This site is now in its seventh year of existence. For the last four years, I’ve been doing this full-time, allowing me to see every affiliate throughout the year, along with a trip to instructs. By the end of each year, I’ve seen every player in the US part of the system, including the recent draft picks. And in that time, there has never been a player I’ve known less about than Connor Joe.
I’m probably not alone on that. Joe went down with a back injury last year, almost immediately after joining the Jamestown Jammers. I reported the injury back in July, and that, plus the information that came with his selection in the draft and his stock photo from Jamestown, was all I had on him. He was drafted as an outfielder, and the Pirates said he could play first base as well. There was a report that he would get work behind the plate during instructs, but when instructs came around, he wasn’t playing.
So my goal in the early part of minor league camp was to catch up with Joe and see how serious his back injury was, and what kind of plans the Pirates had for him. I talked with him on Tuesday, and talked with Larry Broadway this afternoon about his progress. I also got some video of his workouts today, although there is a disclaimer on that part (more below). The video of both interviews, along with some action from Joe can be seen below.
He not only missed the entire season after throwing his back out, but he also missed all of instructs. That put the plans to have him catch on hold, since that wouldn’t be a good move with his back problems. He’s fully healthy now, but the Pirates are limiting him in the early part of camp as they try to build him up. He took some swings off a tee in the batting cages, but didn’t take batting practice on the field with the rest of his group. He also didn’t participate in base running drills.
Joe did participate in infield drills, and the most notable thing was that he was taking grounders at third base, in addition to his work at first base. He played five positions in college, including some third base, but he was at first base more often. He looked better at first base than he did at third base. His footwork was good at both spots, although his glove wasn’t as smooth at third. He wasn’t making the throws to second or to first during the ground ball drills, but was throwing at first base on the flips to the first base bag.
The Pirates drafted him for the bat and the power, as outlined by Broadway in the video below. If he does end up having a power bat, then he could play first base. However, the Pirates are very thin in their system at third base, which would make that a much better spot for him, if he can handle it. It would be even better than the plan to get him work behind the plate, since the Pirates already have Reese McGuire, Jin-De Jhang, Taylor Gushue, and Kevin Krause as catching options in full season A-ball.
It’s still too early to tell where Joe will start the season. My guess right now would be West Virginia. That makes the most sense from a rehab standpoint, since it would be an easier transition for him back to the game after so much time off. It would also make sense from a position standpoint. I currently project Wyatt Mathisen at third base in Bradenton, and Edwin Espinal at first base. Those assignments haven’t been made, but that seems likely for each player. Meanwhile, West Virginia would just have Chase Simpson as a 1B/3B option, leaving open the possibility that he and Joe could spend the season switching back and forth between those spots. This would put Joe on a “JaCoby Jones” type plan, where he spends time at a lower level, but gets work in at a position that would be more valuable in the long-term.
Here is the video on Joe: