BRADENTON, Fl. – Today was the first workout day at Minor League camp at Pirate City, with early players reporting on Sunday. This is always a weird time during Spring Training. On one hand, it’s great to see so many of the prospects out on the field again. On the other hand, I just spent two weeks watching the exact same workout every day from big league guys, and now I’m going to spend another two weeks doing the same thing for the minor leaguers. But it’s usually during this process that the breakout candidates and the guys who took a step back emerge, so I’ll take it.
The Pirates started their Spring Training schedule on the road today, but rather than being one of five outlets covering that, I wanted to show Sean McCool around Pirate City, and be the only outlet covering the four fields of minor league practice. Seriously, the media room there is basically my second office for a month, and once Sean leaves town, I might see one other person there for one day total the rest of camp, at least until Ryan Palencer comes down later this month.
I always think of this kind of stuff when I hear that you can get free prospect information anywhere. You can see words written by someone who may have seen the prospect once or twice, and may have talked to him for a few minutes. But how many sites watch these guys on a daily basis all throughout the year, with years of background and live coverage backing up their reports? But I digress.
There always seems to be one group of prospects that immediately stands out, and today it was the third base group. It’s easy to get lost in the action and miss things at Pirate City. I was watching the catchers take batting practice on one field, followed by watching Wyatt Mathisen, Erich Weiss, Elvis Escobar, and Pablo Reyes taking batting practice on another field. That grouping includes three of our top 50 prospects, plus another who was in consideration for the list. But it wasn’t close to the next group of guys.
I looked at the next field over and saw some infield drills taking place. And I was pleasantly surprised when I went over to find that the Pirates had a nice prospect trio working at third base — Ke’Bryan Hayes, Connor Joe, and Jordan Luplow. Here is some of the video of the defensive work.
The Pirates were once thin on third base prospects all throughout the system, but they’ve actually got some interesting guys in the lower levels. Normally I post videos just to give you a look at what is going on in Spring Training, while advising not to put too much stock in one minute of action (especially on the first day like this case). However, if it looks like Hayes has much better defense than the other two, then I can tell you it’s not a sample size issue.
I saw Hayes a lot last year in the GCL and was very impressed with his defense. He’s fast, has good first step quickness, gets to the ball while setting up in good position for a quick throw to first, and while there were no throws today, he has a strong arm. He’s the best defensive third baseman in the system, and if his offense works out, you’re looking at an exciting player in the future.
Luplow is a bit of the opposite. He broke out at the plate in the second half last year in West Virginia, which we rate a bit lower in value due to the fact that he’s a college guy playing in a college league. He hadn’t played third base since high school, so re-learning the position was a big focus for him. He got more comfortable as the year went on, but still has a lot of work to do to adjust to the position. I equate him to JaCoby Jones, in the sense that you’ve got a guy who put up strong offensive numbers in West Virginia, while moving from the outfield to a difficult infield position. Jones had questions about whether his offense was real in the lower level, and whether he could improve defensively. Luplow will get a chance to answer the same questions this year.
Joe really doesn’t have a spot at third, since he projects to be at the same level as Luplow, who should get most of the playing time. He’ll probably be limited to first base action, where he shows off the fielding and quickness of a third baseman, but still has some stuff to smooth out, and gets work with Kevin Young during the season on these issues. He’s got some power potential in his bat, which could allow him to play any corner position if that develops. This will be a big year for Joe, as he shouldn’t be under any restrictions from his back injury in 2014, and needs to show what he can do.
Of the group, Hayes looks like the most likely to be a starting third baseman for the Pirates, although he’s a long way away. Until then, the Pirates could use someone like Luplow or Joe to step up and provide more depth at the position, and maybe an MLB starter for the short-term one day.
Here is some batting practice from each player:
And now, some photos of the day, all taken by Sean McCool.
Rinku Singh being on the mound was something that hasn’t been seen much the last few years. He had Tommy John surgery twice, which put him out for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, then snapped his elbow pre-2015. He’s going to be limited this year, but might get a shot to pitch in Altoona finally, and see what his breaking stuff can do in the upper levels.
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One of my favorite short videos today was of Mitch Keller, who was throwing in the back bullpen:
Tomorrow we will have double coverage, with reports from both the MLB game and the early days of minor league camp.
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