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.
“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.
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.