Prospect Notebook: Hafner Having Success With New Slider; Kingham and Fuesser Pitch Well

Hafner allowed just one hit and no walks in two innings

The Pirates took on the Blue Jays in three lower level minor league games.  The two class A squads hooked up, while the teams added a rookie level game.

The high A game featured Nick Kingham, although he didn’t start.  Jared Hughes opened the game, throwing a dozen pitches and then departing.  That left Isaac Sanchez to let two inherited runners score, mainly due to a routine grounder that shortstop Alen Hanson fumbled.

Kingham came on for the second and threw five scoreless innings.  He gave up just two hits and walked nobody.  He only fanned one and had a couple hard-hit outs, including one sharp liner that he managed to snare just by his head.  Otherwise, Kingham got a lot of grounders.  His fastball registered 91-94 for three innings, then 89-93 the last two.  He mixed in a low-80s change and slider, and an upper-70s curve.

Jake Burnette started the low A game and had a rough time.  The 2011 seventh-round pick went three and a third, giving up seven runs, six earned, on five hits and three walks, while fanning three.  His fastball came in at 86-87 for the first couple hitters, then mostly sat in the 89-92 range.  He also showed a curve with good break, but the fastball command wasn’t there.

Hafner Switches to a Slider

Ryan Hafner followed with two scoreless innings.  He allowed just one hit and no walks, the latter a good sign after his 2012 season was mostly undermined by serious control problems.  Hafner fanned one and threw his fastball in the 86-91 range, most often toward the upper end.  He also threw an 80-81 mph slider, a new pitch for him that got some swings and misses.

“I worked really hard this off-season,” said Hafner.  “Pretty much struggled the entire year last year, and dedicated my entire winter to coming out fresh, just ready to go this Spring.”  He worked with mental conditioning coordinators over the off-season and got some tips on relaxing.

“The slider is an easier pitch for me to throw,” Hafner added.  “I’ve always kind of needed that hope pitch, and I think this is it.  It’s worked so far in Spring, and hopefully it continues to work throughout the season.  I can throw it for a strike or a strikeout whenever I need.”

Hafner’s changeup is still a pitch in the making.  He’s thrown mostly fastballs and sliders in spring games, and threw just two changeups today. He’s expected to go to West Virginia as a reliever, throwing multiple innings, then possibly becoming a starter later.

Fuesser Got a Break After a Busy 2012 Season

by Tim Williams

Zac Fuesser got off to a late start in camp, throwing his second outing today. The Pirates shut Fuesser down for a few weeks to give him a break from last season. The left-hander threw about 180 innings total last year between Spring Training, the season, and winter ball. That’s up from his previous years where he threw around 100 to 110 innings per year. Fuesser threw one inning last time out, and threw two inning today. He gave up just one walk and one hit, while striking out two in the two shutout innings.

Fuesser was mostly sitting 87-89 MPH with his fastball, touching 90.  He also mixed in his curveball and changeup. He came out dealing, striking out the first two batters he saw. Fuesser noted that his stuff felt good, and “better than it probably should be” considering all of the innings last year. He has pitched for the high-A team in each appearance, and could end up in Bradenton this year after spending two years in West Virginia. He will pitch in a similar role as the last few years, working as a swing man getting innings as a starter, in the bullpen, and throwing multiple innings in relief after the starter comes out.

Position Player Notes

— The Pirates didn’t produce a lot of offense in the high A game.  Gregory Polanco doubled up against the fence off a left-hander. Dan Gamache and Eric Avila each had hard hit balls, with both getting doubles.

— Aside from the bobble in the first inning, Hanson also bobbled a routine grounder later, although he recovered to get the out. He left the game early and was working with the coaches getting instruction back near the batting cages during the middle innings.

— In the low A game, Jimmy Rider homered to left.  He had a tail wind to help him, but the ball didn’t appear to need the help.

— Josh Bell doubled to left batting left-handed.  This is consistent with his pattern both last spring and this spring, with most of his batted balls going the opposite way.  Bell also got picked off first, following a walk, with runners on first and second.

— In the rookie level game, Jin-De Jhang homered, Elvis Escobar doubled and Harold Ramirez tripled, the last two deep drives to the opposite field.

Pitcher Notes

— After relieving Hughes, Sanchez, a short (6’0″), slightly built righty, was throwing 92-93.  He’s still only 20 and hasn’t pitched above short season ball, so it’s interesting that he was with the high A team.

— Jordan Cooper, a 23rd round pick in the 2011 draft, threw an inning in the high A game.  The Pirates drafted Cooper twice, the first time out of high school when he was highly regarded.  He struggled in college and signed with the Pirates as a draft-eligible sophomore.  He’s always had problems with consistency and today walked the first two batters he faced.  He got out of trouble, though, with the help of a double play.  His fastball sat at 89-92 and he had trouble controlling it.

— Dave Jagoditsh and Cesar Lopez both threw in the low A game, reaching 92.

— Colten Brewer, a 2011 fourth rounder who hasn’t pitched much yet due to health issues, started the rookie level game.  He got hit around a little, but got through two scoreless innings.  He gave up three hits, walked nobody and fanned one.  He threw 89-92, mostly 90-91, and also showed a curve.

— Dovydas Neverauskas, signed by the Pirates out of Lithuania, has drawn some attention this spring by throwing in the mid-90s, but he sat only at 88-93 today, mostly toward the upper end of that range.  He also threw a curve that had pretty good break.  He allowed no runs on two hits, and fanned one.  Neverauskas is still only 20 and could see some time with West Virginia at some point.

— Jhondaniel Medina, whom the Pirates acquired from Baltimore for Yamaico Navarro, got hit hard in his two innings in the rookie level game.  His fastball ranged from 89-93.

— Another pitcher in the rookie level game, Yhonathan Herrand, is a big righty who’s hit 100 mph in the past, but who has had severe control issues.  He threw 90-94 today, but failed to complete his inning due to wildness, which unfortunately included beaning a hitter.

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Any good news on Kingham is exciting. Looking forward to him having a nice year.

Lee Young

Wilbur….good stuff….sure glad I wasn’t a batter vs Herrand….scary.

Lee Young

Hafner: ”I’ve always kind of needed that hope pitch,”

I’ve never heard the term ‘hope pitch’ before.

Steve Zielinski

I hope Hafner can continue to pitch well.I thought I read somewhere that he has registered 95 mph on the gun. If true, then he has more to give than he’s shown so far.

Lee Young

it’s still early for that heater?

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