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Monday, December 5, 2022

First Pitch: Alive in the Superunknown

This week feels like the old Pirates Prospects.

This week feels like a Pirates Prospects that hasn’t even arrived yet.

This week, you’re getting a preview of what Pirates Prospects is going to be next year.

This week, I’m just trying to stay alive in downtown Pittsburgh.

IT’S ALL ABOUT LIFE ROUTINES

I was in Altoona last week. I’ve been in Altoona a lot over the years, but last week I conducted some of my best interviews of my career.

I stepped away from reporting for a few years, allowing me to focus on rebuilding the site. When I came back to it last September, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to have the same effectiveness. What I found was that I have the ability to get stories that no one else can, and that ability will never go away.

I used to shy away from my knowledge of the game. I never played baseball. I’ve just studied it all of my life, including one college course on the economics of sports. For the last 14 seasons, I’ve been talking baseball development constantly with people inside the game. It wasn’t until 2020 that I realized I have gained knowledge of this game that will never go away.

It wasn’t until late 2021 that I confirmed that I’ll always be able to report on this game, even if I’m not doing it daily.

Last week, I went to Altoona for a week. This was my first week-long scouting trip since 2018, which means it was my first week-long scouting trip where I didn’t have to worry about justifying my knowledge of the game.

The trip was massively productive. This week will have some incredible articles. This will be the first week where the Pirates Prospects weekly magazine format will be truly seen.

However, it came at a cost. More on that in a bit…

CARLOS JIMENEZ GIVES EVERYTHING

I wrote about Carlos Jimenez this month over at Baseball America. Those of you who have read this site all year know that Jimenez has been one of my favorite younger players to follow in the system this year.

I was talking with Pirates’ farm director John Baker about Jimenez earlier this month, and he relayed a scary story about the young pitcher.

“Carlos had a moment last season where we found out later that he didn’t drink any water or eat any food before the game, but he literally pitched like the Eminem song — borderlined collapsed on the mound and kept trying to pitch,” said Baker. “It was a scary moment. I know that a lot of people were shaken up by it down in the FCL, due to exhaustion.”

If anyone has ever been to an FCL game, you six people know how scary this is. Those games are extremely hot, played in the Florida sun at noon, with no shade, and full humidity. The atmosphere is almost water on some days, and the sun is pulling the water out of your skin every second you are outside. Even if you’ve been drinking water all day, and even if you’ve eaten food, you can feel exhausted from just watching an FCL game.

Baker credits the medical staff for spotting the issue and getting Jimenez off the field. The team put him through meetings on proper nutrition and hydration — topics the Pirates have really been stressing for all of their players and coaches, along with proper sleep. Jimenez is a teenager, and this is a reminder that no matter the talent in the arm, the person needs to know how to take care of themselves.

It’s also a reminder that a 19-year-old can be advanced enough to throw a 94 MPH fastball with above-average spin, and an elite swing-and-miss changeup — but that doesn’t mean we can project that 19-year-old to be advanced in every area of his life.

The silver lining is that this showed how far Jimenez will push himself for success.

“I would argue that it’s the equivalent of a pitcher, where you hear the old adage ‘This guy will run through a wall for his teammates.’ Carlos tried to run through a wall for his teammates,” said Baker. “In a complex league game. … It’s an impressive will and determination to be out there and compete. It makes me think that in the future, he’s somebody we will be able to rely on to pitch big games. Because, no matter how he’s feeling, he’s going to go out and give 100 percent.”

That’s good to know about such a young pitcher. I’ve seen the intensity and the accountability from Jimenez on the field. This story only furthers the idea that he won’t give up easily. That’s a huge asset in predicting player success, and not every prospect has that. Even some of the bigger ones who you’d think should have confidence.

But we’re talking about the possibility of Jimenez making the big leagues on stuff, and assuming that is all that is needed. If he can’t ever establish a positive life routine, all the stuff in the world won’t keep him in the majors.

The Pirates need to find a way where he can consistently feel 100 percent, to make it easier to consistently give 100 percent.

That involves teaching him a routine.

FUQUAY VINYL PLAYLIST

Lock yourself in a room doin’ five beats a day for three summers
That’s a different world like three summers
I deserve to do these numbers
The kid that made that deserves that Maybach
So many records in my basement
I’m just waitin’ on my spaceship, blaow

First Pitch continues below…

AGE IS JUST A NUMBER

We live in a society where work is the ultimate indicator of success. As a result, people can disregard their bodies to be successful at work.

On Friday afternoon, I was sitting in the Altoona dugout.

Altoona manager Kieran Mattison was walking laps around the field, on a group phone call for coaches about the importance of proper sleep. This lesson is something Mattison can pass down to his players, but is also something any person can benefit from. The Pirates aren’t just focusing on player development under John Baker, but they’re focusing more on coaching development.

We are all people, and we are all just trying to be our best selves, whether player, manager, or reporter.

The reporter sitting in that dugout that day had worked himself to death that week.

If you’ve ever seen me at a game, you’ve probably seen me with a camera that is at least 25-30 pounds. I walk all over the stadium and take photos for use on the site, but also for my own scouting use, to capture what I’m seeing on the field. After taking 1500 photos across two days, and conducting several interviews, and taking scouting notes of three games, I decided to go for a big day of interviews on Friday.

Granted, I did get the proper sleep the night before, as I was dragging. I’m not sure that I fully caught up.

I didn’t eat much that day. I made sure to stop at Sheetz to get some food before the game, but the food I got was minimal for the day ahead of me.

By the time 5:00 hit, I had finished an hour and a half of on-the-record interviews and two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That didn’t count conversations in between, including a lengthy conversation with Mattison after our interview where we just discussed this game and how it relates to life. The interviews will lead to some of my best features in years, but that conversation was the highlight of my trip — not only furthering my knowledge of the game, but validating my knowledge of the game.

The next day, I should have taken off. I checked in late to my hotel in Pittsburgh, and due to an issue with my room, I had four hours of sleep, setting me back in that area.

I enjoyed getting out in downtown Pittsburgh and getting some food and water. After lunch, I stopped by DK Pittsburgh Sports to see the new store from Dejan and Dali Kovacevic. Around 3, I decided to go to work at the stadium, just because I grew up a Cal Ripken Jr. fan, and not showing up to the stadium was never an option I considered. Before the game even started, I had a migraine.

I’ve gotten migraines all of my life, typically when it storms. It stormed that night, but I don’t think the storm is the cause. I think it’s just the final straw. I’ve never had a good life routine. Once I started establishing a better life routine at home, my migraines reduced by about 90%.

I have the ability to disregard my body to get the exact thing I need for this job. I think the readers on this site know this over the years. You’ve seen the work I’ve produced for over a decade. That approach was fine when you’ve got unlimited energy in your 20s, but it starts to really impact you in your 30s. I had to step away from this site around 2018-19 due to burnout.

I reached “the majors” if you will. I got to a point where this site was the biggest baseball site in Pittsburgh. My opinion on this team was everywhere. If I wrote about a development change, every other outlet would follow the report. I had the talent and knowledge of this game to write about it in a way no one else can. I didn’t have the life routine to maintain working at a high level without slowly killing myself.

The work drive that got me to the majors by covering up my flaws was eventually not enough.

I sent myself back down to the minors. I stepped away from writing, and worked on my routines, while rebuilding this site. I wasn’t sure in 2019 if I ever would return to writing for this site again.

This year, I’ve established a healthy home routine. The production schedule that leads to the article drops is my approach to allow for the quality I want on this site, with the life routine that keeps me healthy.

This is the first season where I haven’t gained 20-30 pounds of weight from June through the end of the season. It’s not over, but this is about the time of year I’d start really feeling the impact of that extreme unhealthy lifestyle.

Unfortunately, like a lot of baseball players, I can’t replicate my success on the road. I know exactly what I need to eat and where to get it at home. I have my own bed and an ability to better control my sleep. My routine is normal, so my hydration schedule is normal.

On the road, all of that goes out the window, and I find that I largely benefit at home from knowing where everything can be found. While my schedule is better this year at home, it’s still not perfect. It is, however, a step in the right direction, and that’s all development is about.

It’s not flipping a switch.

It’s sliding the mood lighting stick up slowly on the wall panel, until you get the right level.

This week I decided to stick around in downtown Pittsburgh to run a life simulation. I’m going to see if I can get my schedule and routine back on track by the end of the week — trying to find food and stay hydrated while living inside the city.

I’ll let you know how it went next week on First Pitch as I continue this topic. I can already say that Primanti Brothers got me back on my feet, and now it’s just maintaining the routine.

As for routines for baseball players, we will have a lot of that on the site this week.

SYSTEM THOUGHTS

This is typically my favorite part of First Pitch, but because of my intense focus on Altoona, and all of the features we have coming this week, I’m skipping System Thoughts. It’s all going into the article drops.

THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

This week is going to be loaded with Altoona content.

We’re doing the article drops to allow for the type of coverage you’re about to see on this site. Tomorrow, I will give you a complete look at the hitters, and the hitting development that is going on in Altoona.

If you want signs of hope that the Pirates are changing their development approach for the better, this may give you that. There has definitely been a change.

I’ll have features on Endy Rodriguez, Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, Blake Sabol, and Aaron Shackelford. I’ll also have a feature from my conversation with Altoona hitting coach Jon Nunnally, and a column to kick off a column series about development at this level.

I can already tell you that the Endy article is going to be one of the best I’ve done.

On Friday, I’m handing the reigns and all of my respective interview quotes to Anthony Murphy, who is putting together a similar series on pitching. Anthony will be writing about Quinn Priester, Kyle Nicolas, Carmen Mlodzinski, Tahnaj Thomas, and J.C. Flowers. He will also look at the pitching at the level, working off my interview with pitching coach Drew Benes.

Benes was the last person I talked with on that marathon day last Friday. I’m going to have an interesting column on Friday that highlights that interview, and wraps up the column series I’m working on this week, starting with tomorrow’s column, titled “Exquisite Corpse.”

That column series will also feature a column on Wednesday that reflects on my conversations with Mattison, as well as the recent announcement that the Pirates will retain Derek Shelton.

Prospect Roundtable this week is going to be a good one, focused on a loaded 2022 Altoona Curve roster.

By next Monday, we will have 16 articles about the Pirates’ Double-A affiliate and their prospects at the level. All but two will be for subscribers, and when you read it in the end, it will hopefully read like a massive, connected story.

You can get all of those, and three more article drops, for just $5. Or, you can get a year of this site for $40.

By next week, I’ll be fully back on my routine.

WEEKLY PIRATES QUIZ

+ posts

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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MVParker

Appreciate all you do to make this site run, Tim! Good luck getting into a more balanced road routine.

(Took me a few years to get into a good rhythm, and I finally moved the needle by (painfully) writing down my eating plan before I left and then reviewing when I got home.)

TNBucs

With another reason to like Jimenez’s chances of making the majors, do we need to roster him ahead of the Rule 5 Draft? Or is he just too far from the majors to be drafted? I’m guessing they don’t roster him because I think if they were considering it they would have given him some innings at a higher level to see how he did.

The fact that he’s even eligible to be drafted suggests the rules should be tweaked. He’s developing at a fine pace and the Pirates shouldn’t be in the position of having to roster him to protect him.

NMR

If I’m doing my math right, he’d have to be up for good in his age 23 season if rostered this winter? That sounds a bit tighter than I’d like for a kid with a ton of command to learn.

TNBucs

And like Wang years ago and Oviedo last year, if he is drafted it could mess up his development–short-term gain, long-term loss.

SufferinBuccotash

If you’re downtown and went to Primanti’s, I’m assuming it’s the one in Market Square. Hit City Works right across from it. They have a ton of taps in there and we all know you like your craft beers!

Also Mike’s Beer Bar right across the street from PNC Park, but you probably found that one already….

Last edited 3 months ago by SufferinBuccotash
SufferinBuccotash

Sorry, Tim. Just saw this. Bluebird Kitchen has a couple locations and Corner Mercantile under the PNC Tower on Wood Street has some fresh fare as well.

You might also want to try Freshii on Grant Street, but they close early, I think. Like around 6 or 7.

MShaeffer4444

Did you ask DK why he keeps freaking out over the Pirates only have four prospects in Baseball America’s top 100? I like DK but he seems to be making that a bigger deal than it actually is, saying it’s a “minor league regression.”

TNBucs

If that’s what DK is saying now, I think it’s a welcome change from how he had been heavily promoting Cherington and his staff. Public pressure on management for more tangible signs of progress should work in our interests.

MShaeffer4444

I’ve just never heard of grading an entire farm system based on how many prospects from one site made it onto their Top 100 list.

NMR

I think this is just the Dejan grievance cycle.

Makes for good storytelling!

PirateRican21

So you pulled a Jimenez!

NMR

Similarities across cultures are fascinating, aren’t they?

Jimenez is a teenager from Venezuela who has spent no more than a year or so in America. Hardly to argue his actions are in the mold of a junior analyst putting in 90 hrs a week for a soul-sucking hedge fund.

Jimenez is sacrificing himself for survival, and survival means work.

Last edited 3 months ago by NMR

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