BRADENTON, Fl. – Once again today, the Pirates went into the second half of a Spring Training game trailing, only to see their prospects battle back and give them a lead. They eventually lost that lead with a few late home runs, and lost the game 11-8, but it’s encouraging to see continued success from the minor league players.
Last week I wrote about how the Pirates are set to rely on their prospect depth more in 2016. It’s easy to see why that would be the case. They’ve got a lot of talented and versatile infielders in Alen Hanson, Max Moroff, Adam Frazier, Dan Gamache, and Gift Ngoepe who can play any role from starting at a specific position, to providing a good bench option. They’ve got some great starting pitching prospects in Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon, along with future MLB starters in Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, and Trevor Williams. There’s also Elias Diaz and Jacob Stallings who could step in if the catching group starts to suffer injuries (remember 2011, anyone?).
I asked Clint Hurdle today how this camp compared to previous camps in terms of prospects who could make the jump to the majors this year.
“From my perception, we’ve got more internal prospects at this camp than we’ve ever had before,” Hurdle said. “You always bring in internal players, because you want to look at them. But real guys that have done well, that have moved up through the organization, that have got the attention… So from that perspective, it just seems to me with the pitching, along with the position player pool — you’ve got a couple catchers in play — it just seems like it’s been the most prospect-laden camp that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Hurdle even added that a lot of the guys who are in camp now were in trade conversations last summer. I can imagine that was true for a lot of guys, and I know it was true for Chad Kuhl, as I know of at least two teams who asked for him in trade talks, only to be denied by the Pirates. I also talked with about half a dozen scouts who raved about Kuhl last year, especially in the second half. It’s easy to see why, and if you don’t know, you can read about why here.
That definitely makes this an exciting camp to cover from a prospect standpoint. You’d hope that the “prospects arrive mid-way through to help the Pirates battle back” trend won’t carry over to the season. It would be better if it was something along the lines of “prospects arrive mid-season to give a contending team a big boost”. Either way, the Pirates could see a big wave of prospects arriving this year, with a lot of talented guys in that group.
Is the Shift Easier For Versatile Players?
Max Moroff was playing third base today, but at one point shifted over to the right side of the second base bag, and made a 5-3 putout on a hard grounder. Moroff has much more experience at second, and not much time at third base, which got me thinking: Would he be more comfortable with the shift than a traditional third baseman?
The Pirates have so many infielders who are versatile at all positions, due to the focus in the minors of moving guys around for versatility reasons. The side effect here is that it might make the Pirates a better defensive team when they’re shifting and have guys playing all over the field in the same game.
“I think it can work to their benefit,” Hurdle said. “I think it definitely can work to their benefit. When you’ve got men that have just been one-sided most of their career, and you’re starting to see some third basemen go into the four hole way back, or some different things, it’s a little odd at first. It’s a little different. You’ve changed the furniture on them in the living room. When you get somebody that’s moved around — J-Hay played a lot of second base, when we were shifting him, even from third over, it was a comfortable shift for him. I think it’s comfortable for Max. We have a few other guys on the team, I think their versatility is a comfort for them that plays well for our defense.”
Harrison is an example of a guy who has played everywhere, and should be comfortable with the shift. Jung-ho Kang has played third and short, and practiced at second base. Jordy Mercer played second and third base in the minors.
Down in Triple-A, Moroff has played second, short, and third. Adam Frazier has played those three positions, along with all three outfield spots this spring. Alen Hanson has also covered every infield spot except first base. Add Gift Ngoepe to that list, and you might even be able to include first base, since he’s spent plenty of time helping Josh Bell with his defense in the last year. Dan Gamache doesn’t have shortstop, but has played second and third, and has recently been adding first base.
It doesn’t just stop at Triple-A. Take a trip over to minor league camp and you’ll see infielders working at one position on one day, then working at another position on a different day. This is ultimately to create more options for a cleaner path to the majors, but it can certainly help with the shift when guys are in the majors at one position, and are asked to move over to another spot for a play or two.
**Speaking of versatility, the Pirates had the following players at somewhat uncommon positions today: Dan Gamache at first base, Michael Morse in right field, Pedro Florimon in center field, Jake Goebbert in left field, Adam Frazier in left field, Max Moroff at third base. Most of these guys have played those positions before, but these are all cases where the player hasn’t played the position much in the past (or in a case like Morse, there are questions whether they can play it going forward). But if they’re going to want a role with the team this year, or an increased role in some cases, they’ll need the added positions to get at-bats and playing time.
**Pedro Florimon helped with the comeback in the sixth inning, hitting a two run triple. Florimon is a great defensive shortstop, but struggles with his offense. Hurdle was asked about his offensive upside, and noted that it’s still an area he’s working on.
“We’re still scratching, and I think he’s still trying to learn and bring more consistency to that side of the ball,” Hurdle said. “We actually had him out in center field today, moving him around to enhance his versatility. Because he’s a gifted guy. He’s got range, he’s got speed, he’s got a glove that works, he’s got a strong arm. He’s still working on a consistent approach at the plate, something he’s going to be stubborn with.”
Hurdle noted that Florimon needs to put the bat on the ball, minimize his fly balls, and have more of a mixture of ground balls and line drives. He strikes out a quarter of the time in his career, and has seen his line drive rate drop below 20% the last two years, while hitting a lot of weak fly balls.
“Where it can go? Time will tell, but I know he’s making every effort to become a more consistent ball player. That makes him a more attractive player.”
I’m skeptical that Florimon can improve his offense at the age of 29, but if he can get close to his 2013 totals with the Twins (.611 OPS, 23% line drive, and actually hitting fly balls that cleared the fence), then he’d be a great option off the bench for his defense and versatility, while having some sort of value beyond those two things.
**Max Moroff had two hits today, including this nice piece of hitting on an opposite field single with two strikes, which Sean captured.
— Sean McCool (@NotSoMcCool) March 6, 2016
**John Jaso was batting cleanup today, which Clint Hurdle said was due to Starling Marte being out of the lineup. Could that be a spot for him during the season?
“[He has] quality at-bats,” Hurdle said. “The guy’s going to see pitches, just look at them. He could end up there. I’m not settled on anything right yet. Just thought we’d run him in there today. Marte was not in the lineup today, so he was a good option for us.”
Jaso seems like a better option at the number two spot, due to his high OBP. However, he’s not fast, so he might not be a guy you want in front of Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, if that’s how the lineup shakes out.
**Here is the lineup for tomorrow’s game: