Williams: Be Yourself, It’s All That You Can Do

I’ve had a chance to talk with some of the best defensive catchers in the game over the years.

That includes conversations with Russell Martin about the art of pitch framing, and countless other receiving techniques when receiving specific pitches.

I saw the value of an uplifting teammate who rallies his pitching staff when covering Francisco Cervelli.

I had a chance to witness every stage of the development of Jacob Stallings, getting the chance to see how many things a catcher has to memorize in a short-time span, while also having that information always on quick recall.

The best defensive catcher in the game over the last several years has been Austin Hedges, who the Pirates just signed to a one-year, $5 million deal.

Hedges was signed for his defensive work and his work with pitchers. The former will make him replacement-level, even with horrible offense. The latter will add value to the overall team by boosting a young pitching staff.

In his introductory press conference, Hedges discussed the role of mentoring younger pitchers, per Kevin Gorman of the Trib below. I’ll add that I love this entire comment, and I’ll break down why below.

The first thing we pick up here is that Hedges is that true “veteran leader”. He’s talking confidently about how to boost younger players, and how he can teach them the things he’s already learned the hard way in his career.

The biggest thing that stood out to me in the comment above was this:

“If I can help them be who they are and stay who they are from the get-go, I’m really looking forward to that being part of my job,” concluded Hedges.

The bolded part is my emphasis.

I have seen some of the game’s best prospects come through this farm system over the last decade. Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte, Jameson Taillon, and all of the other success stories shared a similarity: Unshakeable self-confidence.

Taillon is the epitome of that, bouncing back from multiple lifetimes worth of disastrous setbacks, only to keep pitching into his 30s — recently signing a four year, $68 million deal with the Chicago Cubs.

Every prospect is a person, and not every person is equipped with the same type of confidence. What I’ve learned covering this game is that it doesn’t matter if you think they should be confident.

They can be a top 100 prospect in the entire game.

They can have the best numbers in their entire league.

They can make the majors and make an All-Star game.

Yet, they can still lack self-confidence.

In a way, some players can have “accidental success”. They can be so talented that no matter the approach they take, they will have success in the minors.

Until they reach the Majors. There are no shortcuts in the Majors.

There’s really only one approach to have in the Majors: Be Yourself.

You either belong in the Majors or you don’t. That qualifier is strictly based on talent, and how you apply that talent in the game on a consistent basis. Once you learn to apply your skill consistently enough to generate a positive outcome, you’re ready for the Majors.

So long as you trust that the results will come if you keep plugging away with the same approach.

The difficult thing is that the results won’t come. And players are tempted to change.

Hedges talked about the bumpy process at the start of every player’s career. Some players only need a season before they can shift and make an adjustment. Some players need a few years, and trips to the minors. Some players don’t figure it out until their second MLB team, and that was an alarming case with the Pirates in the years leading up to Cherington.

The Pirates previously treated the Majors like a mythical dragon to slay. They didn’t have the secret, mostly because their development approach was geared toward always telling the players from day one that the players themselves do not know what’s best for themselves. The players were treated like kids, and only the ones who weren’t afraid to show they were adults made it through.

That’s a huge reason why the very first article drop we did this year was focused on John Baker’s implementation of an individualized development program. That’s the biggest and most important change I’ve seen in this organization.

From day one, players who enter this system are being treated like adults with careers. They are given any resources they need to advance their careers, with a growing development system that is modeling today’s best academic practices — lowering the “Student-to-Teacher” ratio with more specialized coaching around the system.

I wrote over the summer about the Major League Baseball Mindset, with a lot of stories that week from players on their experiences on the mental side of the game. Check out that article drop in the link below for more on this subject.

Williams: The Major League Baseball Mindset

What I see with the addition of Hedges, Carlos Santana, and other recently added veterans is a boost in this approach.

In the case of Hedges, I see a key similarity to Martin, Cervelli, and Stallings: Tone.

Hedges is well-spoken, and very insightful in his comments. He delivers them from a positive and uplifting tone, with a lot of positive infliction. Martin had the same. Cervelli had it. Stallings had it.

The idea of a Crash Davis-type hardass catcher who is going to shape a wild, young pitcher by berating him into being a man? That approach is typically more detrimental when you realize the pitcher in real life is a person who might not respond well to such an approach. I can’t think of many people who don’t respond well to positive reinforcement.

The trend I’ve seen among these great defensive catchers is how uplifting they are to their teammates. When you listen to them talk, and listen to the tone of their voice, you can hear that this is a natural approach.

Having a roster with players like Hedges is going to be huge in a season where so many players are expected to make the jump from Indianapolis. The quickest way to get the Pirates to contending status is if they speed their prospects through those early-career bumps.

There’s no exact science on how to do this — just as there’s no exact science on how to build up a person’s self-confidence.

I have to think that this is a way toward better development, if not the way.

— Telling players from day one that they are in charge, and providing positive reinforcement for their every choices — good or bad.

— Providing as many resources as possible to allow each player to focus on the part of their game that they care to address.

— Adding a group of positive-minded, influential veterans who can serve as pillars for the young players to learn from in their hopefully seamless transition to the Majors.

The biggest thing that sunk the Pirates under Neal Huntington was that they weren’t developing their prospects to reach their upsides in Pittsburgh.

I made the argument for years that the scouting department had been fixed, and that was pretty much confirmed when the same scouting department remained for the last three highly-praised drafts.

I always heard good reviews from opposing scouts about the Pirates ability to develop their players from a skill standpoint.

Yet, the Pirates were missing something.

I think they’ve figured out the missing piece.

It’s as simple as just providing the players with the confidence that being themselves will yield a positive result.

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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1979andCounting

95% of catchers who have 5+ years in the bigs are going to present themselves just as well as Hedges. It’s been their job since youth baseball to be the coach on the field, building the relationship and understanding each pitcher’s stuff as well as personality. I loved John Ryan Murphy’s writeup in the PG when he signed with us and Hedges is his clone…..they all say the same thing Tim! I’m just pulling back on your enthusiasm a bit. We need physical skills, like offense, more than a mental coach. But Hedges is a 3 month placeholder, if that. I think we’ll get more from Heineman actually.

AdministrativeSky236

Unrelated to this awesome article, and I apologize if this has been answered elsewhere, but where does the competitive balance tax money go? The mets alone have over 100 mil for this upcoming season, but I honestly dont know where that money ends up

mikeschalke

Thanks Tim I really enjoyed this article. Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you, your family and PP!

Last edited 1 month ago by mikeschalke
bianco599

https://www.si.com/mlb/2022/12/20/five-trades-to-make-ohtani-torres

Was just reading this and wonder what more researched brains think about the Reynold part.

Last edited 1 month ago by bianco599
b mcferren

pass

no more Colin Moran / Jose Silva / Andy La Roche types please

b mcferren

would do straight up for Walker Buehler though

bianco599

I would love to hear all of the Ferris Bueller references if he became a Pirate. I wouldn’t want the classic package of 26 y/o prospects.

MB21

If positivity is the key, they should never have fired Hurdle. I guess I’d still like a catcher that can hit his way out of a paper bag. Defense is great but on a team that doesn’t have much offense to begin with, I’d like the “big year Russell Martin” or the Manny Sanguillens or Tony Penas of the world. I liked Jason Kendall but they never had the supporting cast to win with him.

Don’t get me wrong. I hope Hedges succeeds and does help a lot of guys, particularly Endy and Henry. But I just can’t get real positive with literally the worst offensive guy in all of baseball since his debut. What if the “not-Indians” simply had better pitchers last year than the Pirates do? That does make a lot of catchers look good. Defense is great if the players can score runs and the pitchers can pitch.

KirkV12

All really great points. Still, the idea that “they’ve figured out the missing piece” feels premature when we still haven’t seen anything to suggest a higher hit-rate on prospects with this management than the last. Hayes has yet to reach his offensive potential. Keller seems to be finding some footing, but not before years of struggle in this new FO, and the jury is very much still out. Cruz has obvious megatalent, but tons of K issues and low average… again, jury still out. Exactly zero of the many second tier OF and MI prospects distinguished themselves enough to claim a firm grip on a job in Pittsburgh last year, which I must remind folks, is a low bar on a last place team that would gladly guarantee a spot to anyone who shows even a glimmer of offensive consistency. Suwinski was as close as we got, and he was hovering around the Mendoza line all year. There’s been an alarming trend of strikeouts and selling out for power at the expense of contact throughout the entire system, almost unifomrly, which makes me question the claim that players have been empowered to follow their own direction and adopt unique development paths.

Tim, you are an exceptional writer and a bottomless well of baseball knowledge. You offer a lot of hope, and a ton of perspective. And, at times, the places you choose to focus your attention feel a little selective to promote a glass half full. I suppose that’s needed for a team that’s often hopeless and perpetually maligned elsewhere. But this front office and their approach remains under deep skepticism from me until they demonstrate any tangible results/investment/improvement/commitment. Which, from where I’m sitting, hasn’t happened at all, except in our hopes and unearned faith.

KirkV12

I see that. I believe what you’re saying makes a lot of sense, and I’m deeply hopeful that you’re right: that these system wide changes on development, individualized approach, and improved psychological environment throughout the organization form an atmosphere more conducive to confidence and long-term, sustainable winning.

I know I put a ton of stock in your perspective and your projections for this organization, as I believe you’re the most well-informed and thoughtful analyst of the Pirates and their farm system in the public sphere. So sometimes I have to voice a little dissent for my own sake, just to temper my oft-disappointed hopes for this team, haha.

But bottom line is, agree or disagree, I really appreciate the depth of the content this site creates, the unique perspectives and style you bring to your analysis, and the community of Pirates fans that have an outlet for discussion, debate, and perpetual commiseration. Thanks for making and maintaining this community.

smqesq

Tim: great article. So applicable to so many other aspects of life.

On a new topic, what’s the word on the print edition of the prospect guide? I know you decided to change things up, per prior posts. But it’s the longest night tonight, meaning nothing but sunshine and rainbows coming up (positive outlook), and I’d love to spend the next 2 months of cold, snow, and wind (I’m in Minnesota), reading about the next wave of Buccos.

Thanks

leefieux

We can only hope all of these vets help our young team. However, I have heard this mental ‘song and dance’ too many times to get excited. 4 winning seasons in the last 30 years does that to a fella.

RAS TN

Yankees Designate Lucas Luetge For Assignment…HMMM…

leefieux

I wonder if we’ll try to work something out with Cashman. Good lefty pitcher to mentor our young relievers (hint, hint) and then move him in July. Win/Win.

RAS TN

The Pirates have done that before, better hold onto your wallet and any other valuables…ie Holmes and Taillon…

RAS TN

Certainly, as good as if not better than what the Pirates have signed so far…

A good look-see for Pirates…

AdministrativeSky236

Would be all in for this

NMR

What perfect timing! This was such a fun read.

The Pirate’s new approach of slaying the mythical dragon can inarguably be exemplified by Mr. Diego Castillo.

They confidently rostered him opening day coming off a spring training heater with little AAA experience. The club then sat back and I can only assume comforted him as he promptly got his teeth kicked in and completely changed who he was as a hitter before getting demoted and cut altogether in the span of like 8 months.

Or how about KeBryan Hayes, another recent topic of conversation. I have no reason to believe new management has been anything but supportive of his flawed swing that has him punishing baseballs straight into the ground en route to being yet another talented player who is failing to reach his upside.

Let’s put snark aside and not forget about an actual success story, Mitch Keller. The Pirates famously began supporting Keller’s confidence in mid-May, after which he took off in a breakout performance that definitely totally had nothing to do with revamping his slider pre-season and adding a dirty 2seamer to pair with it.

I know I’m just a miserable reactionary yinzer, but I find it so bizarre that the lessons learned from Huntington’s failure to prepare prospects for big league ball is to just quit trying all together. Turn the big club into a farm team and hope it all works out at some arbitrary date down the road.

This is a phenomenally-written article, but at its heart is just so little substance. Yes, it is inarguably a good thing that they’ve moved beyond having Dean Treanor yell at pitchers to throw it like a motherf*cker. And yes, it’s great to focus more attention on mental strength in the game.

But I promise there’s more to it than just this with successful dev orgs around the league, and the results here so far seem to speak for themselves. Might be worth holding on juuuust a bit before lashing out at anyone who hasn’t bought into the narrative.

NMR

Appreciate taking the time to respond, Tim.

NMR

Oops, sorry, I definitely did not mean little substance in the article. The article was informative and entertaining! I won’t put words in your mouth, but it seems to this observer that you are really following your own advice in your writing style. It’s distinctly you, your voice, at a time when it feels like most baseball analysis is indistinguishable from something churned out of ChatGPT.

My comment on substance was directed at the org, but that’s through my own lens as more of a nuts and bolts guy. I’m more predisposed to get excited about aspects of dev that are more tangible, whether right or wrong.

DanInNC

You know that is not what Tim is saying. He is not saying they are not trying at all, but that the players have more say in their careers. And he is not saying that this is the voodoo magic, but that it truly WAS a missing piece in the past. Time will tell on that, but I think you are putting Tim’s piece in a box here.

NMR

Appreciate that response, Dan, well said.

My “not trying” comment specifically pertains to the upper levels. There has indisputably been a massive shift in the discussion towards an idea that AAA doesn’t really matter, and kids should just be left to figure it out in the show. You even see it in the club’s handling of certain prospects, as I noted with Castillo. There’s far more to this than pumping up a kid’s confidence, and I don’t think it’s terribly fair or accurate to pigeonhole anyone who hasn’t bought into this narrative.

b mcferren

Catcher Mentor: √ Check
Dominican Mentor: √ Check
Starting Pitcher Mentor: TBA
Outfield Mentor: TBA

b mcferren

also, if it absolutely has to be Shelton as our manager, we need someone more seasoned than Don Kelly to tell him how to do his job

emjayinTN

I think Kelly played 8 years in the SHOW, and 6 of those years were in Detroit playing for Jim Leyland, one of the best Managers to ever wear a Pirate Uni.

That’s good enough for me right there, even without the former MLB Pitcher (Tom Walker) as a Father-in-Law and an All Star 2B (Neil Walker) as a Brother-in-Law. He is also a local kid who played HS and college ball in Pittsburgh, and lived in Western PA even before he became the Bench Coach.

He should be the Manager of the Pirates right now,

b mcferren

I also would support Don Kelly as manager and Jim Leyland as bench coach

The point I am trying to make is Shelton does not know how to do his job

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