ALTOONA, Pa. – The baseball season is a long mentally and physically exhausting marathon that wears down even the most conditioned of athletes. Playing day-to-day in the summer’s heat, pitch-to-pitch on a daily grind is exhausted and it’s easy to lose focus at times in a moment of exhaustion.
It’s those who are able to shake off the exhaustion and keep focus that put themselves in position to make it to the next level.
“I think that is what separates people that compete at the highest level,” Altoona Curve pitching coach Drew Benes told Pirates Prospects. “For me, it’s not one thing that you talk about or one thing that you teach. It’s a process of walking through their growth and development.”
For pitchers, their path to preparing for the next outing begins almost immediately after their previous appearance. Whether it’s the review sessions of their previous outing, or the side work in preparation for the next time they take the mound, staying focused is important so that they can pick up all the details needed to further their development.
“Those meetings that happen every time they throw, you start to see small growth over time, and you start to see them win some of those moments that they weren’t winning before, physically, mentally, emotionally,” said Benes.
Any kind of sport can get incredibly emotional. Especially when the stakes are as high as they are in the minors, as players compete to further their paths to the ultimate dream: Playing in the majors.
Out there in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to lose focus. Kyle Nicolas acknowledged this, but expressed the importance of executing things one pitch at a time.
“Especially when you’re just out there competing,” said Nicolas. “You start getting things in your head, this is what I want to do with this guy. It just starts with one pitch. If you don’t execute it right, you adjust and play whatever is good off that last pitch.”
Some, like reliever J.C. Flowers, sees it more of a mental grind than physical, and tries to make everything as simple as possible when on the mound.
“At the end of the day, my job is to get the ball up there across the plate for strikes, right?” Flowers said. “At the end of the day, I also have to worry about alright, this guy can hit this, he can hit that, if he gets on base can he steal?”
Flowers added that the pitch clock now forces you to process all of that in a far smaller time frame than years prior.
Being in Double-A, nobody expects any of these players to be finished products, and Benes keeps that in mind.
“I think the biggest thing that I probably try to remember when working with guys is that it’s a process,” said Benes. “It takes time, and just walking through that process with them, and allowing them to learn and grow from the experiences that are happening.”
That’s the important thing that a lot of people forget when they look at players in the minor leagues. They look at the overall picture that could be very much misleading. The important thing is that they get better on a day-to-day basis.
But the most important things is learning, soaking up the experience that Double-A offers. The Pirates haven’t been shy about promoting guys straight from Altoona — Jack Suwinski and Tucupita Maracno being two this season. So getting a good taste and feel for what the upper levels are like are key to put their pitchers in position to follow suit.
“We have a young group here. For a lot of these guys, it’s their first time in Double-A,” Benes said. “It’s their first time at the upper levels. It’s been a really good year. Guys having to learn what the upper levels are like. Learn some of the things they need to do, whether it physical or mental or situational. It’s been a big learning year.”
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Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.