When the Pittsburgh Pirates brought in Kevin Young this off-season, the thought was that he was coming in to help Pedro Alvarez transition to first base. That has been true, but that is just one of many assignments Young has had. The former Pirates’ first baseman has not only been working with Alvarez, but he has also been working with other first base prospects throughout the system.
I spoke with Young a few weeks ago after the home opening series against the Detroit Tigers. Young had just finished working with Pedro Alvarez in that series, with Alvarez showing some good fielding during the final game.
“He’s embraced the position,” Young said. “He’s committed to learning as it goes, the more reps he gets, the more comfortable he gets. You wouldn’t know that he’s uncomfortable from watching him right now.”
Following that game, Young was heading to Altoona, which coincidentally was where I was heading. He was going there to get his first work in with Josh Bell since the end of Spring Training. This is an interesting aspect of Young’s position, and one that many probably didn’t think about. His work with Alvarez makes sense, as Alvarez is in the majors now and needs help with the transition to first base. You could also say the same for Corey Hart. But the future at first base is Josh Bell, who is also making the transition to the new position. So while it helps to focus on the current first base options, it only makes sense to also assist the guy who projects to hold down the position in the long-term.
I saw Young working a lot with Bell on scooping the ball out of the dirt, which paid off during that series. Bell fielded several poor throws, and while other aspects of his game looked rough, the pick drills were impressive. I wrote about the work that Bell has been doing at first base earlier today.
After he was done in Altoona, Young continued touring the organization before meeting back up with the Pirates in Arizona. One of the other interesting guys he has been working with is Connor Joe, who was the first round competitive balance pick for the Pirates last year. Joe has played first base before, but will rotate between first and third more often this year, which is a change from his college days when he also mixed in catcher and right field.
“He’s been fun to work with because he’s been in the infield,” Young said about Joe. “He’s learning how to play it, and the impact that it has on the entire infield, and the pitching staff. Anytime we’re able to get him to expand and understand what those responsibilities look like, it’s always a good thing.”
The transition to first base can provide some challenges. Players coming from the outfield will see the game sped up, while players coming from any other position will have to get used to being involved in a lot more plays. Then there’s the common problem of the throw down to second base, which can be an issue for a lot of new first basemen. Young said that this is difficult because you need to create an angle, set your body up to make a throw, and hit a moving target, all at the same time.
There has also been a new challenge at first base since Young was playing, and that challenge involves the addition of defensive shifts. Young said the key was to take as many holes away and to maximize the range, while still staying close enough to the bag to make the play if it is hit elsewhere.
“It gives us the opportunity to still get back to the bag and record the outs that are hit,” Young said on getting the right position during a shift. “Being able to know which ball you can get to comfortably, and which ball someone else can get to comfortably. That’s the biggest thing.”
Young will spend a lot of time this year working with Pedro Alvarez at the MLB level, along with other first base options like Corey Hart and Sean Rodriguez. But he will also continue going around the system and working with guys like Josh Bell, Connor Joe, and anyone else who might have a shot at factoring in at first base in Pittsburgh in the future.