BRADENTON, Fl. – Today was a camp day at Pirate City, which is always one of my favorite days. The games were only seven innings, but you’ve got four teams in action, which means 28 innings of Pirates pitching prospects, and 28 innings of Pirates hitting prospects. If you’re there to watch the Pirates prospects, which is typically the case for me, then these are the best days to go. At the same time, they can kind of be overwhelming, since there is so much action going on at once.
My usual approach is to zero in on the best starters, with the side effect being I also get to see whichever hitters impress in those games. Today, there were plenty of good pitchers to choose from.
Yeudy Garcia was the top guy today, and is going to be one of the highlights for me to watch this spring. He was the breakout prospect of the year in 2015, and has a ton of upside, with a fastball that can sit in the 93-97 MPH range, with an easy delivery and late life. He’s also been working on improving his slider in the last year. Today the fastball sat 91-93 MPH, touching 94. The velocity is probably lower at this point due to it being early in spring. He was also mixing in a two-seamer in the upper 80s. The slider was in the 81-86 MPH range, and his changeup was 83-86.
I’d say more about Garcia, but why not let Michael Morse do the talking. He faced him twice today, striking out looking the first time (in the video below) and hitting a home run off of him in the second at-bat. I asked Morse after his day what he thought of Garcia.
“Very good, very good. He threw the ball hard. The ball comes out of his hand very well. Good slider, almost like a slurve. Good mound presence.”
The mound presence thing was the big thing that stood out today. Garcia worked very quickly from the windup. I edited the video below, but I probably only took out 4-5 seconds between each pitch. He’d get the ball back, settle in, and deliver the next pitch. From the stretch, he’d wait a bit longer, and had some good holds before delivering. He also attacks hitters well, and didn’t seem intimidated by pitching to a MLB hitter either time. Here is video of Garcia’s first inning.
Tyler Eppler was going up against Garcia, and is another guy to watch. His fastball was 88-91 MPH today, which was lower than his usual, just like Garcia. Once again, I’m chalking it up to early in Spring Training. He’s usually 92-94, touching 97. He was showing his new slurve today, sitting 79-81 with the pitch, while also mixing in an 83-84 MPH changeup.
The video of Eppler below isn’t great, as he struggled some in his first inning, especially against Jerrick Suiter. Kevin Kramer had a line drive double which went just out of reach of a diving Erich Weiss at second base. Connor Joe then dropped in an opposite field single to score Kramer. After that, Eppler walked Suiter, but got two more outs against Taylor Gushue and Pablo Reyes. The first pitch to Reyes in the video below is a nice slurve from Eppler. The pitch graded as below average in the AFL, but there’s plenty of room for improvement, since it’s a new offering.
Luis Escobar is another guy to watch, and one of my sleeper picks this year. He was throwing 91-94 MPH today, and I’ve seen him sitting around 93-95 in the past. He also mixed in an 81-82 MPH curve and an 83-84 MPH changeup. I talked to Morse a bit about Escobar, who he saw once, in the at-bat below. He also liked the fastball from Escobar, and said the ball came out of his hand well, with Escobar keeping it down in the zone. Here is video of Escobar, who ended the inning with a pickoff throw to first:
**Along with Michael Morse, Clint Hurdle was in attendance, watching the minor league players. As for Morse, along with the homer and the strikeout against Garcia, I saw an opposite field single off Escobar, and an opposite field double off Stephan Meyer.
**Michael De La Cruz had a nice triple today, and showed off some incredible speed. I actually wasn’t watching that game at the time, but his speed drew the attention of a lot of the players watching the game I was watching. They heard the hit, looked over, and several were surprised at how fast he was going (“That guy is flying around the bases!”). De La Cruz was the top international signing in 2012. He’s struggled in his jump to the US so far, but shows off some impressive tools, and should make the jump to Morgantown this year. He’ll be one to watch at that level.
**There’s not much else to report on the offensive side. I saw a few homers today, but a lot of them were a result of the wind, and probably would have been fly balls. There are a few good at-bats in the videos above. For the most part, my main objective for these first few games will be getting photos, along with some video. I don’t want to give too many impressions on what players are doing right now, unless it’s showing off a tool like MDLC, or continuing what they’ve done in the past.
**I didn’t get a chance to get video of JT Brubaker, but got to see a few of his pitches between throws on the Garcia/Eppler field. Brubaker was sitting 90-93 MPH with his fastball, touching 94. He threw his slider and changeup both in the 85-86 MPH range, and threw one curveball at 78 MPH. He will go to West Virginia this year to pitch out of their rotation, and could move up to Bradenton by the end of the season.
**Stephan Meyer pitched two innings today, and got through them quick enough that he had to throw a few more pitches out of the bullpen at the end of the outing. He was limited last year due to back problems, but put up impressive numbers in Morgantown after returning. He’ll go to West Virginia this year, and if he’s pitching two innings at this point, then he’s either getting stretched out to start, or for a piggyback role. He’s another guy who I didn’t see much of today, but he was throwing his fastball in the 85-89 MPH range, with a changeup at 79-80 MPH and a mid-70s curveball.
**James Marvel was a 36th round pick out of Duke last year, and was recovering from Tommy John surgery when he signed. The Pirates gave him an over-slot deal, giving him $150,000 to get him to pass up his final year in college. He’s healthy now and threw a quick inning today, sitting 89 MPH with his sinking fastball and getting three easy groundouts. When I saw Marvel last week during live batting practice, he was also getting a lot of ground balls. Today he finished below his pitch count, but I didn’t see if he threw his last few pitches in the bullpen. I’d expect him to have a starting or piggyback role in West Virginia, although he’ll probably be built up slower than the other guys after coming off Tommy John.
**Colten Brewer got two innings today, and could factor into the Bradenton rotation mix, or pitch as a long man out of the bullpen. He was 91-94 MPH with his fastball, although saw some command issues. His curveball can be a strikeout offering at times, and was 77-79 MPH today. His changeup was 82-86. Brewer was an over-slot pick in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.
**Daniel Zamora is a lefty who was throwing 88-90 MPH today, along with a 77-81 MPH slider that features tight break at times. He also threw one changeup today at 85 MPH. Zamora was the 40th round pick last year, and should be a bullpen guy in West Virginia.