On Sunday, Kevin Correia made his first Spring Training start for the Pittsburgh Pirates, going up against the Tampa Bay Rays. Correia reached his pitch count limit with one out in the second inning, and was pulled for Ryan Beckman.
Most Pirates fans hadn’t heard of Beckman prior to this outing. The 6′ 4″, 185 pound right hander was drafted by the Pirates in the 18th round of the 2009 draft. In 2010 he pitched in State College, with a 4.68 ERA in 42.1 innings, along with a 4.5 K/9 and a 3.4 BB/9 ratio. He can touch the low-90s with his fastball, but he mostly works in the upper-80s. He also had a very strong 2.37 ground out to fly out ratio in 2010. Shameless plug: you would have all of this information infront of you if you order the Pirates Prospects 2011 Prospect Guide.
Beckman came on with the bases loaded and one out, and got two ground outs to get out of the inning, only allowing one run to score. Beckman came back out for the third inning, and got a perfect frame, getting a line out to center, followed by two ground outs. Overall, Beckman ended up with 1.2 perfect innings, with four ground outs and one line out.
Beckman is not in major league camp. He’s not a non-roster invitee. He was just on hand that day to serve as a backup, in the event that one of the pitchers would have to exit earlier than expected. This is not uncommon. Only one day earlier, the Pirates called on Tom Boleska to get the final out in the eighth inning when Justin Thomas reached his pitch count limit. These appearances aren’t uncommon, but how exactly do the Pirates decide which players will be on reserve in minor league camp on a certain day? Pirates Prospects has learned the factors that the Pirates consider to determine which players will get the call from minor league camp.
First of all, the Major League team has to have a need for the minor league players. The most common instance you will see early in Spring Training is a pitcher like Beckman or Boleska getting in the game. That’s because pitchers are on very limited pitch counts this early in the season, and that, combined with split squad games, can leave the bullpen empty.
In the cases with Beckman and Boleska, the Pirates had a split squad game on Monday, which raised a need for extra bullpen arms on Saturday and Sunday. Since Justin Thomas and Kevin Correia couldn’t get through their scheduled innings, that opened the door for both minor league pitchers to get in the game. The need for backups also returns later in camp after the roster shrinks due to cuts.
As far as selecting the actual players, a variety of factors goes in to the process. One big factor this early in the season is whether the player is prepared for such an assignment. In our interview with Beckman after Sunday’s game, he mentioned that he has been down in Bradenton since January getting ready for the season. The fact that Beckman was ready physically isn’t the only factor to consider. The Pirates wouldn’t have put him in the game if they felt he wasn’t prepared mentally for such an assignment.
The Pirates also factor in the player’s preparation for the season. They look at the expected role for the minor league player, such as whether the player is expected to start, come in as a late replacement, or serve as an emergency option. If the role conflicts with a player’s preparation for the 2011 season, the Pirates won’t select that player. For example, you won’t see a starting pitching prospect serve as an emergency backup in a Major League Spring Training game, as this would alter their preparation. Beckman and Boleska are relief pitching prospects, so an assignment as an emergency backup is more in line with their preparation in minor league camp.
Assignments can be awarded based on a reward to the player for good performance, factoring in the benefit of the assignment to the player. Players who were on the bubble for a non-roster invite can get the call to expose them to the environment. Usually the decision is made the previous day, based on a need for the next day. On occasion, a specific player will be requested, but that player will only get the call if they fit the proper requirements listed above.
Ultimately you see minor league players get the call to the major league camp to fill a need in the major league camp. The Pirates will only call on players if the assignment doesn’t conflict with their preparation in minor league camp, and if the player is ready for the specific assignment, both physically and mentally. If those requirements are met, the player will get the call to fill a specific need for the major league team. From there, it’s just a matter of a situation arising that requires the player to enter the game.