Pirates Prospects » Analysis http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Wed, 28 Jan 2015 23:39:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 The Other Tall, Hard-Throwing Pirates Pitcher Returning From Tommy John Surgery http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/the-other-tall-hard-throwing-pirates-pitcher-returning-from-tommy-john-surgery.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/the-other-tall-hard-throwing-pirates-pitcher-returning-from-tommy-john-surgery.html#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 17:00:34 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92089 Jameson Taillon became the biggest profile Tommy John case for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014, but another top pitching prospect also underwent the procedure. Clay Holmes went down a few weeks before Taillon, undergoing the surgery in mid-March. Holmes doesn’t have the same skills as Taillon, but he is a promising pitching prospect to follow, rating this year as the 17th best prospect in the system.

Just like Taillon, Holmes has been getting back on the mound recently, getting ready to return during the 2015 season. Since his surgery came before Taillon’s, his rehab also started earlier. While Taillon threw his first bullpen session last week, Holmes had been throwing bullpens as early as December. He took a break, then started throwing bullpens again two weeks ago. A video of a bullpen session from last week can be found at the bottom of this post. Holmes has been throwing his fastball so far, but is to the point where he will start adding changeups and then curveballs in his bullpen sessions.

“The way my arm feels now, I feel 100 percent. I can’t say that I am 100 percent, but I feel 100 percent,” Holmes said on his rehab progress. “Mentally, now, I’ve kind of checked out of the rehab stage and I’m getting ready for the season like I would any other year.”

The 2014 season was going to be something to look forward to from Holmes. He was going to be making the jump to the Bradenton rotation, while hoping to build off a strong second half from West Virginia in 2013. He started the 2013 season with a 5.08 ERA and a 44:47 K/BB ratio in 67.1 innings. He finished the season with a 2.79 ERA in 51.2 innings, along with a 46:22 K/BB ratio. It was a similar path that Nick Kingham took in 2012 — a poor first half, followed by a quietly dominant second half and an increase in command. Kingham followed that up with a breakout season in Bradenton in 2013. There was hope that Holmes would do the same in 2014.

The only thing that has changed with that hope is the year. Holmes could still follow-up on his success in West Virginia, and emerge as one of the top pitching prospects in the system. He’s a tall pitcher who was hitting 94-95 MPH with his fastball in 2013, and has a curveball that is an out pitch when he is commanding it well. The biggest issue he had in the past was his control and command, although Tommy John surgery may have helped him.

“It’s probably been one of the best learning experiences for my career,” Holmes said about the injury. “You don’t have to worry about media, numbers, you don’t have to worry about any of that. It’s kind of just a good time to focus on my body, what I have to do, my throwing. As far as my body and throwing aspect, I think I’m probably at my best now than I have been my whole career.”

As to how the injury helped him build towards better control, Holmes said he now has a better feel for his body, which is one of the biggest challenges for tall pitchers at a young age.

“Things start coming together, you get a better idea of how your body works, how you do things,” Holmes said. “Just get comfortable with who you are, and kind of have a better idea of what you’re doing. All of that combined leads to, ultimately, better command.”

Holmes should be ready at some point in April, and possibly Opening Day. However, coming off Tommy John surgery could mean his innings will be limited and more controlled in 2015. The Pirates also seem to want to save innings for late in the season, rather than shutting down a pitcher early.

“That’s one thing they have told me, they don’t want that to happen,” Holmes said about the possibility of an early shut-down. “So if anything, it’s going to be my start is late so I can finish the year.”

Neal Huntington talked about the rehab process for Holmes and how it compares to Jameson Taillon’s rehab process, despite Holmes having zero shot at the majors this year.

“Ideally it should mirror Jameson’s,” Huntington said. “We want to be conservative with him because these are guys that we think have a chance to be really good Major League pitchers for many years down the road. We want to be conservative with them. We want to have them cross each hurdle as they can and should. We can make up innings in Arizona. We can make up innings in instructional league if the season runs out on us. So we’ve got alternatives, and we’ll do what we need to do to build their innings the right way.”

One challenge for Holmes is that he’s Rule 5 eligible at the end of the 2015 season. He is a lock to be protected, due to the fact that the Pirates paid him a ninth-round record $1.2 M in the 2011 draft. He has also lived up to early expectations, adding velocity since being drafted, and showing promise with the results. The Pirates have protected pitchers who haven’t seen Double-A ball yet, with the most recent example being Joely Rodriguez after the 2013 season. For that reason, don’t expect Holmes to be aggressively pushed just because of his pending Rule 5 eligibility. That said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Pirates took it slow with him during the 2015 season, then gave him additional innings during the off-season in the Fall Instructional League and possibly the Arizona Fall League.

Holmes is a guy who should make the majors in the future, and has the upside of a middle of the rotation starter who can handle 200 innings a year. To get there, he is going to have to continue his success from the second half of the West Virginia season in 2013, continue to improve his command, and show that he can return from Tommy John surgery as good or better than he was before the injury.

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New MLB Commissioner Wants to End Defensive Shifts http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/new-mlb-commissioner-wants-to-end-defensive-shifts.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/new-mlb-commissioner-wants-to-end-defensive-shifts.html#comments Sun, 25 Jan 2015 17:26:26 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92469 When Rob Manfred was named commissioner, it was said that he was mostly a continuation of Bud Selig, with similar approaches to the game. Under Selig, the game was constantly in favor of big market teams, and it seemed like every time a small market team found an advantage, it was taken away. It looks like the more things change, the more they stay the same, as Manfred is following that path.

This week marks the end of Selig’s reign as MLB’s commissioner. You’d think that would be a good thing, but Manfred immediately shows that things will either stay bad or get worse. He recently commented to ESPN about the growing trend of defensive shifts, and said that he would be open to eliminating shifts.

Shifts have helped smart teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates gain an edge over the competition. Over the last few years, the Pirates have focused heavily on defensive shifts, catcher pitch framing, and either finding ground ball pitchers, or adjusting pitchers to throw more ground balls. That is a big reason why they’ve transformed guys like A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, Mark Melancon, Vance Worley, and others from some of the worst statistical pitchers in the game, to having some of the best numbers in the game. And that process has allowed the Pirates to reach the playoffs in each of the last two years.

In the video linked above, Manfred offered the following comments in response to a question about how shifts might be killing the game.

“We have really smart people working in the game, and they’re going to figure out ways to get a competitive advantage,” Manfred said to ESPN. “I think it’s incumbent upon us in the commissioner’s office to look at the advantages that are produced, and say, ‘Is this what we want to happen?'”

If there is one thing MLB should not be doing, it is focusing on controlling how the game is played. It’s one thing to try and speed up the game with pitch clocks. But when you start to take away competitive advantages like defensive shifts, you start the game down a slippery slope. Where does it end?

What if a team decides to optimize its lineup by putting the best hitters at the top, rather than the middle of the order, so that the best hitters see more plate appearances during the season?

How about bunting? At one point in time, that wasn’t a part of the game. That was a long time ago, and baseball obviously is open to the process now. But how is that process for hitting any different than the process of shifts for fielding? The only difference here is that shifting is new, and hasn’t been a precise strategy for years. And if you want a fielding precedent, what about back in the time where fielders had to stand on the bag? Obviously baseball was fine moving away from that traditional method of fielding.

And how would MLB enforce shifting? Shifting isn’t always extreme. For the infielders, it could just mean putting the shortstop closer to the bag, rather than on the second base side. For outfielders, it could mean playing a player deep in center field. Shifting also includes moving the defense in to anticipate a bunt, or playing deep for double play depth. Teams have been doing that for years, and there’s never been an issue.

When Manfred talks about MLB questioning what they want to happen, it makes me wonder: what exactly does MLB want to happen?

On the surface, it seems that MLB wants to remove the advantages by the smart teams, and make things simple. To win, you just have to get the best players. The teams who can easily get the best players are teams in the biggest markets. Teams like the Pirates have turned to things like shifting because they can’t get the best players, and thus have to turn to the smartest strategies. When MLB says it doesn’t want the game being played this way, they are saying that they don’t want teams like the Pirates finding advantages.

Or there’s the player-specific approach to shifting. It used to be that you feared someone like David Ortiz or any big left-handed power hitter. Now you just play the second baseman in shallow right field, move the shortstop over to the second base side of the bag, move the third baseman to shortstop, pitch inside, and in the process, increase your chances of getting that player to ground out to the right side of the infield. Shifting has changed the game to the point where you take away an advantage that these dominant hitters once had.

These hitters have flaws, and there is an obvious way to attack those flaws and reduce the effects of their bat. So is MLB saying that they would rather have these hitters protected from teams attacking their flaws? Where does that end? Do we eliminate the LOOGY position and make it impossible for teams to bring in a lefty to face Pedro Alvarez in the late innings? Should teams be forced to pitch to Andrew McCutchen with first base open and runners in scoring position?

When Manfred was elected the new commissioner, I had a small amount of hope that he might bring a change, even though he was seen as the next Selig. In his first week, that hope was immediately destroyed. The best way to sum this up is by looking at a reaction by two General Managers, via Jeff Passan, to this news.

You know what casual baseball fans want? Yankees vs Red Sox. Big market teams winning. They don’t care about the Pirates, Rays, Athletics, or any other small market team. The only way baseball can cater to the casual fan is to rig the game in favor of those big market teams, while taking away any advantage small market teams have.

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Starling Marte Ranks Near the Top Among All Left Fielders http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/starling-marte-ranks-near-the-top-among-all-left-fielders.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/starling-marte-ranks-near-the-top-among-all-left-fielders.html#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 03:35:18 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92419 On MLB Network, they are in the middle of their Top Ten Right Now, ranking the top ten players for each position in the Majors. On Thursday night, they did both the right fielders and left fielders. Gregory Polanco wasn’t even mentioned for right field, which shouldn’t be a surprise based on how deep the position is and his prolonged slump, plus no track record. For left fielders, Starling Marte was ranked fourth overall. Brian Kenny, who hosts the show, said he could see Marte moving up to the top spot in next year’s show.

Other rankings from the experts on the show had Marte all over the place and while the panel of Mike Petriello from Fangraphs, Vince Gennaro from SABR and Bill James didn’t give their top tens, they did all comment on Marte. Petriello has him in the top two, while James only seems to see Marte’s BB/SO rate and ignores everything else, so he didn’t even rank him for the second straight year. Gennaro said he had him in his top ten, but near the bottom. The co-host of the show with Brian Kenny was Eric Byrnes, who ranked Marte sixth. Kenny had him second overall, trailing only Alex Gordon.

Coming into last year, Marte was ranked sixth overall, so he has moved up the list. He ended up hitting .291/.356/.453 in 2014, stealing 30 bases and posting a 5.6 WAR, which ranked eighth in the National League.

Last week, the show named Jordy Mercer the sixth best shortstop in baseball and Andrew McCutchen was named the best center fielder.

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Pirates Will Play the Cardinals on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball This Year http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pirates-will-play-the-cardinals-on-espn-sunday-night-baseball-this-year.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pirates-will-play-the-cardinals-on-espn-sunday-night-baseball-this-year.html#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 18:27:11 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92406 The Pittsburgh Pirates have announced a few schedule changes for the upcoming season, due to a few games being moved to national TV. The affected games are as follows.

**Saturday, July 11 vs. the St. Louis Cardinals has been changed from 4:05 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. and will be an exclusive FOX national telecast.

**Sunday, July 12 game vs. the St. Louis Cardinals has been selected by ESPN for its exclusive National Sunday Night Baseball telecast. As a result, the first pitch will move from 1:35 p.m. to 8:05 p.m. The Pirates played the Cardinals last year on Sunday Night Baseball on May 11th.

**Saturday, August 8 vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers has been moved from the originally-scheduled time of 7:05 p.m. to 4:05 p.m. to accommodate the national telecast on FoxSports1.

**Saturday, August 22 vs. the San Francisco Giants has also been moved from the originally-scheduled time of 7:05 p.m. to 4:05 p.m. to accommodate the national telecast on FoxSports1.

The big thing here is the Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN. The timing of the game will be right around the time of the year where playoff races start to get serious, and should hopefully feature the Pirates and Cardinals battling it out at the top of the NL Central.

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Pirates Ranked Fifth Overall By Buster Olney http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pirates-ranked-fifth-overall-by-buster-olney.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pirates-ranked-fifth-overall-by-buster-olney.html#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 17:39:40 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92249 Buster Olney has been providing his top ten rankings in various categories over the last week and the Pittsburgh Pirates have received some very favorable ratings, so their overall ranking shouldn’t surprise anyone. On Monday morning, he posted his top ten teams in baseball and had the Pirates fifth overall. The balance of power has swayed to the National League this year, as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals and St Louis Cardinals are all ranked ahead of the Pirates.

Olney thinks the Pirates will make their third straight postseason appearance as long as Gerrit Cole stays healthy. Cole is the only player that he mentioned on the Pirates, so Olney believes he is the key to their success this season.

As for other NL teams in the mix, there aren’t anymore listed in his top ten, so there seems to be a clear difference between the top four teams in the league and the rest of the NL in his mind. The Giants, Marlins and Padres all got an honorable mention.

The rest of the rankings for Olney can be found in this link of the best outfields in baseball. The Pirates were among the best lineups, best defensive teams, best rotations and best bullpens as well.

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Buster Olney Ranks Pirates’ Outfield as the Second Best in Majors http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/buster-olney-ranks-pirates-outfield-as-the-second-best-in-majors.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/buster-olney-ranks-pirates-outfield-as-the-second-best-in-majors.html#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 16:31:12 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92241 Buster Olney continued his Major League rankings, going with the best outfields in baseball(subscription required) on Sunday. He ranked the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield as the second best in the Majors, trailing only the Florida Marlins. Olney said that the Pirates could have the best outfield in baseball next year if Gregory Polanco takes a step forward. That shouldn’t be difficult for Polanco, who had a great AAA season before coming up last year and starting off great with the Pirates, which was then followed by him going through a prolonged slump. The 22-year-old(turned 23 in Sept) right fielder finished with a .650 OPS in 89 games with the Pirates.

Olney praised Starling Marte for his second half surge after a rough start to his season and he said that Andrew McCutchen seemed to be a better overall player in 2014 than he was in 2013 when he won the National League MVP award. Besides offense, these three players provide the Pirates with one of the fastest(possibly the fastest) and best defensive outfields in baseball.

His earlier rankings had the Pirates among the best bullpens, lineups and rotations, plus near the top for their defense. Surprisingly, the infield group(which just got stronger with the addition of Jung Ho Kang) didn’t even get a mention among the 17 teams he listed.

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Jung Ho Kang Will Begin His Career in the Majors as a Bat off the Bench For the Pirates http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/jung-ho-kang-will-begin-his-career-in-the-majors-as-a-bat-off-the-bench-for-the-pirates.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/jung-ho-kang-will-begin-his-career-in-the-majors-as-a-bat-off-the-bench-for-the-pirates.html#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 22:58:55 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92181 It was no surprise that Jung Ho Kang would be signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates this week. The rumors first came out last week, saying that Kang would be finalizing a deal by the middle of this week. Then there were rumors at the start of this week saying that Kang had agreed to a deal, and would be flying to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. All of that happened, and the Pirates officially announced Kang’s deal today. Terms of the deal were also announced, with Kang receiving $11 M over four years, including a $5.5 M option for a fifth year, and a $250,000 buyout.

The big question was what kind of role Kang would play. Most of the speculation was that he would start off as a utility player on the bench, and would start his career in the majors. However, there were some questions about whether he would start, due to his salary, and whether he would begin the season in the minors. Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington answered both of those questions today in a conference call with the media.

“As he comes into camp, he will very much complement our existing Major League team,” Huntington said. “We are looking forward to confirming our beliefs about him as a shortstop. He has played some third. Our people feel he has every ability in the world to play some second. But right now he’ll come into camp as a complementary player that brings a lot of bat off the bench, that brings a lot of depth, and as he transitions and as he adjusts to Major League Baseball and to the United States in general, we look forward to helping him achieve his potential, which we believe to be a quality Major League player.”

Huntington added later that Kang is looking forward to his role growing as he shows the Pirates he is ready to take on more. However, he quieted the rumors that Kang is the long-term replacement for Neil Walker, as long as he lives up to expectations.

“There’s no set script that if he becomes what we expect him to be, we’re going to trade Player X or we’re going to move Player Y,” Huntington said, responding to a question about whether Kang could replace someone in the lineup in the future.

There was a debate earlier this week about whether Kang would challenge Jordy Mercer at shortstop, sparked by a quote from Kang saying he was confident he could outplay Mercer. Huntington said that Kang is a confident player, but that the way the quote was represented is not how he said it. The quote was pieced together from a series of questions, and wasn’t a direct challenge as it sounded. Huntington added that Kang was like any other major league player that believed they could start, citing Josh Harrison as an example of a guy who believed he should be a regular for years, prior to winning that role last year.

“He understands that Josh Harrison has earned every opportunity in the world that he has,” Huntington said. “Jordy Mercer has earned every opportunity in the world that he has. Neil Walker has earned every opportunity in the world that he has. And he understands that Pedro is in a transition process. He’s aware of our history of playing guys that play well. I think if you asked any one of our players if they go to a new organization and if they can be the starter in that role, the easy answer is yes.”

As for the chances of Kang starting off his career in the minors, Huntington said there was no chance of that happening.

“We have zero intent to send him to the minor leagues,” Huntington said. “Our belief is that the best way to transition him to Major League Baseball is by playing Major League Baseball.”

Huntington left Pirate City on Wednesday to meet Kang in Pittsburgh. It was the first time he met the infielder, and he said that he was impressed with the meeting.

“He’s intelligent. He’s confident. He’s passionate,” Huntington said. “He loves the game of baseball. And he’s looking forward to coming in and helping a team take the next step to get deeper into the post-season. And he’s excited for the challenges that Major League Baseball will present him.”

The Pirates weren’t unfamiliar with Kang. They had scouted him extensively, including seeing him live multiple times, talking about him to people who played in Korea, and watching an “exhaustive” amount of video. They even have a raw projection system aimed at comparing KBO stats to the United States, which comes with the challenge that Kang is the first hitter making the jump from the KBO.

Huntington said that the Pirates liked Kang’s offensive upside, his raw power, his ability to use the whole field with power, and his versatility on the field defensively. He also added an interesting note about Kang’s ability to adjust during the game, not just from at-bat to at-bat, but from pitch to pitch.

“What also intrigues us is his ability that he shows to adjust, not only as a game plan, but to different pitches and different parts of the zone,” Huntington said. “We talked with a number of pitchers that competed against him in Korea, and there was no one way you can get him out on a consistent basis.”

Kang will go to Arizona to train with his Nexen club, due to his desire to stay in his routine. He will join the Pirates in Bradenton when Spring Training begins next month.

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Buster Olney Ranks the Pirates Among the Best Defensive Teams http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/buster-olney-ranks-the-pirates-among-the-best-defensive-teams.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/buster-olney-ranks-the-pirates-among-the-best-defensive-teams.html#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 15:30:31 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92127 As was mentioned here yesterday, Buster Olney gave some very favorable rankings for the Pittsburgh Pirates, rating them near the top in baseball for their starting rotation, bullpen and lineup. I mentioned yesterday that their bench would likely rank very high once Jung Ho Kang is signed, but I missed out on the defensive side of things. Olney ranks the Pirates’ defense as the 8th best in the league, the same spot he has their bullpen and lineup.

The #8 spot may actually be a little low considering the outfield defense of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco, plus the impressive season Jordy Mercer had on defense. The Pirates seem solid behind the plate with Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, which he notes in the article(subscription required). Olney sort of gives the team a back-handed compliment when he says their overall defense, especially the play in the infield, has more to do with the positioning they use on defense. The defensive shifts the Pirates employ, makes players like Neil Walker and Jordy Mercer better defenders according to Olney.

The Pirates ranked fourth among NL teams on his list, trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers, St Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds. All three of those teams rank in his top five.

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Will the Pirates Avoid the Stephen Strasburg Shutdown with Jameson Taillon? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/will-the-pirates-avoid-the-stephen-strasburg-shutdown-with-jameson-taillon.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/will-the-pirates-avoid-the-stephen-strasburg-shutdown-with-jameson-taillon.html#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 15:41:58 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92038 During the 2012 season, the Washington Nationals won 98 games, taking the NL East division, and making the post-season for the first time since moving to Washington in 2005, and the first time in franchise history since the Montreal Expos made it in 1981. Despite this success, the Nationals drew a lot of criticism over the fact that they shut down their top young pitcher, Stephen Strasburg.

The right-handed phenom was coming off Tommy John surgery, and had pitched 159.1 innings before being shut down in early September with an aim to preserving his health in the future. The Nationals lost 3-2 in the Division Series, which raised questions as to how they would have done with Strasburg pitching in the post-season. It also raised the question of why they didn’t start him later in the season, so that he’d be available for September and the playoffs.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to be in a similar situation with Jameson Taillon this year. Taillon isn’t the same quality of pitcher as Strasburg, with the latter already putting up 17 strong outings in the majors before his surgery. However, he will start the season in Triple-A, and has a shot to help the Pirates in the majors during the second half of the season. The Pirates also project as a strong playoff contender right now, meaning they might be in the same situation where they could use Taillon late in the season.

So how will the team prepare? Will they shut Taillon down early? Or will they start him later and allow him to finish the season?

Taillon said that the main focus right now is getting back on the mound, although he thinks that there’s a possibility that the Pirates could start him later so that he’s pitching in September.

“I think the mindset here is that going into it, they’d rather push me back a little bit, so I can finish the year with innings, as opposed to have to do what Strasburg did,” Taillon said. “I remember that was a big deal, him getting shut down in September. So I think they’d rather me have innings left for September, rather than use all my innings in April.”

I asked Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington whether they would take this approach, but he was more focused on Taillon’s return to the mound.

“Our big picture is to get him back healthy,” Huntington said. “Get him through the throwing program. Get him back on a mound. Get him back competing and allow that to take us where it takes us. We’re not pre-determined that he’s going to be ready to help us at the big league level by date X. He’ll be ready to help us at the big league level when he’s ready to help us at the big league level, and we’ll cross the hurdles as we cross them.”

It wouldn’t be a shock if the Pirates started Taillon later and allowed him to finish the season with innings in September and October. That matches many of their organizational practices. In the minors, they don’t focus on what level players start the year, but rather where they finish the year. They control minor league inning totals so that players can finish the minor league season, rather than being shut down in early August.

Clay Holmes is also returning from Tommy John surgery, but unlike Taillon, he has no shot at the majors this year. Still, Holmes said he is more likely to start later in the season, with the main goal being his ability to finish the year.

“That’s one thing they have told me, they don’t want that to happen,” Holmes said about being shut down early. “So if anything, it’s going to be my start is late so I can finish the year.”

There’s no guarantee the Pirates do the same thing with Taillon and avoid the Strasburg Dilemma, but all signs point to that being their approach. Huntington did say that they will be “ultra-conservative” with him, and might not start him back exactly one year after the surgery, which was performed on April 6th.

“Our goal is to make sure Jameson is a really good pitcher seven to ten years from now, hopefully 12 to 14 years from now, not just 12 to 14 months after his surgery,” Huntington said. “We’ll probably frustrate him with as conservative as we’re going to be. He’s going to hit a point in time where he feels great and wants to push it forward, and we’re going to want to stay on the calendar and put him in a position to be successful for years to come, not because there’s some target date randomly set in 2015.”

It doesn’t seem that Taillon will be that frustrated with a conservative approach, or a delayed start. After mentioning the delayed start as a possibility, he simply followed up by saying he was on board with that plan.

Taillon has been throwing since the end of July, and will throw off the mound for the first time next week. He has been throwing at 120 feet since early November. The Pirates are semi-strict about allowing pitchers to extend beyond 120 feet, making sure that those pitchers can demonstrate an ability to remain healthy and maintain their mechanics before allowing a longer distance. Taillon previously extended beyond 120, but has stuck to the 120 limit this off-season.

“I try to stick to 120, just for the rehab purposes,” Taillon said. “I’m very strict about getting my exact number of throws in at the exact distances.”

Taillon also discussed some of the other differences in his current throwing program coming off Tommy John surgery, including how he’s managed to deal with a lack of available competition.

“My arm is really built up,” Taillon said, noting that he’s had more throws in the rehab program. “And I think another thing is more focus and attention to detail. This throwing program is really all I’ve had as far as my competition. That’s the closest I’ve been able to be on a mound. I find myself focusing a lot more at it now, and not taking it for granted, and trying to compete against myself with every throw instead of just going out there to do it.”

As far as pitches, Taillon just started throwing his changeup three weeks ago in flat grounds. He started throwing the curveball a week ago from 60 feet at the end of his sessions, just flipping a few pitches to get a feel for the spin again. Off the field, he has filled his time with “a lot of video games, grilling food, fishing, and guitar lessons.” Taillon went home to Texas for four weeks over the holidays, but has spent most of his rehab time in Bradenton.

“I just decided it was in my best interest as far as rehab goes, pitching goes [to rehab in Bradenton],” Taillon said. “These guys here have money invested in me and they care about me. But they have my best interests. The pitching coaches know me extremely well, so they know what to look for, and they’ve dealt with a lot of rehab guys too. So I thought this would be the best spot for me.”

One benefit to being in Bradenton is that Taillon was able to talk with Charlie Morton about the rehab process from Tommy John surgery.

“I talked to Charlie a little bit,” Taillon said. “He works out here in the off-season, so I get to see him almost every day, which is phenomenal. He’s such an approachable guy. I don’t really ask him as much about the physical things, but I’ll ask him about what he did to stay busy, or how he was mentally at certain stages, or how he managed to stay patient with it. It is good to know that you have guys to fall back on if you need them.”

Taillon was expected to arrive in the majors during the 2014 season, but his surgery put that plan on hold. Nothing is confirmed right now on when he will start the 2015 season, or when he might reach the majors, if that is a possibility at all. The end of Spring Training will give more clarity on his situation. As for right now, don’t be surprised if the Pirates start him a bit later, with the focus on saving some of his innings for September and October, and thus avoiding the situation the Nationals were in with Strasburg.

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Charlie Morton’s Approach to Clean His Arm Action and Make His Delivery More Efficient http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/charlie-mortons-approach-to-clean-his-arm-action-and-make-his-delivery-more-efficient.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/charlie-mortons-approach-to-clean-his-arm-action-and-make-his-delivery-more-efficient.html#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 19:04:52 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92041 It’s rare to see a guy throw off the mound during mini camp. Usually pitchers are just getting started back up after a short break over the holidays, and only throwing off flat grounds. That wasn’t the case today with Charlie Morton. The sinkerball pitcher wanted to get out on the mound today for the first time since having surgery back in September. He threw a short bullpen session with Ray Searage, Jim Benedict, and Euclides Rojas watching on. Here is video from that session.

Prior to the bullpen session, I noticed Morton had an unusual routine. He would stand with his back to the plate, then turn quickly and fire to the plate. I asked him about the routine after his bullpen session, and he mentioned that it’s a recent idea aimed at cleaning up and making more efficient the arm action in his delivery, based off his pickoff move.

“That’s just trying to clean up my arm action a little bit. Clean up the delivery. More efficient,” Morton said. “[Jim Benedict] saw some things in my pick move that he really liked, because he saw how quick and efficient I could be. And I think he felt that I could incorporate some of that into my actual delivery, where I’m not using as much of my body to throw a baseball. I think the mindset is that you make things more efficient and you avoid problems by doing that. It’s just that basic.”

Charlie Morton throwing off the mound in front of Ray Searage, Jim Benedict, and Euclides Rojas.

Charlie Morton throwing off the mound in front of Ray Searage, Jim Benedict, and Euclides Rojas.

The work between Morton and Benedict isn’t new. The two worked together prior to the 2011 season to overhaul Morton’s delivery, giving him a delivery that mirrored Roy Halladay, complete with a new body angle and a new approach to pitching. The latest idea is just a continuation of the process that Benedict and Morton have worked on for several years.

“It’s been kind of a process,” Morton said of their work. “Ever since Benny and I have met, he’s very thoughtful and very caring and he thinks a lot about the guys who work with him. And he’s always looking for ways to improve, and that’s just kind of been an evolution of my relationship with him. He’s always trying to help me get better. I’m sure that’s something he’s been thinking of for a long time.”

The key with Morton is his health. When healthy, he has looked great since the initial changes with Benedict. However, he has missed a lot of time with injuries, including Tommy John surgery in 2012, and hip surgery in September that impacted him in the second half of the season. Even with the injuries included, he has combined for a 3.74 ERA in 495.1 innings from 2011-2014, along with a 6.3 K/9 and a 3.3 BB/9. It will be interesting to see whether Morton can continue to improve on those numbers with further adjustments, although the main goal will be keeping him healthy.

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