Pirates Notes: Kang Watches Pitches, Prospect Battles, Figueroa Gets a Look

BRADENTON, Fl. – Jung-ho Kang stepped into the batter’s box today, and everyone gathered to watch as the Korean third baseman…watched. Kang wasn’t swinging, but instead was tracking pitches and getting used to speeds. It’s a process that a lot of hitters go through this time of year to get their timing down. In this case, Kang is limited in what he can do, which means tracking is the only option.

All the fun of watching Jung-ho Kang watch pitches. #Pirates

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“Jung-ho is going to be involved in many different aspects of our Spring Training program,” Clint Hurdle said after practice today. “There will be hitting in the cage, hitting off the tee. The live hitting, not right now. Any situation that calls for a quick, violent movement, we’re holding off on right now. Ground balls under control. Fungos off the bat. Throws of that nature right now. He’s making great progress, he’s doing very well at this particular point in time. There’s some things that we are holding him back from, and I anticipate we’ll see him getting involved as we move further into Spring Training.”

Kang’s rehab has been impressive so far, but the Pirates haven’t committed to the idea of whether he can be ready by Opening Day. Kang also hasn’t committed to whether he would be ready. For now, every bit of progress is encouraging, as it’s one step closer to Kang returning to the lineup.

Prospect Matchups

Today was the start of live batting practice, which means Pirates pitchers were throwing to live Pirates batters, and that means the opportunity for some interesting prospect match-ups. Today, we got some pretty good ones.

First, there’s Tyler Glasnow, who went up against Dan Gamache, Harold Ramirez, and Max Moroff.

Next up is Jameson Taillon, who took on Alen Hanson and Josh Bell, with Bell getting him on the last few pitches (with one of them being a planned pitch out).

Of course, the thing about these battles is that it leaves you in a weird situation. Is it a good thing that Josh Bell was able to get two hard hit balls off Taillon, or a bad thing that Taillon was hit hard twice? Either way, it’s great to see this many top prospects in the system in the same videos (with Reese McGuire also in the mix at catcher). That makes six of our top ten prospects involved.

Does Figueroa Have the Inside Track?

I can’t help but notice this Spring that Cole Figueroa has been talked about in a way that makes it seem he’s got the inside track for a bench job in Pittsburgh. It’s just the way that he’s been separated from the group when a discussion comes up about bench depth and the infield options. For example, I asked Neal Huntington last week whether the Pirates would be comfortable turning to their inexperienced infield prospects in Triple-A if an early season need arose. Here was the response:

“That’s where Juan Diaz came into the mix. If Moroff or Gift Ngoepe or Alen Hanson aren’t ready to start out of the gate, and need time in Triple-A, and we had the need for an extra infielder because Cole Figueroa or Sean Rodriguez where we had an injury somewhere, or we decide to go in a different direction.”

Notice how Max Moroff, Alen Hanson, and Gift Ngoepe are in one group, and Figueroa is in another group with Sean Rodriguez. Huntington later went on to talk about what they liked about Figueroa, and grouped him this time with Jason Rogers, who also has a strong chance to make the team.

Today, Figueroa was once again in a different group. While Moroff, Hanson, and Ngoepe were with other guys who will start the season in Indianapolis, Figueroa was with the MLB guys, including Jordy Mercer. But after practice, Clint Hurdle played it down, saying the Pirates plan to rotate guys around with the MLB guys.

“There’s going to be a number of guys we’re going to rotate in and out of that spot,” Hurdle said. “Cole’s earned the opportunity, we feel, based on the conversations we’ve had with him over the winter. We’re going to give him that look, the versatile look. We like the bat to ball. We like the on base. We like the hitter in a box mentality, the grind it out at-bats and see pitches. Want to get him in that environment early, and we’ll see where he goes with it. He’s going to get reps and he’s going to get opportunities to play.”

That being said by Hurdle, it’s still easy to read between the lines here, and realize that Figueroa might have an inside track to win a bench job out of Spring Training.

  • Why exactly do the Pirates seem so high on this Figueroa guy? He’s 28 years old (turns 29 at the end of June), has 51 total at bats in the Majors with a .634 OPS and has done nothing. He is a classic AAAA player. If this guy makes the 25 man squad coming out of spring training instead of Hanson I am going to be very unhappy.

    • In the long run it doesn’t matter if Figueroa is twiddling his thumbs on the bench. To improve Hanon has to play everyday. He is not MLB ready yet.

      • If Kang is on the DL to start the season, Hanson can start at second. It would be an incredible waste of time for Figueroa to start at second base. The only thing worse would be for Sean Rodriguez to start at second. Why not give Hanson the opportunity instead of a never been like Figueroa or a has been like Rodriguez?

  • That last hit from Bell looks like he really incorporated that leg kick, can’t wait to see him in PGH with all that power!

  • David Freese would be a nice get if Kang isn’t ready.

  • Is there a sense about where was McCutchen was with his knee injury last year in comparison with Kang this year? It looks like Kang is hurting pretty badly after that 2nd leg kick in the instagram video. I know their injuries might not be super comperable but since a lot of people blame Cutch’s slow start last year on his knee not being 100% I’m surprised how many people are optimistic about Kang being on track to produce at a high level Opening Day.

    • I’ll be pleasantly surprised if Kang is able to play before June.

    • I think Kang just reached down to grab the ball which had caromed toward him. He did look really frustrated that he couldn’t take a cut at that first pitch, though.

      • You could very likely be right about me misinterpreting him reaching down towards his knee and facial expressions.

        Would be fine be me haha.

  • GREAT video, Tim. This is awesome.

    Crazy how Bell can just throw his hands at the ball like that and still square it up. Kid’s never gonna strike out. Just for S&G’s, where did that ball to left end up landing?

  • When did the Pirates get Tabata back?

  • Glasnow’s stuff jumps off the screen.

  • They need to invent a robot the creates the exact same motion and movement that a pitcher makes that way you could take swings off of fake Cole hamels before you face the real one

    • They have pitching machines that can control the break of the ball. They can tell it what an average Hamels curve breaks like and it will throw it with that much break.

    • They could probably build one that could pitch like an ace for less than one years salary of a real live ace. Probably wouldn’t field the piston all that well though.

  • Lee Foo please take your curse off of Hanson. He looked like a rusty gate in BP. Now Figueroa is next man up. Can you hear me wringing my hands?

    • I did…you’re seeing the REAL Hanson. 🙂

    • Two pitches vs one of the top pitching prospects in the system on the first day of live batting practice.

      • When you think about it how many guys will ever hit Glasnow when he doesn’t have to worry about the count. Maybe Harper, cutch, Cabrera, or trout. The threat of walking someone and control issues is a batter’s only defense vs the filth he throws. Glasnow has really been around the plate in the two videos I’ve seen this spring too. Moreso than Cole and taillon even. It’s early but good to see since seems like it usually takes him a few months to get the delivery exactly right.

  • Off topic but Cole is #71 on the MLB top 100 list…? Seems pretty low to me. They had a great breakdown of his slider vs. fastball though.