Earlier today I wrote about how Clay Holmes looks to be following the Nick Kingham path. Holmes didn’t have the best numbers on the season in 2013 in West Virginia, and had some bad control numbers. But if you look closer, he improved in the second half, cutting down on the walks and posting strong results in his final two months. That’s a similar story to Kingham, who started slow in West Virginia, quietly dominated down the stretch, then went on to post great numbers in Bradenton and Altoona in 2013.
If we’re only focusing on the numbers not matching up with the talent, then there are a lot of pitchers in the Pirates’ system we could talk about beyond Kingham and Holmes. A big reason for this is the focus that the Pirates take with pitchers at each level. Every individual pitcher is different, but for the most part, the Pirates have a very specific process when developing pitchers.
1. Focus on Fastball Command – This doesn’t mean just pounding the strike zone. It means being able to throw the four seam fastball down in the zone, then being able to move it to the inside and outside of the plate.
2. Establish one breaking ball – A lot of players will come in to the system with multiple breaking pitches. In the case of high school pitchers, the Pirates have the player focusing on developing one pitch, rather than splitting time developing two pitches. The players might eventually get the second breaking pitch back, but only for another look and a compliment to the main pitches.
3. Add a changeup – Some players enter the system with a good changeup. Some have never had the need for the pitch. Some have a changeup, but struggle with the pitch. The Pirates stress the changeup almost as much as they stress fastball command. The quality of a young player’s changeup usually determines whether he goes to the GCL or Jamestown in his first pro season, or determines when he makes the jump to West Virginia.
4. Add a two-seam fastball – If a guy has a two-seam fastball coming in to pro ball, the Pirates take that away, having the player focus on his four seam command. Usually the Pirates give the two-seam back in High-A or Double-A, or add that as a new pitch for someone who has never thrown it. Most pitchers who get the two-seam in High-A use it as a situational pitch, then lean on it more often in Double-A. Some players are sinkerball pitchers, and they will get the two-seamer earlier than High-A. However, most of these cases are guys out of college who already threw the two-seam fastball, and will be going right to full season ball in their first full year.
From there, the players work on refining their pitches. The goal is to have someone who can command the four seam fastball, throw a changeup in any count, and to left-handers or right-handers, throw at least one quality breaking pitch, and have a second breaking pitch and/or a two-seam fastball to give hitters another look. The focus of this goal is for success in the major leagues, and pitchers don’t usually reach most of these goals until the upper levels.
Prior to that, pitchers are usually working on something specific. They’re not working on their full arsenal, or focusing on numbers. They’re slowly building their arsenal so that they can have success in the majors. Some players do have success while they’re working on the specifics in the lower levels. I’ve never figured out what determines which pitchers have success and which don’t. I’ve seen some pitchers have success who don’t profile as prospects, while actual prospects struggle. The important thing is to focus on upside, and imagine what a pitcher can be when everything does come together. And of course, watching how their progression at each stage is going in the mean time. It’s an approach that relies more on scouting and potential in the lower levels, and results in the upper levels when things finally come together.
Links and Notes
**Over the last week, the site and the Prospect Guide has gotten mentions on the Pirates broadcast at least twice, based on what you guys have told me. Between that, and my note that we were running low on Prospect Guides, there have been a rush of orders. It seems you guys like to procrastinate as much as I do. Fortunately, the publisher offered a sale to authors last week, which allowed me to purchase more books at a discount. That means I’ve got two more cases coming in on Saturday. You can order your books on the products page of the site.
**I’d also like to thank everyone who has purchased the book so far. It’s one thing to hear that the Pirates broadcasters use the book as a guide for minor league information. It’s another thing to know that so many people have found the book useful, or at least found it to be interesting enough to buy (hopefully it is useful). I really appreciate the support, and as usual, the book sales will allow me to make the site even better.
**I’ve picked the winning logo from the contest we’ve been running over the last week. The logo will be announced tomorrow morning, and will go live on the site at that time. I’m excited to release it, as I think it looks awesome.