BRADENTON, Fla. — On Saturday morning, Austin Meadows was hanging out in the Pirates’ clubhouse, when Gerrit Cole decided to give him a chirp from across the room about Meadows’ propensity to carry around a gallon jug of water.
Meadows is focusing on his health this spring and hasn’t hid that he’s trying to stay hydrated, but the subtle dig carried more weight than that. Cole is the team’s Opening Day starter. In some clubhouses, the presence of a 21-year-old in his first major-league camp wouldn’t even get noticed by someone in Cole’s position, let alone be someone who Cole has gotten to know well enough to take a friendly shot.
The Pirates reassigned Meadows to minor-league camp on Monday, ending a long run for the first-round pick and the youngest player in major-league camp. But Meadows and the other youngsters in big-league camp have made an impact in their time at LECOM Park.
With so many of the Pirates players taking part in the World Baseball Classic, there were many more at-bats and innings available for young players, and as a result many stuck around longer than the usual cup of coffee afforded to them. The other factor has been the ongoing battles for the final roster spots in the bullpen, on the bench and in the starting rotation. Almost all of the players in the mix for those spots are younger guys, as well. Some of the older Pirates have taken notice of the youth movement.
“Every camp has a bit of a unique feeling,” said Cole. “This one, with the World Baseball Classic allowing us to keep extra roster spots around, has been really nice.”
Manager Clint Hurdle thinks that the experience of having younger players in camp for an extended look can be a beneficial to the whole club. The youngsters get extra time with the veterans and coaching staff to work not things and pick the brains of those more experienced. The older players benefit from the energy and intensity young players trying to get noticed can provide.
“I think it is a two-way street. The extra week of practice, with the players that were gone, provided innings and opportunities for different people.” he said. “We like our guys. We like the way they grow up and the energy they do bring. I think it was a win-win from that aspect. … I think all of that has helped our camp.”
“We’ve got a lot of talented guys who held their own and who did the job,” said right fielded Andrew McCutchen. “That’s what this organization is all about. We’ve had talented guys and prospects for years now. People have to see now first-hand what guys can do. We’re used to seeing it at this point. It’s where we are as an organization. It’s not surprising guys did what they did.”
Cole has seen first-hand the young talent the Pirates have coming in regards to pitching and he’s impressed with not only the way they throw the ball, but way they’ve handled themselves during the spring.
“They’ve gone about it in a real exemplary matter, like grown men,” Cole said. “Competition brings out the best in everybody. I think that even if some of these don’t make the team, I think they’ve taken a lot of learning moments from this spring to really contribute with us down the road.”
“I loved it. That was probably one of my favorite parts of the spring, seeing a lot of myself in a lot of them,” added 29-year-old pitcher Josh Lindblom, who will join the Indianapolis staff after his reassignment on Tuesday. “The competition, wanting to be in the big leagues and wanting to stay there, it was pretty neat to be able to pour into those guys and help those guys out.”
The fit between Lindblom — as one of the few non-roster invitees — with the rest of the Pirates’ pitching prospects was a consideration when general manager Neal Huntington brought him in.
“We want people that can help our major-league team win games,” Huntington said. “That’s the easiest criteria to me. We also want to bring in people that can help us off the field, as well. Josh has a ton of experience. When you talk about a guy that’s been through a lot in this game, a former premium prospect as a reliever, pitching in some high-leverage situations, starting, relieving, starting, going internationally and then coming back. Very mature for his age.”
Lindblom being one of very few free-agent minor-leaguers is a sign that the Pirates’ youngsters are ready to compete. They have a 19-9 Grapefruit League record, and while that may not mean a lot, Hurdle thinks it means something.
“This year, we have more depth from our own organization than we’ve ever had before. We’ve usually had to go outside and get three Triple-A free agents,” he said. “Spring Training, the one thing it can usually reveal is the depth of people that you have in spring. I believed we were strong depth-wise coming in and I think we were able to show that at least through the spring as far as giving guys an opportunity and having them perform in Spring Training ball.”