On Monday night, I wrapped up my trade deadline recaps around 2:30 in the morning. I woke up at 9:30 the next day, packed my suitcase, ran a few last-minute errands, and hit the road for about three weeks. The plans? Watching West Virginia, Morgantown, and Bristol for a series each.

I arrived in Morgantown on Wednesday, in time to watch Luis Escobar pitch. I was also in time to catch up with Pirates’ Infield Coordinator Gary Green, who was in town working with the infield prospects, including first rounder Will Craig and third rounder Stephen Alemais. I’ll have features on both of them, and Escobar, coming soon.

I’ll be in Morgantown through the weekend, leaving after the game on Sunday to drive down to Charleston. I’ll be there for the games from Monday through Thursday, with the possibility of a Friday game if Mitch Keller or Gage Hinsz are throwing (right now it looks like I’ll catch them during the first four games of the series). Seeing both of them for a second time, and later in the season, is a key focus of this trip.

Following that, I will see four games in Bristol, getting my first look at the rest of the 2016 draft class, along with my first look at shortstop Adrian Valerio since extended Spring Training.

Here’s the reality of this coverage: If you’re not a subscriber already, then telling you that I’ll have live coverage of these three teams the next few weeks probably won’t sway you. The most hardcore Pirates fans and prospect watchers will be interested, but the majority of Pirates fans only care when a prospect arrives in the upper levels, or is on the verge of making the majors. Even the people who subscribe to the site already probably aren’t going to be rushing to certain things like my live report of Stephan Meyer last night, or some of the future articles covering players in the back half of the top 50, or recently drafted guys who aren’t in the top 50.

So why spend a few thousand dollars in travel money, plus 19 days on the road, for all of this coverage when it definitely won’t bring that much in immediate subscriptions to pay off the trip? (Although I do hope you will subscribe, even if you have little interest in the lower levels.) Especially when I’ve seen a lot of these guys already this season, and will see all of the draft picks during instructs?

The reason is simple: We’re building a foundation.

Covering the lower levels doesn’t generate a lot of interest in the short-term, but it does make the long-term coverage something that is unmatched.

When I made the switch to a subscription site, one of the common things I heard was that you could get free prospect information anywhere. Here is the reality of how that information is gathered. An outlet gives a writer an assignment. That writer goes to one game, conducts an interview with the player, the manager, and maybe a coach. Sometimes the writer doesn’t even go to the game or see a player, but calls after a game and does a phone interview. This has become more and more common, which means you’ve got people writing about prospects who they’ve never even seen, which means they’re only getting information the player and team gives out, without their own information to use for questions. Or, they use this site to lay the groundwork, then follow up on what we reported, which might explain why the free articles you see are typically things we wrote about weeks or months earlier.

That’s what you’re getting with free coverage. At best, it’s someone who vaguely follows the Pirates’ minor league system, who may have seen one game, and whose coverage largely consists of a five minute interview with the player who they just met, sometimes via phone. You’re getting what you paid for.

The next few weeks are so crucial for the site’s future coverage. Some of that future coverage will start to really show next year. Some of it will show up four or five years from now. And all of it justifies the travel expense now, even if the coverage over the next few weeks won’t generate enough new subscriptions to pay for the trip.

Here is the biggest example I can give of long-term coverage paying off: My often referenced article on Jameson Taillon’s mechanics. That article involved two separate 15 minute interviews with Jim Benedict and Jameson Taillon, but the interviews stemmed off of countless interviews and conversations I had with both guys on the subject over the years. In a way, it took me five years to get the information for that article.

There was another one I did before this year on Josh Bell’s hitting, and why we’d start to see power from him in 2016. That was another article that consisted of a long-term breakdown, with many discussions and articles over the years, all culminating in one timeline of his development and the next steps. Again, this was an article with five years of research backing it.

But it’s not all an extremely long-term view. I covered Mitch Keller and Gage Hinsz in the GCL in 2014. I then traveled to Bristol last year around this time to cover them both at that level. It was that trip where I noticed improved command from Hinsz, which led to us moving him ahead of Trey Supak for the first time since they were drafted. I talked with Keller about the continued development of his changeup and his command issues — topics we also discussed in the GCL. And then this year, before he started posting much better command and breakout numbers in West Virginia, I wrote about the specific changes he made to his mechanics to fix his control, and what led to him getting more comfortable with the changeup.

A big factor in all of this is actually being there. That can’t be understated. If you go to an MLB clubhouse, the beat writers are going to be the guys who are most connected, and who get the most interesting information, because they see and talk to those players daily. They build up trust and respect and a professional relationship. Meanwhile, a draft pick goes to the GCL, and it’s just me they’re talking with. The Dominican League players have no media, and then I show up for a week at the academy. There’s local media at the other lower levels, but we’re the only outlet covering them each year at each level. So while I have a personal advantage of covering them every year at every level, our writers have the advantage of writing for an outlet they’re very familiar with. In a way, we are the beat writers for the minor league system as a whole.

That’s what the next few weeks are going to be all about. I’ll have plenty of features from this trip, and I’m sure the articles on guys like Keller, Hinsz, or Will Craig will draw plenty of attention. But the biggest goal with this trip is laying that foundation to make our future coverage something that other people can’t replicate. And I am genuinely excited to see how the future Taillon/Bell style articles go, since we’ve been able to provide a massive boost to our coverage under the subscription model the last two years.

If you’re satisfied with seeing basic information written about a prospect, gathered from one interview, and maybe one game seen, then the free coverage is probably best for you. If you want exclusive information that you can’t find elsewhere, from people who actually see the players, and have been covering them for years, then you should definitely subscribe, because while we’re not free, our low subscription prices have so much value for the coverage we provide.

Prospect Guides and Meet-Ups on the Road

Typically when it comes to meeting subscribers on the road (or even non-subscribers), I don’t do anything official. People just send me a message to let me know they’re at a game, and I try to meet them when I’ve got a moment to come down and talk. That all applies for this trip.

If you’re going to be in Morgantown this weekend (8/5-8/7), in Charleston next week (8/8-8/11), or in Bristol after that (8/13-8/16), let me know. If enough people reply in the comments, we might be able to set up something more official than just meeting up at the park during the game.

Also, I brought a box of the 2016 Prospect Guides with me on this trip. Those are going to be on sale for a special price of $10 each if you buy them from me in person during the trip, while the supplies last. That applies to everyone, although Top Prospect subscribers still get the 2016 book for free.

Live Chats

We used to do live chats on the site, and then the software we used started charging ridiculous amounts for what we would need. So we stopped doing live chats. I’ve tried a few formats, like Q&As, or chats in the comments. Neither of those are very good though. The Q&A format works in theory, but with this job, I rarely know what day it is, which usually leads to me getting to Friday morning and realizing I forgot to ask for questions that week. Plus, it’s kind of weird getting questions on Monday, and then saying “I might answer you on Friday”.

The comment approach doesn’t work either, since very few subscribers use the comments, and it’s not set up as a Q&A, but as a long discussion that’s difficult to moderate or highlight answers.

I’ve been thinking about an idea recently, doing a video chat for the Q&A feature. Ideally, this would come during batting practice or a game, so that you could watch some baseball while the chat was going on. I’m looking into the best way of doing this (I’ve used Periscope before), and hope to do this a few times during this trip, at least once per team.

Site Maintenance

There have been a few things I needed to work on fixing on the site, but haven’t had time during the crazy months of June and July. Some of the bigger things have been with the app, and hopefully I can get all of that taken care of before the end of the season, or before the end of the month. If you haven’t been receiving notifications this week, it’s because I turned them off, as they were causing a huge load on the server, and taking the site down when traffic spiked (which it did many times during the deadline). I’ll be activating them again soon.

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