The Pittsburgh Pirates have released five minor league players. Those players are as follows.

Nate Baker

Ryan Beckman

Ashley Ponce

Chris Peacock

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.

ZVR 2012

ZVR 2015

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.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. BTW, its hard to imagine that a guy with the mediocre stuff of Nate Baker was taken in the fifth round.

  2. I feel bad for any kid who has to say good bye to his lifetime dream Just imagine if it was your son? I hope ZVR invested his money well – and I wish him well no matter if he decides to try to stick it out in baseball or move on to something else.

    A lot of things have to go right for any HS player – especially a starting pitcher – to make it to the majors – even if they are a first round pick. A lot of things can happen to derail a player along the way, mostly injuries.

  3. When you look back at these kids from the 2009 class, they were for the most part, coming in with less than the top prep signings from 2014(Keller, Supak and Hinsz). I saw ZVR pitch at West Virginia and he just didn’t have anything. Then I saw Colton Cain(twice) and his fastball was hitting 86-87 and everything was up. Brooks Pounders looked the best(Dodson was a close second) and it’s not surprise he got the furthest until being injured in 2014. Right now, I’d say the 2011 Cain would probably rank in the 30’s, ZVR in the 40’s with this current group and they were both top ten back then.

  4. The reaction to this news speaks volumes about where the organization is today compared with the recent past. Previously, each time a once-highly regarded pitcher was finally given up on by the Bucs (Bradley, Burnett, Bullington, Van Benschoten, Moskos), it felt like yet another punch to gut for fans of the perpetually ‘rebuilding’ franchise. Yet today, upon hearing that Von Rosenberg was released, it amounts to not much more than an “oh yeah, forgot about that guy,” followed by a light shoulder shru, and a sympathetic “that’s a shame” for the player. Granted, the earlier guys were 1st round picks, but the expectations and potential disappointments were similarly high for Von Rosenberg based on the reason’s Tim outlined in the article. Nice to be in this era where it doesn’t feel like the future of the franchise can rise and fall on the development of a single player.

    • I’m surprised they never tried to change Van Benschoten into a position player. I mean, he led all of division 1 in home runs his senior year. In all reality, he should have been a hitter all along.

          • Actually I had read something on him where changing to a position player was’nt possible due to multiple shoulder injuries.

            • I mean, just look at his Junior year stats (the year the pirates took him) He was a closer, only started 4 games. Had a walk rate of almost 5 per inning and only pitched 114 innings in his college career. Now batting, he leads college baseball with 31 home runs, steals 23 bases, has more walks than strikeouts, and an unreal 1.533 OPS and .542 ISO. What would you rather have?

  5. Leg kick went a little higher, glove and ball went from mid section to behind the head and the arm action became loopier. Alas you can’t turn a four banger into a v-8 even if you boost the injectors and upgrade the jets ect. .

  6. When ever Zack got drafted I couldn’t wait to see him go through the system and then get a Von Rosenberg jersey… Sad day

    • Same goes for me. I remember how excited I was keeping track of the signings from that draft and thinking how significant it could be for the future of the franchise but alas…Hopefully he handled his bonus money wisely and perhaps he can get a shot somewhere else.

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