I spent most of today getting coverage from extended Spring Training at Pirate City, catching up on some of the injuries that have taken place in camp, while also watching a game that featured Clayton Richard and Gage Hinsz pitching. I’ve got a great report on Richard coming tomorrow, talking a bit about how he performed today, but mostly focused on some of the mechanical changes he has been making, including a source for his new mechanics that you won’t believe.
I got a question last week about extended Spring Training, wondering simply what it is. This is something that hasn’t been discussed much up until the last few years. Part of that is because the Pirates haven’t really had a farm system worth following at the lower levels until this group started loading up on projectable prep pitchers and projectable international hitters. That made the lower levels and EST interesting.
I’d also say that in recent years, EST has been newsworthy because the Pirates have been contenders, and have had some injuries with players starting out in the extended camp. You might not notice EST when a middle round, six figure prep pitcher goes there, but you’re definitely going to notice when Charlie Morton, Francisco Liriano, Jameson Taillon, Clayton Richard, and others go to the level in years where they are expected to help the big league team.
Extended Spring Training is exactly as it sounds — an extension of Spring Training. If you’ve ever been to Pirate City for minor league camp, then you’ve got a good idea of how it works. There are workouts in the morning, then the team breaks for lunch, then they play a few games at 1:00 in the afternoon against the Yankees, Blue Jays, or Phillies, usually featuring at least two different levels in competition. In this case, you’ve got guys who will be making up the 2015 Morgantown, Bristol, and GCL Pirates rosters.
Joining these teams are the injured minor league players, plus the rehabbing MLB candidates. Richard pitched today. Charlie Morton pitches tomorrow. Jameson Taillon will throw a live batting practice tomorrow. Connor Joe took live at-bats in today’s game. And so on.
The benefit of EST is that it is less structured, allowing more time for development. Today I watched Clayton Richard — in EST to work on his mechanics — get a first pitch groundout to start an inning. That’s the type of efficiency you want in a game, but not what you want to see when a guy needs work with his new mechanics. No worries. A quick command from the pitching coaches, and the game situation was reset to no outs.
Or there’s the flip side of things. If a young pitcher is struggling with his command in a certain inning, and reaches his desired pitch count before getting three outs, the inning will be “rolled”, which basically means the inning is over as it stands. But in the very next inning, that same pitcher is free to return to the mound, despite the fact that he didn’t make it out of the previous inning. This allows teams to control the pitch counts of young pitchers, while also making sure they don’t have their start cut short due to a bad inning.
You can see why this type of environment would be good for anyone coming back from an injury, or anyone working on new mechanics, or just developing their game in the lower levels. On that latter part, even the drills are more relaxed than regular Spring Training. There aren’t hard time limits to get to your next drill, and there aren’t hundreds of players trying to get their work in. The work in EST is more hands-on, with coaches able to take extra time to work with players and help them develop an area where they are struggling, even if that means the schedule gets thrown off.
For the most part, Extended Spring Training is for major development of guys at the lowest levels of the system who need to work closer with coaches, and have more to work on than guys in full season ball. It’s also beneficial to rehabbing players, or any other player that has something specific to work on before they are ready to return to their normal level.
I’ll have reports from EST throughout the first two months of the season, including tomorrow with Charlie Morton’s outing and Jameson Taillon’s live BP, and my story on Clayton Richard and his mechanical adjustments.