If you’ve been reading my updates from Morgantown on the new draft picks, you probably have noticed a trend. Any time a potential adjustment is talked about, it always comes with the disclaimer that the coaches won’t be addressing it until the Fall Instructional League, otherwise known as instructs.
This isn’t new. In fact, if you’ve been reading this site for years, you probably know about the evaluation period for new players in the system. Whether it’s draft picks or players acquired via trade, the Pirates will give some time to evaluate those new players. The amount of time is usually the length of the short-season leagues, which is why the draft picks don’t start receiving changes until instructs.
But during those short-season leagues, coordinators are in town working with the new players. So if there are no adjustments, what are the coordinators working on?
Last week I was in Morgantown at the same time as Infield Coordinator Gary Green and Hitting Coordinator Larry Sutton. I talked with both about specific players, but also discussed what exactly they’re working on at this level.
Green was on his second trip in town, and had six games total working with the new guys. He worked with them during drills, and while he wasn’t making changes, he was observing and taking notes for later.
“You’re just looking for setups,” Green said. “Are they in a good setup position? Are they down and ready when the ball gets into the dirt area. Basically just observing. Just seeing the technique, how it looks, and encouraging them. We’ll get our hands on them more in instructional leagues. Just trying to get a feel for what they’re about, and what they’ll do.”
Sutton saw the team for the first time on Sunday, and had a few more games following them this week. Prior to that, he watched video, read reports, talked with Morgantown Hitting Coach Jonathan Prieto and Assistant Hitting Coordinator Andy Barkett, who was with the team earlier. That gave him a good foundation of information on the new players. But when he’s there, he’s also mostly taking notes.
“I’m always looking,” Sutton said. “I’m not looking to change something, but I’m always looking at our players as far as what’s their next thing. So are they mastering what they’re working on now, and then at the same time I’m putting in my back pocket notes on what would be his next thing for the next level. Always preparing them for Pittsburgh.”
The coordinators will have conversations at this stage with players, getting them used to the way the Pirates do things, whether it’s pitching off the fastball and working both sides of the plate, or hitting to all fields and trying to work middle away, or funneling the ball properly during fielding drills. But as far as changes during instructs, not every player will make a big change, and most of it will be further adjusting to pro ball.
“A lot of these kids, what we do during the workday in instructional leagues kind of tightens, simplifies, without saying we need to change this. Velocity off a machine, they’ve got to figure out a way to keep things short, simple, quick, but yet still powerful. We don’t necessarily say ‘we need to change this.'”
There are players who show the need for changes, such as Casey Hughston last year needing to simplify his approach and swing. But that is usually found out during the evaluation period, and held off until instructs.
“I don’t come in with a list and say ‘We need to change this, this, this, and this.’ But what I do is identify some things, what’s going to help prepare them for West Virginia, Bradenton, and so on,” Sutton said.
An interesting thing about my conversation with Sutton is that I found some of the plans will be put in place long before they’re implemented. As an example, Sean McCool wrote recently about how Kevin Newman narrowed his stance, leading to more doubles in Altoona. I asked Sutton about this, as an example of how far ahead of time these changes are mapped out. Sutton said that this was an idea they had last year around this time when Newman was in the South Atlantic League.
“He had an advanced approach, he had an advanced barrel to the ball,” Sutton said. “We wanted to leverage a little more power. Strength is going to come with him. We were talking about this in Altoona, when Jay Bell first got to the big leagues, he was a solid hitter, but power came later in his career. I’m not saying Newman is going to be a 40 home run guy, but he hasn’t really had three or four off-seasons to get a lot of forearm strength, grip strength.
“I see more power coming from Newman. Trying to leverage that and stay ahead of when he’s ready for that is narrowing his stance a little bit, so that those legs start coming into play with his backside into contact. We’re not changing the swing path, we’re not trying to create more power.”
The Pirates had that plan mapped out almost a year before they implemented it. They were working on a few defensive adjustments early in the year, which is probably why they waited on the offensive changes until later. And they probably implemented the change before Newman actually needed it, since he could have had success with his old approach for a while longer. But the goal here is to add the new approach before he needs it, so that he has it when he’s ready.
“We’re just trying to get a foundation where, number one, he’s going to be able to leverage a little more power. But more importantly, as he gets to higher levels, we’re also thinking ahead and he’s going to see more off-speed,” Sutton said. “Right now he’s hitting in the three hole for Altoona because [Harold] Ramirez was traded. So Newman is hitting in the three hole, and he’s starting to see more [breaking pitches] and it’s an adjustment for him. Being a little bit more narrow in his legs has already allowed him to compete with that. It’s not like now he’s seen breaking balls, now we have to narrow his stance a little bit. He’s already ahead of the game. Get him ready before.”
So that’s what you can expect from the recently drafted players, along with a look behind the curtain at how the Pirates develop their prospects. It’s hands off with the new draft picks and the recently acquired players until they’ve been in the system for some time. Then, when instructs rolls around, they might make some changes, although some of the changes might be held off until later in a player’s development, after he gets established with the basics. Very rarely will you see an extreme change, where a pitcher’s delivery is overhauled, or a hitter’s swing is changed. Instead, you’ll see a small adjustment, keeping the basic principles intact so they’re still comfortable, but making a small adjustment that will lead to better results in the upper levels.
**Luis Escobar Has Seen His Velocity Increase and Changeup Improve This Year. This is one of the better high upside arms to watch in the lower levels, and he’s making some good strides this year.
**Max Moroff Getting Some Work in the Outfield. Brian Peloza reports that Moroff has been getting some work in the outfield lately.
**Ryan Vogelsong Has Another Good Start, But Bats Were Quiet in Pirates Loss. Alan Saunders has the live report from PNC Park tonight. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Ryan Vogelsong was the successful reclamation project for the Pirates all along?
**Atlanta Claims Wilfredo Boscan From the Pirates. Not a huge loss, considering all the depth, and the fact that he would have been a free agent after the year.
**Prospect Watch: Strong Outing for Trevor Williams as Indianapolis Bats Fail to Show Up. Live reports tonight from Altoona and West Virginia.
**Pirates Notes: Will Josh Harrison’s Swim Move Cause a Trend? Alan Saunders looks at Harrison’s swim move slide.