Prospect Notebook: New Focus on the Running Game Extends to the Minors

It seems like there have been daily reports out of major league camp about how the Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers are focusing more on controlling the running game this year. After every caught stealing or pick off, the topic is brought up, and the answer usually given is that the importance of keeping runners in check has been stressed over and over to the pitchers.

In 2012 we saw the Pirates go a little overboard with their focus of executing pitches. They totally ignored the running game, allowing runners to steal at-will. Down in the minors, that kind of thing was going on before the 2012 season came around. As an example, when people were alarmed at the low caught stealing numbers from Tony Sanchez in 2011, it was hard to see how most of that was placed on the pitchers, and not as much on Sanchez. But what we saw in Pittsburgh in 2012 was happening in the minors the last few years. The focus was only on the guy at the plate, with no focus on the runner on base.

It’s good to see the major league team putting an emphasis on the running game. They were giving up measurable wins last year, which is something that a small market team can’t be doing. Really what they’re doing now is what they should have been doing all along. Now the question is, when will the Pirates have their minor league pitchers focus on the running game? The answer is right now.

“We’ve been getting pounded a lot this year so far in camp with holding runners and working on base stealing,” Brandon Cumpton said after throwing two innings today at Pirate City. The right-hander worked on holding his only base runner on at first after issuing a walk in the second inning. The work paid off, as Cumpton was able to induce a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

Everything that the Pirates are working on in major league camp, the prospects have been working on in minor league camp.

“Really it’s the same thing, it’s just filtering down,” Cumpton said. “We’re working on holding the ball, and inside turns. Basically everything they’re doing up there we’re doing down here.”

Executing the pitches is most likely going to be the main priority in the minors, as it should for pitchers who are developing. But at some point those pitchers need to learn and embrace what the major leaguers are currently starting to embrace — methods and techniques to control the running game and keep runners at first base. It looks like the new focus on the running game won’t just be at the major league level, but will be system wide.

next outing more off-speed, today was more about locating the fastball down in the zone

Brandon Cumpton only needed 19 pitches to throw two shutout innings today.
Brandon Cumpton only needed 19 pitches to throw two shutout innings today.

Pitcher Notes

**Cumpton threw two innings, giving up just one walk, and striking out one. He was extremely efficient, only needing 19 pitches to get through two. Out of those 19 pitches, 12 were strikes. He had the double play to end the second inning. Cumpton was 90-91 MPH with his fastball. He said that his focus today was more about locating the fastball down in the zone. In his next outing he’ll be focusing more on throwing off-speed pitches. He will probably go to three innings, since his recent sim games and today’s outing have all been two innings each.

**Casey Sadler threw two innings in the Double-A game. Sadler was hit around a bit, giving up three runs on four hits in two innings. He didn’t allow any walks and struck out three. I didn’t see much of his outing, since I was watching Jeff Karstens at the time. The pitches I did see had good downward plane, thrown at the knees. He was 90-92 MPH with his fastball, 86-89 MPH with his slider, and threw one changeup.

**Vic Black threw an inning in the Triple-A game. He had some control problems, and gave up a few hits, including an RBI double that was lined down the third base line. Black was in the 95-96 MPH range with his fastball, and finished off the inning with a 96 MPH fastball for a strikeout looking.

**Quinton Miller threw two innings in the Double-A game. Miller didn’t allow a run on three hits, with a walk and two strikeouts. He was 89-92 MPH with his fastball.

**There were reports that Philippe Valuquette was hitting triple digits on the radar guns a few years ago. Today he threw an inning and was 89-90 MPH.

Hitter Notes

**Mel Rojas Jr. and Jarek Cunningham had back to back homers in the Double-A game. Cunningham’s carried a bit with the cross winds at Pirate City. Rojas’ homer was a bit more impressive, as he went opposite field hitting right-handed. Rojas has always had raw power, but has never been able to carry that over to games on a consistent basis.

**Alex Valdez, who was signed as a minor league free agent this off-season, played shortstop in the second half of the Triple-A game. I saw one nice pick from Valdez on a short hop deep in the hole between second and third. After making the backhanded stop, Valdez flashed a strong arm to get the runner at first.

**Speaking of strong arms, Carlos Mesa showed his off today with a great throw from right field to third base. Mesa, signed out of Cuba in 2011, used to be a pitcher but was converted to a right fielder by the Pirates. Mesa has lost some weight in the last two years. He’s a very athletic fielder and has displayed some pop in his bat when I’ve seen him in batting practice. If he’s going to do something, it needs to be quick. He signed at the age of 23, and turned 25 last month.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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