The Pirates’ minor leaguers today went up against Toronto’s in two class A level exhibition games. (The level designations mean little at this stage, as players haven’t gotten their assignments yet and much of the AAA teams are still in major league camp, forcing a lot of temporary upward movement.) The main attraction was the Pirates’ hard-throwing 2010 second round draft pick, Stetson Allie, who started the “low A” game. He drew a crowd of onlookers, most of whom were probably disappointed. Allie struggled through two innings, failing to get three outs in either–in these exhibition games, the pitchers are on single-inning pitch limits and the teams don’t make mid-inning pitching changes, so the inning just ends if the pitcher hits his limit. Allie threw in the mid-90s in his first inning and around 93 in his second, a drop off that isn’t unusual at this stage of the spring. He mixed in just a few sliders. His control was shaky, leading to some deep counts and two walks in his second inning. In his first inning he allowed several ground-ball singles and was hurt when Walker Gourley dropped a double play grounder. Allie was considered much more raw when drafted than Jameson Taillon and he was facing players with a year or two of pro experience, so struggles like this are exactly what I’d expect.
Generally speaking, the most interesting aspect of the day was the pitching. Nearly all of the ten or so pitchers who took the mound sat well into the 90s. (In most cases I didn’t get a good impression of the pitchers’ other offerings because most of them threw little but fastballs.) In the unlamented Dave Littlefield days, I’d wait around all day for a pitcher who consistently threw in the 90s. Here are some quick impressions of the pitchers I saw:
Jeff Inman, who missed all of 2010 with elbow problems, started the “high A” game and had two easy innings. He threw in the mid-90s and showed a slider that was effective against both right- and left-handed batters. The Toronto starter in that game was 2010 first rounder Deck McGuire, who got batted around some in both of his innings.
A 2010 Pirates’ draftee, Jason Townsend, also pitched in the high A game. He sat at 93 and mixed in a few sliders as well. Townsend allowed a double to his first hitter, resulting in a run, but got through the rest of his two innings quickly.
Two smaller pitchers who had impressive numbers in the Dominican Summer League, 5’11” righty Fraylin Campos and 5’10” lefty Porfirio Lopez, surprised me a bit. Given their size, I expected they’d be out of the Nelson Pereira mold, that is, small guys with limited velocity who throw a lot of offspeed stuff. Not so. Campos, who played in the GCL last year, pitched in the high A game and sat at 91-93. Lopez threw 90-92. Other than a brief bout of wildness for Campos, both pitched well.
Possibly the most interesting pitcher was Yhonathan Herrand, a tall (6’6″) righty who was a moderately touted signing for the Pirates prior to last season. Herrand mostly struggled last year in the DSL, but appears ticketed for the GCL anyway. He sat at 93, hitting 97 at least once, and had a great deal of movement. In his two innings, nobody made much contact against him, even though he strictly threw fastballs. He got a lot of swings and misses and also more than the usual number of called strikes as the hitters didn’t seem to get a good read on his pitches. His control was shaky in his second inning and a few pitches got completely away from him, so he probably still has a ways to go with his mechanics.
Two other hard-throwing righties provided a contrast. Yeiber Sanchez is listed at 6’3″, 245, but he looked at least a couple inches taller than that. He threw 94-95 and had two quick innings. Joan Montero is stocky and short for a righty at 6’0″, but he threw 93-95. Both Sanchez and Montero have battled control problems so far in their very brief careers (barely over 90 pro innings combined), but it’s becoming clear that the current front office is taking the approach of signing guys with live arms and trying to turn them into pitchers. Whether that approach will work remains to be seen.
The other righties were Oscar Verdugo and Jimmy Hernandez. Neither was as effective as most of the other pitchers. Verdugo, who was limited to just two-thirds of an inning last year in the GCL, throws only 88-89 and got some pitches up, with predictable results. Hernandez has a quirky motion that produces low-90s fastballs. He was a little more effective than Verdugo.
Finally, mysterious lefty Diomedes Mateo made an appearance, throwing 88-90 and allowing a couple well hit balls.
The lineups probably mean little at this stage, but for what it’s worth, the low A starters were catcher Kawika Emsley-Pai, a 10th round pick just last year who was surprisingly cut loose by Arizona; infielders (first to third) Justin Howard, Kevin Mort, Kelson Brown and Walker Gourley; and outfielders Gregory Polanco, Dan Grovatt and . . . uh . . . I’m not sure who else. In the more advanced game, it was catcher Elias Diaz; infielders Matt Curry, Jarek Cunningham, Gift Ngoepe and Andy Vasquez, and outfielders Rogelios Noris, David Rubinstein, Wes Freeman and Jose Hernandez (no, not him). (Either Noris or Hernandez was DH, but I can’t remember which.) The Pirates have made it clear they like Diaz and he probably has a very good chance of being the regular catcher at West Virginia this year. Curry may be competing for a job at Bradenton, which would mean he’d be skipping low A.
It was hard to get much impression of the hitters, partly because Jose Tabata and Jason Jaramillo were DHing in both games, batting in nearly every inning. The other guys just didn’t get up much. I did manage to catch Howard and Grovatt, both left-handed batters, mash long extra base hits to left center off left-handed pitchers, in Grovatt’s case a triple. Hernandez had a HR and single in the at-bats I saw. On the down side, Yhonathan Barrios, a highly touted Colombian signee who missed all of last year due to hamate surgery, looked overmatched and struggled to make contact.
In the field, Ngoepe showed very good range and balance, especially on a bad hop grounder up the middle. The ball took a high hop and hit Ngoepe in the chest while he was ranging behind second, but he blocked it and quickly picked it up without even breaking stride and threw to first for the out. He may struggle to hit, but anybody who thinks his signing was a publicity stunt hasn’t seen him play in the field.
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.