Last year Scott Diamond made 27 starts for the Minnesota Twins. He posted a 3.54 ERA in 173 innings, with a 90:31 K/BB ratio. Today, Diamond was on a rehab assignment, pitching for Fort Myers against the Bradenton Marauders. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Gregory Polanco took him opposite field for his first home run of the 2013 season.
If there’s one thing that has impressed me about Polanco more than anything else, it’s that he hasn’t seen a lot of struggles against lefties. There have been a few occasions where he’s faced upper level lefty talent and has made it look easy.
I first noticed this last year when he was going up against Nathan Baker in an intra-squad game. Baker isn’t exactly a top prospect, but at the time Polanco was a guy who had only played rookie ball, and Baker was a guy who had just pitched in the Arizona Fall League that off-season. Baker is also a lefty, and put up some good numbers last year in Altoona’s bullpen. So from an experience standpoint, Baker had the advantage. Yet Polanco launched a home run off Baker that day over the tall fence in right field on field four at Pirate City.
Today Polanco didn’t look good in his first at-bat against Diamond. He had a few off-balanced swings, and one where he was out ahead of an off-speed pitch. The second at-bat was much different. He took Diamond opposite field, hitting his first homer of the year just over the scoreboard and off the front of the boardwalk at McKechnie Field.
“He has a good idea how they’re going to try and get him out,” manager Frank Kremblas said. “His hand-eye coordination is good, and he’s just a good athlete.”
A lot of left-handers struggle going up against left-handed pitchers. Pirates fans have certainly seen that from Pedro Alvarez. A lot of power hitters — especially those that come out of the Dominican Republic — struggle with strikeouts. Yet Polanco doesn’t really have either of these problems. He destroyed left-handers last year with a 1.087 OPS, compared to a .850 OPS against right-handers. He also only struck out 13.2 percent of the time.
One thing you also want to see from hitters is hitting to all fields. Polanco does that well. He’s spent time working on hitting to the opposite field, and showed the results today.
“I worked on opposite field, but when they stay middle-in, I know I’ve got a quick hand to react to those pitches,” Polanco said through a translator.
After Diamond left the game, Polanco had two more hard hit balls that went to the right-center gap, a little closer to center field. Both were caught, with the second ball resulting in a sacrifice fly that scored Alen Hanson. He just missed a go ahead home run in the bottom of the 8th inning, crushing one foul to right field, again off a left-hander.
Adrian Sampson’s Aggressive Promotion
Adrian Sampson made his first start of the year for the Marauders, after making a somewhat aggressive jump to high-A. Sampson was a fifth round pick last year, signing for just below slot. He showed some promise last year in State College, putting up a 2.95 ERA and a 44:17 K/BB ratio in 42.2 innings. He flashed a fastball that was 91-94 MPH at times, and paired that with a curveball that was a great out pitch.
Despite the numbers and the stuff, the move to high-A was somewhat aggressive. The only other Pirates that have been promoted to high-A in their first full season under this management group have been Gerrit Cole and Justin Wilson. Both pitched for major division I-A colleges, while Sampson threw in JuCo last year.
Sampson was removed in the third inning of his first high-A start after giving up six runs on seven hits in 2.2 innings. The final two runs came on a two run homer, which came just after an error that allowed a runner to score. The start wasn’t great before that point, but the error allowed three unearned runs to score, and ended Sampson’s day early, making the start look worse.
“I thought he was OK, first time through the lineup,” Frank Kremblas said. “I thought the big blow was, we made an error behind him, and then the two run home run. And that was three runs right there. We make that play and he’s out of the inning.”
Sampson was working with his changeup a lot today. He’s been working with pitching coach Justin Meccage on new grips, and trying to slow down the pitch. Sampson mentioned after the game that the speed of the pitch is dropping off and he’s getting some movement. Kremblas felt the pitch looked good today.
“He had some nice ones, with some swings and misses on it, which was good,” Kremblas said of the changeup.
The best pitch from Sampson is his curveball. He got a strikeout with a curve today, but didn’t use the pitch too often. He was planning on using the curve more in the later innings if the outing would have gone a different direction. As for the fastball, one change for Sampson this year is that he’s pitching from the other side of the rubber. Sampson threw from the first base side last year. He had good downward angle with his pitches. Moving to the third base side gives him a sideward angle, and he still has the downward angle, which adds more movement to his pitches. Sampson mentioned after the game that he felt that made the curveball more efficient.
The right-hander was sitting 89-91 MPH today, touching 92. That’s down from the 91-94 MPH that he hit at times last year, although he was inconsistent with his velocity, often working in the 87-91 MPH range. Even without the low-90s fastball, Sampson has some potential. The curveball is a strong out pitch, and he’s got good downward angle on his fastball. A key focus this year will be continuing to improve the changeup. Right now he’s got the look of a pitcher who could have a nice three pitch mix to work with down the line.
**Willy Garcia added two more hits today, both singles. Garcia had two hits in Friday’s game, after going 1-for-4 on opening night. That’s good to see early in the season, although all of the hits have been singles so far.
**Jacob Stallings launched his second homer of the year in the sixth inning, bringing the score to 7-5 at the time. Stallings also homered on Opening Day, falling a triple short of the cycle that night. Last year he had just one homer in 226 at-bats with State College. Stallings is off to a great start at the plate in his first four games, with a .600 average and two homers.
**Dan Grovatt showed off his arm today with a lot of great throws from right field, including one laser to the plate which had the base runner on third retreating to the bag. Grovatt’s biggest strength is his defense in the outfield, highlighted by the arm. He also made a nice play early in the game, ranging all the way to the foul line to catch a pop out in the first inning (pictured to the right).
**Alen Hanson had two hits today, with a single and a double. He also had a key stolen base in the eighth inning. Hanson hit a double to bring in a run and bring the Marauders to within one run with one out. He then stole third base, which allowed him to score the tying run on a sacrifice fly by Taylor Lewis.
**Bradenton is off tomorrow. Eliecer Navarro will take the mound on Tuesday, and will most likely be followed in relief by Zack Von Rosenberg.