MIAMI – As we reported earlier this week, Gage Hinsz will make his debut for the West Virginia Power tonight, getting a push to full season ball after showing a lot of improvements with his stuff this year. I was able to catch up with Pirates Director of Minor League Operations Larry Broadway, who was in Miami for the Pirates game on Wednesday night, and discuss the promotion.
“We wanted to get him up there, get him out before the short-season club broke,” Broadway said. “We planned to get him built up, felt like he was in a good spot. Built up to five innings, strong, pitches efficiently, commanding his pitches the way he should. Feel like he’s ready to go up there and get a taste under the lights with that club.”
Hinsz was involved in a car accident during Spring Training, and had a concussion. Fortunately, that was the extent of his injuries. This shut him down for some time, and prevented him from joining West Virginia earlier.
“He had a concussion from that, which backed him off,” Broadway said. “So it was just a matter of building him back up after that.”
While the concussion pushed him back, he still needed to work on his game in extended Spring Training. He showed a lot of improvements this year with his game. Last year when I saw him, he was touching as high as 93 MPH, and showed some promise with his curveball. When I saw him this year on April 19th, his fastball was consistently up to 93-94 MPH and the curve looked great. This week I got a report from an NL scout who said he’s now hitting 95 with a plus curveball. These improvements helped get him to West Virginia this year.
‘You’ve seen velocity improvements, you’ve seen his body fill out and get stronger,” Broadway said. “It’s one of those maturity things. He hasn’t played very much — he’s played, but different playing in Montana than it is in pro ball. As he’s gotten into his routines, and has gotten physically stronger, you see the fastball velocity come up, you see the athleticism starting to play out. Just repeating that more often. Been very encouraged with the total package of progress that he’s made so far.”
Hinsz is fully stretched out, and won’t be limited in his innings. Broadway said that they’ll treat him like any other starter at the level. However, there is the question of what happens to the rotation now that they have six starters. Broadway told me that the plan is to keep everyone there, using six guys, but keeping a five man rotation, and giving guys a break by skipping starts or moving guys back a few days.
“Ideally at that level, we like to at some point in the year be able to give guys a little bit of a blow, since they’re taking the ball every fifth day, and a lot of them don’t have much experience yet of doing that,” Broadway said. “They’ve done a really good job of going deep, being efficient in games. You give them a blow in the middle here, this gives us an opportunity to [do that] leading up to the All-Star break.”
You’d have to think at some point that will change, with a starter possibly moving up to Bradenton by the end of the year. The guy who I think everyone would like to see move up is Mitch Keller — another prep pitcher from the 2014 draft who hits mid-90s and has a plus curveball. In the past, the Pirates have always had their prep players spend an entire season in West Virginia, getting them used to playing a full season at the same level. This happened with Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell (who spent two seasons at the level, with one shortened due to injury), and every other prep guy who came through.
It seems that Keller would be no different here. However, I asked Broadway if they might move him up this year, and didn’t get a no.
“It’s individual basis. I think he’s got a chance,” Broadway said. “Right now, the focus with him is getting out and getting healthy all year. He had a really good off-season from a physical standpoint. Showing up, he put himself in good position to be able to take the ball everyday, which he wasn’t able to do last year. So we’ll continue to let him go through here and evaluate as we continue to go through the season.”
Keller missed time last year at the start of the Bristol season with forearm tightness. It was minor, and only required rest. He returned with some command problems, which were partially due to the injury, and partially due to mechanics, which he cleaned up over the off-season. He only pitched 19.2 innings last year in Bristol, not counting time during extended Spring Training (which was shortened for him due to the forearm strain) and instructs at the end of the year. But he didn’t come close to what he’ll throw this year — already at 57 innings, compared to 47 official innings combined in pro ball the previous two years — so you can expect Keller to benefit from some rest now that Hinsz is here.
While Broadway said there’s a chance for Keller to move up, it doesn’t sound like it’s happening any time soon. The innings and workload are one thing to watch, and that will be easier to control in West Virginia with the current six man rotation.
“With any guys, we get to the point where we say one, do we have the foundation in place that we want at the lower levels, and two, are they ready to face the challenges of the next level,” Broadway said. “We still have some foundational things we want to put in place with him. But he’s getting close. He’s got the stuff that he can face the next level, but we do want to get some foundational things locked in a little bit more before we start talking about pushing him.”
We could see Keller move up to Bradenton this year, although don’t expect that right away, as he will remain in West Virginia to reduce his workload — which is currently on pace for over 140 innings. For now, we’ll get a chance to see two very promising arms in that Power rotation, with Keller and Hinsz both having the ability to hit 95 MPH or higher, both having plus curveballs, and both having the frames to be 200 inning per year starters one day. If you’re looking for the next big pitching prospects after Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon, you need to look no further than that pair in the West Virginia rotation.