Monday was a very quiet day in Winter ball everywhere, the only game took place in Venezuela and no Pirates players were involved. With that in mind, we take off from the recaps for a day to take a look at the progress of one of the youngest Pittsburgh Pirates players in Winter ball.
The Pirates signed 16-year-old Sam Kennelly in July of 2012 for a $225,000 bonus. He was signed as a shortstop out of Australia by Tony Harris and then played against his scout in the Australian Baseball League last season. Harris managed the Adelaide Bite, while Kennelly played for the Perth Heat.
Kennelly didn’t see much time in the ABL last year, getting 32 at-bats over 13 games. Since then, he has played a lot of baseball. Kennelly has recently played club ball for his local team and before that he played for his high school team. He also played Under-18 tournament ball in Taiwan and took part in the Australian Baseball Academy, where he hit .279 in 38 games, with ten doubles, 13 walks and 11 RBIs.
In September this year, Kennelly made his first trip to Bradenton, playing in the Fall Instructional League. According to Kennelly, his experience in the United States was amazing.
“Getting over there(Bradenton) was so exciting, I wanted to see what it was like and now I can’t wait to do it again and get back over for the next season.”
Kennelly will return to the United States for Spring Training and likely open the 2014 season in the Gulf Coast League. Before he does that, he has a half season left in the Australian Baseball League. All that action throughout the year got him ready for the ABL season, but he hasn’t hit much yet against the older competition, batting .143 in 17 games with no extra-base hits. He is working hard on that aspect of his game.
“I’m working on a few things with my coaches and brothers to help me be an all around player and the swing is coming along, so hopefully it’s not too long till it’s right where I want it.”
Four Kennelly kids are in pro ball and Sam is the youngest one. Having three older brothers in pro ball has helped him adjust to everything easier than most kids that sign at such a young age. Despite that fact, it is important to remember that he is still one of youngest players in the ABL, so it is no surprise that he could be over-matched at times at the plate against older players.
The Australian Baseball League is also playing a pitcher’s league this season. In the Major Leagues in 2013, the average team OPS was .714 among all 30 teams. In the ABL, the highest team in OPS is .713 by Sydney and the Perth Heat are near the bottom.
One thing that has been strong for Kennelly this season is his defense, no errors in 17 games split between second base and first base. The last two weeks, he has only been at second base. He calls his defense his strong suit right now, saying “My mechanics and fundamentals(on defense) are right where I want them, so that makes everything feel routine.”
The one question that people have asked about him is, if he was signed as a shortstop, why hasn’t he played the position yet this season? The Perth Heat have a full-time shortstop named Joey Wong, who is seven years older than Kennelly and he has played as high as AA ball, so they are going with the more experienced player on defense at shortstop.
According to Kennelly, he has been taking grounders at shortstop between games and he has been playing shortstop for his local club team recently, so he is getting his time in at the position. He has been actually taking grounders all around the infield, so that adds versatility to his game.
For now, he isn’t worried about what position he plays during the games, he just wants to play and he believes playing in a league like the ABL is perfect for him now.
“I want to be playing as much as I can before I go to the States and playing at this level gives me a perfect mindset of what it’s going to be like when I get back to the States.”