Every year on September 1st there is a big focus on who will be making the jump from the minors to the majors with rosters expanding. And then, when the minor league seasons end a week or two later, we see more players making the jump to the big leagues. For the Pirates, there is one set of promotions that largely goes unnoticed at this time. That would be the call for minor league coaches to join the big league squad.
This year the Pirates have Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor and Altoona manager Tom Prince in the majors down the stretch, serving in a sort of observatory role. I asked Clint Hurdle over the weekend in Chicago what the focus was for these coaches while they’re in the majors. Hurdle said that, aside from observing the majors, there’s an attempt to pass along how he does things in the majors, so that the managers can take that back to the minors and prepare players for their eventual promotions to Pittsburgh. It also helps to get a refresher on how the game is played at the MLB level, which allows them to apply that knowledge to their work in the minors.
“It’s really giving them somewhat of a reward for the hard work that they’ve done, and give them a glimpse again of the game at Major League speed, and I think that’s very, very important for anybody that’s in an evaluation [role],” Hurdle said. “You need to be up here and see the game played at this speed, because so many times when we all ask our minor league player development people to evaluate players, you don’t give them a peek or extended look at the game at this level. For me, it’s really not fair to them. I think this at least gives our guys a much better feeling for how the game is played.”
“You can get away with a lot of things in the minor leagues, and you can get away with a lot of things in Triple-A that you can’t get away with here,” Treanor said about the difference between Triple-A and the Majors. “You’re pitched differently here than you are down there. So you kind of have to evaluate on that level, and that’s how important it is to be able to project somebody and what they’re able to do at this level.”
Hurdle has called on Treanor the last few years, and Prince has joined the MLB squad the last two or three years. There are some cases where they could help the team, especially when an opponent has called up a rookie from a league they managed in, which would be a situation where they can provide better information on such players.
“Clint’s staff and everybody is great,” Prince said. “Getting an opportunity to just watch and see how they do some things is a different way of looking at it through my lens. It’s awesome.”
Prince has been in the majors, as many Pirates fans know. This experience for him is mostly about getting a look at how the Pirates are now coaching at the big league level. He noted that he helps out in the cages, and watches the way the fielders practice before games. Treanor noted that the roles are similar to Spring Training, although this time of year gives a different perspective, especially over the last few seasons with the Pirates in a playoff push.
In Treanor’s case, this is an extension of what has become a very special relationship with Hurdle. Every time I’ve asked Hurdle about a minor league player, he always references a conversation with Treanor, and often that conversation happened earlier in the day. Treanor, who has managed in Triple-A with two different organizations, and under five different MLB managers, said that the relationship he has with Hurdle is definitely not a common thing.
“It’s the first time that I’ve ever had this kind of relationship with a big league manager,” Treanor said. “He wants to know what’s going on down there, and if there’s a need up here, we’ll talk about different players and different fits. He wants the pulse of what’s going on down there.”
This was shown on September 19th. The Pirates were gearing up to face Clayton Kershaw, coming off a four game losing streak. Indianapolis was heading into their deciding game in the International League championship series. Despite the Pirates having some pretty important things on their plate, which far outweighed the Triple-A playoffs, Hurdle took the time to call Treanor and the Indianapolis team and let them know that everyone with the big league club was pulling for them.
“That’s how special our relationship is,” Treanor said of the moment.
Calling up minor league players has the obvious impact in the majors of providing extra help. But calling up the minor league managers can help in the long-run, as it gives those managers some insight as to how Clint Hurdle and his staff do things, which helps them pass that information on and better prepare the minor league players for when they eventually make the jump to the majors.