Pirates Prospects http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:46:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Jose Tabata Changed His Swing After Talking With Marlon Byrd http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/jose-tabata-changed-his-swing-after-talking-with-marlon-byrd.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/jose-tabata-changed-his-swing-after-talking-with-marlon-byrd.html#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:46:50 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=94913 Yesterday, Jose Tabata put one on the roof of the batting cages over the left-field fence at Pirate City. Today, he added two more. By that pattern, he should hit three over the high fence in left in batting practice tomorrow.

It’s only batting practice, but the power to left field is surprising. Tabata didn’t hit any home runs in 186 plate appearances in the majors last year, and didn’t have any in 163 plate appearances in the minors. He had 13 homers in almost 1100 plate appearances in the majors from 2011-2013, but only two went to left field. Here is his spray chart from 2014, taking out all grounders, pop ups, and singles (via MLB Farm).

Jose Tabata Spray Chart

That’s a lot of going to opposite field, and not much pulling the ball. So to see him pull the ball for power two days in a row was surprising.

I asked Clint Hurdle about this after practice, to see if the team had Tabata focusing on a different approach this year. Hurdle said that the approach isn’t specifically for Tabata to pull the ball, but to create some drive in his swing.

“It was always a forward-down stroke,” Hurdle said of Tabata’s swing. “Slow line drives, a lot of ground balls have come off his bat.”

Tabata has a 59.9% ground ball rate in his career. Last year the league average was 44.8%. There’s not really a good way to compare the speed of his line drives to the rest of the league, but we can get an idea from the numbers. Last year he had a .500 BABIP on line drives, and an .097 ISO. The league averages were a .683 BABIP and .190 ISO. That means Tabata is seeing fewer line drives drop in for hits, and his line drives are generating much less power than average.

Hurdle said that the Pirates suggested to Tabata that he should talk with former teammate Marlon Byrd about a specific adjustment which could help Tabata.

“Marlon Byrd made an adjustment a few years ago,” Hurdle said. “He went down to Mexico, re-created his swing, incorporated — I don’t like to use the word ‘lift’ — but actually some leverage to his swing. We talked to Jose about increasing a little bit of leverage into his swing. He’s worked very hard with that throughout the winter, and brought it into mini-camp. I think the reps are just giving him a better feel for it, and he’s shown a liking for it, and understands the reason why we’re asking it from him.”

The talk with Byrd wasn’t when he was with the Pirates in 2013, but came during the past off-season. The two didn’t work together, but just had a conversation so that Tabata could get an idea of what adjustments Byrd made. The goal isn’t for Tabata to have an upper cut swing, or a chaotic hack at the ball, but to hit it with a marginal angle to give him a bit of leverage.

“He had the same problem as me,” Tabata said. “He figured it out, and he now is one of the best hitters in the big leagues. He changed everything. So I’m trying to do the same thing as him.”

Tabata said that he’s trying to hit the ball harder, pull it a bit more, and that he’s trying to get stronger.

It’s way too early to tell whether this adjustment will work for Tabata. I don’t even know if he can crack the Opening Day roster. The Pirates created an extra bench spot when they traded Travis Snider. Andrew Lambo seems to have the inside track for the job, especially since he’s left-handed, and provides a different look. But Tabata is owed $8.75 M over the rest of his contract, which is only guaranteed through the 2016 season. You can bet that if he starts hitting for power in games, and starts putting up numbers, the Pirates will find a way to get him to the majors to see if that change is legit.

“He wants to find that game he had a couple of years ago,” Hurdle said. “I believe he’s lost a few pounds. His agility work has been very diligent and very hard. I believe he’s come in hungry. It’s the best shape he’s come in. It’s the best focus that he’s had. That doesn’t mean it was ever bad before. It’s just, there comes a point in time where you get a little bit hungrier, you get painted in a corner a little different way. There’s a little more fight on your hands.”

**Hurdle announced the pitchers for the Black and Gold game on Monday. Each pitcher will throw one inning, and the game will last five and a half innings. Here are the pitchers for each team.

Black: Nick Kingham, Josh Wall, Collin Balester, Charlie Leesman, Adrian Sampson, Wilfredo Boscan

Gold: Arquimedes Caminero, Deolis Guerra, Jeremy Bleich, Angel Sanchez and Blake Wood

**Hurdle was asked about how he would manage to get all of their pitchers innings this Spring. He said that they already have one B-game on the schedule, and are hoping for a total of four this Spring, which would give pitchers more chances at innings. He also said that relievers who have a spot locked down will likely pitch multi-inning appearances in minor league games at Pirate City, which would allow the Pirates to get a look at the guys battling for spots in Major League games.

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How Ray Searage is Trying to Fix Antonio Bastardo’s Control Issues http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/how-ray-searage-is-trying-to-fix-antonio-bastardos-control-issues.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/how-ray-searage-is-trying-to-fix-antonio-bastardos-control-issues.html#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 17:22:42 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=94867 Tony Watson has established himself as one of the best left-handed relievers in the game. Out of 142 qualified relievers last year, he ranked 21st in WAR, 10th in ERA, and 24th in xFIP. He has done so well that he has become the set-up man in a dangerous late inning combo that also features Mark Melancon, who has been better than Watson.

But the Pirates need two left-handed relievers, and that need was increased when they traded Justin Wilson away to the New York Yankees to get Francisco Cervelli. The Pirates filled that need by dealing Joely Rodriguez to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Antonio Bastardo.

Bastardo has put up some good numbers in Philadelphia, with a high strikeout rate, a decent ERA, and advanced metrics that back up the ERA. There has been one downside, and that is a high walk rate. Last year was his worst season, with a 12.6% walk rate, despite a 29.9% strikeout rate. Fortunately for Bastardo, the Pirates have already started working on adjustments to fix the control issues.

I talked with Bastardo and pitching coach Ray Searage about the control (video below, along with highlights), and learned that they are working on a mechanical adjustment in his delivery, so that he can come down stronger on his front foot. This will prevent him from shifting side to side in his delivery, and will allow him to repeat that delivery better. Bastardo has already been a good reliever, even with the control problems. If he can eliminate those control issues like many other Pirates pitchers in the past few years, then he could turn into a great lefty reliever.

The Pirates are also trying to get Bastardo to use his changeup more often. Searage said that it is a good pitch, and referenced Watson as a guy who greatly benefitted by using his changeup more often. Watson only used the pitch 7% of the time in 2012, then upped the usage to 17.8% in 2013, and 21.5% in 2014. Those were also his best seasons, probably due in large part to the improvements against right-handers. Watson had a .304 wOBA against right-handers in 2012, compared to a .247 wOBA against lefties. He improved to a .260 wOBA against right-handers in 2013, and a .288 wOBA in 2014. The Pirates also trusted him to face over 100 more right-handers in 2014 than 2012.

Bastardo doesn’t use his changeup often. In his career, he has used the pitch 3.2% of the time, and only used it 1.1% of the time last year. He’s already a guy who does well against right-handers, but could see a boost in his numbers with increased usage of the pitch. Add in the possibility of improved control (which should also be helped by the Pirates’ duo of pitch framing catchers), and Bastardo could give the Pirates two of the best left-handers in the game.

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Q&A: Will PNC Park Burn Down When Neil Walker Eventually Leaves? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/qa-will-pnc-park-burn-down-when-neil-walker-eventually-leaves.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/qa-will-pnc-park-burn-down-when-neil-walker-eventually-leaves.html#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:00:08 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=94854 Last week we started a Q&A article that will run every Friday. Right after the first article went up, we got a lot more questions. Normally I’ll be taking about five questions per week (and maybe addressing some of the common ones in First Pitch articles). You can submit your questions all week by using the Q&A form on the right side of pretty much every page on the site. Below are the questions for this week.

Zach Wolfe: Will the city of Pittsburgh be more likely to burn down PNC if Walker gets traded next off-season (even if Kang and/or Hanson is ready to take over), or leaves in FA after the 2016 season?

I don’t think either outcome will be pretty. But I think a trade will be worse, since it would involve the Pirates actively sending Walker away, rather than letting him walk and leaving the illusion that it was two parties who couldn’t reach a deal. Walker is a hometown hero. He’s the guy you see on TV every night after every win or loss, because he’s the guy that TV guys go to after every game for a quote. As a result, people are going to irrationally value him as someone who should be on this team for his entire career. That ignores the risks involved, such as the fact that an extension would cover his declining years, and the fact that he’s been injury prone and that will only get worse in his 30s.

I don’t know if Kang or Hanson will step up as options to replace Walker this year. It could be someone else. (Who was talking about Josh Harrison as the future starting third baseman at this time last year?) But if there is someone who can take over, and if Walker isn’t needed at another position, it would make total sense to trade him. But when that happens, expect outrage.

Shawn Inlow: Agree / Disagree:  The Pirates’ biggest weakness going into the 2015 season is the lack of a True #4 hitter.  Discuss.

I’d disagree. They basically have the same lineup as last year, just without Russell Martin and with Francisco Cervelli. Martin wasn’t a “True #4 hitter”, and they had one of the best offenses in baseball last year. This isn’t a team with a lot of weaknesses. If the lack of a number four hitter is their biggest one, then they’re in good shape, since we saw last year that they don’t need one to have a great offense.

Daryl Restly: Do you think the Pirates will continue to keep Jose Tabata at $4M this year and $4.5M next year to simply be an, at best, fifth outfielder.

I’m going to answer that question with another question. Do you think I will keep my student loans for the next two years, even though my business degree, at best, helps me with maybe 10% of my job? Just like the Pirates, I don’t have a choice.

Nelson Gilbert: What do you think will happen if Gregory Polanco struggles early ad he did at the end of last season. Do you think it will be Lambo or Harrison as his replacement.  If not who?

I don’t think Polanco is going to be on a short leash early in the year. Look at what the Pirates did the last two seasons in right field. They went with guys like Jose Tabata and Travis Snider, and stuck with them for most of the first two months of each season, despite their struggles. Polanco is younger, and has much more upside. If he’s struggling around June, then they might send him down to get more work in Triple-A. As to who could replace him, I refer you to this article.

Steve Dimmick: The Pirates seem to be high on Kang already.  Besides what they scouted in Korea, have they seen him hit anything live other than BP in ST?  When does the live pitching generally start for hitters?

Kang did play at Pirate City when he was younger, and on a Korean traveling team. The Pirates are one of the few teams that scouts heavily in Asia, as shown by the number of players they have signed out of Taiwan. So I’d imagine they have seen plenty of Kang prior to signing him. As for live pitching and Kang hitting live BP, both things started this Tuesday.

Bill Kline: Is the studying of the Golden State Warriors a result of all the utility players they brought in or are all the utility players a result of the research?

I think the utility players are a result of the research, but a bigger reason for the utility players would be what happened with Josh Harrison last year. I wrote about that earlier this week.


Alex Warren: On the revised site where do I now find information such as the salary expenditures current and projected, etc.?

On the top of every page there is a tab that says “Resources.” Hover over that and it will give you links to the 2015 payroll, future payroll, 25-man projection, organizational depth chart, and the Spring Training tracker.

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Pirates International Bonus Pool Set; Already Scouting a Top Pitcher in Mexico http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/pirates-international-bonus-pool-set-already-scouting-a-top-pitcher-in-mexico.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/pirates-international-bonus-pool-set-already-scouting-a-top-pitcher-in-mexico.html#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 14:22:40 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=94855 Baseball America announced the amateur draft bonus pools last night, which had the Pittsburgh Pirates receiving the 11th highest bonus pool. The international bonus pool was announced as well and the Pirates have $2,111,900 to spend, which ranks them 22nd in baseball. The pool is set by reverse order in the standings from the previous season. The Pirates had just under $2M to spend during this current signing period, though they picked up extra slot money in the Ike Davis trade to the Athletics. The pool money announced late last night covers the signing period from July 2,2015 until June 15,2016.

The difference in where they fall among Major League teams comes from the Pirates picking up an extra draft pick as compensation for Russell Martin signing with the Blue Jays. The Pirates also moved up to 19th with their first pick in the amateur draft when four teams ahead of them with unprotected picks signed players that received qualifying offers. They started with the 23rd pick due to the Houston Astros receiving an extra pick for not signing first overall pick Brady Aiken last year. In the international bonus pool, the order is set by reverse order as well, although teams don’t lose any spots for signing protected free agents or exceeding their bonus pool. Five teams that have already exceeded their bonus pool by more than 5%(Yankees, Rays, Angels, Diamondbacks and Red Sox) are excluded from signing anyone next year for more than $300,000, so while they keep their pool money, the ability to sign any top players has been taken away.

Pirates Scouting Mexico

The Pirates have been busy in Mexico this month and it looks like they have a big pitcher on their radar. The recent scouting trip included a showcase in Tijuana last Saturday, where the Pirates were one of ten teams there scouting 25 of the best young players from around the country. There were multiple scouts from the organization on hand. That could obviously net them some interesting leads for the upcoming signing period, but it was the trip they made earlier this month that is the most intriguing, though the player they saw is sure to get a lot of attention.

During the first week of February, the Pirates were at the Gonzalez Academy, which is run by the father of All-Star Adrian Gonzalez and his brother, who played alongside him with the Padres. There, they were one of two teams that watched right-handed pitcher Oscar Arzaga hit 93 MPH with his fastball. Arzaga is a well-built, 6’5″ kid, who is just 15 years old. His exact age wasn’t given, but an article from last July said that he was already 15, so he should be able to sign during the upcoming signing period.

Arzaga has been on the baseball radar for quite sometime, so it is no surprise the Pirates had multiple scouts in attendance, including one of their top international scouts, Chino Valdez. Arzaga has been scouted by Perfect Game in the past, and you can view his page here. He has filled out some since being listed at 205 pounds and he has obviously stepped up his velocity a tick since those reports were filed.

During the showcase for Arzaga, the Pirates also saw another right-handed pitcher named Javier Eduardo Assad. He doesn’t have the size of Arzaga and is already 17, so he has been eligible to sign with teams since July. Assad had better command and secondary stuff than Arzaga showed during the showcase, and  he was hitting 92 MPH. His curve had a big break and was called a strikeout pitch. He is an interesting player, and one of the best at the Gonzalez Academy, but Arzaga is the pitcher with the higher upside.

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Discussing Spring Training Battles With David Todd http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/discussing-spring-training-battles-with-david-todd.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/discussing-spring-training-battles-with-david-todd.html#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 14:06:57 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=94856 I was on with David Todd yesterday on ESPN 970, discussing a lot of Spring Training topics. We briefly discussed why an Andrew McCutchen extension doesn’t need to be discussed now. I talked about why this is one of the slowest camps in Spring Training, but went into some of the pitching spots that will be up for grabs, and some of the pitchers who could be fighting for those final spots. You can listen to the segment below.

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Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Minor League Spring Training Schedule http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/pittsburgh-pirates-2015-minor-league-spring-training-schedule.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/pittsburgh-pirates-2015-minor-league-spring-training-schedule.html#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 13:19:26 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=94850 Spring Training starts a little bit later for minor leaguers this year. Major League camp will go over to McKechnie Field on Monday for the Black and Gold game, while the early players will report for minor league camp. The full camp reports on March 8th, and the first full workout isn’t until March 10th. Extended camp players will be reporting later that week, on March 16th, and the first games will be played on the 17th. Below is the schedule for all of the minor league games. All games are held at Pirate City, and entrance is free.

Each day features at least two games. Either the Triple-A and Double-A teams are home, or the two single-A teams are home. There are also intrasquad games between the short-season leagues on occasion. That means that on any given day at Pirate City, you’ve got the chance to watch 2-4 Pirates minor league teams at once.

The camp days are usually reserved for intrasquad games, which feature the two upper level teams against each other, the two A-ball teams facing off, and the short-season league teams playing against each other. Usually those intrasquad games occur during the later camp days, and not during the first three days on the schedule. If you’re interested in following the prospects, the camp days (3/25, 3/31, 4/4, 4/5) are the best days to be at Pirate City, since you can watch anywhere from 6-8 Pirates minor league teams, depending on whether they have three or four games.

Here is the schedule for the minor league games this year.

MINOR LEAGUE SCHEDULE (All 1:00 pm starts)








PHI @ 3A/2A

1A @ PHI


3A/2A @ TOR

TOR @ 1A


NYY @ 3A/2A

1A @ NYY


3A/2A @ TOR

TOR @ 1A


PHI @ 3A/2A

1A @ PHI


3A/2A @ PHI

PHI @ 1A


PHI @ 3A/2A

1A @ PHI




3A/2A @ TOR

TOR @ 1A


NYY @ 3A/2A

1A @ NYY


3A/2A @ NYY

NYY @ 1A


TOR @ 3A/2A

1A @ TOR


3A/2A @ TOR

TOR @ 1A




NYY @ 3A/2A

1A @ NYY


3A/2A @ PHI

PHI @ 1A


3A/2A @ NYY

NYY @ 1A






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First Pitch: An Extension For Andrew McCutchen Shouldn’t Be a Priority in 2015 http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/first-pitch-an-extension-for-andrew-mccutchen-shouldnt-be-a-priority-in-2015.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/first-pitch-an-extension-for-andrew-mccutchen-shouldnt-be-a-priority-in-2015.html#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 05:18:51 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=94829 There was a time in recent Pittsburgh Pirates history when Pirates fans discussed trading Andrew McCutchen for prospects. It was prior to the 2012 season. A winning season was still a pipe dream at the time. McCutchen hadn’t been extended yet. He wasn’t even an MVP at the time — just a good, young player with a ton of upside. The thought was that the Pirates would miss their chance for an extension, would continue losing, and would be forced to trade McCutchen and get whatever they could, rather than watching him walk via free agency.

Then, a month before the season, they extended him. That season saw a breakout year, with a 6.8 WAR. The next season he became an MVP, and the Pirates made the playoffs. And now, three years later, the Pirates have made the playoffs two years in a row, are strong contenders to make it for a third year, and are considered a model franchise. Meanwhile, McCutchen is locked up through the 2018 season, and is one of the best players in baseball.

It made sense to call for an extension prior to the 2012 season, and it wasn’t totally unjustified to worry about McCutchen’s future with the team. The Pirates ended up getting one of the best values in sports with the extension, but that was because they made the deal at the right time. If they would have waited another year, they either would have had to pay a lot more, or might have missed out on an extension completely. If the latter would have happened, then McCutchen would be entering the 2015 season as a pending free agent, ready to get a record-setting deal next off-season.

That scenario I just laid out — the one that didn’t happen, thankfully — is the only scenario where it makes sense to discuss an Andrew McCutchen extension in 2015.

Rob Biertempfel wrote that the Pirates would consider a high salary to keep McCutchen, throwing out a $25 M a year figure. The only problem is that it is way too soon to be discussing this type of thing with McCutchen, as he still has four years of control remaining.

So much has changed in the last three years. We don’t know what things will look like three years from now. Will McCutchen still be performing like an MVP, or even like a star? Keep in mind that the extension would start in his age 32 season. Could the Pirates have better internal options, with someone like Austin Meadows, or maybe someone we aren’t even talking about. Three years ago, Gregory Polanco was just starting to show signs of breaking out, and Starling Marte was still in the minors.

None of this is saying McCutchen shouldn’t be extended. It’s just saying that it would be foolish to extend McCutchen early, when the Pirates have four years of control remaining, and when a lot can happen in those four years. If you’re paying top dollar, then you might as well wait and see if you need to pay that.

The only way it would make sense to discuss a McCutchen extension this soon, or even to extend him this soon, would be if he accepts an Evan Longoria-type discount. Longoria signed a six-year, $100 M deal at the end of the 2012 season. This was despite the fact that the Rays still had him under team control for the next four seasons. Longoria’s deal not only gave the Rays a discount, but allowed them to defer money — $11 M without interest from 2017-2022. Longoria has the chance to earn an additional $5 M in 2023, but that all depends on how he ranks in awards in 2022, which means he’d still have to be a good player to receive that boost. Once again, another benefit for the Rays.

It would be unreasonable to expect any player to take that type of deal. If McCutchen took that type of discounted deal, it would be a charity, and he would be deserving of a statue outside of PNC Park the day he signed the deal. He’d basically be passing up about $100 M in guaranteed dollars by giving the Pirates a comparable discount in today’s terms.

This type of deal is unlikely to happen, but it’s the only deal that makes sense discussing at this point. Otherwise, the topic of a McCutchen extension is best saved for a few years from now, when we actually know if McCutchen should be extended beyond his age 31 season, and when we actually know whether the Pirates need to bring him back at all.

**A quick count shows we have less than 120 hard copy books of the 2015 Prospect Guide from the most recent shipment. We’ve already sold more than last year’s total, and I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the hard copy 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). Today’s uploads include video of Pedro Alvarez working at first base with Kevin Young, and pictures and video of Jeff Locke and A.J. Burnett throwing live batting practice.

**The Change That Will Help Tyler Glasnow Reach His Upside. You had to know it would only be a matter of time before I did a video feature on the top prospect in the system. Some good stuff about Glasnow’s development in the AFL this off-season.

**How Josh Bell’s Move To First Base Could Solve His Late-Season Drop In Power. Could offer an explanation as to why he saw a drop in power at the end of the year, and discusses his move to first base in 2015 and how he is preparing for that move.

**Pirates Have 11th Highest Draft Bonus Pool In 2015

**Draft Prospect Watch: Could Another Tucker Interest Pirates This Year?

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Pirates Have 11th Highest Draft Bonus Pool in 2015 http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/pirates-have-11th-highest-draft-bonus-pool-in-2015.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/pirates-have-11th-highest-draft-bonus-pool-in-2015.html#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 02:38:10 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=94830 According to Baseball America, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have a draft bonus pool of $7,392,200 in 2015, which ranks as the 11th highest in baseball. The Pirates don’t make their first selection until the 19th pick, but they have a compensation pick(32nd overall) for losing Russell Martin to the Toronto Blue Jays, so that pushes them closer to the top of the list. As noted in the article, the draft bonus pool across baseball increased by 8.7% over last year.

The total this year is more than $300,000 higher than they had last year. In 2014, they exceeded their bonus pool by nearly 5% when they signed 11th round draft pick Gage Hinsz and they went over the previous year as well when they signed Erich Weiss(each was the last player to sign). They ended up paying a 75% tax on the overage each year, but kept it under 5% over their cap which kept them from incurring more severe penalties. The penalty for going over by more than 5% is the loss of a first round pick and a 75% tax on every dollar over the pool total. The penalties get more severe the higher you go over the pool total.

You can read more about the penalties in the link above, although no team has exceeded their pool by more than 5% since the new rules were put in place three years ago.

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How Josh Bell’s Move to First Base Could Solve His Late-Season Drop in Power http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/how-josh-bells-move-to-first-base-could-solve-his-late-season-drop-in-power.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/how-josh-bells-move-to-first-base-could-solve-his-late-season-drop-in-power.html#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:00:46 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=82402 The Pittsburgh Pirates will enter the 2015 season with Pedro Alvarez as their starting first baseman. Corey Hart will get some time as a platoon partner, and Andrew Lambo will be a depth option, likely making the Opening Day roster as a bench outfielder. There are question marks with all three first basemen. Can Alvarez make the transition to the new position, and can he return to hitting like he did in 2012-2013? Will Hart’s knees hold up, and will his bat bounce back? Can Lambo carry his offense from Triple-A over to the majors?

While the Pirates have question marks in the short-term at first base, there is no question who their long-term first baseman projects to be. With Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco holding down the outfield in Pittsburgh for the next several years, there was no need to keep Josh Bell in right field. And with Bell’s power potential, he makes a great candidate at first.

The Pirates had Bell taking grounders at first base last year, and then made the switch to the new position full-time during the Fall Instructional Leagues. Bell then went to the Arizona Fall League, where he continued at first base while getting some extra experience against upper level competition.

“It was good to get some good work in, during instructs,” Bell said. “Struggled out there for the first couple of weeks, and then I found my feet underneath me again. Started getting the reps I needed to get, and I felt good leaving.”

Bell said that the quickness in the infield was the biggest adjustment in moving from the outfield. You get more time to adjust to a ball hit at you in the outfield, while the infield is more “bang-bang,” as Bell described it. The pivot and throw to second is also a key thing when making the transition to first base, and is something Bell has also been focusing on.

“That’s one of the things that we worked on during instructs, just lowering my arm slot a little bit to make a more repeatable throw to second base,” Bell said. “I locked it down then, and actually had success with that in the fall league, which was something I was happy about.”

Bell is expected to be the everyday first baseman in Altoona this year, and as of my conversation with him in January, he hasn’t heard anything different. He has been practicing everyday at first base, even after instructs and the AFL completed. The most telling sign is the fact that while he still has his outfield glove, he hasn’t been using it since the end of the 2014 season.

Of course, Bell is a prospect, which means he’s no guarantee to have success in the majors. He’s got the tools that project for him to hit for power and average from both sides of the plate, giving him a bat you can dream on. But the bat still needs some work, which is the main reason he’s not projected to be in the majors until the middle of the 2016 season.

Over the last two years, we have been pointing out that Bell has had some issues with his swing from the right side. He’s got a two-part swing where he starts open, then squares up before the pitch, and the transition can sometimes look awkward. The numbers against left-handers struggled last year in the first few months, although Bell quickly started turning that around by the middle of the season.

The reason for the two-part swing is simple. Bell likes to stay open to see the ball better, while the Pirates want him getting back sooner to square up on pitches. I talked with Bell’s hitting coach, Kory DeHaan, about this last year.

“If he’s going to err, he’s going to err on the side of getting that foot down and square a little earlier, which at times can make it seem like that two-part swing, where it gets down and then [he] has to get going again,” DeHaan said. “We’re trying to keep that as smooth as possible, where he’s still in a good hitting position as he brings that foot in to square, and then is able to drive through the ball. That’s just an ongoing process of keeping the swing feeling good and then rhythm, and trying to drive the ball up the middle.”

DeHaan noted that Bell’s hands are so good, and he has so much trust in his hands, that his lower half doesn’t do as much work, which is why the swing can look awkward at times.

“We’re trying to get that all synced up, and as consistent as possible, ready for that fastball, ready for his zone, to do damage,” DeHaan said.

Bell did show improvements with his numbers against lefties after the first month and a half of the season. He will still stay open pre-pitch, although it won’t be anything too drastic. The main focus now is his approach, how his hands work, and focusing on driving the ball to the opposite field.

“I think it just came with repetition and getting used to everything on a daily basis,” Bell said of his improvements against lefties. “Virtually from the beginning of the year on, I felt good from both sides of the plate. I hope to start strong again this year. I’m a lot more close than I was two years ago, and I’m seeing success with that.”

Another issue with Bell last year came at the end of the season. He was promoted to Altoona, where his average and on-base percentage looked good. However, his power dropped off at the new level, and didn’t return when he went to the Arizona Fall League. The initial concern here is that Bell won’t hit for power in the upper levels, although I don’t really subscribe to that theory, since he’s got the strength, the bat speed, and the line drive approach to hit for power in the upper levels.

The other factor here was that this promotion came at the end of the year, at a time when Bell was tiring. This seems to be what the Pirates attribute to the drop in power, since Bell’s focus this off-season has been on getting stronger.

“Towards the end of the year I guess the ball wasn’t flying for me,” Bell said of the power drop. “Kind of carried over to the fall leagues as well, but right now, one of the things I’m focusing on this off-season is power in the weight room. Getting my body to where it needs to be. Carrying me throughout the entire season. Keeping my body strong, so I can produce those runs and help my team get the W’s we want to get.”

In previous years, Bell’s focus was more on cardio than on weights. The move to first base from the outfield gives him a chance to add some bulk to his frame. The fact that first base isn’t as demanding will also help keep him fresh all year.

“I realized my legs weren’t strong enough,” Bell said of the end of the 2014 season. “Didn’t feel as good as I wanted to feel at the end of the year. This off-season it’s more strength, and I know that I’m going to be at first base too, so I can kind of bulk up a little bit and get the most out of my body when it comes to my swing.”

Bell will likely spend all of the 2015 season in Altoona, with a chance to jump to Indianapolis at the end of the year if his bat is performing well. He put up strong numbers in Bradenton last year, before falling off at the end of the season. Time will tell if the new strength will help his bat, and help avoid fatigue at the end of the season. As to whether the bat will provide an impact in the upper levels and the majors, DeHaan certainly seemed to think so last year in Bradenton.

“[The bat] can play in the big leagues,” DeHaan said. “He’s going to put the ball in play. It’s going to be with authority too.”

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The Change That Will Help Tyler Glasnow Reach His Upside http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/the-change-that-will-help-tyler-glasnow-reach-his-upside.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/02/the-change-that-will-help-tyler-glasnow-reach-his-upside.html#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:00:01 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=94578 The 2011 draft made headlines for the Pittsburgh Pirates for two main reasons. They selected Gerrit Cole first overall, and gave him a record-setting bonus of $8 M. They also took Josh Bell in the second round, then gave him a $5 M bonus, which is a record for the biggest bonus outside of the first round. But the best story of that draft could end up being their fifth round pick — a projectable prep pitcher who was signed for $600,000.

You know that pitcher as Tyler Glasnow. He’s currently the top prospect in the organization, and one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. He rates higher than Josh Bell in terms of prospect status, and he could end up being better than Cole in the majors. Glasnow has opened a lot of eyes the last two years, posting ridiculous strikeout numbers with his mid-to-upper 90s fastball, and his curveball, which can be a plus offering when he’s commanding the pitch.

Glasnow has soared up the prospect lists, and has gotten a lot of attention for his strikeouts. But he still has a little ways to go before he reaches the majors, and a few specific things to work on.

The first thing is the obvious — he needs to have success in the upper levels. That process started in the Arizona Fall League, where Glasnow had his first taste of upper level competition.

“It was pretty reassuring going in there,” Glasnow said about his time in the AFL. “You can tell it’s the same game, no matter where it is. It didn’t seem too different than where I was at. I know they swing a lot more in the fall league because it’s a showcase league, but I didn’t see much of a difference.”

During his time in the AFL, Glasnow focused on his off-speed pitches, specifically focusing on improving his changeup and throwing the curveball for first pitch strikes. The changeup has been a big focus for the last year, with Glasnow spending a lot of time working on the pitch in Bradenton. He worked in the AFL with pitching coach Justin Meccage and Minor League Pitching Coordinator Scott Mitchell to improve the pitch, and Glasnow said that “something just clicked” in the final week with his changeup.

“I think it was the repetition over time,” Glasnow said about how the changeup improved. “I used to just throw it like a fastball, and I used to probably just let up, and I wasn’t really confident in it. It used to be a speed thing. It was an alright changeup, but it was really fast, so I turned it over like you were supposed to do. I never even tried it.”

The pitch went from sitting in the upper 80s and touching 89, to sitting in the 80-84 MPH range. Meccage was encouraged by the progress of the pitch and where it is heading, saying that the pitch is also starting to show some life, with a late fade, which is always a good thing for a changeup. Glasnow worked with Meccage in Bradenton last year, and the two will make the jump to Altoona to work together again this year.

Glasnow has also made some adjustments to his delivery, going back to an approach he was more comfortable with during the season. That approach involves throwing across his body a little bit and being really loose, which allows him to finish out in front more and get extended to the plate. He was doing well when he used this approach during the season.

“Right now I feel the best I ever have with accuracy, consistency, delivery-wise,” Glasnow said of the approach.

Control and a changeup are going to be key for Glasnow, especially when he gets to the upper levels and faces hitters who have seen much better stuff in their careers. That’s not to say everyone has stuff like Glasnow. His long arms and long stride make it seem like he’s already at the plate when he delivers, and I’ve talked to hitters who have said his pitching is like watching the ball fall from the sky, due to his height and steep downhill plane. All of that, plus the ability to hit 100 MPH, makes it extremely difficult to deal with Glasnow’s fastball. Controlling that fastball, and throwing people off with an effective changeup, will allow him to reach his upside.

I conducted two interviews with Glasnow. The second one came the other day after his first live batting practice, talking about where his stuff is so far in camp, and talking about some of the adjustments he made. I also talked with Meccage about the changes made during the AFL. Both interviews can be seen below, along with clips of Glasnow throwing during his live BP on Tuesday.

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