First Pitch: Letters From COVID Jail

I have one rule for my own writing on this site: My mind has to be in the right space to write an article.

Each article you see from me comes from the same process. When I get an idea, I basically see the article I’m going to write, already written in my head. The next part is gathering everything I need to extract that article from my head onto the page, in a way where you guys essentially get a look at what flashed through my brain days earlier. This is more complex than I make it sound.

On paper, it looks like me writing: “Braylon Bishop’s swing.”

Inside my head? That unlocks something like this:

It’s just a complex jumble of possibilities, that eventually get sorted through as I do my job as a reporter. When I have everything gathered, I start assembling and piecing it all together in the weirdest possible way. Like, you’d be appalled at the process in which this very article you’re reading now comes together. Somehow it works.

I’m saying that last part based on your feedback — both stated in comments and unstated in the amount of traffic we see.

Last week, I wrote an article for Tuesday about Oneil Cruz. I felt it was great work because the finished product came out exactly as I hoped, with my honest opinion displayed in a clearly laid out, well-supported argument.

That article was then read by more people than you’ll see at PNC Park on any given night.

From my perspective, every time I sit down to produce an article, I’m doing my craft for a stadium full of people. I think there’s a reason why I understand the mindset of MLB players, and those aspiring to be one. In my follow-up to last week’s article, I’m going to make my first attempt at explaining things from that perspective and mindset.

*****

That “Cruz: Part Two” column was originally going to go up Friday, and the final part would have gone tomorrow.

Unfortunately, on Wednesday last week I came down with COVID. It was the first time I got it, which ended an impressive run. It also ended my hope that smoking weed daily was the cure.

It was a crazy, rollercoaster of a week. I had a fever for about 40 hours. And there was no way I was writing anything important during that time.

By Friday, the fever was pretty much gone, and if I’m honest, the weed at that point was fantastic. I don’t know if anyone else has tried a “Plague and Bake”, but a nice Indica-strain will do wonders to remove that feeling of “Why does every square inch of my back hurt?” from when you forget that you were in bed for the last two days.

Fortunately, I was feeling better by Saturday, and I’m writing this article on Sunday, so the writing process has returned.

We’ve got some great stuff coming to the site this week. Let’s get it started with this week’s First Pitch…

FUQUAY VINYL PLAYLIST

This week’s playlist is designed to get your mind through 40-hour COVID fevers. In one isolated incident, when the subject was no longer infected, it resulted in a breach into the Multiverse, leading to a near-incursion with Earth-1997; a.k.a., the version of Earth in which the “Freak Show” Pittsburgh Pirates actually won the World Series, beating the Cleveland Indians 4-3. It was the lowest rated World Series across the entire Multiverse.

First Pitch continues below…

BRAYLON BISHOP’S SWING

Who else loves extreme launch angles?

The photo below is an amazing shot captured by Wilbur Miller of Braylon Bishop’s first pro home run. Click it to get a better look.

Bishop was drafted in the 14th round last year, and given an over-slot $268,700 bonus — essentially all the Pirates had left for their 2021 draft class — to start his pro career.

Here’s a video look at that first homer from the prep outfielder:

Check back tomorrow for my article on Bishop’s swing, which will be part of this week’s premium article drop.

CLEMENTE OFF THE WALL

I love this classic Roberto Clemente play that Ervin Santana recently shared.

That cannon of a throw is one thing, but I’m focused on the wait today.

The ball goes into the corner, and Clemente, knowing every square inch of that right field, projects the ball’s path perfectly, and runs to the spot where the ball is going to be.

And then he waits.

And the ball comes to him.

That’s control and patience that make a star player. Imagine, for a second, that Clemente is in two gears here.

The first one is “Present”.

When he is Present, he’s running all-out to the spot, and then later making the cannon of a throw.

In between those two periods of him being Present was another period, “Planning.”

Those two modes operate side by side the entire time.

He’s Planning while he’s Presently running to the ball.

He’s Present while he’s standing and waiting and Planning the throw.

He’s Planning his next moves after the throw is made Present to everyone on the field.

The fact that Clemente could do that in such a split-second — shifting gears in his mind like a European sports car — is what made him one of the greats.

Ultimately, that ability to shift gears at-will between Present and Planning is what I believe is the spectrum that success in this sport should be guided on.

If you’d like to read more about Roberto Clemente, be sure to check out John Dreker’s Pittsburgh Baseball History site.

AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR SPONSORS…

Look around.

Do you notice anything?

Every single thing on this site is produced by people on this site.

There are no advertisements.

There’s no endless scroll of articles that will take you to another content factory.

This site is purely our content following the Pirates, as minimalist as it gets. That said, you will see some of my side projects on here. Fuquay Vinyl, being one example.

I said I didn’t write anything this past week for the site. I did actually write a poem at some point, after laying in bed wondering how the Earth would spiral around the sun if the sun was constantly moving through space. This has nothing to do with baseball, though a Mike Burrows spin-rate comp could be made, I guess. I thought I’d share, since the web space is free.

First Pitch continues below…

Spring in Space

When you envision the Earth moving around the Sun,
Is the Sun in a fixed place?
And every year the Earth returns to the same spot in space?
Or is the Sun on the run?
Pulling along its dependents through the solar system
The Earth manages to spring ahead
Faster than the Sun in summer
Falling back when the Sun drags its planets to take the lead
Cold winter as the Earth stares distantly at the Sun’s greed

But on the other side of the planet, they perceive winter as summer
And the Earth is moving faster when you’re going backwards down under
Slingshot around, then speed back down to achieve the ring
If the Sun is speeding through space, then the entire Earth is spiraling
Like a spring in space
And when it’s spring, we pick up the pace
As the Earth comes speeding back around
Propelling ahead of the Sun with new momentum found

-Tim Williams

SYSTEM THOUGHTS

**Aaron Shortridge made his second rehab start yesterday for Bradenton. Shortridge last pitched in High-A in 2019, and went down with Tommy John before the 2021 season. He’s combined for six shutout innings so far, with one walk, four hits, and five strikeouts. He’s a strong control guy. Despite his 6′ 3″, power right-hander frame, he was throwing 89-90 MPH in his recent outing, according to Wilbur Miller. This is all good to see in his early return to the game. He should get a push to the upper levels when he’s fully stretched out. Shortridge could emerge as a muti-inning option in the majors, with a shot to develop into a starter.

**Henry Davis heads up to the plate with nearly full armor on his left arm. The catcher and 2021 first overall pick isn’t afraid of getting hit, as Anthony Murphy detailed recently. Davis was hit twice on Sunday, giving him 15 career hits in 122 plate appearances. What I find interesting is that Davis, as a catcher, is used to moving around with extra armor. His ability to still crush the ball and hit for average, while wearing so much weight on his arm, might be a hidden value. He’s very confident about his power, from my experience interacting with him. He approaches the game like he’s ready to hit, and isn’t afraid to get hit. That armor has to give him some level of a confidence boost by removing something to worry about from his thought process at the plate.

**You expect to see a player struggle a bit when he moves from High-A to Double-A, but this doesn’t seem like a huge leap for Matt Gorski right now. The outfielder had an .821 OPS in 65 plate appearances going into Sunday, before going 1-for-4. He hit his second homer at the level this week, and played a few games at first base. Gorski obviously wasn’t going to put up an OPS above 1.100 like he did at the lower level, but his continued success here is great to see.

**All of a sudden it feels like the Pirates have a lot of outfield depth throughout the system, right? Gorski is on the same team as Connor Scott (Jacob Stallings trade) and Matt Fraizer (2021 Pirates Minor League Player of the Year), who have both seen struggles this year in Altoona. There’s a lot of upside from this trio — enough to potentially get at least one 50-grade starter from the group. They’re joined by Blake Sabol, Jared Triolo, Brendt Citta, and a few other intriguing options. And yet, the Pirates are currently sorting through Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell, and Travis Swaggerty in the majors for the final two spots next to Bryan Reynolds. They still have Canaan Smith-Njigba as an additional option in Triple-A. Obviously that’s just a big group of names of various levels of potential, but it seems like we’re starting to see a tide turn toward the potential shining through more often than not.

**I just want to point out some timing. John Dreker wrote about right-handed pitcher Travis MacGregor last week, and what was going well for him. In his next appearance, MacGregor went five shutout innings, striking out eight. He now has 13 strikeouts, no walks, and three hits in eight shutout innings over his last two games.

WEEKLY PIRATES QUIZ

PIRATES LINKS

**Baseball America released their National League Central Prospect Notebook last week. My section on the Pirates this month was on Greensboro right-handed pitching prospect Jared Jones, and a key in-game adjustment he made in a recent outing.

**Over at Pittsburgh Baseball Now, Danny Demilio had a look at right-handed pitching prospect Justin Meis. Back here at Pirates Prospects, Anthony Murphy had a breakdown of the three-pitch mix from Meis.

**At DK Pittsburgh Sports, Cory Giger leads their baseball team in a new feature that keeps track of their top ten prospects each week, every Tuesday.

THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

Tomorrow’s article drop is a good one, with a preview of the FCL and DSL teams, along with some interesting player features.

Last week, my plan was to get the paywall on the site put back in place. That plan was moved to this week. Look for that to take place at some point this week, though it might be after I make Pirates Twitter explode, I guess.

Ultimately, with this new site, I’m looking to diversify away from myself. I was fortunate, based on this site’s publishing schedule, that I got COVID on Wednesday. A few days earlier, and the article drop that week might be in jeopardy.

I think the publishing routine we have now is strong. There will probably be a few more tweaks to the formula this month after learning from this last week.

The big takeaway last week was the experience with the timing of my break. There were a lot of times the last few years where I was happy to walk away from the computer when the latest article was done, and it was difficult to get back for the next one.

I’m now back to the point where only a plague could tear me away.

So, if you thought the site was going well lately, realize that’s just the warmup.

We’ll see you tomorrow for the article drop!

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HeyFred

I think that picture of Bishops home is Pulitzer worthy. Turn it into merch or a logo….launch angle pointing at ball. Reminds me of the cover of London Calling

zebug

I just got the Vid as well for the first time (knowingly anyway) over Memorial Day weekend (that’s when the symptoms appeared). It destroyed my own idea that I was just naturally immune to it lol…I don’t do the weed thing so that wasn’t a factor 🙂

Danatural08

Indica = in da couch lol

Amazing job with the site, love that there’s no ads or sensory overload. The chat feature is top notch.

Would LOVE to smoke & hang with Tim some time. Is it ok to ask your favorite way to smoke (j, bong, bowl, etc)?

agent00

do you take roundtable suggestions, by chance?

agent00

gotcha. thanks. i hope to see some fan suggested roundtables in the offseason! could be a fun way to pass the time

john_fluharty

Excellent idea.

mpg43952

The audio from Bish’s homer game sounds like the bench is having fun, the games have a high school feel from the video. Any discussion of outfield defense begins and ends with Clemente and Mays, in my humble opinion. Throw in Shoeless Joe, who’s glove was “where triples went to die”.

Wilbur Miller

It’s fun at the FCL games. The teams are overwhelmingly Lat. Am. players and they’re very animated and very into the games, pitch by pitch. When Terrero hit an inside-the-park HR, the players really went wild.

Last edited 2 months ago by Wilbur Miller
Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

I’ve come to the conclusion that apparently MLB is the only league across the entire world where fans get angry at any instance of any celebration. Fans, players, EVERYONE goes berserk for any moment of even the tiniest level of excitement during the CWS.

mpg43952

Maybe it’s all of the corporate seats around the dugout. If regular fans got to sit close, there would be more noise. Grown men playing a kid’s game should get to act like kids.

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

All I’ll say is I firmly believe a large swath of the individual’s in the stands for the college games, particularly SEC teams, are the same one’s yelling about how millionaires need to act like “professionals”. You watch the Caribbean Series, and it’s a whole other spectacle, practically just a big party.

Duckhunter

Hope you feel better thanks for the write up

NMR

Pent up writing demand. Prolific.

Can confirm your covid-jazz cabbage observations.

Catch_22

Another solid playlist. Prester John and Too late now

Catch_22

Wet Leg is fantastic…They’re funny, too…In a good way

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

Glad you’re feeling better. My little sister just got over covid as well, her first time.

Wilbur Miller

Public service announcement:

If you have risk factors, see about getting a prescription for paxlovid. It’s a very effective treatment that seems to have escaped widespread notice. I’ve seen interviews with infectious disease specialists who were baffled why it’s not being used more. One caveat: you need to start it within five days of symptoms appearing.

My wife and I both had covid recently. Theoretically she should be much less at risk than me, but I was positive for less than half as long as her and my symptoms were milder. One possible reason, although not the only one, was that I got a paxlovid prescription and she didn’t.

Sorry for carrying on, but I know plenty of high-risk people and have yet to find one who’s heard of this, which is puzzling. And, no, this isn’t horse paste.

AdministrativeSky236

Another start to a great week of Pirates coverage, look forward to the new content here every single day!

A thought I had last night, which lines up with your point that we seem to have a glut of now ready and soon to be ready at least MLB replacement level OF with definite room to improve as they get experience. The Guardians, as an organization have really struggled to produce anything offensively from their OF. I wonder if we could swing a trade of canaan for a pitching flyer or something along those lines? Assuming since he is still in the minors that we value him less than swag, jack, and cal, but he very likely would be an improvement in cleveland. Would probably just net us a lottery ticket arm, but since we have a bit of a logjam we could at least get some value out of it

Catch_22

I think the Pirates are still deep into the evaluation process. I believe they’re trying to identify who they can pair with Reynolds. Suwinski might be one, the remaining others might be 4th-5th OF’ers. Maybe Cruz will be one…Maybe it’s an outside addition. I just don’t think that Cannan, Mitchell or Swag have trade value. They’re fringe 40 guys that you can find on waivers

I think we’re starting to see what we have with all these rooks that are up or have been up. Mind you, none of these guys were top prospects or projected to be starters. They really need to send Castillo down and bring up Bae and/or Cruz. Frankly, I’ve seen enough of Castillo, he’s just a guy that can make routine plays and struggles to hit the best pitching on the planet. He’s also not a high end athlete. Marcano on the other hand might stick as a super U guy that gets 4-5 starts per week. As much as VanMeter is everyone’s fav whipping boy, I thought he was mildly interesting and was hitting his stride prior to the injury. To me at least, he more intriguing than Castro or Castillo. Castro probably has the highest celling of the 3 but is one of the more wild players I’ve ever seen…He is so damn unrefined. If we get a starting OF’er and a high end SU out of these guys, it’s a win. Then you go through the next wave of guys and hope that you can start to fill out a competent lineup card. Bottom line, they’ll need to add from the outside if they’re really serious about winning.

clemo83

I’ve been pretty disillusion with this rebuild, just because I don’t see any reason not to add major leaguers and spend money in year 3. We’re just making this longer and more painful than is necessary, imo.

A certain local sportswriter has crafted the narrative that Cherington is finally doing this rebuild the right way by trading for all prospects and that the Pirates have never done this before. (Even he called for spending this season).

But to me, this the exact thing Huntington did, the only difference was he often targeted prospects sa that we’re at mlb level like Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche, etc. Those guys were older but still 100% prospects. Nothing about this feels like something we haven’t been through before. Consequently, I think we’re going to run into the same problems:
1) There are only nine players that can play. Having prospect “depth” at a given position is deceiving.
2) Top prospects are not all arriving at the same time.
3) Prospects take widely different development paths and time. Only the select few have success right away. I used to love the sections in Tim’ prospect books that would project future rosters and arrival time for prospects. But those were always best case that never happened.
4) Mlb is really really hard. Mlb >> AAA, AA
5) Some prospects will struggle, can they be developed and do how much time do you give them to figure it out in the big leagues
6) A winning culture needs to be developed. It to a few extra years and required to established big leaguers – AJ Burnett and Russell Martin , to do it.
7) You need high end talent, not replacement level players – even fewer prospects reach that level
8) You have to be able to develop prospects, which it appears we’re still really struggling, especially pitching.
9) You have to spend money
10) You have to sign real major league talent and not be afraid to replace a prospect with the real thing.

None of this has changed with Cherington at the helm. It’ll be fun to watch the kids but I think this going to take longer than most are hoping for. .Which is why we should be spending and trying to win asap.

Catch_22

It’s really not hard getting prospect “depth” when you trade Taillon, Musgrove, Bell, Frazier, and on and on.

The hard part is getting better prospects. Look at the Josh Bell trade, we got a middle reliever out of him, that’s it. If that’s all you can get out of him, then don’t trade him. Clay Holmes trade was highway robbery from Cashman. He knew there was more to Holmes than what Pittsburgh was able to get out of him. Cashman flipped 2 guys that were going to be removed from their 40 in Castillo and Park. Who do you think Cashman would rather have right now Taillon or Roansy? Taillon is one of the better pitchers in the league and they’re odd on favorites to win the World Series, in part because of trades by Cherington. Cherington gave up Taillon and Holmes for essentially one MLB player in Contreras.

NMR

Dead on.

I don’t even think this is “negative”, it’s just the reality of team building. Cherington has assembled a ton of grade 40/45 types which has given the impression of depth, but it’s not much you couldn’t fairly easily assemble cheaply through other means.

No practical difference from the years we talked about the “glut” of middle infielders under Huntington; Tucker, Newman, Moroff, Alemais, Kramer, etc.

They’re at a point where they desperately need one or two of these guys to separate themselves as even average big leaguers, let alone the kind of star power needed to actually end up any better than the latter part of Huntington’s term.

Sometimes I look back at that 2018 club, a .500 team, and this current iteration feels like even reaching that level would be an accomplishment.

Last edited 2 months ago by NMR
Catch_22

Everyone is talking about all this talent at Altoona right now…I went to a Curve game in ’18 (I think) 1b Craig, 2b Alemais, 3b Hayes, SS Tucker, LF Martin, CF Reynolds, RF some dude maybe named Jackson and C was the org guy they had for years, had reputation of a good defensive guy and was vertically challenged. Keller was on the mound.

That’s a hell of a AA squad and it yielded a last place MLB team.

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

It’ll be interesting to follow for sure, cause I could see a possibility of some minor league swaps, much like the (eventual) trade for Abrahan Gutierrez the Pirates made, sending Phils Ogle. Guardians would make sense, as AdminSky mentioned, but also the Marlins.

Maybe it’s a Madris trade, or it could be them just clearing out Marisnick, Gamel, and Allen in one fashion or another. Triolo getting OF time is an interesting trends, aside from them just wanting to move players around. Cause on one hand, he kind of has to be moved around cause he doesn’t have a clear path ahead of him, but also he just excels defensively everywhere he plays.

And we obviously can’t 100% rule out an eventual Reynolds trade.

Last edited 2 months ago by Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)
AdministrativeSky236

Gamel back the guardians could make sense! They regularly send guys out with OPS in the .500-.600 range so he would be a nice upgrade. They churn out quality pitching over there so even getting a 20-30 range pitching prospect would be fine with me

AdministrativeSky236

That’s a good point, we definitely do not know who, if any, are going to be stalwarts at the position. If anything, it is just a welcome change to be thinking we may have enough depth to be dealing from a position of surplus! Even in 2011-2015, I never felt like we had enviable depth, just enough quality to spread across the team. Maybe that becomes more of a thought after having the full season to develop, observe, and project into the future

JimEastTennessee

That is what I like about the depth in the MI, if one of these “other” guys (Marcano?) plays his way into the position, that leaves other prospects as plums in a trade scenario. I am going to add Nick G. to Mr. Cruz as dark horse trade candidates.

Colin

This site gets me through the daily grind. I love all the Pittsburgh teams, but nothing compares to the love I have for our Buccos. Thank you Tim, and all the writers here for all the hard work you guys do. I learn something new everyday, such great insight and detail poured into this site. I can’t wait for the day we’re talking about a World Series in the Burgh

Colin

I’m like a little kid Christmas morning! Outstanding stuff! The way you guy’s interact with your members is class act and really just the cherry on top of an amazing sundae. As long as you guy’s keep writing I’ll be throwing my money at ya to keep reading

john_fluharty

Some places you go and read you get the impression that the writers feel that they’re better than the people doing the reading, like they’re blessing you with their wisdom. I don’t get that impression from any of the writers on this site, which is very refreshing. I feel like they’re sharing information with us and they think of us as equals to them.

JimEastTennessee

I think 2024 is just going to be a tease

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