For the first half of the 2011 season, Zack Von Rosenberg was hit hard in West Virginia. The 2009 6th round draft pick turned things around in the second half, mostly focusing on pitching off his curveball, setting up more favorable counts to boost his confidence when it came time to throw his fastball.
This spring the right-hander has moved the focus back to commanding his fastball, and the results have been similar to the first half of the 2011 season. Von Rosenberg has been elevating a lot of pitches so far, leading to several home runs. That was the case today when he gave up four homers in five innings of work.
“I was up, inconsistent,” Von Rosenberg said about his outing. “My fastball was there it just wasn’t, when I tried to put it somewhere, it just was very inconsistent up, down. Everything else, my off-speed was good, but you can’t really pitch a complete game without having your fastball.”
One of Von Rosenberg’s problems is that he doesn’t throw his fastball with intensity. He doesn’t drive the pitch and throw it with confidence. Instead, he tries to place the pitch. Off the field, Von Rosenberg is a nice kid. He takes that same attitude to the mound, and it doesn’t work well for him. By comparison, Jameson Taillon is a nice kid off the field, but on the mound he’s intense, with a look like he wants to kill the opposing batter with every throw.
Von Rosenberg threw some good pitches today. But every so often he would elevate one, and because he was throwing 88-91 MPH, those elevated pitches would get hit. Rodarrick Jones homered twice off the right-hander. Quincy Latimore homered once. Even Ashley Ponce homered.
“It’s still just a mentality change,” Von Rosenberg said. “As opposed to ‘I hope I get it in there’ or ‘I hope I make a pitch’, it’s ‘I need to make this pitch’ or ‘I have to’. No real thought process. Just do it. That’s what I need to get to.”
The right-hander has a good change-up, which draws a lot of ground balls. He also has a good curveball, which he throws for strikes, and could be a strikeout pitch. But until he gets command of his fastball and keeps the ball down on a consistent basis, he’s not going to become the pitcher the Pirates envisioned he would become when they gave him a $1.2 M bonus in 2009.
LATIMORE HOPING FOR SOME WALKS THIS YEAR
You hear it all the time: where are the power hitters in the system? The guy who might have the best power in the system is Quincy Latimore. But you won’t find him on the top of many prospect lists. He was a candidate for the Pirates Prospects top 50, but just missed the cut. The reason? His lack of plate patience.
Last year Latimore made the jump to Double-A, hitting 15 homers with a .411 slugging percentage in 457 at-bats. However, he hit for a .239 average, struck out 30.6 percent of the time, and walked just 6.5 percent of the time, leading to a .297 on-base percentage. The high strikeout numbers and the low walk rates were just a continuation of the trend that has been present throughout Latimore’s career.
The 2007 4th round pick is hoping to turn that trend around this year. He worked over the off-season with former major leaguer J.D. Closser, focusing on improving his plate patience and pitch selection.
“[Closser is] just a good guy, and we really, really harped on getting pitches you can handle, you know because I’ve had problems with the strike zone forever,” Latimore said. “And really I’ve been able to take it over in to games. Swinging when I want to swing. I’ve swung at a few bad balls, but for the most part I’ve really laid off balls in the dirt and balls that I just don’t want, and it’s been good to get the ball I want.”
Latimore has shown good progress this spring, taking his new approach from the batting cages, to batting practice, to live batting practice, and then to the games.
“I’ve been telling [Hitting Coordinator Jeff Livesey] and my hitting coach Ryan Long that I’ve never had the feeling of getting ready, recognizing a pitch, and saying ‘No, I don’t want to hit that’. I’ve had that all this spring, from the very first at-bat I had to today,” Latimore said.
“I’ve never been calm and as patient as I’ve been. I normally get myself out a lot. Strikeout really not at good pitches, just swinging at balls.”
The outfielder has also been playing some center field this spring, although he will mostly play a corner outfield spot in Altoona with Robbie Grossman covering center. Latimore could get a few starts in center, and has been using his time this spring to learn the routes, and to get used to getting deeper angles on the balls hit over his head in center field.
The key for Latimore’s value will be his bat. He’s got some incredible power. It almost seems like he hits a home run every day in Spring Training. But that power is useless if it comes with a low average, a low walk rate, and a strikeout in a third of his at-bats. If he could find a way to supplement that power, he could turn in to a very interesting prospect to watch. Things have been going well this spring, but the real test will be in Altoona.
“I think finally we may have something going man, I hope so. Get some walks this year,” Latimore said.
“If I can take some walks — that will definitely help the average some with some walks — and hit the pitch I want to hit, I think I could do some special things with doubles and home runs. So that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
**Joely Rodriguez pitched two innings, allowing a run on three hits, with a walk and a strikeout. He threw 30 pitches, with 19 going for strikes. The 20 year-old left-hander was sitting 89-91 MPH with his fastball. The pitch had good movement, although he still needs to refine his command. When the pitch is on it has good arm side movement and is thrown on a downward plane. In the past I’ve seen Rodriguez throw as high as 94 MPH, working mostly in the 88-92 MPH range.
**Pedro Alvarez was taking at-bats at Pirate City today. I saw one really nice at-bat. He started off with an 0-2 count, but held off on two balls, then pulled a curveball down the right field line for a double. There was also a bad at-bat where he struck out on three pitches. I saw at least three at-bats where he rolled over on a few pitches, hitting a ground out to second base. From what I saw today he went 2-for-6 with a single and a double, plus one strikeout. However, I didn’t see every at-bat.
**Brandon Cumpton pitched five innings, allowing a run on two hits, with two walks and five strikeouts. He was throwing 88-93 MPH, sitting mostly around 92. I didn’t see many of his pitches, but the ones I did see had some good movement, with a few ground balls induced.
**Jeff Locke went five innings, allowing two runs on five hits, with a walk and no strikeouts. He was 88-92 MPH with his fastball, and threw 60 pitches, with 44 strikes.
**Rodarrick Jones hit two home runs today, both off Zack Von Rosenberg.
**Starling Marte had a two RBI broken bat single.
**Adalberto Santos had a nice diving catch in left field.
VIDEO OF THE DAY
Zack Von Rosenberg’s third inning. He got three outs, but was told to stay out there for another batter. That batter, Ashley Ponce, homered on a fastball left up in the zone. Also check for a web gem against the third batter of the inning.