Today, I went to watch the Pirates’ Gulf Coast League game, mainly to watch Luis Heredia, the now-17-year old Pirates’ prized pitcher. I left the game impressed with the display of offense I saw from the Baby Bucs.
Heredia had mixed results. His first pitch of the game resulted in a perfect drag bunt single by the Phillies’ leadoff hitter. His second pitch resulted in a caught stealing due to a great throw by Jonathan Schwind, the Pirates’ 41st round pick this year. Two pitches later, Heredia got a weak grounder to second base. And two pitches after that, the Phillies’ #3 hitter looped an opposite field single down the right field line. Wily Garcia picked the ball up and had a nice one-hop throw to second base to nail the batter trying to stretch his hit into a double. Six pitches, 5 strikes, 2 “hits” and 3 outs.
Heredia lost his control in the 2nd inning, mainly ending up high. His loss of control wasn’t all over the place, throwing wild pitches or making the catcher move far to get to the ball. He also wasn’t “just” missing such that you could blame the umpire. And lastly, no one hit him hard even though he gave up his 3rd hit of the game.
Heredia got ahead of the first batter 0-2 before getting him to hit a pop fly down the right field line just out of the infield. Jared Lakind, the Pirates’ first baseman, made a nice over-the-shoulder catch. The next batter struck out on a high (out of the strike zone) pitch. Then the trouble began with back to back walks. Heredia thought he was out of the inning when the next batter hit a popup in the infield, but it fell between pitcher’s mound and 2B for an infield hit. Luis did manage to escape without a run scoring by getting the Phillies’ #9 hitter to bounce into a force play.
All told, Heredia threw 30 pitches in the 2nd inning, only 14 for strikes. He was done after that due to the one-inning pitch limit the Pirates use in the minor leagues. He was hitting 91-92 with his fastball, and since he was behind in the count most of the time, he only threw one offspeed pitch. Definitely not his most impressive outing, but again, he wasn’t “Wild Thing” and no one hit the ball hard against him.
The Pirates’ hitters, on the other hand, hit the ball very hard and showed some very impressive base running as well. Rodarrick Jones, the Pirates’ 2011 37th round draft choice who just signed on August 3, hit a long, line drive home run over the left center wall (the gap is 375 feet in Bradenton) in the bottom of the 1st inning to make it 2-0 after two Pirate hitters. That was the first of 2 2-run homers for Jones, who also homered in the 6th inning on a towering shot in the same place. Jones also had a 2-RBI opposite field single with two outs and the bases loaded in the 4th inning. This 6-RBI performance prompted the Pirates to promote Jones to State College after the game.
Jarek Lakind joined the 2-homer tour in the 2nd inning, blasting a deep fly ball over the tall right field wall to bring home Gregory Polanco. Garcia scored on a Schwind single in the 3rd inning and Schwind scored on a Jorge Bishop groundout in the 5th inning, as the Pirates scored at least one run in each of the first 6 innings of the game. If only the Major League team could have had a couple of those runs today!
Last week, I had mentioned some of the great things I saw the West Virginia Power do on the base paths, and I saw some very similar things today. For example:
— the team pulled off a great hit and run to set up runners on the corners with one out.
— the batters sprinted out of the box on each hit and rounded first base very aggressively, ready to take 2nd base if there was any type of misplay by the outfielder.
— similar to the above, Schwind’s double in the game was a pure hustle double as he pushed a ball down the left field line, turned hard around first base and ran to second with no hesitation. He slid hard, basically not slowing down until he hit the base. The play was close and if he had any hesitation rounding first or if his slide into second slowed him down at all, he would have been out.
— another great slide was pulled off by Francisco Aponte as he scored from 2nd base on a Schwind single to shallow right field. Aponte saw the catcher come up the line slightly to field the throw and slid completely around him, touching home plate with his outstretched hand. Jerry Meals didn’t have to be umpiring home to call him safe.
— Polanco had a delayed steal of 2nd base as he took a good secondary lead and took off as soon as he saw the pitch was headed into the dirt.
As I mentioned last week, these are all things Hurdle has talked about but it hasn’t happened at the major league level. Hopefully by teaching this stuff at the lower levels, it will move upwards in the system as the players move up.
Defensively, the Pirates’ shortstop, Jodaneli Carvajal had a couple great plays, including one in which he went deep into the hole and threw across his body all the way to first base to barely get the batter out. Second baseman Aponte also made two good plays that were very similar, ranging behind 2nd base and throwing back to the bag to get force outs.
Schwind also looked good behind the plate (and at the plate), with a caught stealing and several heads up plays.
One last point about this team compared to the Baby Bucs of last year. Last year’s team was made up of a bunch of guys that looked 5’9″ or smaller (ever if they were listed at 6’0″). This year’s team is made up of some big, athletic baseball players. Hopefully this will translate to the ability to move upwards in the system. Projecting players at this level is really hard, but it’s much easier to see these body-types succeeding in higher levels than the players I saw last year.