First Pitch: The Complete MLB Player

Our minds are powerful things.

They control everything we do, often without an active thought.

Inside each mind is a set of words that can unlock a human’s full potential.

Only after we’ve mastered our own minds, can we decipher those words and understand them.

At that point, I believe we see our purpose.

FUQUAY VINYL PLAYLIST

First Pitch continues below…

THE MLB MINDSET

You can’t completely mindset your way to the majors.

If I wake up tomorrow convinced that I have what it takes to be a left-handed reliever in the big leagues, that doesn’t make me a left-handed relief prospect.

For one, I never exercise. There’s also the fact that my fastball is probably in the 50 MPH range.

These are all just temporary setbacks. I have the mindset. All I need to do is work out and maybe go to Tread Athletics to figure out how to get some extra velocity out of my arm, right?

Not so much.

Even if I got my 6′ 4″ frame in MLB shape, and improved my velocity to 90 MPH, and had the mindset that I could be a Major League player — I would still be missing something.

The biggest thing would be a plan to implement the physical abilities and tools into the game that I believe in this scenario that I could play.

That would take a lot of experience, with trial-and-error to see how my stuff plays. I turn 39 next month, so I’m not sure how teams would regard my prospect status. Do they focus on the age? Or, do they focus on the fresh arm?

Either way, mindset is crucial.

A real MLB player can have the physical tools, and the experience to know all the ways those tools work in games. However, if that player doesn’t believe they can be a Major League Player, what good are the tools and experience?

In my column last week, I wrote about the MLB mindset, after talking with a lot of players on the Pirates. We also had a cool Roundtable, asking players when they realized they would make the majors.

Williams: The Major League Baseball Mindset

CAM VIEAUX’S USAGE

The Pirates used Cam Vieaux for an alarming 56 pitches in a single inning on Friday.

In an ironic series of events, I didn’t actually see that game live. I was sleeping very early, after overworking myself on a single day on Thursday.

I can imagine how Vieaux felt the next day. And the days after that.

I talked with Vieaux a week prior to this outing, and he discussed his approach in the bullpen, and how his arm feels after relief appearances.

“Sometimes I miss starting,” said Vieaux the day after his June 24th appearance. “But when I wake up after pitching last night, my arm wasn’t killing me. I’m a big fan of these one inning outings. I still think I’m kind of having the same approach I did as a starter. Just attack from pitch one, and go as long as they’ll let me go.”

That last line hasn’t aged well. The Pirates definitely let him go as long as he could. Unfortunately, that’s because they were out of other options.

Alex Stumpf had some great reporting of the incident, talking with Vieaux, Derek Shelton, and Ben Cherington.

Vieaux said he felt normal after the outing. He also said that he found a way to work himself out of the jam.

Overall, my long-term interest is what Vieaux learned while laboring through this process.

That goes along with the long-term concern about his health from this incident.

As to the fault of this outing, we can blame Derek Shelton for the in-game moves. He needs to make a decision between letting Vieaux work out of the jam, and realizing that Vieaux just didn’t have it that night. The end decision was that Vieaux was the only option. The struggles from Vieaux himself started the mess, but the Pirates need to have a safety net to avoid this situation.

To that, the issue is more on Ben Cherington.

This team isn’t being run right now with any serious attempt at contending. That’s not a bad thing. This team doesn’t have a serious shot at contending.

The silver lining is that through all of the losing and experimentation at the MLB level, young players are learning. They are learning in a way that will be beneficial when the team is contending.

While this season allows the Pirates to be more experimental, there should be a limit.

This isn’t the only time that the Pirates have been blown out and forced into an unfavorable pitching situation. Most of the previous situations involved a position player throwing. This one involved a pitcher throwing an excessive amount of pitches. Neither one is good for the health of the players.

The Pirates aren’t trying to win this year, and that approach can be justified. However, it’s hard to find justification when it gets to a point where the team is repeatedly embarrassed on a given night, and often putting their players in harm by taking them well outside of their routine.

The good thing here is that the Pirates allowed Vieaux to rest in the majors for a few days after this appearance.

My hope is they keep him up to see how he responds in his next appearance. As I said, I want to see what he learned in that long outing, and how it can help him going forward.

The Pirates owe him the opportunity after Friday’s usage.

MITCH KELLER AND LEARNING ON THE JOB

Mitch Keller has added a sinker this year, and I broke down last week how that complements his entire arsenal.

How Mitch Keller’s New Sinker Complements His Other Pitches

The short of it is that Keller’s old four-seam fastball was too predictable at the top of the zone, and had proven it wasn’t effective at the bottom of the zone. The sinker gives Keller a fastball for the bottom of the zone, keeping hitters from picking up the four-seam. It also gives Keller a nice split with his pitches — with north/south movement on the four-seam/curveball combo, and side-to-side movement on the sinker/slider combo.

One question I saw about this was wondering why the Pirates didn’t do this sooner.

My thought is that it’s key to remember everything that Keller was learning the last few years. Aside from the difficult task of learning how to pitch in the majors, Keller was also learning:

**How to use his fastball up in the zone for the first time

**His new slider

**A shortened arm path delivery

Now, the sinker arrives to potentially complete the arsenal.

Of course, the sinker hasn’t worked the last two times out. You could argue that Keller has been unlucky in each. His start against the Nationals saw a .643 BABIP and an average 89 MPH exit velocity. Granted, the control was bad, but he’s probably not getting hit that much on most nights. The start in Tampa was unlucky, with three runs on five hits and a walk.

There have been times during Keller’s good stretches where he has walked a lot and gotten away with it.

I think he has the arsenal to have success in the majors.

In talking with him last week, I can tell you that he’s definitely changed in terms of mindset. He seems more confident, on the field and off.

But there is that final piece, the experience needed. Keller is still very new to his arsenal, and we’ve seen how he’s not consistent with it. I think he’s going in the right direction, and I think it’s possible for everything to click for him after the experience he gains the rest of the year.

IF YOU BUILD IT…

I wrote this in the comments last week, but wanted to expand upon it here…

“Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s 6 months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – a gorp… you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes… you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week… and you’re in Yankee Stadium.” — Crash Davis

We all know that quote.

It doesn’t have to represent the difference between a Major League player and a Major League great in Yankee Stadium.

The same logic could be used to describe the difference between a minor league player, and a Major League player in Pittsburgh.

Imagine you’re a .200 hitter trying to get to .250. You still need one extra hit a week.

How many weeks until you notice that you’ve been consistently getting one extra hit a week?

Let’s say there’s a player with a .200 average after 200 at-bats over ten weeks in the minor league season.

This player makes a key adjustment to his approach, and starts getting that extra hit a week.

After one week, he is up to a .204 average. After two weeks of being a successful .250 hitter, he has a season average of .208.

In this universe, on Pirates Prospects, Anthony Murphy writes a P2Daily after two successful weeks, wondering if this player has turned the corner and is a .250 hitter now. However, his .200 average over the first ten weeks is still going to be trusted more than the .250 in the previous two weeks — even if that .250 trend followed a change that could have made the previous numbers irrelevant.

After ten weeks of batting .250, this player is now up to a season average of .225.

Is he the .200 hitter he started off as?

Is he the .250 hitter he’s consistently been for the most recent stretch?

Or, do you split the difference and say that both outcomes are possible, calling him a .225 hitter, and saying that the .250 is not the true talent level?

There are two sides to this game.

There are all of the people who analyze everything that happens — both inside and outside of the game.

Then, there are the players who determine what happens. They do the things that we analyze.

The players have the ultimate control over what we all see and think.

I’ve got to think that it is difficult for them to deal with that perception sometimes.

Everyone trusts failure. We trust the .200 average through the first ten weeks.

A lot more than the .250 average the following ten weeks.

The moment that player enters any kind of stretch that looks like the .200 average, the .250 stretch will be seen as a mirage.

However, if a player hits for a .250 average long enough, we will all start to believe. We will even point to that important change after ten weeks as the evidence of the switch, even though that same evidence might have been skeptical after week two.

There is a lot of pressure to perform in this game from the outside. That’s mostly because fans need this as an escape.

You’ve just finished a 40-hour work week, which is actually about 60-80 hours with travel and take-home work. You’re exhausted, and you want to watch baseball to escape.

What you don’t want to see is a .200 hitter trying to figure things out.

You want to see at least a .250 hitter who has figured it out enough to be consistently reliable in the majors.

Ideally, you want that .300 hitter who could play in Yankee Stadium.

But what if you are the hitter?

There’s a reason MLB players need an MLB mindset.

They need to believe that nothing else matters but the things that are in their control.

They need to believe that their career is in their control, including the ability to improve at any moment.

Because if you’re that .200 hitter who made the necessary change to be a .250 hitter, you can’t wait for the rest of the world to validate your new existence.

You have to continue showing them what they need to validate, until something clicks in their brain where they see a new pattern of consistency.

And the players aren’t just trying to win over fans, but evaluators inside the game who might be operating with the same thoughts and concerns.

LAST WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

The site’s focus last week was on the Major League level.

Honestly, that might be the best prospect team in the system these days.

The articles below come from my coverage of the Pirates/Rays series. The result was ten articles, including eight player features.

My favorites were the articles on Mitch Keller, Zach Thompson, and Bligh Madris. Obviously, my column was the most fun to write, but I liked the input from those players in particular.

My takeaway from talking with Thompson is that the Pirates got him at the right time.

I’m curious for your personal preference. Which articles from this past week were in your top three? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and check the links below if you missed anything.

Williams: The Major League Baseball Mindset

How Mitch Keller’s New Sinker Complements His Other Pitches

JT Brubaker Discusses the Short Memory Needed in the Majors

Pirates Roundtable: When Did Realize You Would Reach the Majors?

Zach Thompson Made an Important Change to His Mindset in 2021

Jack Suwinski Put in Work to Gain an Edge

Bligh Madris Discusses Core Value of Perseverance and His Power Increase

Diego Castillo is Hitting a Lot of Homers and Very Little Else

Cam Vieaux Finding Success With His Slider in the Bullpen

Yerry De Los Santos Impressive So Far in His MLB Debut

SYSTEM THOUGHTS

**Endy Rodriguez had a big week, capped off on Sunday with two hits and a home run. Rodriguez is a great pure hitter with some power in his bat, and can play catcher, left field, and second base. What I like this year is that his offense hasn’t been limited to the hitter-friendly home park in Greensboro. Rodriguez has a .254/.370/.475 line at home, and a .292/.342/.451 line on the road. After a .652 OPS in April, he’s been consistently good at the plate.

**Mason Martin’s swing and miss has been alarming in Triple-A over the last month. In the month of June, he struck out 39 times in 80 at-bats. Even if you look at his last two weeks, he has a strikeout rate around 30%, with an OPS below .500. Martin is almost the opposite of Rodriguez. He started off on fire in April, but has dealt with a lot of strikeout issues and consistently poor numbers since.

**You hate to see Matt Gorski go down with the season he was having. After lighting Greensboro on fire, Gorski went to Altoona and hit for a .294/.374/.560 line with six homers. Between the two levels, he had 23 homers and 17 stolen bases. Gorski was carted off the field last week with a quad injury. The hope is that he can return this year and finish what has been a strong season.

**A quick Bubba Chandler update: On the mound, he has thrown 11.1 shutout innings, with 20 strikeouts and nine walks. At the plate, he has a .273/.385/.773 line with three homers in 26 plate appearances. His progress on both sides of the ball has been impressive for someone who was more of an athlete than a baseball player. It will be good to see Chandler eventually make his way to Bradenton, giving a chance to see what he can do against better competition.

**I wrote earlier in the season about how Luis Ortiz has an issue against lefties, which hadn’t shown up in the stats yet. Ortiz now has an .822 OPS against lefties, which is way up from the .522 mark at the start of May. He has been getting hit more the last two months, with most of that damage coming from the left side. Ortiz is a very talented pitching prospect. He’s 23, in Double-A, and can hit the upper 90s with his fastball. If he can learn a pitch or an approach that can be effective against lefties, then he could emerge as a starter prospect for the majors.

PIRATES LINKS

**Mike Persak: Pirates Pipeline: No. 7 prospect Anthony Solometo settling in to life in the minors

**Alex Stumpf: North Shore Tavern Mound Visit: Vogelbach does better not swinging

WEEKLY PIRATES QUIZ

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mpg43952

90% of baseball is half mental – Y. Berra

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