Pirates Prospects » First Pitch http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Sun, 29 Mar 2015 13:21:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 First Pitch: The Future of Online News, and Why We’re Switching to a Subscription Site http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-the-future-of-online-news-and-why-were-switching-to-a-subscription-site.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-the-future-of-online-news-and-why-were-switching-to-a-subscription-site.html#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 04:54:47 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96642 It may surprise you to find out that I never attended a minor league baseball game until after I started this site. I followed the minors closely, and lived close to Lynchburg for years while the Pirates had a team in that town. But every attempt I had usually ended in the same way. I’d want to go see an emerging pitcher (Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, etc.), and by the time I found a day off from work or school where I could go see them, they had been promoted to Altoona.

I remember the first trip vividly. I was looking forward to the game that upcoming Monday, and looking forward to providing a report for this new blog I had started about prospects in the Pirates’ system (if you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with that site). But the economy was horrible at the time, and the Friday before the game I was laid off from my job.

There would be no reporting at the Monday game. There would only be drinking cheap beer while watching baseball.

Throughout that summer I searched for work daily, getting rejected in the form of being ignored. I received zero job interviews, mostly because I was fresh out of college with a business degree, a year of sports writing under my belt, a ton of student loans, and living in an area where you needed 3-5 years of experience for any available position. I was either under qualified for anything that needed a degree, or over qualified for anything else because of my degree. I couldn’t even get a minimum wage job anywhere, because there was just nothing available. So while I was searching for a job with no success, I decided to keep that blog running, just to keep up my work ethic.

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I had a crazy idea that could only be brought on by many unsuccessful months of searching for employment: What if I could make a career out of this blog?

I gave up looking for work. I put all of my eggs in this basket. If it didn’t work, I was screwed, but then again, I was out of work for years with a ton of student loan debt. I was already screwed. Might as well go down swinging for the fences. And it worked.

It wasn’t easy. I sold everything. There were times where I searched through my house looking for things to sell, just to make sure I wouldn’t go bankrupt a week or two later. I lived in my now late-grandma’s vacant house for free, on the condition that I deliver lunch to her every day (she was always understanding when I was late because a trade broke around noon, even though she didn’t know what that meant). I was taking short-term loans from family and friends, just to get by rough stretches. And I was annoying the shit out of anyone close to me by repeatedly explaining my spreadsheets of projections showing how the site could work out if it reached X amount of page views per year, and how that number was totally possible.

The site worked. I went from being unemployed, selling anything I didn’t use on a weekly basis, and depending heavily on friends and family, to being in a position where I can live a normal life with the security of a regular income. So why would I throw that away?

I explained my goals for the site in my announcement earlier today. If you haven’t read it, check it out now. I’ve got big plans for the site, and I’m optimistic that the plans will work.

But there are other reasons why I moved away from the ad model. It was unreliable, and I can only see it getting worse in the future. Ad blockers are becoming more common. Revenues are dropping as the inventory in the industry increases. Intrusive ads get the big payday, which means I would eventually be left with a choice between roll over ads, 15 second displays before you can see the site, and a ton of video ads (which are apparently starting to show up already) — or I could just ditch the ad model altogether.

I plan to eventually phase the ads out. For now, they’re going to be insurance as I kick things off. I’ll quickly be cutting down on the number of ads on the site, and when it grows big enough, I’ll be removing them completely. I’m not ruling out that we won’t have sponsors in the future. But I feel that’s a totally different animal than having a ton of ads all over the page.

The ad model also restricts creativity and content. It puts you in position to strive for page views, and if something doesn’t bring in ad revenue, it’s not worth doing.

We’ve been getting questions about having an app for years. I’ve never done it, because an app would kill the business. An app would drive people away from the site, and we’d have no way of getting revenue for those readers. Under a paid site, we can charge a subscription, and you can read the content in whatever way is most convenient for you. We will be adding an app in the future. I’ll be researching that soon. On that note, if you’re a developer, send me an e-mail at tim@piratesprospects.com.

I had a lot of questions today about the podcast. We did one in 2013, and it got decent results. It started out strong, with about 1000-2000 weekly downloads. But in terms of ad dollars, that equals about $4-8. And it would take about 4-5 hours of work for me to put together a podcast. You can see how a podcast wouldn’t be worth the time. A podcast is now an option again, and we might bring it back once everything gets going this year.

Then there was a situation that came up last year. I was approached by Baseball America about writing stories for them, and wrote one about Tyler Glasnow’s progress. And I found that I could make a lot more money sending big articles to places like BA, Baseball Prospectus, and other places than by posting them on the site and relying on ad revenues. But that wasn’t a situation I wanted to be in. Why even have the site running if the best content was better off posted elsewhere?

In short, the ad model was preventing me from adding high demand features. It was limiting quality content, just because the work for that content might not be worth what it brings in as far as ad revenues. And it would have eventually led to me having to drive content away from the site, which means you’d have to subscribe elsewhere to read that content. Then there’s the fact that I probably would have only had three more years, maximum, under the ad model due to its lack of reliability. At that point, the site would have either shut down, or made this switch. It only made sense to make the change now.

As someone who has been on the ad side of things for over six years, it’s my opinion that this model won’t be lasting much longer. In a few years, more and more sites and outlets will be forced to go the subscription model, for all of the reasons I outlined above.

I liken this approach to what I did a few years ago with the independent approach. I was one of the early adopters when it came to running a professional independent site and trying to get credentialed to cover events. It was difficult at first to get credentials, because no one knew how to handle a situation where someone had a job writing about sports, but didn’t work for a newspaper or a TV station. It was always a battle to get credentials in the beginning. Now? It’s so easy for small independent sites to get credentials, because it’s a much more common thing.

I think subscription sites will be the same way. The format has been out there for a few years, but it’s still early. There are more and more people making the jump from traditional outlets to the independent outlet, with Dejan Kovacevic being a local example. People are still hesitant to pay for anything on the internet, but I think eventually there won’t be a choice. It’s going to be common to pay a small fee to access content you enjoy, just as it is for television (Netflix/Hulu Plus), movies (Redbox/Vudu), and any other form of entertainment. I’d rather be on the right side of this trend, picking it up early, rather than waiting until it is too late and hurting the future of this site.

I thank everyone who subscribed today, and who plans to subscribe in the future. For those of you who said you won’t be subscribing due to financial reasons, I definitely understand how $2.99 per month can be too much. I was in that situation myself a few years ago. For those who said they don’t want to subscribe out of principle, I hope that you reconsider and decide that the content we produce is worth more than the price of one cup of coffee or two sodas per month. In either case, I thank you all for reading up to this point. We might offer a way for people to donate subscriptions in the future, although I’d rather that be for people who want to subscribe but can’t afford it. And there will definitely be gift subscriptions, so you can put that on your wish list for Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Columbus day, or any of the other big gift giving holidays.

For anyone looking to subscribe, you can use one of the options below.

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Save Over 15% Off the Monthly Price!
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And now, back to the grind. I’ll have a few articles tomorrow morning from minor league camp, including a look at what Nick Kingham has been working on recently, and a look at the development of the three over-slot prep pitchers from last year’s draft. I’ll also have any news on cuts, if there are any cuts tomorrow.

**Here was the announcement from earlier today: The Future Of Pirates Prospects.

**My friend Dave Bryan, who runs the outstanding site Steelers Depot, has purchased a one-year subscription to be given away on Twitter. I’ll have the details tomorrow on my Twitter account. While you’re at it, you should also follow Dave for great insight and all of the latest news on the Steelers. I haven’t had much time to follow the Steelers in recent years, but anytime I’m looking for an update, Steelers Depot is always where I go.

**Pirates Prospects Is Looking For Paid Writers In Altoona And West Virginia. Part of the site expansions. On that same note, I’ve already planned out some early season travel, which I will announce later in the week when I get everything finalized.

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First Pitch: How Being a Contender Changes Spring Training Decisions http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-how-being-a-contender-changes-spring-training-decisions.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-how-being-a-contender-changes-spring-training-decisions.html#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 04:00:37 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96470 The next few weeks might introduce uncharted territory for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In previous years around this point in Spring Training, we’d see at least one of the following scenarios playing out:

1. The Pirates would be picking up players via trade or waivers from teams that had too many options and couldn’t possibly keep all of those players.

2. The Pirates would construct their roster in a way where they could keep everyone, with no worry about losing anyone.

3. The position battles for the final roster spots would include a lot of projects and players who seemed like high risk/high reward options.

This year things are different. The Pirates are now one of the teams with too many options. They probably will construct their roster in a way to keep as many players as possible, but there’s no possible way that they can keep them all. And they’re not having to fill the roster with a lot of high risk bets, but they’ve got a legit roster, with those high risk guys likely being on the outside looking in when it’s all said and done.

Stolmy Pimentel is probably the biggest representation of the change. Last year the Pirates kept him on the roster, betting on his upside. A few years before that, he might have even been given a shot in the rotation. This year? I really don’t see him making the team, which means the Pirates are going to have to hope he clears waivers if they ever want him realizing his upside in their organization.

Then there’s Pedro Florimon, who is out of options, and is another guy who would have probably claimed a bench spot in previous years. This year the Pirates spent a lot more on their bench, leaving them with one open spot, and I highly doubt that Florimon gets that spot.

It’s possible that the Pirates could make some moves this year to bring talent in at the deadline. One year ago today, they added Vance Worley to as little fanfare as you could possibly have for a Spring Training trade. In that same way, they added Keon Broxton a week later in another minor trade. This off-season they’ve made about a billion waiver claims and minor trades to improve the organization. I could see them making minor trades using the players who are unlikely to make the roster, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they add a depth piece to play in Indianapolis.

All of this is what happens when you become a top contender. Your roster becomes so good that you lose players who could help teams that have more time to display patience with those players. You have fewer spots for projects, or for players who are out of options. It’s not like these are bad things. They’re definitely good problems to have. But since the Pirates have never been in this situation before, it’s going to be interesting to see how they handle it all.

**We’ve got a big announcement tomorrow morning.

**We are down to our final case of the 2015 Prospect Guide from the final shipment. I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current stock is gone, the paperback version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Pirates Prospects Is Looking For Paid Writers In Altoona And West Virginia. We’re looking for new writers to cover the home games in Altoona and West Virginia, and to provide prospect reports.

**Notes: The Upcoming Cuts, McCutchen Returns, Stewart Rehab Update

**The Roster Situations That Could Impact The Makeup Of The Pirates Bullpen

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First Pitch: Expect More Unconventional Drafting From the Pirates in the Future http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-expect-more-unconventional-drafting-from-the-pirates-in-the-future.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-expect-more-unconventional-drafting-from-the-pirates-in-the-future.html#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 04:45:37 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96330 Last year was the first year the Pirates really had a lower draft pick. They dropped down to the middle of the first round in 2013, but their compensation pick for Mark Appel from the 2012 draft still had them picking in the top ten in 2013. This time around, they picked 24th overall, followed by 39th overall in a pick they got via trade for Bryan Morris.

The results were questionable at the time. They drafted Cole Tucker in the first round and Connor Joe in the second round, with each pick looking like a reach based on the available rankings. After the draft, it became clear that the industry rated Tucker much higher than the public rankings. But the selection of Joe was still a bit of a mystery, and one that didn’t really get solved, since a back injury prevented him from playing any games.

Today I wrote about the Pirates’ strategy with the new draft rules, which involves drafting athletic players with good hitting skills and moving them to prime defensive positions. Joe is one of those guys, moving from the outfield to third base this year. That strategy clears up a lot about the selections of guys like JaCoby Jones, Jordan Luplow, and Joe. All three were drafted as outfielders with high picks, and the Pirates don’t exactly have a strong need for outfielders. All three are now infielders, playing on the left side, where the Pirates have a bigger need.

I would expect more of this strategy in the future. This approach is similar to the approach the Pirates took when they loaded up on projectable prep pitchers. Individually, there’s a lot of risk and a chance for a reward. But if you add enough of those guys, eventually one or two will break out and make the process all worthwhile. You’re not looking for every prospect to work out. You’re just hoping for one Tyler Glasnow and one Nick Kingham to emerge in order to justify the whole process.

As a result, I’d expect the Pirates to have more unconventional drafts in the future, as they will be seeing potential value where others don’t. This process isn’t guaranteed to work. It’s going to really test the scouting and development skills in the system, primarily on the position player side. But the risk would be worthwhile, especially if it develops just one top prospect at shortstop and third base. It’s an unconventional way to do things, but the Pirates need to be looking at unconventional approaches, especially since their ability to spend whatever they want on the draft is now gone, and their spending limits are decreased by their new role as a contender.

**We are down to our final case of the 2015 Prospect Guide from the final shipment. I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current stock is gone, the paperback version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Pirates Prospects Is Looking For Paid Writers In Altoona And West Virginia. We’re looking for new writers to cover the home games in Altoona and West Virginia, and to provide prospect reports.

**How The Pirates Are Trying To Stay Ahead Of The Curve With The New Draft Rules

**Another Seven Figure Bonus Player Missing Time Due To Conditioning

**Andrew McCutchen Returns To The Pirates Lineup Tomorrow

**The Key For Alen Hanson To Help The Pirates In The Majors This Year

**Draft Prospect Watch: D.J. Stewart Homers Twice, Cody Ponce Returns To Action

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First Pitch: Pirates Winning It All? That Idea Doesn’t Sound So Crazy Anymore http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-pirates-winning-it-all-that-idea-doesnt-sound-so-crazy-anymore.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-pirates-winning-it-all-that-idea-doesnt-sound-so-crazy-anymore.html#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 04:00:25 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96172 There was a time not too long ago when you couldn’t mention the Pittsburgh Pirates and the World Series without either talking about history, or invoking laughter. Things looked so bleak that the only hope seemed to be a winning season where the Pirates would get win number 82 on the final day of the season, finally ending the long losing streak. Or, maybe if they were lucky, they’d find a way to sneak into the playoffs, while having no shot of advancing beyond the first round.

Today, Buster Olney sent out a tweet saying he had picked the Pirates to win the World Series over the Seattle Mariners. The actual prediction isn’t the big deal here. These types of predictions come every year around this time, from all types of writers, and the odds of the predictions coming true are slim. The big deal about this is that you can now predict the Pirates to win it all, and it’s not met with laughter. It’s actually a pick that could happen.

The Pirates are coming off two straight playoff appearances. They’re a team with no real weaknesses, and a ton of depth at a lot of positions. The biggest knock on them is that their pitching staff doesn’t look good on paper. However, they’ve got Francisco Liriano, who is extremely underrated when he’s healthy, and has been putting up the best numbers of his career the last two years with the Pirates. They’ve got Gerrit Cole, who is still young and has number one upside if he puts it all together. They have A.J. Burnett, who probably isn’t going to be the Burnett that was in Pittsburgh two years ago, but could be better than the 2014 version in Philadelphia.

Beyond that, they’ve got Charlie Morton and Vance Worley, who are two under-rated starters, and good guys for the back of the rotation. They have solid depth, with a few interesting early season options, and mid-season options that will start to tap into their prospect depth with guys like Nick Kingham, Adrian Sampson, and possibly Jameson Taillon.

Then there’s the fact that they’ve got a lot of great pitching coaches — highlighted by MLB pitching coach Ray Searage and Special Assistant to the GM Jim Benedict. They focus heavily on pitch framing. They target ground ball heavy pitchers, while utilizing defensive shifts to maximize their defensive production. The combination allows their pitching staff to play up from what you’d expect.

On the offensive side, they’ve got one of the best players in the game in Andrew McCutchen. They have a potential breakout star in Starling Marte. And their offense was one of the best in baseball last year, and should have enough to be at the top again this year, especially with all of the depth off the bench backing up their starters.

The fact that Olney picked the Pirates to win the World Series doesn’t mean they have better chances, and it doesn’t mean that they’re going to win. But it does make you realize that we’ve arrived to a time where it’s not unreasonable to think that the Pirates could win it all.

**We are down to our final case of the 2015 Prospect Guide from the final shipment. I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current stock is gone, the paperback version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Tony Sanchez Will Make The Pirates Roster Due To Chris Stewart Injury. This was expected, and Clint Hurdle confirmed it today.

**The Pirates Are Moving Stetson Allie To Right Field. This one wasn’t expected. He will start back in Altoona, probably because it will be difficult for him to find playing time in the outfield in Triple-A. Don’t expect him to be playing first base. I was told today that he’s a right fielder now, and the move makes sense with Josh Bell being the everyday first baseman in Altoona.

**Buster Olney Picks Pirates To Win World Series

**Pirates Option Nick Kingham And Elias Diaz To Indianapolis

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First Pitch: Discussion on Sanchez, Richard, Heredia, and Stand Out Players in Camp http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-discussion-on-sanchez-richard-heredia-and-stand-out-players-in-camp.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-discussion-on-sanchez-richard-heredia-and-stand-out-players-in-camp.html#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 04:00:18 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96112 I had my weekly interview with David Todd today on ESPN 970. We talked about a lot of the recent cuts, and some of the players who could be emerging to potentially take roster spots in Pittsburgh, along with some minor league talk on the players in camp. Below is a recap of the discussion, along with the podcast of the interview.

**We talked about the impact of Chris Stewart’s injury, and how this opens the door for Tony Sanchez. David brought up that it seemed that Sanchez was a guy to give up on last year, and that has changed this year. I pointed out how telling it is that the Pirates were making him a first baseman last year at the end of the year, and now they have no plans to put him anywhere other than catcher. We also discussed the potential split in playing time between Diaz and Sanchez in Triple-A.

**We discussed the odds of Clayton Richard sticking around in the organization, and the odds of him having an opt out clause. I pointed out how Richard believes in this organization and their abilities to turn him around, and the organization seems to believe in him. That combo means they’ll probably find a place for him if there is an opt out clause.

**I reported this week that Luis Heredia hasn’t thrown off the mound in over two weeks, and we reviewed the situation.

**In discussing the guys who stood out to me in the last week, I pointed out Tony Sanchez and his throwing, Willy Garcia’s power, and Casey Sadler’s potential to help the team this year.

Here is the full podcast:

**We are down to our final case of the 2015 Prospect Guide from the final shipment. I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current stock is gone, the paperback version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Pirates Make Eight More Cuts, Including Jameson Taillon And Alen Hanson. I wouldn’t be surprised if they follow this with more cuts in the morning.

**Tons Of Huntington Notes On Taillon, Garcia, Marte, Stewart, Sanchez, Sadler, And More. Huntington discussed some of the recently cut players and what is in store for them, plus some of the bigger roster issues with a few weeks left in camp.

**The Latest Update On Chris Stewart Pretty Much Secures A Roster Spot For Tony Sanchez. As I mentioned above, it looks like Sanchez will start the year in Pittsburgh, with Stewart on the DL.

**Pirates Named Fourth Best Farm System In Baseball. Always a good thing to have one of the top teams in the majors and one of the top farm systems to go with it.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Arizona Has A Double Play Combo Worth Following

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First Pitch: Can Tony Sanchez Win a Spot on the Major League Roster? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-can-tony-sanchez-win-a-spot-on-the-major-league-roster.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-can-tony-sanchez-win-a-spot-on-the-major-league-roster.html#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 04:00:01 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96048 Tony Sanchez has been impressive this Spring. It’s not so much the hitting, which continued tonight with a two-run homer. The hitting has been there the last few years, showing some positive signs, and some flashes of opposite field power like he displayed against the Tigers.

The impressive thing has been his defense, and specifically his throwing. Pete Ellis wrote a great article over the weekend, detailing how Sanchez worked this off-season to fix those issues. As I said, the offense picked up the last few years. He has always excelled at blocking pitches, and his pitch framing is rated well. The big issue has been his throwing problems, which have been a huge liability in recent years, even on simple throws back to the pitcher or to third base after a strikeout.

I’ve reviewed all of the video in the past of Sanchez and his throwing issues. I’ve seen the problems in person. And I’ve been watching him this Spring. What I’ve seen is a much improved player in that area, and it doesn’t look like a small sample size issue. Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle has noticed Sanchez as well.

“Tony has worked hard,” Hurdle said after tonight’s game. “He’s dealt with some adversity. He’s had to push through some things. He’s battled. I do think there’s a point in time where a player says ‘I’ve got to get after it.’ He’s been the first one to tell you, he’s kind of created an opportunity for others at times.”

A.J. Burnett also had praise for Sanchez, saying that he loved him behind the plate.

“The way he blocks balls is a ton better,” Burnett said of the difference in Sanchez’s game since 2013. “He was always pretty good at it. I think the way he goes about it now, he’s really starting to pay attention to his pitchers…he blocked some good hooks today in good situations.”

The problem is that Sanchez has created a situation where he’s stuck in limbo. When he was drafted in 2009, he was seen as the catcher of the future, possibly by 2013. That didn’t happen, and the Pirates signed Russell Martin. Sanchez wasn’t ready again this off-season, so they went out and added Francisco Cervelli, while adding Chris Stewart as a backup in 2013.

Meanwhile, on the other side of things, the struggles from Sanchez have opened the door for another catching prospect to step up. Elias Diaz did that in a big way last year, adding some strong hitting to what was already a strong defensive package behind the plate. Diaz is now the top catching prospect in the upper levels, passing Sanchez. The Pirates gave him the priority for playing time behind the plate last year, moving Sanchez to first base. But Sanchez didn’t give up, and the early signs are that he made the necessary improvements.

Sanchez is in a situation where he needs an injury in the majors to get a shot to prove himself as a backup. He has also fallen behind Diaz, which means he won’t get the bulk of the workload in Indianapolis. He basically needs an early season injury in the majors to have a shot at working his way back into the picture.

Chris Stewart is currently dealing with a hamstring issue, and Hurdle said tonight that it hasn’t improved. That could be the key for Sanchez to open the season in Pittsburgh, and possibly try to win a long-term job. His offense hasn’t been outstanding in his limited time in the majors, but his .680 OPS beats the career .595 mark from Stewart. If the new defensive improvements stick around, then Sanchez would make a good MLB backup, with the chance to push for more.

This all assumes that Stewart will miss the start of the season, and there has been no indication of that. That said, eventually there will be an injury that will bring Sanchez up to the majors this year. He’s going to need to make the most of that time when it comes, especially with Diaz on the verge of making the jump to the big leagues.

**We have less than 100 paperback books of the 2015 Prospect Guide remaining from the final shipment. I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the paperback version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Notes: Injury Updates On McCutchen, Tabata, Stewart; Kang To Get Time At Second Base

**Luis Heredia Hasn’t Pitched In Over Two Weeks While The Pirates Get Him In Better Shape. Not the best update from minor league camp. Right now I don’t expect Heredia to be ready for the start of full-season ball.

**JaCoby Jones Did Fine In The Move To Shortstop, But Needs To Cut Down On Strikeouts. I talked with Jones and Larry Broadway about the move to short and his strikeout issues.

**The Mental Adjustment That Led To Cody Dickson’s Dominant 2014 Second Half. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of Cody Dickson in Bradenton this year.

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First Pitch: Super Two/Service Time Issues, and Why They’re Not Big Issues http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-super-twoservice-time-issues-and-why-theyre-not-big-issues.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-super-twoservice-time-issues-and-why-theyre-not-big-issues.html#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 04:13:41 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=95994 I didn’t think I’d be writing about service time or Super Two this year. The Pirates have had this issue the last three years with Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole, and Gregory Polanco. The top prospect is expected to debut later that summer, gets cut in Spring Training, and then there’s nothing but outrage for two months saying that the team won’t win unless the prospect comes up.

It looked like the discussion would be avoided this year, and for the most part it pretty much has. The only thing I’ve seen that is Pirates’ related is a silly radio rant that Tyler Glasnow should be in the majors right now, and shouldn’t have been cut after his one successful inning during Spring Training. This despite the fact that his fastball command and his changeup is still a work in progress. And this rant wasn’t something I felt the need to write about, because while it’s disturbing that a few people took the rant seriously and came to me with questions about why Glasnow was sent down, it’s not really a story. It’s another made up controversy in a Spring that has been extremely slow for Pirates’ news.

But then there’s the situation with the Cubs sending down Kris Bryant, and all of the outrage over that move being made for service time purposes, or Super Two purposes. And I can’t help but think about Gregory Polanco last year. The Pirates held him down, and people freaked out for months. People went crazy if you defended the move in any way. As an example, I argued that it would be foolish to call Polanco up early, and as a result I got the nickname “Tim Shilliams” on 93.7 by Colin Dunlap, and that led to the birth of the least creative Twitter parody account ever.

And then Polanco came up, was good for a week, started to struggle, was sent back down, and you stopped hearing anything about how the Pirates were evil for not calling him up. You never heard those same people talking about how keeping Polanco down opened the door for Josh Harrison to establish himself as a starter. You also don’t hear any mention of Polanco’s struggles now when people talk about Kris Bryant as a lock — just like they were talking about Polanco in the same way a year ago.

The argument for Bryant to come up is that he shouldn’t have to wait 14 days to be in the majors — which would buy the Cubs a full year of service time in his prime. He also wouldn’t be a risk to come up mid-season to avoid Super Two, although I don’t think the Cubs are worried about that as much as a small market team would be.

I feel these arguments are just the annual hot takes during Spring Training, where writers are too close to a situation to analyze the big picture and see that it doesn’t matter. Does anyone talk about how Evan Longoria came up a few weeks late with the Rays? Are we talking right now about how Gerrit Cole came up in mid-June with the Pirates in 2013? No, because their teams had successful years, even without them coming up on Opening Day.

So why are we acting like Bryant is a big issue? In a month he will probably be in the majors, and no one will care that he stayed down. A year from now, people will be talking about guys like Josh Bell and Tyler Glasnow, and ignoring how things played out for Bryant, Polanco, or anyone else before them. It seems the biggest argument in favor of bringing guys up now is because “I want to see him in the majors now!” And that’s not a real issue, especially when talking about 14 days of a 183 day season.

There are so many calls for a solution to fix this “problem”, but every solution I’ve seen ignores the real problem. Every solution involves forcing teams to bring up players early and pay them more through Super Two, with no extra benefit to the team. And that ignores the fact that teams work the system this way to gain an extra year of service time, and to save millions of dollars, because some teams just can’t afford to throw away millions on two months of performance, and some teams know that the extra year of service time is all they will get from certain players. Those are two big MLB problems, and service time issues are the symptoms.

For now, I’m dreading next Spring, when the Pirates will most likely have this conversation surrounding Josh Bell and Tyler Glasnow at the same time.

**We have less than 100 paperback books of the 2015 Prospect Guide remaining from the final shipment. I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the paperback version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Francisco Liriano Named The Opening Day Starter; Is Locke Losing Ground To Worley?

**Who’s On Third? In The Pirates’ Farm System, It Could Be Anyone. I looked at how the Pirates have made a practice of drafting athletic players with good bats and moving them to difficult positions to fill such as third base and shortstop. A recent example is Jordan Luplow, who was drafted as an outfielder in the third round last year, and who will move to third base to get the bulk of the playing time in West Virginia this year.

**Connor Joe Will Likely Start The 2015 Season In Extended Spring Training. Joe is another guy drafted as an outfielder who will move to third, although he will be delayed going to West Virginia.

**Jung-Ho Kang Among Top 20 Rookies For 2015

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First Pitch: The Best Outfield in Baseball, and Maybe Eventually the Best Rotation? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-the-best-outfield-in-baseball-and-maybe-eventually-the-best-rotation.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-the-best-outfield-in-baseball-and-maybe-eventually-the-best-rotation.html#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 04:00:42 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=95948 For the last year, Pittsburgh Pirates fans have been looking forward to the “Dream Outfield” of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco. McCutchen was already an MVP, Marte was quietly becoming an annual 4-5 WAR player, and I think Polanco has the upside to eventually be the best of the group. That combination looked like it could be the best outfield in baseball in the not too distant future.

One year later, it seems the rest of baseball is starting to take notice. That’s something that happens when the outfielders post the second best combined WAR in baseball, and the best in the NL (and that was without much production from Polanco). The debate this off-season has been whether the Pirates or the Marlins have the best outfield in the game. I may be a bit biased here in saying I’d pick the Pirates’ trio. A lot of the reasons to pick the Marlins right now are due to concerns over Marte’s plate patience, and due to Polanco being all about upside. I’ve never really been concerned with Marte’s lack of walks and strikeout totals, since his speed and other tools more than make up for that. And I love Polanco’s upside, as noted above.

If you want an unbiased opinion that picks the Pirates, check out this article from Jayson Stark. He picks the Pirates, then raves about the upside, while pointing out some very impressive stats. For example, take a look at the following summary of the three, while Stark was discussing the power/speed combo of the group.

So we’re looking at an outfield in which all three starters are coming off a string of seasons with 18 steals or more and double figures in homers. Did you know there have been only eight outfield trios that have done that, in the same season, in the entire live-ball era? And no team has ever had three outfielders do it two years in succession.

But these guys could. They’re all in their 20s. They’re all under team control at least through 2018. So they could conceivably do this for years.

That’s exciting for the Pirates. They’re getting a massive amount of production from their outfielders, without even considering any other position.

And that got me thinking about the next potential breakthrough for the Pirates — “The Dream Rotation.”

The Pirates have spent a lot of money on pitching in the draft. That is starting to spill over to the majors. Gerrit Cole is already here, and has shown flashes of his top of the rotation upside. Jameson Taillon would have arrived last year, had it not been for his Tommy John surgery. He should make the jump to Pittsburgh in the second half this year, and looks like a solid number two starter. Then there’s Tyler Glasnow, who has the upside to be better than any pitcher in the system. He’ll need some time in the upper levels to continue working on his changeup, and improving his command. He should arrive in the middle of the 2016 season.

Those are three guys with the potential to be top of the rotation starters. Then you’ve got Nick Kingham, who should arrive this year, and who has the upside to be a solid number three starter who eats 200 innings per year. Adrian Sampson has a chance to be a middle of the rotation guy, but looks more like a really strong number four if he figures everything out. And the lower levels features a lot of interesting arms, like Clay Holmes, Cody Dickson, Luis Heredia, and more who have the chance to be 3-5 starters in the majors.

A lot of “The Dream Rotation” will depend on how Cole, Taillon, Glasnow, and Kingham develop. The odds aren’t in their favor for all of them to reach their upsides in the majors. But with where they all are right now, the odds are pretty good that the Pirates will get at least two good starters from the group, with all four making the majors. Add in the magic powers of Ray Searage and Jim Benedict to turn around reclamation projects, and the Pirates could soon have not only the best outfield in baseball, but a shot at the best rotation in baseball. The Pirates are already contenders, but that combination could make them the model team in baseball.

**We have less than 100 paperback books of the 2015 Prospect Guide remaining from the final shipment. I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the paperback version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Another Pitcher To Watch From The Pirates’ 2011 Draft

**Draft Prospect Watch: Stewart Homers Twice, Another Kingham To Watch In The Draft

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First Pitch: The Good and Bad of Radar Guns, Sudden Catching Depth, First Cuts http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-the-good-and-bad-of-radar-guns-sudden-catching-depth-first-cuts.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-the-good-and-bad-of-radar-guns-sudden-catching-depth-first-cuts.html#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 04:03:28 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=95919 This week there were two quotes that really stood out to me that related to scouting pitchers. These quotes showed the good and the bad from radar gun readings.

The first quote comes from my article on the independent league pitchers the Pirates signed after John Holdzkom. This quote is from Holdzkom, discussing how it can be easier for pitchers to be seen, and how the radar gun can allow you to get a feel for how good a pitcher is after one game.

Holdzkom: “I think pitchers have an easier time of getting seen, simply because of the radar gun. Position players might take 15 games to watch them, to see how good they are. With a pitcher, you can kind of see what you’ve got watching them one time. So it’s definitely easier for a pitcher.”

This is definitely true, and something I’ve noticed a lot. Granted, there might be one game where you get a bad reading — either too high in velocity or too low. But it’s usually much quicker to get an initial report on a pitcher than it is a hitter.

Then there’s the bad of the radar gun. It’s such a big focus in scouting that often a good radar reading is all it takes to get signed. When it comes to the draft, pitchers will draw attention for their ability to hit high velocity numbers, especially at a young age. Jameson Taillon discussed this in my article about his delivery changes this year, and how that process led to him having poor mechanics heading into pro ball.

Taillon: “Specifically talking about the drop in the delivery, at that time, 19 years old, first outing in pro ball, I think the drop is attributed to the draft process. Trying to throw hard. Trying to get paid. [Laughs]. That’s how you’re trained growing up, unfortunately. I think some of it is immaturity. Not off-the-field immaturity, but with my body. That felt strong. I might not have been as physically mature at the time, so a big move like that helped me feel powerful and strong.”

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a process that will ever change, especially when you can draft the velocity and try to fix the mechanics. It makes you wonder if this is helping to contribute to the Tommy John epidemic recently. I don’t want to make any sweeping generalizations, or suggest this is the one thing that leads to the injuries. But trying to throw as hard as you can with bad mechanics is probably not a good thing from a health perspective.

**

Pete Ellis wrote this weekend about The Off-Season Adjustment That Might Have Solved Tony Sanchez’s Throwing Problems. Sanchez has been performing well this Spring, and for the last two days I’ve been getting a lot of questions wondering what the Pirates will do with him and Elias Diaz. The questions ranged from playing time in Triple-A, to wondering if Chris Stewart should be traded in order to make room for Sanchez on the active roster.

The odds are strong that Sanchez will be up in the majors at some point this year, with no trade needed to clear a spot. Someone will get injured, and if it happens in the first half of the season, Sanchez would be the guy to turn to. If it happens late in the season, then Sanchez would have to compete with Diaz for the role.

Either way, this isn’t a real problem. The Pirates potentially have good catching depth, and they can retain all of them without making a trade.

**

The Pirates made their first cuts this weekend. First, they sent out five players, including Tyler Glasnow. The top prospect made his debut in minor league camp today, looking strong in two innings. Today they made another cut, sending out Stetson Allie.

I’d expect more cuts this week, especially with guys who have zero days of service time. Minor league camp is now starting to have games, and it is getting harder to get at-bats and innings for some guys, especially those who have no shot of making the active roster.

**

Other links from the weekend:

**Worley Remains In The Driver’s Seat For The Final Starting Spot; Stewart Injury Update

**Draft Prospect Watch: Phil Bickford Puts Up Big Strikeout Numbers, Jake Lemoine Gets Knocked Out Early

**Pirates Release Infielder Kevin Ross

**The Guy With the Best Strikeout Rate in the Pirates’ System in 2014

**Neal Huntington on Taillon’s Rehab, Diaz vs Sanchez, the Versatile Bench, Bullpen Battle

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First Pitch: Brandon Cumpton, The 60-Day DL, and When to Expect Prospects to Be Cut http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-brandon-cumpton-the-60-day-dl-and-when-to-expect-prospects-to-be-cut.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-brandon-cumpton-the-60-day-dl-and-when-to-expect-prospects-to-be-cut.html#comments Sat, 14 Mar 2015 04:00:53 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=95719 Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced that right-handed pitcher Brandon Cumpton underwent Tommy John surgery. That puts him out for the 2015 season, and possibly for the start of the 2016 season.

Cumpton has one option year remaining, and I previously thought that the Pirates would have a choice on whether to option him to the minors, or place him on the 60-day DL. If they optioned him, they would burn the final option year, but would save a year of service time and prevent paying him the MLB league minimum for the year. If they placed him on the DL, the option would be preserved for 2016, but he’d gain a year of service time and be paid more for his time on the DL.

Today I learned that the Pirates have no choice with Cumpton — he has to go on the disabled list.

In previous years, Neal Huntington has talked about a certain date when the team can no longer send a prospect down if he is injured. This usually comes after cutting a top prospect from big league camp and optioning him to the minors. If the player would stay up in the majors beyond the cutoff date, and then get injured, he would have to go on the MLB disabled list, starting his service time clock. If the player gets injured before the date, the team can option him to the minors as an injured player.

That date this year is March 20th, and it only applies to players with zero service time. Any player with at least one day of MLB service time has to go on the disabled list if he’s injured during Spring Training, no matter what date he gets injured. So in Cumpton’s case, he has to go on the 60-day disabled list because of his MLB service time. There are a few other qualifications and stipulations that could determine when an injured player can and can’t be sent down, but for the most part it involves how much service time they have.

What this means for the prospects in camp is that you can probably expect the 40-man roster guys with zero days of service time to be sent down before March 20th. This includes Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Alen Hanson, Elias Diaz, and Willy Garcia. I don’t know if the same rules apply to NRI prospects like Tyler Glasnow and Adrian Sampson, but I’d expect them to be among the first cuts, since they are having a hard time finding innings in big league camp, and won’t have a shot at making the Opening Day roster.

In Taillon’s case, I wasn’t sure how his rehab status, and the fact that he won’t be ready on Opening Day, would impact his roster status, since he’s on the 40-man roster. That’s now cleared up, and Taillon won’t be a risk to start the year on the disabled list.

On the flip side of this, there is also a minimum date that prevents teams from sending down guys with zero days of service time. This ensures that those players get a fair look in camp, and prevents a team from cutting guys with zero service time on day one of Spring Training. I’m pretty sure this date has just passed, since the Royals were able to option John Lamb to Triple-A, with Lamb having no service time in the majors.

In summary, Cumpton will go on the 60-day DL, which will create a 40-man roster spot, and preserve his option for 2016, while also burning a year of service time. Also, you should expect all of the prospects in camp to be cut very soon, to avoid a situation where they get injured, and have to spend time rehabbing on the MLB disabled list (which actually happened to Nick Johnson in 2000, costing him a year of service time).

**We have less than 100 paperback books of the 2015 Prospect Guide remaining from the final shipment. I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the paperback version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Every day I upload content on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the video features on YouTube. Be sure that you’re subscribed to all of those sites to follow everything we upload throughout Spring Training (there is different content for each social media site).

**Jameson Taillon Feels Good After His First Time Facing Hitters In A Year. His first live BP went well. Also, if you missed it earlier this week, check out my article where Taillon and Jim Benedict broke down his mechanics and changes to his delivery over the last few years.

**Q&A: Can Tyler Glasnow Make It To Indianapolis By The End Of 2015? The weekly Q&A takes a look at when Glasnow might make the jump to Triple-A, including a look at how the Pirates have handled pitchers in Altoona in previous years.

**Casey Sadler May Prove To Be A Key Depth Piece In 2015. He was leaving the ball up today, and didn’t have his best stuff, but the injury to Brandon Cumpton moves him up on the depth charts.

**Andrew McCutchen Removed From Today’s Lineup With Lower Body Soreness. Right now it doesn’t sound like anything serious.

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