The Pittsburgh Pirates have released five minor league players. Those players are as follows.
Zack Von Rosenberg
The most notable name here is Zack Von Rosenberg. He was the poster child for the Pirates’ strategy of drafting and signing over-slot prep pitchers in the middle rounds. Quinton Miller was the first over-slot guy in 2008, but Von Rosenberg was the big one early in the process. He was considered a late first round talent, but fell to the Pirates in the sixth round of the 2009 draft due to signability concerns. They paid him $1.2 M, which was not only significant in price, but significant because it was the first big moment where they showed that they were willing to spend big beyond the first round.
The idea with Von Rosenberg was that he had a chance to add velocity due to his projectable frame, and smooth, easy delivery. That velocity never came, with the exception of jumping to the 92-93 MPH range in some starts in 2012. However, he had issues flattening out his fastball at that speed, which made him very easy to hit.
Von Rosenberg switched to a two-seam fastball in 2013, lowering the velocity in hopes of adding more deception. The results improved in 2014, but the stuff wasn’t over-powering, usually topping out in the mid-80s. When I saw him in his last appearance on Tuesday, he was hitting 85 MPH with his first several pitches. It also looks like his delivery got complicated over the years, as seen below. The first image is from a video I shot in 2012, and the second is from his outing this week.
I definitely selected that first image specifically because I remembered that amazing play he made.
The new delivery features much shorter arm action, almost as if his arm is tied to his body. It would be hard to generate velocity with this approach, although he might have some deception. The ball definitely isn’t as flat, but it was also 5-8 MPH slower than his 2012 velocity, so I’m not sure the tradeoff is worthwhile.
Von Rosenberg was dealt a bad hand with his situation. The Pirates were early in their rebuilding phase, and just starting to put the focus on the draft. They didn’t have any top pitching prospects, and had been starved at the Major League level for a top of the rotation guy. Von Rosenberg might have had a shot, but it was always a small shot, just like any other projectable prep pitcher. But he was the best guy in the system in a time when there was no one in the system, and he was the focus of the 2009 draft (the Pirates selected Tony Sanchez in the first round to save money and spend it on guys like Von Rosenberg) at a time when the Pirates were looking to the draft to rebuild. He was elevated to a prospect status that was definitely unfair, just because he was the main guy when the system was weak.
If Von Rosenberg had been drafted in 2011, things might have been different. The Pirates drafted Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie in 2010. They also signed Luis Heredia. They drafted Gerrit Cole in 2011. Suddenly the middle round prep pitchers in the system were a bonus, rather than the focus. And that’s evident by Clay Holmes, who received the same $1.2 M bonus as Von Rosenberg. There are hopes that Holmes will reach his upside and become a middle of the rotation starter, even after Tommy John surgery. But no one is depending on Holmes to be a top of the rotation guy. No one is even depending on him as a key member of the Pirates’ rotation. And you could draw up a scenario where he’s not even needed at all, even if he does reach his upside.
That’s a massive change from the days when Von Rosenberg was drafted, and it’s unfortunate for him, because the expectations were unreasonable high as a result of the system being so poor. Two years later, he might have been just another guy. But in 2009, he was THE guy, even though his odds to be that guy didn’t match the hopes.
As for the other four, Nate Baker was a 2009 pick in the fifth round out of Mississippi. The lefty always displayed a great changeup, but struggled with his fastball command. Ryan Beckman looked promising as a potential middle relief option, but went down with Tommy John surgery, and never really bounced back to put up the dominant numbers he saw pre-2012. Ashley Ponce was an organizational guy in the lower levels, filling out the utility infield spots. Chris Peacock was signed this off-season out of indy ball as one of the guys who could hit the upper 90s with his fastball, but struggled with control. I saw him last week and he was sitting 87-89 MPH.