BRADENTON, Fla. – The Fall Instructional League games began today for the Pirates, featuring an intrasquad game between a lot of the lower level players. Instructs can be a time for players to work on different aspects of their game, try out a new pitch, or try out a new position. Those changes don’t always stick, and this is the time to test the waters to see if a change is needed.
There was one notable change today, as Pirates third baseman Will Craig, the first round pick in 2016, was playing first base. When Craig was drafted, he was drafted as a third baseman, although early predictions had him eventually moving to first base or DH due to his size. The Pirates planned on giving him every opportunity to stick at third base. That’s still the plan.
This isn’t a case where Craig is changing positions. Instead, the move is to give Craig’s shoulder a rest during the off-season.
“He’s going to play [first base] a lot in instructs,” director of minor league operations Larry Broadway said. “It doesn’t mean we’re done at third base. He pitched a lot late in the year in college. Shoulder soreness kind of came into pro ball. It’s been a long year. We’d like to just continue to let him get the bat going, give the shoulder a break, and get the fundamentals of first base play, work around the bag, everything in, so that we’ve got both options there.”
Craig had a few pitching-related injuries in college. He had a strained oblique early in the season, and then had a sore shoulder at the end. He said he’s 100% healthy now, but was feeling it at times during the year at third base.
“I had to throw a lot,” Craig said. “Late in the season my shoulder was kind of tired. Not hurt, just kind of tired. They just wanted to give me some time off. After I took some time at the end of the [college] season, I played most of the games at third.”
Craig said that the shoulder didn’t bother him at the plate, but that his throws didn’t have as much on them. He ended up changing his throwing motion, which made his arm feel better, but then his throwing was off. This could explain the eight throwing errors during the season. The Pirates had him playing as the designated hitter a lot, sometimes just for normal rest, but other times to specifically rest his shoulder.
The first base position isn’t new to Craig. He played there his sophomore year to protect his arm when he wasn’t starting. This move during instructs is mostly about resting the shoulder, but has the added benefit of getting him some extra work early, in case he needs it down the line.
“It’s more on maximizing him, and whatever will be best for him as he moves through the system,” Broadway said. “He’s got the view of the ball off the bat at both corners. That can be harder to learn as you move up later. Better to lay the foundation now.”
“I’m used to it,” Craig said of first base. “I’ve played it in the summer in the Cape Cod. I’ve done it before. … It’s different once you move up levels. You’ve got to readjust yourself to the speed of the game.”
Craig had a good season at the plate, after a slow start. That start wasn’t impacted by the shoulder, and could have just been the adjustment back to the game. From the middle of July through the end of the season, he had an .885 OPS.
“I think there’s some adjustment period,” Broadway said. “His at-bats weren’t bad. There’s a lot of hard contact. He’s controlling the strike zone. He just wasn’t getting the hits that everybody wanted to see. He stayed with his plan and with his swing. He didn’t do anything different. They started falling in, and he had a nice second half, and wound up having a nice season.”
The New Guys Pitch
Jake Brentz and Pedro Vasquez made their first appearances in games since being acquired by the Pirates in the Arquimedes Caminero trade. Vasquez was hit around a bit, giving up three earned runs in two innings, with a walk and a strikeout. He was 90-92 MPH with his fastball, mixing in a low-80s slider and a mid-80s changeup.
Brentz was the most impressive today, throwing two shutout innings, with one hit, three walks, and two strikeouts. He had control problems, and lacked command of his pitches, with 41 pitches total, and 23 strikes. However, he has a good frame, and showed some good velocity, touching 96 today. The curveball had some break to it, but he couldn’t command it consistent and left it up a few times, getting away with it for the most part.
This was the first time Broadway got a chance to see Brentz, after previously only seeing him in bullpens.
“It was good to see him out on the field. He’s throwing it in well,” Broadway said. “He looks like a good athlete. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. A live arm. We’ll see what we can make of it.”
Here is a video of the second inning Brentz threw. I will have more on him later this week.
**If you’ve been reading John Dreker’s DSL reports this year, then you’ll know who Leandro Pina is. He’s a 17-year-old right-hander who put up a 1.46 ERA in 61.2 innings in the DSL over 13 starts, with a 34:9 K/BB ratio. I got to see him for two innings today, and he looks like he has some promise. Pina has a big frame, and some good velocity for his age, with room to add more. He also has good movement on his fastball, and isn’t afraid to pitch inside. He was 86-88 MPH with his fastball today, with a 71-73 MPH slider and an 80-81 MPH changeup. Here is some brief video of him pitching:
**Kevin Sanchez, the top international signing by the Pirates in 2015 ($450,000), was playing today. He had an infield single late in the game against Yeudry Manzanillo, who was a starter in the DSL this year, and the highest paid international pitcher signed by the Pirates in 2015 ($150,000). Sanchez showed off some nice speed in the match-up between the top bonus hitter and top bonus pitcher, which you can see below. That was the only hit or base runner that Manzanillo allowed in an inning of work.
**The play up the middle at the 25 second mark in the Brentz video was made by shortstop Stephen Alemais.
**Austin Meadows was removed from the Arizona Fall League roster for a previously unknown reason. He was listed on the rehab list today in instructs, but I couldn’t find him, and forgot to ask Broadway about his status after many Will Craig/Jake Brentz questions. Adam Berry has an update, saying he strained his oblique in the last game of the season. I guess if you’re going to do it, might as well make it the final game.
Pirates prospect Austin Meadows no longer expected to play in the Arizona Fall League. Strained his oblique in the last game of the season.
— Adam Berry (@adamdberry) September 14, 2016
**I did catch up with Ke’Bryan Hayes, who is recovering from a cracked rib. Right now he’s just resting and rehabbing, and doesn’t know if he’ll get into any games during the instructs season.