It is hard to find someone in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system who has had as good of a start as Adrian Sampson. The right-hander got a few starts in Indianapolis at the end of the 2014 season after a breakout year in Altoona, although that Triple-A debut was underwhelming. Sampson has been very strong so far this season, crediting his tempo for the success.

“My tempo is good right now,” Sampson said.  “It is causing all of my pitches to be downhill and allows me to get the ball inside and outside. With all of my pitches, if I can keep the same tempo for the changeup and the slider, I am doing a pretty good job for myself.”

In his first eight starts with Indianapolis this season, Sampson has worked 48.1 innings with an ERA of 2.61. One thing that stands out statistically are his strikeout totals this season, with 46, to go with his 12 walks.

Sampson has been looking to use his athleticism on the hill, which allows him to get the most out of his pitch arsenal.

“I am just trying to stay athletic out there,” Sampson said. “I think that I am at my best when I mix some pitching with my athleticism. I think that is when I can be the most dominant out there with moving the ball around and getting a lot of movement on each pitch.”

The movement is something that certainly has helped him earn many of those strikeouts. He had a 5.8 K/9 in 167 innings last year, compared to his 8.6 K/9 this year.

Indianapolis pitching coach Stan Kyles likes the aggressiveness that Sampson is pitching with and knows that he best uses what he has.

“He is pitching to his strengths,” Kyles said. “He is a guy that controls the counts. He pitches to contact and has been able to put guys away when he needs to. That is a pretty good formula for success. He is a very aggressive out there and he is a good animal out there. He is not afraid of contact and that is really what you are after when you talk about young pitchers, how aggressive that they are in the zone.”

Sampson concurred that his game plan involves pitching to his strengths as well, but he also said that he has involved some strategy from hitter to hitter, based on scouting their weaknesses in their swings. Sampson said that this also involves plenty of work with catchers Tony Sanchez and Elias Diaz, who he is nearly always on the same page with.

“You have to be able to trust [the catcher] back there,” Sampson said. “When you go through the game plan, there is a lot of information that you get. Sometimes you forget some things, and luckily they are there to be a fail safe for you. If you are not sure, you trust what they are doing. So far, it has worked out for me. I don’t shake them off too much, and when I do, it is something that I am convicted on throwing before they even put down a sign. They are doing an awesome job and it makes it easy for me.”

Another aspect that Sampson has been working on is making sure that his mind is fully prepared for each pitch and each hitter. He said that doing this has been a focus of his all season long.

“I am just trying to refine some things and just trying to focus every pitch,” Sampson said. “Sometimes, I lose focus out there and that can lead to a base hit at the start of the inning and get a rally for them. You want to limit that the whole game. It is a very complex game, and it takes a lot of mind power to keep yourself focused. We do a lot of things in Spring Training and throughout the season to make sure that we are staying sharp. It is something that you don’t see until a couple of starts later, but it is really working for me.”

With the development of Sampson this season, combined with the injury to Nick Kingham and the slow return for Jameson Taillon, he could end up being the top prospect who could make the Pirates’ rotation by the middle of the season.

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22 COMMENTS

    • Jeff Locke, his last time through AAA:
      2.48 ERA, 22%K, 7%BB

      Adrian Sampson, for eight starts:
      2.61 ERA, 23%K, 6%BB

      • Were they the same age during this period? I was always fighting for Locke to get his shot but now I cringe when he pitches. I feel like if he’s not getting the corners or at least the calls there he’s toast. When he’s on he’s tremendous. I guess this is what you get with your 5th starter. I’m not saying a switch should be made right now but I’d only give a few more starts. He’s killing the bullpen too.

        • Locke was a few months older, by my (probably poor) math.

          I’m certainly not stumping for Jeff Locke with that comparison, only suggesting that by no means is Adrian Sampson, after just eight good starts, appreciably better.

          If the Pirates are going to improve the 5th spot in the rotation, it’s likely going to come from outside the organization.

          • NMR: I hope we do not go looking outside, because we have way too many possibilities within – Sampson being just one. I still think Jameson Taillon will be up later this year – why the Pirates need two years when everybody else only needs one is a mystery to me. Cumpton will be back, and if anyone finds the guy who is supposedly giving a 2nd opinion on Kingham, he may be able to throw this year. Glasnow too, regardless of his last outing.

            • I mean, from the list you just gave there is at least 2 names that are clearly not gonna throw in PIT this year, Cumpton and Glasnow. You can argue the merits of not promoting Glasnow, but if any team is a lock to not have a player skip an entire level that would be PIT.

              So you have Sampson, Taillon, and Kingham. I’d say its a pretty large question mark about Kingham right now so you cant expect anything from him currently. That severely breaks down the “many possibilities” we have. I’d say Richard has a higher chance of seeing action this year in PIT than Kingham or Glasnow.

          • Good points. But I’m reluctant to give up assets that would be necessary to move to upgrade the #5 position directly. There are too many candidates moving up through the minors like Taillon etc. that could soon displace that acquisition. If they are going to upgrade the pitching from the outside they should be willing to pay more and look for a Price like candidate that can come in near the top of the rotation and slide Liriano to #3, AJ to #4 and Morton down to #5.

            • Sampson has ping ponged year to year in his walk rates, and Locke didnt have a long history of high bb/9 until AAA (and even then had decent rates at times). In his 150 innings before being called up, Locke posted a roughly 2.80 bb/9 rate at AAA. Sampsons been better than that early this year but was worse than that in SSS last year.

              Big plus for Sampson this year is a big increase in K rate in the SSS so far.

              • Good recap, Luke.

                Starters with marginal stuff, like Locke and Sampson, must learn command over control at the Big League level to be successful. No longer is it just good enough to throw strikes (control), the pitcher must throw the pitch he wants where he wants it (command) or risk getting hit hard.

                Jeff Locke doesn’t have poor control, he has poor command. This manifests itself in the form of a lot of walks because he’d rather miss off the plate than over it.

                The one thing I’m waiting on with Sampson are scouting reports of improved stuff, either a tick more on the fastball, more movement, sharper break, greater speed variation in the change; something that would lead one to believe a >5% increase in K-rate between AA and AAA is sustainable.

                • Yeah that big spike in K rate doesnt have me as a believer yet, since it seems unsustainable in comparison to his other years stuff without some type of increased movement.

    • It will be a real disappointment if the Pirates are sellers at the trade deadline. Who could expect such subpar performances to start the season from Cutch, JHay? With Polanco’s and JHay’s low OBP the Pirates need a leadoff presence. Tabata in RF (DFA Corey Hart) to platoon with Polanco?

      Can Deibinson Romero play 1B? Hunter Morris is doing nothing at INDY, why not try Romero there and see if he can handle it? He’d be a better platoon partner with Pedro than what we have!

      • Gorkys Hernandez would be much preferable than Jose Tabata. How many chances would you like to see the guy get to prove he is not the answer at a corner spot in MLB ?

        • Gorkys might be the better all-around player, but if you’re looking for a bench bat that also plays outfield I have to imagine Tabata is still the better choice.

          Neither player is likely to actually be good, but one is a league average hitter in over 1700 big league attempts, and one has a wRC+ of 56.

          Pirates are different than a lot of clubs in that they don’t really have a need for a 4th OF who can play all the spots, such as Gorkys.

        • Truth be told I have never liked Tabata, primarily because of his attitude. Gorkys is a better all around player (defender) than Tabata, but RF in Pittsburgh isn’t that challenging, and Tabata can play it certainly better than Corey Hart. The one thing Tabata is doing well right now, albeit in AAA, is getting on base, which is what we currently need. Put him at leadoff and his lack of power doesn’t hurt as much. He isn’t the prototypical corner outfielder but it could be possible that he contributes enough, like Lunchbox did last year, and attracts sufficient attention that the Pirates can move Tabata at the deadline or the offseason. In the meantime we need more people on base, and Tabata could help with that.

          • Tabata getting promoted certainly wont be for starting in RF, its to upgrade the PH options off the bench. Polanco has to do a wholllle lot worse than he is to be benched for Tabata, since any increase in AVG/OBP is likely negated by the defense and baserunning.

            • Polanco’s splits against LHP to date: .158/.200/.158/.358 . I wouldn’t mind platooning him with Tabata this early in his career. Let Polanco stay in the game against left handed RP but for the occasional LH starter, start Tabata. Other than that Tabata serves as a pinch hitter, or occasionally resting Marte against RHP.

              • Yeah im on board with that. Tabata gets PH duties and a few starts against LHP (when S Rod doesnt get a start in the OF). Doesnt really change the current role Polanco has and upgrades the bench with Tabata+Lambo rather than Lambo+Hart.

      • Might be key to remind people that, as awful/terrible/putrid/blah blah blah that they have been so far, they are in slightly better shape now than they were last year at this point and staying near .500. Which certainly isnt ideal by any stretch, but its a far cry from being sellers and giving rookies free reign over the team.

    • Doom and gloom alert. Keep the faith, Pilbo. Pirates have too good of a roster to perform this poorly on offense for very much longer.

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