Site Updates

Site Updates: Building the Foundation of Future Prospect Coverage

Site Updates: Building the Foundation of Future Prospect Coverage

On Monday night, I wrapped up my trade deadline recaps around 2:30 in the morning. I woke up at 9:30 the next day, packed my suitcase, ran a few last-minute errands, and hit the road for about three weeks. The plans? Watching West Virginia, Morgantown, and Bristol for a series each.

I arrived in Morgantown on Wednesday, in time to watch Luis Escobar pitch. I was also in time to catch up with Pirates’ Infield Coordinator Gary Green, who was in town working with the infield prospects, including first rounder Will Craig and third rounder Stephen Alemais. I’ll have features on both of them, and Escobar, coming soon.

I’ll be in Morgantown through the weekend, leaving after the game on Sunday to drive down to Charleston. I’ll be there for the games from Monday through Thursday, with the possibility of a Friday game if Mitch Keller or Gage Hinsz are throwing (right now it looks like I’ll catch them during the first four games of the series). Seeing both of them for a second time, and later in the season, is a key focus of this trip.

Following that, I will see four games in Bristol, getting my first look at the rest of the 2016 draft class, along with my first look at shortstop Adrian Valerio since extended Spring Training.

Here’s the reality of this coverage: If you’re not a subscriber already, then telling you that I’ll have live coverage of these three teams the next few weeks probably won’t sway you. The most hardcore Pirates fans and prospect watchers will be interested, but the majority of Pirates fans only care when a prospect arrives in the upper levels, or is on the verge of making the majors. Even the people who subscribe to the site already probably aren’t going to be rushing to certain things like my live report of Stephan Meyer last night, or some of the future articles covering players in the back half of the top 50, or recently drafted guys who aren’t in the top 50.

So why spend a few thousand dollars in travel money, plus 19 days on the road, for all of this coverage when it definitely won’t bring that much in immediate subscriptions to pay off the trip? (Although I do hope you will subscribe, even if you have little interest in the lower levels.) Especially when I’ve seen a lot of these guys already this season, and will see all of the draft picks during instructs?

The reason is simple: We’re building a foundation.

Covering the lower levels doesn’t generate a lot of interest in the short-term, but it does make the long-term coverage something that is unmatched.

When I made the switch to a subscription site, one of the common things I heard was that you could get free prospect information anywhere. Here is the reality of how that information is gathered. An outlet gives a writer an assignment. That writer goes to one game, conducts an interview with the player, the manager, and maybe a coach. Sometimes the writer doesn’t even go to the game or see a player, but calls after a game and does a phone interview. This has become more and more common, which means you’ve got people writing about prospects who they’ve never even seen, which means they’re only getting information the player and team gives out, without their own information to use for questions. Or, they use this site to lay the groundwork, then follow up on what we reported, which might explain why the free articles you see are typically things we wrote about weeks or months earlier.

That’s what you’re getting with free coverage. At best, it’s someone who vaguely follows the Pirates’ minor league system, who may have seen one game, and whose coverage largely consists of a five minute interview with the player who they just met, sometimes via phone. You’re getting what you paid for.

The next few weeks are so crucial for the site’s future coverage. Some of that future coverage will start to really show next year. Some of it will show up four or five years from now. And all of it justifies the travel expense now, even if the coverage over the next few weeks won’t generate enough new subscriptions to pay for the trip.

Here is the biggest example I can give of long-term coverage paying off: My often referenced article on Jameson Taillon’s mechanics. That article involved two separate 15 minute interviews with Jim Benedict and Jameson Taillon, but the interviews stemmed off of countless interviews and conversations I had with both guys on the subject over the years. In a way, it took me five years to get the information for that article.

There was another one I did before this year on Josh Bell’s hitting, and why we’d start to see power from him in 2016. That was another article that consisted of a long-term breakdown, with many discussions and articles over the years, all culminating in one timeline of his development and the next steps. Again, this was an article with five years of research backing it.

But it’s not all an extremely long-term view. I covered Mitch Keller and Gage Hinsz in the GCL in 2014. I then traveled to Bristol last year around this time to cover them both at that level. It was that trip where I noticed improved command from Hinsz, which led to us moving him ahead of Trey Supak for the first time since they were drafted. I talked with Keller about the continued development of his changeup and his command issues — topics we also discussed in the GCL. And then this year, before he started posting much better command and breakout numbers in West Virginia, I wrote about the specific changes he made to his mechanics to fix his control, and what led to him getting more comfortable with the changeup.

A big factor in all of this is actually being there. That can’t be understated. If you go to an MLB clubhouse, the beat writers are going to be the guys who are most connected, and who get the most interesting information, because they see and talk to those players daily. They build up trust and respect and a professional relationship. Meanwhile, a draft pick goes to the GCL, and it’s just me they’re talking with. The Dominican League players have no media, and then I show up for a week at the academy. There’s local media at the other lower levels, but we’re the only outlet covering them each year at each level. So while I have a personal advantage of covering them every year at every level, our writers have the advantage of writing for an outlet they’re very familiar with. In a way, we are the beat writers for the minor league system as a whole.

That’s what the next few weeks are going to be all about. I’ll have plenty of features from this trip, and I’m sure the articles on guys like Keller, Hinsz, or Will Craig will draw plenty of attention. But the biggest goal with this trip is laying that foundation to make our future coverage something that other people can’t replicate. And I am genuinely excited to see how the future Taillon/Bell style articles go, since we’ve been able to provide a massive boost to our coverage under the subscription model the last two years.

If you’re satisfied with seeing basic information written about a prospect, gathered from one interview, and maybe one game seen, then the free coverage is probably best for you. If you want exclusive information that you can’t find elsewhere, from people who actually see the players, and have been covering them for years, then you should definitely subscribe, because while we’re not free, our low subscription prices have so much value for the coverage we provide.

Prospect Guides and Meet-Ups on the Road

Typically when it comes to meeting subscribers on the road (or even non-subscribers), I don’t do anything official. People just send me a message to let me know they’re at a game, and I try to meet them when I’ve got a moment to come down and talk. That all applies for this trip.

If you’re going to be in Morgantown this weekend (8/5-8/7), in Charleston next week (8/8-8/11), or in Bristol after that (8/13-8/16), let me know. If enough people reply in the comments, we might be able to set up something more official than just meeting up at the park during the game.

Also, I brought a box of the 2016 Prospect Guides with me on this trip. Those are going to be on sale for a special price of $10 each if you buy them from me in person during the trip, while the supplies last. That applies to everyone, although Top Prospect subscribers still get the 2016 book for free.

Live Chats

We used to do live chats on the site, and then the software we used started charging ridiculous amounts for what we would need. So we stopped doing live chats. I’ve tried a few formats, like Q&As, or chats in the comments. Neither of those are very good though. The Q&A format works in theory, but with this job, I rarely know what day it is, which usually leads to me getting to Friday morning and realizing I forgot to ask for questions that week. Plus, it’s kind of weird getting questions on Monday, and then saying “I might answer you on Friday”.

The comment approach doesn’t work either, since very few subscribers use the comments, and it’s not set up as a Q&A, but as a long discussion that’s difficult to moderate or highlight answers.

I’ve been thinking about an idea recently, doing a video chat for the Q&A feature. Ideally, this would come during batting practice or a game, so that you could watch some baseball while the chat was going on. I’m looking into the best way of doing this (I’ve used Periscope before), and hope to do this a few times during this trip, at least once per team.

Site Maintenance

There have been a few things I needed to work on fixing on the site, but haven’t had time during the crazy months of June and July. Some of the bigger things have been with the app, and hopefully I can get all of that taken care of before the end of the season, or before the end of the month. If you haven’t been receiving notifications this week, it’s because I turned them off, as they were causing a huge load on the server, and taking the site down when traffic spiked (which it did many times during the deadline). I’ll be activating them again soon.

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  • So when are you coming to Harrisburg? :) :)

    Btw, THIS is why I subscribe to P2.

    Good job, Tim.

    • I’m done with Altoona this year. That’s Sean’s coverage now. Even though that might be my favorite press box in the system.

      • RonHeb72

        Well When you do Tim make sure you let Foo and I know. :)

        • I usually plan that trip at the start of the year, combining it with Opening Series coverage of the Pirates. Hope it works out the same next year.

  • terrygordon30

    I have not noticed much in the way of technical problems lately except for having problems reaching the site after the trade deadline.

    On a side note, I miss being able to see Pirate farmhands by traveling to Frederick, Maryland to see the Keys and the Hillcats play.

    • Right now the site is set up in a way where if too many people are on, some people will get 503 errors, rather than getting connected. The alternative is that everyone tries to connect, the site tries processing that connection, and no one gets on.

      I glanced at the site traffic during the deadline, and we had 1,000 people rushing to the site after the first two deals were announced, and that doesn’t count the people who couldn’t connect. It might have gone higher while I was writing the articles. There were also some database issues which we’ll fix for the future, which should help, but won’t totally prevent that from happening when two trades are announced minutes before a deadline, at a time when everyone is anticipating the deals.

      • scrappy2499

        ah, that explains that issue…Well, that’s a good issue that you have that many people trying to get on at once. I can handle an occasional 503 :)

      • Edward C

        While slightly annoying I assumed this was the case with the 503 errors. Once I got through the content made the wait worth it. As an accountant I am actually glad to see that you have enough subscribers to cause this problem. I really enjoy the coverage and hope the financial side works so that you can continue the great work!

  • deacs

    When are we getting these PHP stat codes fixed. It enrages me that I have to take 4 extra seconds to use my browser to get to the website on my IPhone for the prospect watch stats.
    Also is there any point to keeping Craig at 3rd. I don’t think that Hayes should effect the decision but if he doesn’t have much experience at first wouldn’t it be a good idea to get him as much time over there as possible so that he could just let his bat carry him to the majors?

    • Brian Z

      Yes this!!!! I just use the website now but can’t wait for the PHP thing to be fixed so I can go back to the app. But if I have to choose between great coverage and a working app… Give me the coverage everyday of the week

    • The codes work, but the problem is that the plugin doesn’t work with the app software. So the choices are to either:

      1. Find a plugin that works with the app (no success yet)
      2. Program the app to accept the PHP codes (costly, and there are bigger things I’d like to fix with the app before fine tuning like that, which is why #1 is my solution right now)

      • deacs

        Most of this was over my head but thanks for the efforts. I was kidding anyway. Any thoughts on Craig?

        • I figured with the four extra seconds comment. :)

          I’ll have an article on Craig early next week. Have only seen him two games so far, and only briefly talked to him, but nothing in detail.

          • deacs


      • burghb

        Why do I feel like this is an evil game you are playing because you hate iOS? :). Although, this is coming from an Android developer who uses an iPhone, so I guess I get what I deserve.

        Thanks for the great coverage, Tim. (Although I wish it was a little less extensive so that I don’t get so attached to prospects and then get super pissed off when they get traded.)

  • Jason G

    Good stuff, Tim! I really appreciate the depth of your team’s coverage of the entire system. This is Pirates content that can’t be found anywhere else, and I check the site a dozen times a day to see what new stories have been published. I’m a subscriber for life. Thanks for you and your team’s hard work!

  • andrew.oneill88

    I really like the live Q&A idea with batting practice or the game going on in the process! I would definitely tune in!

  • Alan Bellomo

    Keep up the good work Tim. Hope to see you in Altoona someday soon.

  • WardHolder

    Of course, mostly you’re preaching to the choir of those who’ve already seen the value. But my friends were amazed when I screamed “No,” over dinner, when I learned that Reese McGuire had been included. What really amazed them was that I could talk about his plate discipline, his advanced defensive catching skills, and put that in perspective of the Bucs’ need for catching this year. Just one example of the information available here that’s not elsewhere. This is a fantastic site, that really isn’t replicated. And I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen Travis Sawchik or Chris Adamski point out something in the Trib that I already knew from this site – and wondered whether they had a subscription? Keep it going, Tim!

  • Brian Z

    Is the website down….I figured I’d see an alert saying Josh Bell has been called up to the MLB. Yea.. Site must be down, no other explanation possible :)

  • Joseph Cafaro

    What you described is exactly why I am a subscriber. I rarely get to see a player live before they get to Altoona, so this site gives me info and context I can’t get anywhere else. I’ve always had an interest in the Pirates farm system and in full disclosure, am baseball nerdy enough to have created a projection of my own of when players will arrive in the majors. Great fun. Your site gives so much information to help me do that. To you Tim and all the writers, keep up the good work!

  • st1300b

    Tim just a request on app see a small pic for the article in home view but when you select article there is no pic just article. Would be nice to see a larger pic in the article it’s for.

  • BrianStrong

    Tim I was in Hagerstown on Tuesday to watch the Power. I sawHearn make his debut. His first inning he had no problems. The second inning his former team bunted 4 or 5 times on him and appeared to have trouble fielding. was wondering ie this may an issue or they just cant hit him. any insight?

    • I won’t get to see him until next week, so I’m not sure what the issue is. However, sometimes pitchers will have a tendency to fall to one side of the mound, leaving the other side open for a bunt. If that’s the case, his former team would know better than most.

      • BrianStrong

        he threw one for an error and another he should have bare handed it and was ruled safe. just thought it might be something to looh at or maybe ask about. . love the website and coverage all the way up thru the minors. its why I subscribe keep up the great work to all the writers on here

  • David N

    Tim: What you’ve built here is amazing. I’m a happy Top Prospect subscriber, and I take my FREE! Prospect Guide to the games in Norfolk and Bradenton to check on the guys I’m watching. And like others, I visit the site several times a day. We’re probably preaching to the choir, but there is no better site to follow the entire Pirates’ organization. Tell all your friends! Better yet, buy them a gift subscription!

Site Updates

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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