First Pitch: More Proof That the Pirates Don’t Know What They Have With Their Own Players

The Pirates don’t know what they have with their own players.

It’s a comment that has been made many times this offseason by new General Manager Ben Cherington. The Pirates, like every other team, are looking to get the most out of their guys, and feel that not every player has reached his upside in the majors.

Unlike a lot of other teams, the Pirates might have a lot more ground to make up.

I fully agree with Cherington’s assessment that they don’t know what they have with the club. The more and more I talk with guys in the system, the more this comment comes across as a legit strategy and not just a talking point.

Earlier this week I was talking with center field prospect Jared Oliva for my latest article at Baseball America. We discussed some of the swing changes he was making, aimed at adding more power to his game. You can read that article over at Baseball America.

While discussing his swing changes, Oliva described how he’d watch videos of different players, trying to pick up key pieces of their swing that he also shows in his swing.

“We’d have to sit down and break down each move I’d look at from each guy,” Oliva said. “Now I’ve got a better understanding of what to look for. I can pretty much watch any hitter now and see what they’re doing well, or what I was working on that they’re doing.”

This is pretty standard stuff. It’s video work, and every player is taught how to watch, and gets a better understanding of what to watch for, or how to pick up new tips. Video doesn’t mean that coaches are no longer necessary. It’s just a tool aimed at improving the development process, in addition to coaching and every other aspect.

Oliva has already worked with the new Pirates front office, participating in a hitting camp in January. He noted that they have a new focus on development than the previous group.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things with how they’re operating, how they’re doing stuff,” Oliva said. “I think we’re diving a little more into the analytics, just based off the hitting camp we were at. We’re just more open to showing guys what the iPad was saying behind the cage, and trying to get guys more involved, or understanding what to look for, which I thought was really cool.”

Check that last part: “Understanding what to look for.”

It’s the same approach as with video work. You have a tool that assists with the development process. You teach the player how to use it, and how to benefit from it, while making it a key part of their development — the same as video work or coaching.

The previous front office made the analytics available to any player that wanted it, but didn’t make that a mandatory part of the development process. The concerns I heard often were that the players might get overloaded with information, and wouldn’t know how to use the resource.

That hasn’t stopped other teams around the game, and it doesn’t look to be stopping the new front office. They’re focusing on teaching players how to use analytics and technology, while also teaching them what to look for.

I mentioned to Oliva that my outside perspective — which is based on similar conversations I’ve had with every prospect I’ve talked with since Neal Huntington was fired — is that the Pirates are putting more of a mandatory focus on analytics this year.

“I agree,” Oliva said. “It will be cool to see, obviously with Spring Training coming up here on the big league side, how we go about things. The numbers are out there, but I feel like we didn’t really dive down into them too much in years previous.”

Oliva said that the Pirates even pulled a few players aside at that January camp, giving them a one-on-one breakdown of the numbers. They’d cover what the numbers said, along with what a player can learn from the numbers.

All of this is a refreshing thing to hear, especially after seeing guys like Gerrit Cole, Austin Meadows, and Tyler Glasnow have immediate success with organizations who were implementing this type of development.

We don’t know if the Pirates under Cherington will develop players better than they did under Huntington. What we do know is that they’re making better use of a very important resource in today’s game. That will only help them drive the values of the internal guys up higher from their previous levels.





By John Dreker

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date plus one old transaction of note.

Damaso Marte, relief pitcher for the 2001 and 2006-08 Pirates. He had a 7-8, 3.52 record in 210 games with the Pirates. Pittsburgh originally got him from the Yankees in exchange for Enrique Wilson after the 2000 season. He was then traded to the White Sox for Matt Guerrier, then reacquired in exchange for Rob Mackowiak in December 2005. The final time they traded him was in the six-player deal to the Yankees, along with Craig Wilson, which got the Pirates Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and Jose Tabata. Marte was injured for all of 2011 season, then never played pro ball again. He made 570 appearances over his 11-year big league career.

Will McEnaney, reliever for the 1978 Pirates. They acquired him just prior to the 1978 season in exchange for pitcher Timothy Jones. He pitched just six games for the Pirates, 8.2 innings total, and he had a 10.38 ERA. He was released following the completion of the season. In his six year career he had a 12-17 3.76 record with 29 saves in 269 games, all in relief. Despite a very brief time with the Pirates, McEnaney wore three different jersey numbers, 16, 24 and 44.

Earl Smith, catcher for the Pirates from 1924 until 1928. He caught on two Pirates World Series teams and hit .350 during the 1925 series. Smith played 12 seasons in the majors, catching for five teams that made the WS. For the Pirates he hit .315 over 351 games with 104 walks and just 42 strikeouts. He was a .303 career hitter, and in 105 games for the 1926 Pirates he hit .346 and drove in 46 runs.

Harry Jordan, pitcher for the 1894-95 Pirates. He won his only start during the 1894 season, a 10-7 win in which he pitched a complete game during the last week of the season. He made two starts in early July in 1895, four days apart, both against the Cleveland Spiders and lost both games. Those three games were the only major league games of his career. Jordan played five seasons in the minors, seeing time with six different clubs.

Morgan Murphy, catcher for the 1898 Pirates. He was acquired in the 1897-98 off-season for catcher Joe Sugden, who had been with the team since 1893. Murphy hit .125 in five games and the Pirates released him less than two months into the season. Morgan was let go on June 11th due to financial reasons, at the same time the Pirates cut star outfielder Steve Brodie. They decided with Murphy, to let him go since he was the third-string catcher. The local paper said at the time that they could’ve sent him to the minors, but instead they rewarded his hard work over the off-season and Spring Training, by releasing him outright so he could sign with another Major League team. He played in the majors for 11 seasons, hitting .225 over 568 games. He is one of a small group of players that played in four different leagues, the Player’s League, the American Association, the National League and the American League during it’s first season in 1901.

On this date in 1884, the Alleghenys sold pitcher Bob Barr to the Washington Nationals, reportedly for $100. It’s listed as the first transaction with another Major League team in franchise history. Barr was 6-18, 4.38 in 203.1 innings as a rookie with the 1883 Alleghenys. He had a career 49-98 record in the majors, and even in his best season when he won 28 games in 1890, he still led the league with 24 losses.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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