, the Pirates could use someone like Luplow or Joe to step up and provide more depth at the position, and maybe an MLB starter for the short-term one day.

Here is some batting practice from each player:

Jordan Luplow #Pirates

A video posted by Pirates Prospects (@piratesprospects) on

And now, some photos of the day, all taken by Sean McCool.

Clay Holmes
Clay Holmes
Austin Meadows
Austin Meadows
Cody Dickson
Cody Dickson
Erich Weiss
Erich Weiss
Ke'Bryan Hayes
Ke’Bryan Hayes
Connor Joe
Connor Joe
Luis Escobar and Pablo Reyes
Elvis Escobar and Pablo Reyes
Rinku Singh
Rinku Singh
Tyler Eppler
Tyler Eppler

Rinku Singh being on the mound was something that hasn’t been seen much the last few years. He had Tommy John surgery twice, which put him out for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, then snapped his elbow pre-2015. He’s going to be limited this year, but might get a shot to pitch in Altoona finally, and see what his breaking stuff can do in the upper levels.

The Million Dollar Arm, Rinku Singh, throwing a bullpen. #Pirates

A video posted by Pirates Prospects (@piratesprospects) on

One of my favorite short videos today was of Mitch Keller, who was throwing in the back bullpen:

Mitch Keller throwing a bullpen #Pirates

A video posted by Pirates Prospects (@piratesprospects) on

Tomorrow we will have double coverage, with reports from both the MLB game and the early days of minor league camp.

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**Could the Russell Martin Timeline Repeat With Francisco Cervelli? Another strong defensive catcher with injury problems joins the Pirates, sees his injury problems mostly disappear, sees his bat play up, and might end up leaving as a free agent after two years with the team.

**Gift Ngoepe Hoping New Hitting Approach Will Be Enough to Make the Majors. Sean McCool writes about how Gift Ngoepe changed his approach to switch hitting after the best defensive shortstop in the system realized he wasn’t getting to the majors without improvements to his bat.

**Four Pirates Among the Top Prospects at Their Position. The last of the prospect rankings continue, and John Dreker breaks it down.

  • Hayes needs some more separation between hips and hands, they come almost together. If he can do that, hopefully the power follows in time. He looks extremely smooth in the field, very soft hands.

  • I was surprised how smooth and powerful Joe looked. I had pretty much written him off but perhaps that back issue really was still an issue last year. He had excellent plate discipline last year which is something. Hayes is quick to the ball but that appears to be very much a line-drive spray the ball stroke currently. I like what Luplow did last year. So we have 3 interesting guys…

  • conner joe looks like a catcher, any chance he will go back behind the plate?

    • It would be great to have a backup catcher actually be able to play four other positions and have a great bat. But it isn’t often that once a player leaves catcher that they return is it?

    • Not to add but remember how bad Ryan Doumit was behind the plate. I never laughed so hard seeing him totally miss a pitch and it hitting him squarely in the mask plus the batter didn’t swing.

  • I’d LOVE to see Rinku and Gift up in Sept, if not this year, next year.

    First Indian and first South African to play in the majors would be cool.

    • You do know that Rinku Singh hasn’t pitched in three years, right? And before that, he sat mid-80’s, with no average pitches

      • Lee Foo Young
        March 2, 2016 10:50 am

        I DO know that…I believe it was in the article.

        🙂

        Just bring him up for a cup of coffee…that is all I am asking for.

      • Btw, I just discovered that, I can like a post twice. I never knew I could do that (and I have no idea how it happened). I hope NMR can keep up.

  • Man does Keller’s fastball jump out of the screen. No surprise why they’re so high on him.

    • I’d like your post in agreement, but I know you’re watching me.

      If I say something negative about Mitch in the footure, you’ll be on me like chili on a hot dog.

      🙂

  • I sure wished that we had not taken Connor Joe in the (comp) first round. To me, from what I am reading, he has little chance to make the majors?

    I remember when he was drafted, Keith Law and others said that it was a good pick IF he stayed at C. Otherwise………………He has done nothing to disprove that comment.

    • Can you, or anyone else, explain why folks never seem to acknowledge the little part about Connor Joe missing the first year and a half of action with a back injury after signing when complaining about what he’s done so far?

      Seriously, I can’t for the life of me fathom why folks who know better dismiss this like it never happened.

      • I acknowledge that it happened, but where is his bat gonna play?
        1b? Nope
        OF? Nope
        3b? Yes, but his fielding is lacking.

        Even at C, his defense wasn’t the best.

        so even if he hadn’t lost a year and a half, I wouldn’t be that high on him.

        • You claim to acknowledge the injury, yet are comfortable making a judgement on his future big league bat based on his first 300 AB as a pro post-injury?

          Those two things can’t both be true.

          Which leads me to the next thing I don’t get about how Pirate fans treat Joe…some of the same people who praise the Pirates for targeting athletic, defensively versatile contact hitters talk about Joe like there’s no place for him in the organization despite the fact that he can actually play all four corners and struck out far less than he walked in his first taste of pro ball.

          Tim’s absolutely correct, this is a year where Joe will have to show the power potential can show up in games. But with his contact and discipline, even fringe-average power (.120-.130 ISO) easily makes him an above average big league hitter.

          Maybe you’re not stoked to have a guy like that in the system, but the 2016 Pittsburgh Baseball Club could sure as hell use one. As could’ve the 2015 club, and every other one Huntington has fielded.

          • Time will tell. He’ll be 24 in August, so yes, he’ll have to come on rather quickly.

            As a Pirate fan, I hope that your ‘Joe-love’ comes to fruition. Feel free to say “I told you so” if it does. 🙂

            • My side of this discussion isn’t even about Joe, specifically! Insert any prospect with this profile and backstory and it would be the same.

              Hell, some of the same guys on here talking up 28 year old 1B-only Jason Rogers have already resigned Joe to bust territory. Just doesn’t add up.

            • Killing 2 birds…

              Agree with a 24 y.o. in the low minors with no real position.

              And I also feel NMR is correct in his Jason Rogers hype.

          • Lol. You’re making the same judgement , only taking the stance that someone with 300 post injury at bats in A ball will *easily* make him successful at the big league level.

      • Not to intervene with you and foo’s cat fight but I believe that he needs to show something this upcoming season or I would also give up on him.

        • Lee Foo Young
          March 2, 2016 10:52 am

          Bill W…I have cats…watch what you say about them. 🙂 🙂

        • While him not showing up this season would make him a non prospect type guy, i dont think you give up on him. Still can fill a spot in some level and isnt so old he couldnt figure things out and be a role player.

          Also cheap as hell still.

  • I’d much rather be there watching players practice than staring at a computer in Philadelphia.

  • Tim this is my idea of a perfect article really appreciate the coverage and content wash rinse repeat

  • Hayes I really like.
    Luplow has some potential.
    Connor is just another Joe.

    • scrappy2499
      March 2, 2016 6:53 am

      At the hot corner I agree. Watching the three in the cage taking swings, Joe looks the most comfortable. he seems to be the most comfortable using his whole body. First day and all obviously not worried about all that but he was brought in for his bat and the way he incorporates his entire body hopefully he can put up a good avg. and some power from the corners.

      • Joe has the best right handed swing in the system (albeit without a ton of competition).

        • Better than Bell’s?
          Better than Ramirez?

        • You can visualize power in his swing. Can he make consistent contact though?

          • Who, Connor Joe? The guy who posted a sub-10% strikeout rate in his first year of pro ball?

            • Yeah, the guy who posted a .245/.366/.303/.670 line at WV. I like the plate patience, I buy the probability that the back injury hurt his power, but why was his BA so low? I am bothered by that.

              • Ah, you’re questioning *quality* of contact. Completely fair.

                Joe posted a low BABIP (.270) which without other batted ball data could be a sign of poor contact or just bad “luck”. Regress his BABIP to .300 (roughly average) and he would’ve hit .270.

                • I see! There is reason for hope of improved performance this year then, thanks.

                  • No problem!

                    No reason he shouldn’t move fast now that he’s healthy, if the bat truly is/was as billed. If by the end of 2016 he doesn’t have a hundred AA at bats or so you probably won’t even have to check the stat line.

        • I know the Brass were high on him and showed that with the high pick. he had the numbers to show that his bat was strong, so sure hope that his back is good to go and he can show everyone what he is capable of.

  • piraterican21
    March 2, 2016 1:31 am

    I really appreciate the videos and overall outstanding coverage.

  • Ke’Bryan Hayes looks like a natural!!!!! I am betting he will surpass expectations. Sometimes things are obvious, even from upside-downville here in Australia!

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