Pirates Prospects » Prospect Reports http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Fri, 25 Jul 2014 13:00:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Andrew Lambo off to a hot start after return from thumb injury http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/andrew-lambo-off-to-a-hot-start-after-return-from-thumb-injury.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/andrew-lambo-off-to-a-hot-start-after-return-from-thumb-injury.html#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:36:50 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=84233 After missing two and a half months following surgery on his right thumb, Andrew Lambo did not waste any time getting back into the swing of things. In the first six games, he is hitting for a .462/.481/.808 line in 26 at-bats, with three doubles and two home runs.

“It’s feeling good,” Lambo said. “I got some good pitches to hit the other day. I faced (Justin) Masterson yesterday. That is different, four days in to be facing some arms and having to face a pretty established big leaguer. It was a good opportunity to see some pretty good pitching. I had some quality at bats and we are getting better. It is getting stronger and I am getting more comfortable at the plate.”

Overall, Lambo is hitting .370 with four home runs and 16 doubles in 32 games with Indianapolis this season. However, on Sunday, against Masterson, Lambo struck out twice on the way to a 0-for-5 game. Strikeouts have been an issue for him, as he has fanned 28 times in 119 at bats for the campaign. This is compared to just 14 walks through Wednesday. Last season, Lambo struck out 127 times in 444 at bats between Altoona and Indianapolis, so the struggle is nothing new for the slugger.

Lambo credits the fast start to the work that he put in with the rest of his body while rehabbing the thumb. While the rehab process can be a tedious endeavor for athletes, Lambo said that the hard work is now paying off.

“Sometimes when you get into a rehab, you can get caught up in that negative, ‘this is a drag,’ routine, but you just have to try to make a positive out of things and challenge yourself to work as hard as possible when you are in that cast and in that splint,” Lambo said. “The harder that you work in that cast and in that splint, the recovery of getting back on the baseball field is that much easier. You definitely don’t want to go home and sit on the couch for a month and a half and try to get back to pro ball because this is a tough game.”

Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington has noticed Lambo’s hard work as well and is aware that the bounce back is due to the effort that he put in.

“It’s been great to see him get rewarded for how hard he worked on his rehab,” Huntington said. “He worked hard to keep the non-injured baseball parts of his body in baseball condition. That’s definitely showing. He’s been able to jump back much quicker than most young players, or most players come back from thumb surgery.”

The two home runs since returning matched Lambo’s production in that category for the entire first half of the season. However, Lambo did have 13 doubles over that span. As he told me earlier this season, Lambo looks to drive the ball into the gaps for doubles when he is at his best, and will just let the home runs come.

“It felt really good to get some swings off like that,” Lambo said. “I am just playing day by day, excited to help the team. I feel fortunate to have a jersey on and we go from there.”

While Lambo went only 4-for-25 in rehab stints with GCL and Jamestown, getting some work in was something that he credits for easing him back in. He also is pleased with how the coaching staff handles the players within the organization.

“We have a great coaching staff and a great manager here, who knows when to put you in the lineup and when to give you a day off,” Lambo said. This also allowed him to ease back in once he gets to the Triple-A level.

Lambo will split time between first base and the outfield – right and left — with some DH mixed in. He played his first game at first base last night since his return. Regardless of where he is placed on the field, Lambo is up to the challenge.

“There is going to be bounce-around situations, and you have to take on the challenge,” Lambo said. “I want to help out the big league club, but also help out this club. If that is playing one day at first, then one day in right, one day in left and then one day DHing, I look forward to that challenge.”

It is this versatility that leads Huntington to point out how excited that they were with Lambo going into the spring and that he is “certainly still in our plans moving forward.”

While he is making no doubt that his ultimate goal is to end up in Pittsburgh by the end of the season, Lambo is setting his remaining season goals to improving each day.

“I just want to get better in every facet of the game,” Lambo said. “I want to have fun and play this game the way that I know that I am capable of and play hard. It’s all about coming here and getting better. Nobody is going to be perfect in this game. We are going to make mistakes. We’re not going to get hits and then we are going to get hits, it’s all in how you deal with them.”

While the injury severely set Lambo back, there is little doubt that he will get another big league look in September when the rosters expand, if not before. With the lack of depth in the Pittsburgh outfield, outside of Josh Harrison, if Lambo is able to keep the hits consistent and the strikeouts down, he could be able to provide a nice shot in the arm in Pittsburgh this season. Lambo could also see some time at first base if Ike Davis continues to struggle.

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This Chart Shows the Steady Decline in Tyler Glasnow’s Walks This Year http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/this-chart-shows-the-steady-decline-in-tyler-glasnows-walks-this-year.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/this-chart-shows-the-steady-decline-in-tyler-glasnows-walks-this-year.html#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:38:10 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=84372 Tyler Glasnow is having another amazing season. After six shutout innings last night, his ERA dropped to 1.64 in 82.1 innings. The six shutout innings extended his streak of not allowing an earned run, with the streak now reaching 18 innings, spanning back to July 5th. That would be impressive, except earlier this season he had another streak where he went 26.2 innings without allowing a run at all — a streak that lasted over a month.

He struck out 11 batters last night, making that the third time in his last ten starts that he’s recorded double-digit strikeouts. On the season he has a 10.6 K/9, which is down from his 13.3 rate last year, but still very impressive. He had a 36.3% strikeout rate last year, and is at 29.3% this year.

The one downside to Glasnow’s game has been the control. He has a 4.5 BB/9 ratio on the season, which isn’t a huge improvement over his 2013 numbers. His BB% has dropped from 13.5% to 12.4%, although you’d like to see it much lower. However, a look at Glasnow’s trends shows some big improvements in this area.

Last year I noticed that Glasnow’s control got better as the season went along. After his first ten games, he was walking more than six batters per nine innings. By mid-August, he was walking just over three batters per nine innings in his last ten games. After last night’s outing, Glasnow had walked two or fewer batters in his last four starts, and two or fewer in nine of his last 11 starts. I wanted to do the same study, looking at how his walks have dropped as the season has progressed. He doesn’t have as many starts this year as he did when I ran a similar article last year, so I looked at five game averages to get more data points.

 

TylerGlasnowBB9Last5

Once again, Glasnow got off to a bad start to the season. A lot of this was due to a horrible start on April 30th, which was his second start of the year. He walked seven batters in two innings that game, which spiked the totals in the first two data points. The early control problems could have been due to rust as he was returning from a back injury during Spring Training.

The control was still a problem through the month of May. He walked four batters in five innings on May 10th, followed by three batters in six innings in his next outing. After that, he started seeing improvements. Since those two games, he has had that stretch where he walked two or fewer batters in 9 of 11 starts. That doesn’t include a cancelled game where he walked one in four innings, before the game way postponed and eventually wiped off the books due to rain.

There have been some bad outings in the process. The May 22nd start only saw two walks, but he only pitched four innings. The next start saw four walks in five innings. He really started picking up the pace in early June, and you can see that in the chart above, as his average BB/9 rate starts to see a huge decline starting in July. He has a 3.02 BB/9 since June 12th, spanning 45 innings.

Glasnow still had one bad outing in this stretch. He’s also had some bad innings, but has done a better job of recovering quickly, and not letting one bad inning snowball into multiple bad innings. There are still some control issues there, but the results lately have been fantastic, especially when combined with the fact that he doesn’t give up hits, and strikes out over a batter an inning.

You’ve got to think that Glasnow is close to a promotion with these numbers. He’s eventually going to need to show this control from day one, rather than starting off strong and getting better as the season goes along. I’d wouldn’t be surprised if he sticks around in Bradenton for another start or two, but I would be surprised if he remains in Bradenton the rest of the year. At this point he’s probably going to be in Altoona for most of the 2015 season, and won’t be in the majors until mid-season 2016, which would be his age 22 season. Moving him up right away isn’t going to speed up his timeline, but it would be nice to give him a taste of Double-A by the end of the year.

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Three Cases That Show It’s Not Always About Stats in the Minors http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/three-cases-that-show-its-not-always-about-stats-in-the-minors.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/three-cases-that-show-its-not-always-about-stats-in-the-minors.html#comments Sat, 19 Jul 2014 18:00:13 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=84050 We focus a lot on the statistical side of things on this site. Whether that’s trying to put a number on a player’s trade value, looking past the ERA and projecting what a player could do based on his FIP numbers, or just focusing on how good or bad a player’s numbers are, the statistical approach is heavy. There’s a reason for that. The stats are extremely important. They tell you exactly how a player is doing in any given area, while removing any bias that can be found in the eye test.

That’s not to say the eye test isn’t important. The best analysis is going to incorporate both the eye test and the numbers, while hoping those two match up. When it comes to the minor leagues, those numbers don’t often match up, especially in the lower levels. You’ll see players who are putting up good numbers, but don’t have the skills to repeat those numbers in the upper levels. You’ll also see guys who have a lot of talent, but don’t have the numbers to reflect that talent.

In most cases, you want to stick with that talent, and hope that the results one day come through. The Pirates have three cases this year where they didn’t give up on the talent in the lower levels, and kept pushing players and giving them opportunities because of the talent they have. All three cases are now starting to show results in the stat line that reflect the talent the Pirates saw. Here is a look at each situation, and why the Pirates stuck with each player.

Adrian Sampson has been a breakout pitcher in Altoona this year, after working to improve his changeup in Bradenton last season.

Adrian Sampson has been a breakout pitcher in Altoona this year, after working to improve his changeup in Bradenton last season.

Adrian Sampson

Sampson was a fifth round pick, and ended up signing for $2,100 under slot in 2012. However, he had a lot of talent, and was ranked 84th overall in Baseball America’s rankings that year. He was a guy coming out of the JuCo ranks who could hit 94 MPH, worked in the low 90s at times, and had an above-average curveball with sharp, late break.

We rated Sampson as the 17th best prospect in the system going into the 2013 season. That was after he showed a consistent 91-94 MPH fastball in State College, and lived up to the hype with his curve. He didn’t have much of a changeup, and needed to add that pitch to be a starting pitching prospect. At the time it looked like he could possibly be a mid-rotation starter if he could improve the changeup.

The Pirates obviously liked what they saw with Sampson, as they sent him to Bradenton in his first full season. Most guys from three-year colleges will go to West Virginia for a few months, so sending a JuCo guy to Bradenton at the start of his first full year was an aggressive push. Sampson struggled in Bradenton, posting a 5.14 ERA in 140 innings, with a 5.5 K/9 and a 1.4 BB/9. The stats weren’t living up to the stuff, although there was good reason for this. Sampson spent a lot of time focusing on the changeup last year, and working to improve the pitch. That led to poor results in Bradenton, but has been a big reason for his success this year.

Despite the struggles in Bradenton, Sampson was given another aggressive promotion, this time moving up to Altoona to start the 2014 season. With the new changeup, Sampson is starting to put up the stats that reflect his talent level. He has a 2.58 ERA this year in 122 innings, after coming close to a no-hitter last night. He’s got a 6.3 K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9 ratio. He’s absolutely dominating right-handers, with just a .532 OPS against this year. The impact of the changeup can be seen in his numbers against lefties. Last year in Bradenton, lefties had a .908 OPS against Sampson. This year at a tougher level, lefties are only putting up a .684 OPS against him.

Sampson looks like a strong number four starter, with the possibility to be a number three if his stuff keeps improving. He’s got a good fastball, great command, an above-average breaking pitch, and a changeup that is looking above-average this year, both based on the eye test and the stats against lefties.

Mel Rojas

Rojas, the son of the former Expos closer, was taken in the third round of the 2010 draft. He was extremely raw when he was drafted, but was said to have five tool potential. I saw him a lot in West Virginia in 2011, and the tools showed up at times, but never on a consistent basis. Here was my summary of Rojas after one week that I saw him in the middle of that season.

The defense looked good, with good range and a great arm.  As for the hitting, that continues to be the big question mark.  Rojas chased a few low and away pitches, giving a kind of Ronny Cedeno like leaning swing from the right side of the plate.  From the left side, Rojas looked better, and crushed a home run down the right field line in one of the games I saw.  That power, which has only led to three homers in the actual games, is apparent in batting practice, where Rojas has been known to put on a show.  The key going forward with Rojas is applying that to the games.

Rojas is still very raw at the plate, but the potential is definitely there.  He has an issue of rolling over top of pitches, leading to more grounders and fewer line drives and fly balls.

Mel Rojas has improved his walk rate, and is starting to show his power potential in games.

Mel Rojas has improved his walk rate, and is starting to show his power potential in games.

Rojas put up a .246/.312/.335 line in 508 at-bats that year. He was moved up to Bradenton the next year, and the results weren’t much better. He had a .245/.303/.354 line in 497 at-bats. He’d have a few big games, but would follow that with a long slump. Despite the struggles at both stops in A-ball, the Pirates gave him yet another push in 2013, sending him to Double-A, which is the most difficult jump for a hitter to make.

There were some improvements in Altoona. Rojas had a .274/.332/.410 line, putting up his first OPS over .657 in his pro career. The .742 OPS wasn’t great, but showed improvements. Rojas showed more consistency, and saw a slight uptick with his power, going from a .109 ISO in Bradenton to a .137 ISO in Altoona.

This year the Pirates kept him back in Altoona, and the bat finally took off. He hit for a .303/.379/.446 line in 195 at-bats, before getting a promotion to Indianapolis. Rojas continued to apply his power in the game, with a .144 ISO. His walk rate ticked up to 10.5%, topping the 7.7% the previous year, and the 6.4% rate he had in Bradenton in 2012. His strikeouts dropped from 20.2% to 15.5%. Since being promoted to Indianapolis, he has a .287/.365/.397 line. He’s not hitting for as much power with the Indians, but the walks are still there, which is encouraging.

Rojas always showed the tools to be a good hitter. He’s now starting to apply that to games. His defense has always been strong, and he’s got the ability to play all three outfield spots. The Pirates don’t really need Rojas as a starter, since they’re set with starting outfielders in the majors. That limits his upside to a strong fourth outfielder, or as trade bait if another team sees him as a starting candidate.

Elias Diaz

I first noticed Diaz in Spring Training 2011 while he was taking an extra batting practice session. The recap of that session is quoted below.

Diaz was signed out of Venezuela in 2008, and while his numbers weren’t impressive in his jump to the US last year, he does look promising.  He started out hitting nothing but opposite field shots.  None of his hits even went up the middle.  In his second go round, he hit a few grounders to the left side, but still had trouble pulling the ball.  That went away in his third turn in the batting cage, when he not only started pulling the ball, but did so with some pop, including a launch to the warning track, about 360 feet away.  Diaz could become the number two catching prospect in the organization, although there aren’t many options behind Sanchez.

Elias Diaz is looking like a future solid MLB backup catcher, with the chance to be a sleeper as a starter.

Elias Diaz is looking like a future solid MLB backup catcher, with the chance to be a sleeper as a starter.

I was impressed at the time with the frame Diaz had. He was a big, athletic catching prospect. He only had a .218 average and a .590 OPS in the GCL in 2010, but the Pirates seemed to be giving him a big push and a lot of looks that Spring. He ended up getting an aggressive push to West Virginia, where he got a lot of time behind the plate.

As I mentioned at the time, the Pirates didn’t have a lot of options, so a guy like Diaz who showed some promise didn’t have a lot of obstacles in front of him. Aside from being an athletic catcher with some power potential, he also had some impressive defensive skills. That was the big thing that stood out to me in his time with West Virginia.

The bat definitely didn’t stand out, at least from a numbers perspective. In 2011 he had a .221 average and a .607 OPS. He returned to West Virginia in 2012, and the numbers were worse, with a .208 average and a .549 OPS. The Pirates decided to give him an aggressive push to Bradenton, splitting time with Jacob Stallings, who is another strong defensive catcher. I saw Diaz a lot last year here in Bradenton, and the defense lived up to the hype, often called some of the best in the system, as well as in the minor leagues in general. Diaz really started to hit at the end of the season, with an .892 OPS in August which might have earned him a promotion to Altoona this year.

The results in Altoona have been great. Diaz has a .304/.354/.411 line in 263 at-bats. It’s a small sample size, but he always had the look of a guy who could provide some offense, and some pop off his bat. The power hasn’t been the best this year, but he’s hitting for average and getting on base.

Back in 2011, it looked like Diaz could emerge as the number two catching prospect behind Tony Sanchez. At this point, he could be challenging Sanchez for a backup role, and the two could eventually combine for a decent tandem in the majors until a full-time catcher comes along. If Diaz keeps hitting like this, he could be a sleeper to become that full time catcher.

Trusting the Eye Test

As I mentioned before, the best analysis is when the stats match up with the eye test. In the lower levels, the eye test can often be more important than the stats. In the above cases, there was no statistical reason for the Pirates to keep pushing these players and giving them so many opportunities. It would have been incredibly easy to write off Diaz after his second year in West Virginia when he posted a sub-.600 OPS. It would have been easy to call Rojas a bust after another sub-.700 OPS in A-ball. They could have easily held Sampson back based on his poor numbers in Bradenton last year. But the skills that the players had warranted continued looks and a push to higher levels.

This is a situation that doesn’t always work out so well. Often you’ll just see guys continue to get pushed, and continue to struggle until they fade away. But these three cases are exactly why you take this approach, and stick with talented players, despite no statistical reason to do so.

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Adrian Sampson Just Misses a Complete Game No Hitter http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/adrian-sampson-just-misses-a-complete-game-no-hitter.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/adrian-sampson-just-misses-a-complete-game-no-hitter.html#comments Sat, 19 Jul 2014 01:43:25 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=84011 Adrian Sampson has easily been the breakout pitcher of the year in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system. Tonight he continued his amazing run in Altoona, just missing a complete game no-hitter against Bowie. Sampson carried the no hitter into the ninth inning, but gave it up on an 0-2 pitch to Mike Yastrzemski, who doubled down the left field line. Prior to that, Sampson had only given up a walk and an error.

The error came in the first inning with one out, with the error coming off Stetson Allie. Sampson recovered to retire the next 18 batters, before giving up a walk in the seventh inning. Allie redeemed himself in the eighth inning, making two nice picks at first base, including a great stretch on a low throw by Jarek Cunningham. Allie did a complete split, which put him in great position to catch the ball low, but also extend from the bag to get the out on the close play.

Sampson was extremely efficient tonight, only having 87 pitches through eight innings, getting a lot of ground ball outs. He continued getting strong defense in the ninth, as Jarek Cunningham made a great diving stop down the line to start the inning. After giving up the double, he got a ground ball back to the mound, and a shallow fly ball to complete the first complete game shutout for Altoona since Brad Lincoln did it in 2009. He only needed 98 pitches, with 70 of those going for strikes. He had an amazing 16:6 K/BB ratio.

This would have been the third no hitter in Altoona Curve history. The most recent came almost a year ago today on July 26th, 2013, when Ethan Hollingsworth, Jason Townsend, Jhonathan Ramos and Ryan Beckman combined for the accomplishment. The first one was on April 23rd, 2002, completed by Adrian Burnside, Neal McDade and Chris Spurling. This also would have been the first complete game no hitter since Justin Wilson threw an eight inning no hitter for Indianapolis in 2012, with the game being shortened due to rain.

Sampson now has a 2.58 ERA in 122 innings this year, along with an 86:28 K/BB ratio. According to Charie Wilmoth at Bucs Dugout, he could see Indianapolis by the end of the year.

The Pirates usually give pitchers about 150 innings in Altoona, but also give them opportunities to pitch in the playoffs if Indianapolis has made it and Altoona is out of the race. Sampson could get around 150 innings by the end of August, allowing him to move up to Indianapolis, pitch in the post season, and prepare to start the 2015 season at the level. He’s got a chance to make it to Pittsburgh in 2015, and with his improved changeup this year, and a nice fastball/curveball combo, he could be a sleeper middle of the rotation option.

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Joely Rodriguez Moving to the Bullpen in Altoona http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/joely-rodriguez-moving-to-the-bullpen-in-altoona.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/joely-rodriguez-moving-to-the-bullpen-in-altoona.html#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 01:43:12 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=83954 Joely Rodriguez came out of the bullpen in Altoona tonight after starting pitcher Orlando Castro went five innings. Altoona is just coming off their All-Star break, so I wanted to confirm that the move wasn’t due to the time off. According to Pirates’ farm director Larry Broadway, Rodriguez will be coming out of the bullpen “for the time being.”

Rodriguez has a 4.44 ERA in 99.1 innings this year with Altoona, along with a 4.9 K/9 and a 2.9 BB/9 ratio. He’s been hit around a lot, and isn’t looking like the top lefty prospect who combined for a 2.70 ERA in two levels of A-ball last year.

The move reminds me of what happened with Justin Wilson a few years ago in Indianapolis. Wilson started the year with a 4.14 ERA in 113 innings, with a6.6 K/9 and a 4.6 BB/9 ratio. Wilson remained in the bullpen the rest of the season to work on getting back on track. He returned to the rotation the following year, and pitched as a starter until the Pirates needed him as a reliever in the majors later in the year.

I’d expect Rodriguez to return to the rotation at some point. He’s a lefty who can hit 94-95 MPH with his fastball on a consistent basis, working in the low-90s. He’s got a slider and a changeup, both of which can be average pitches or better. An optimistic view has him as a number three starter. A more conservative upside has him as a back of the rotation starter or a strong lefty reliever, similar to Wilson. Considering the pitching prospects that the Pirates have in the upper levels, Rodriguez might be limited to a relief role if he remains in the organization.

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Pirates Hoping to Fix the Control of a Hard Throwing Right-Handed Relief Prospect http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/pirates-hoping-to-fix-the-control-of-a-hard-throwing-right-handed-relief-prospect.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/pirates-hoping-to-fix-the-control-of-a-hard-throwing-right-handed-relief-prospect.html#comments Sat, 12 Jul 2014 14:29:17 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=83549 John Holdzkom is making the most of his first opportunity above High-A this season. Much of the success that he has seen this season is due to a lively fastball and some new-found control.

After beginning the season with Amarillo in the Independent Leagues, Holdzkom arrived with a bang with the Pirates organization, signing as a minor league free agent at the end of June. In six innings with Altoona, he allowed just one hit and he struck out ten, while walking two before earning a promotion. In a pair of appearances with Indianapolis, Holdzkom has not seen any drop off. He has worked four innings, striking out three and allowing just one walk and a hit.

“It feels good,” Holdzkom said. “I am not trying to change too much physically or mentally. I am just trying to go out there and hit a spot.”

Hitting those spots have been a main issue for Holdzkom up until this season. In 2013, Holdzkom walked 36 hitters in 43.2 innings with two different Independent League squads. However, strikeouts have never been an issue, as he fanned 52 hitters in that span last season, posting an ERA of 2.89.

However, this was not where the baseball journey started for the 6-foot-7 righty. Holdzkom credits this baseball journey with aiding him in working out some of the control demons that have haunted his entire career.

“I have battled a lot of control and health issues from 2008 to 2012,” Holdzkom said. “There was a lot of time spent in extended and I went and played in Australia the last two winters. That helped me get a lot of repetitions and get more comfortable on the mound. I was playing Indy ball in Texas, South Dakota, and Iowa the last year and a half. The more repetitions that I got, the more comfortable that I got.”

With these repetitions, Holdzkom was able to work on a game plan and getting mechanically sound. Getting the opportunity to work out the kinks and get his long body repeating the delivery is something that he has taken into 2014.

In his last season playing affiliated ball, Holdzkom was with High-A Bakersfield for Cincinnati in 2012. He walked 13 hitters in 8.2 innings. Prior to this, he was a fourth round pick by the Mets in 2004, and struck out 100 hitters in 2008 between Rookie league and Low-A in that organization. However, he also walked 57 hitters in 83.2 innings. The 2008 season also brought an elbow injury and ultimately Tommy John surgery.

“I was out close to 21 months,” Holdzkom said. “I had to deal with feeling so naked on the mound when I got back out there because it is such a long layoff.”

Holdzkom works with a fastball and splitter primarily. His fastball certainly has some life and sits between 93 and 95. It’s a pitch that has previously hit 101 MPH in his career, prior to his injuries. The splitter is between 85 and 86. In addition, he is working on establishing a curveball as a third pitch to throw hitters off the heater more.

“On a good day, my fastball has a little cut to it,” Holdzkom said. “I can just rely on that pretty much. I throw the splitter whenever the catcher calls it. I try not to think too much out there. I have been working on a curveball that I like to mix in here and there. At the higher levels, you really need a third pitch. I have thrown it off and on my whole [career]. It was just inconsistent.”

Holdzkom said that the progress with the curveball has been fine and he is “just waiting for the right time to bust it out.” He admitted that he throws about 90 percent fastballs, so working in a second off pitch would be a nice opportunity to change the look for hitters.

Holdzkom said that his only goal the rest of the season is to be ready to throw strikes when the manager calls his name, regardless of the level he is at.

The fastball that Holdzkom offers certainly catches eye after two appearances in Indianapolis. The recent history, plus the quality stuff quickly brings another Indianapolis reliever to mind in Andy Oliver. Oliver has been working with Pirates’ minor league coaches on ironing out his control, and it has led to a 3.3 BB/9 since the start of June. The same work for Holdzkom could create similar success to Oliver. Despite the lengthy journey, Holdzkom is only 26 and could have some quality seasons left in his arm. If the control issues stay in check, he has the stuff to potentially compete for a bullpen spot one day, especially if the curveball progresses.

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Nick Kingham Shows a Strong Changeup in His Continued Success With Indianapolis http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/nick-kingham-shows-a-strong-changeup-in-his-continued-success-with-indianapolis.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/nick-kingham-shows-a-strong-changeup-in-his-continued-success-with-indianapolis.html#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 14:30:36 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=83472 There was only one situation that gave Nick Kingham any trouble in his start Thursday night with Indianapolis – the stretch. Fortunately for Kingham, he did not face the situation until the sixth inning.

Not only was Kingham perfect through the first 5.2 innings, he was simply dominant against Columbus, who boasts the third best team OPS in the International League.

The final line for Kingham was six shutout innings, allowing only two hits and a walk, while striking out four. It was a nice rebound performance for Kingham, who allowed 10 hits and six earned runs on July 5.

The difference maker for Kingham is the changeup, which was geared in Thursday. Kingham was hitting from 91-93 on the fastball and 84-87 on the changeup and curveball. Of the off-speed pitches, a vast majority were that overpowering changeup. He told me a few weeks back that, despite the gap not being drastic, he banks on the off-speed pitches to throw batters off his fastball.

On Thursday, it was no different. Kingham used the fastball to set up the off-speed pitches later in the outing, particularly the second time through the order. In the first two innings, he threw 16 fastballs, compared to nine off-speed pitches in that span. In the first two innings, he started all six of the hitters with the heater. In the second inning, Kingham followed up by throwing a first pitch fastball to two of the three hitters.

Once the game got to the third inning, the spread was more balanced. In the fourth inning, which marked the second time through the order, the pitches were an even six fastballs and six off speed pitches. In the fourth, he started two of the three hitters off with a changeup. In the fifth, it was all three with the changeup.

The only trouble that Kingham ran into all night was in the sixth. This also marked the first time that he threw out of the stretch, as Kingham was four outs away from a seven-inning minor league double-header perfect game. After he allowed his first hit of the game with two outs, Kingham lost some of the pinpoint command that he had all night. With the runner on, he threw six balls and three strikes to the next two hitters. He fell behind both 2-0. Both of the hits that he allowed were on the fastball.

However, Kingham responded with the bases loaded to strike out Cleveland slugging prospect Jesus Aguilar with that change-up(video below).

Kingham also told me that he looks to the off-speed pitches as his put away pitches. That was also apparent on Thursday, as all four of his strikeouts were on off speed pitches – three changeups and a curveball in the dirt.

Outside of the tough outing on July 5, Kingham has been nearly perfect. He has allowed just one earned run in 32.2 innings. The strikeout to walk ratio is at 30:6. With this kind of success with Indianapolis, Kingham is making a serious case to get a look with the Pirates in September.

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JaCoby Jones: A Power Hitting Shortstop Prospect? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/jacoby-jones-a-power-hitting-shortstop-prospect.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/jacoby-jones-a-power-hitting-shortstop-prospect.html#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 16:32:06 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=83353 The West Virginia Power have been familiar with breakout seasons from prospects the last few years. Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson broke out at the level in 2012. Tyler Glasnow had a breakout season in 2013. The 2014 breakout player could be JaCoby Jones.

The Pirates drafted Jones in the third round last year as an outfielder, but gave him some work at shortstop in his first pro season. This year they came into the season with the plan of moving Jones to shortstop full-time. He’s athletic enough to play the position, and has some good tools, although the results have been mixed. That’s to be expected from a guy learning a position.

The impressive thing about Jones this year has been his power. Through Tuesday’s game, he had 14 doubles and 14 homers in 285 at-bats this season, with a .491 slugging percentage and a .203 ISO. Those are impressive numbers from a shortstop, which is why Jones will get plenty of opportunities to learn the position.

“When we drafted him we felt he had a lot of tools,” Neal Huntington said about Jones. “He just needed baseball repetitions and just needed an opportunity to go out and play on a regular basis. And JaCoby, we put him at shortstop and wanted to see if the athleticism could play there. Made some errors but he’s grown, he’s gotten better. Our guys have been very encouraged with what they’ve seen there. Obviously the bat, the speed on the bases, the athleticism, there is some thunder to the bat, command of the zone fairly well. Performed in his first full season out as an above average offensive player in the league. He’s doing a nice job.”

There have been some flaws at the plate, specifically a 26.4% strikeout rate. However, the offense has been impressive overall, with a .288/.357/.491 line. Aside from the power, Jones is also getting on base at a good rate. Considering that Jones is a college guy, the offensive success would probably warrant a promotion soon. The only thing holding him back might be that defense.

Bradenton has Adam Frazier as their shortstop. He’s a speedy infielder who hasn’t been hitting well this season, but has started to pick up the pace a bit with the bat. The Pirates wouldn’t be able to play both guys at shortstop, obviously, which means they either need to decide between keeping Jones in West Virginia for shortstop reps, or bringing him up to Bradenton to challenge the bat, while basically giving up on Frazier as a shortstop prospect.

While the bat warrants a promotion, it might be best to keep the current alignment, giving both guys a chance to develop at the position. It’s no guarantee that either one will make it as a shortstop. Jones needs work defensively to learn the position, while Frazier needs to continue to show improvements with his offense. I’d say that Frazier has the better chance of sticking at shortstop from a defensive standpoint, but Jones has the chance to be the more valuable shortstop due to his offense and power. Those two things are showing up on the stat sheet, but the key thing is his work learning the position. We’ll have to see where the Pirates decide to have him work on his defensive skills.

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Altoona Sends Six Players to the Eastern League All-Star Game http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/altoona-sends-six-players-to-the-eastern-league-all-star-game.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/altoona-sends-six-players-to-the-eastern-league-all-star-game.html#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 18:10:06 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=83171 The Eastern League All-Star rosters have been announced, and the Altoona Curve will be sending six players to the game. Right handed pitchers Adrian Sampson and Ryan Beckman, catcher Elias Diaz, outfielder Willy Garcia, shortstop Alen Hanson, and infielder/outfielder Drew Maggi have all been selected to the game. This is the third All-Star selection for Hanson, and the first for every other player. The game will be hosted in Altoona on July 16th at 7 PM. Here are some notes on how each player is performing.

Adrian Sampson – Has a 2.82 ERA in 99 innings, with a 75:20 K/BB ratio. Sampson’s numbers have been inflated recent, after giving up 11 runs in 13.1 innings over two starts. He was named our Pitcher of the Month in the entire system during the month of May.

Ryan Beckman – He has a 3.18 ERA in 34 innings in relief, with a 23:13 K/BB ratio. Beckman looked like a promising reliever when he made the jump to Altoona in 2012, but went down with Tommy John surgery. After a year of rehab last year, he looks like he’s back on track, with the chance to be a potential middle relief option in the majors.

Elias Diaz – He has a .328/.373/.440 line in 232 at-bats this season. Diaz has always had good defensive skills, but his offensive potential has been limited by his raw skills at the plate. He’s turning those raw skills into production this year, and has propelled himself into our top 30.

Willy Garcia – He’s not hitting for average and not getting on base, with a .248/.285/.481 line in 270 at-bats. Garcia has been hitting for power, with 17 doubles, five triples, and 12 homers. He’s also striking out a ton, with a 32.5% strikeout rate. The homers are flashy, and get him on the All-Star team, but the other stats don’t speak well to his prospect status.

Alen Hanson – He’s got a .271/.306/.434 line in 325 at-bats, showing the ability to hit for average, and showing some nice power from the middle infield spots. Hanson has had some struggles, starting off the season with two slow weeks at the plate, then having a rough stretch in June before being benched for a week. He has also struggled defensively, with 25 errors on the season. Even with the inconsistent performance, his offense and his power is some of the best from a middle infield prospect.

Drew Maggi – Maggi is a little old for the Eastern League, but has some good numbers in a utility role, with a .276 average and a .390 OBP, along with 20 stolen bases. He’s not hitting for much power, but probably made the team due to the average/OBP combo.

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Nick Kingham Has His Season Back in Control http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/nick-kingham-has-his-season-back-in-control.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/07/nick-kingham-has-his-season-back-in-control.html#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 17:42:32 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=82767 After posting a 3.04 ERA in 12 games with Altoona, Nick Kingham has been even more dominant in his first four starts with Indianapolis.

Kingham has posted a 0.43 ERA in his first 26.2 innings in Triple-A. He has a strikeout to walk ratio of 20:5 with Indianapolis. The International League is hitting just .169 against him through the four outings.

Kingham struggled with control early in the season with Altoona. He walked three hitters in each of his first three starts this season. He also walked seven hitters combined in a pair of back-to-back starts on May 10 and May 16. He had 4.4 BB/9 in 43 innings over his first eight starts. In his starts with Indianapolis he has walked five total hitters and no more than two in any one outing. This command is what has fueled his success at the new level.

“I am just trying to get ahead of hitters,” Kingham said. “With the first pitch, I want to put the ball over the plate to make them swing and end the at-bat as soon as I can. My goal is to have them put the ball in play in three or less pitches.”

As for getting his command back in check, there was nothing drastic that he worked on mechanically. It was mostly just getting worked in and getting comfortable.

“It kind of just clicked together,” Kingham said. “It just wasn’t very polished at the beginning of the season. Now that mid-season is coming around, I am getting in better shape, delivery-wise, and things are just coming together a lot better.”

Not surprising with the walk numbers, Kingham is getting ahead of hitters and staying ahead. Over 63 percent of his pitches in Indianapolis have been strikes. Along with the low walk numbers, Kingham has allowed just 15 hits while going aggressively after batters.

The control issues from earlier in the season were uncharted territory for Kingham in his rise through the organization. In 2013, he allowed just 44 free passes in 143.1 innings between Altoona and Bradenton. In 2012, with West Virginia, he walked 36 batters in 127 innings.

Kingham isn’t an extreme ground ball pitcher like most of the upper level starters in the organization. This year he has a 46.8% ground ball rate between Altoona and Indianapolis. Being more of a power pitcher, this stat is less crucial for Kingham than for sinker ball pitchers, who comprise most of the upper level starters. However, the split being this close is encouraging.

As for the recent success, Kingham credits a great deal of it to confidence and belief in his stuff.

“I am just trusting myself, really, more than anything,” Kingham said. “I am believing in my pitches and really trusting that it is right pitch to throw. I have full conviction in it and just going right at the hitter and attacking them.”

As a pitcher who works with a fastball, curveball, and changeup, Kingham said that he takes an approach on the mound of looking to establish the fastball and place the ball wherever he wants. However, the pitch that he feels just as comfortable with is one that he has seen tremendous progress with.

“My changeup, I feel, has come a long way since Low-A,” Kingham said. “I feel that is the most improved and what I have the most confidence in, other than my fastball.”

He said that he looks to get about a six to eight mile per hour difference on the change-up from the fastball, just to keep hitters from sitting on the heater and to mess with timing. Kingham said that his curveball is used as a get-me-over first pitch or a put away pitch for strikeouts. However, he has great feel for all three right now.

As for the rest of the season and a possible late season promotion, Kingham said that he will look to “keep the foot on the pedal and stay as consistent as I can” throughout the remainder of the campaign.

Kingham appears to have the making of a solid middle of the rotation big league starter, with top of the rotation potential. It has been traditional for the Pirates to allow its pitchers to get plenty of innings at each level, rather than rushing them to the show. This method, combined with the pitching depth toward the top of the organization, points to Kingham getting a look at earliest September this season, if at all. However, with the uncertainty of the rotation next year, Kingham should get a look coming out of the spring, depending on how free agency is handled. The upside of his stuff, combined with being just 22-years-old, shows that the sky is the limit for Kingham’s future.

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