Report from Pirate City — 3/19
On Saturday the Yankees’ upper level minor leaguers visited Pirate City for a pair of exhibition games. Even the coaches don’t generally seem to know what the score is in these games, but it was clear at least who won as the Pirates dominated both games. The AAA game featured a number of players who could reach Pittsburgh in the near future. The AA game featured a number of players battling for roster spots either at Altoona or at Bradenton.
The infields in the two games probably give some indication of the positional battles that are becoming common as the upper levels of the Pirates’ system morph into something more than a collection of minor league lifers. The AAA infield, first to third, was Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Shelby Ford. Ford has probably moved on to the organizational player stage, but the other three will be hoping to open the year in Indianapolis despite a very crowded infield situation. Harrison and Hague, especially, played well in AA in 2010, so it’d be a shame to see them go back there. Both swung the bat well, with Harrison getting two hits, including a long double to right-center. Mercer had probably the best day of any hitter in either game, depositing a HR on the fieldhouse roof beyond left, hitting two drives that were caught at the fence in left-center, and lining a single his last time up. Harrison played well defensively, reacting quickly to a ball that caromed off Hague and flipping in time to the pitcher to get the out at first. Second is probably his best spot, due to the shorter throws.
The AA infield was Calvin Anderson, Brock Holt, Benji Gonzalez and Jeremy Farrell. Gonzalez will almost certainly be the regular shortstop at Bradenton, while the other three will be hoping to open at Altoona. Gonzalez showed his usual excellent range going well past the bag toward first to make one play. He also turned an acrobatic double play. The injury-prone Farrell continued to find trouble, leaving the game when he got kicked in the mouth by left fielder Evan Chambers as he tried to make a sliding catch of a popup. The injury didn’t look like anything more than a split lip, fortunately. Aaron Baker was the DH. He could end up splitting time between first and DH with Anderson in Bradenton if Anderson doesn’t make the Curve.
Tony Sanchez started the AAA game behind the plate and was later replaced by Eric Fryer, who had a 2-run double in the game. I think this will probably be the catching duo at Altoona. Sanchez showed his usual strong receiving skills, blocking a few tough pitches effectively, but I have doubts about his throwing. Kris Watts DHed in the AAA game and had two hits plus at least one walk. I hope he gets a shot at AAA, but they’ll have trouble finding room for him at either upper level. I still find it puzzling that a LH-hitting catcher with a solid bat and and excellent eye doesn’t get more interest. The AA catchers were Ramon Cabrera and Jairo Marquez. They could be the catchers at Bradenton.
Also appearing in the AA game was Robbie Grossman, whom I didn’t recognize at first because he’s bulked up. It may have showed in his first AB, as he lined a triple to straightaway center. Anderson also tripled in the game and showed that he runs better than you’d think. Starling Marte, who may run better than anybody in the organization, added a triple of his own on a drive to left-center.
On the mound, the two starters were Justin Wilson, in the AAA game, and Tim Alderson. Both threw three scoreless innings. Wilson threw–stop me if you’ve heard this before–almost all fastballs, as did nearly all the Pirates’ pitchers. Not everybody does it this way; the Yankees’ pitchers seemed to be using their full repertoires, although they probably threw more fastballs than you’d see during the season. Anyway, Wilson’s velocity was more consistent than I’ve seen in the past, hitting 90-92 most of the time. He threw one change that registered 74, which is a large separation. His control also seemed better than when I’ve seen him before. He had men on base a lot of the time but didn’t allow much that was hit hard. Alderson threw 87-89. It’s not what the Pirates want to see, but it’s a far cry from a year ago, when I saw him struggling to get into the mid-80s. He still has a peculiar motion in which he seems to fold himself up and then unravel. It makes him look a lot shorter than he is. He also throws with a lot of effort, which you don’t normally see with a guy who’s 6’6″. It leaves me doubting whether there’s much more to be had. In any event, the fastball was enough for him to get through his outing without a run, as he mixed in just a few curves. He did benefit from a couple liners being caught.
I’ll run quickly through the other pitchers, starting with the AAA game:
Jared Hughes looked like he’s filled out a little and also was throwing from a three-quarters slot, which I don’t remember from previous outings. That may be visible a little in the photo. He sat around 92, kept the ball down, and mixed in a few sliders. He had some trouble in his second inning.
Aaron Thompson gave up a double to his first hitter when Alex Presley lost a flyball in the sun, then fanned the next three. Thompson threw 90-91 and seemed to have good movement. His second inning went 1-2-3.
The other two pitchers in the AAA game, for one inning each, were Ramon Aguero and Anthony Claggett. Aguero didn’t show the stuff that got him onto the 40-man roster, although he did get through his inning quickly. He never topped 92, which is not the 97-mph velocity he’s shown in the past. Claggett also had a quick inning, throwing 92-94.
In the AA game, lefty Jhonathan Ramos followed Alderson. Ramos was the one Pirate pitcher who threw a lot of pitches that weren’t fastballs. He’s a short, stocky LHP whose fastball only registers 87-89. He throws a lot of breaking balls and tries to give a crossfire look to LH batters, although one of them hit a long HR off him. He hasn’t pitched above low A, and only briefly even there, so it was a little surprising to see him in the AA game, even though these assignments don’t mean much at this stage.
Ramos was followed by Ryan Beckman for two innings, and Marc Baca and Zach Foster for one each. Beckman throws almost sidearm, sitting at about 92. Baca is a smaller pitcher with a jerky motion who throws 87-88. He gave up a couple long flies, but they didn’t land anywhere bad. Foster has the classic RHP build–6’4″ and lean–and throws 92 or a bit harder. I don’t believe any of these three allowed a run.
My most-unexpected experience of the day was watching the AAA game and realizing there were two guys behind me speaking Russian . . . at least I think it was Russian. The players were Dovydas Neverauskas, who hails from Lithuania, and Alex Lukashevich, who’s from Belarus. Neverauskas actually speaks English fluently. I wasn’t quite sure with Lukashevich.