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.

Other Notes

**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.

**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.

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  1. Still cant believe a team can win 98 games one year and fall to a bottom team the next. Watching this team play turns my stomach. They keep playing Freese,tonight he has hit into 2 dps one with bases loaded. Since he signed a new contract he hasn’t gotten the ball out of the infield. WHY WHY WHY is he still in there. What kind of a team are they going to field next year?

    • The collapse after the 13 inning loss has been really hard to watch. How many years ago was it we saw the same collapse after the extra innings loss to the Braves? Five years?

    • Its a really sad state of affairs, in fact you can argue that, in one off-season and season, the Phillies have a better roster and a brighter future than the Pirates right now. There are numerous factors that all contributed to the train wreck of a season that was 2016.
      (1) Decision to not only NOT resign Happ, but not sign or trade for a reasonable equivalent to be the #3 starter.
      (2) The terrible Neil Walker for Jon Niese trade – followed by the Pirates FO trying to sell the fans the idea that Niese was a legitimate option as a #3 starter, which was laughable then and even more so now. On his best day, Niese is a #5 at best. We were fleeced in that deal, and didn’t save much money in the process.
      (3) Signing Nicasio wasn’t so bad, but deciding that he was a starter was bad, with disastrous results.
      (4) Keeping Niese, Locke, and Nicasio all in the rotation until July, when it was obvious in May that they were not remotely adequate. This was the biggest factor, in my opinion, for the horrendous 2016 season. The sad thing is…that it could have been easily fixed internally – any combination of Taillon, Glasnow, Kuhl, and Brault would have been a significant upgrade over Niese, Locke, and Nicasio. In fact, Taillon was our best starter this year, and Kuhl may have been our second best.
      (5) The FO annual refusal to use their own prospects – Bell should have been platooning at first base at the start of the season, and getting most of the play there by July – with Jaso or someone else backing him up. Frazier should have been called up sooner – he’s been a spark plug.
      (6) The stupid Jason Rogers for Broxton and Supak trade. Broxton would have been an outstanding #4 outfielder, who is excellent defensively and can run. He started off slow in Milwaukee, but is up to .245 or so now.
      (7) McCutchen and Liriano both having off-seasons. Liriano wasn’t a huge shock, because his career has not been a model of consistency. But, Cutch’s bad season is a shock to me. Maybe he tried to do too much, because the team was struggling and losing?
      (8) Polanco not progressing as anticipated – very inconsistent and overall numbers are well below what I was expecting from him. I still think he will progress and become a real force in the Pirates lineup, but he was just too inconsistent this year.
      (9) The bullpen, with the exception of Melancon, was as much of a mess as the rotation was for much of the season. The FO didn’t resign Bastardo (which I agreed with), but they didn’t sign another serviceable LH reliever to go with Watson. Because of the rotation’s situation, a bad bullpen got overworked and imploded on most nights. The Pirates tried to fill spots on the cheap, which doesn’t work more times than it does work.
      (10) Cole had one great start – early in the season against the Cubs. Other than that one great start, he was slightly above average, below average and ineffective, or injured. Obviously, something is wrong with him – I just hope its not another in the endless list of TJS.
      (11) Mercer, Harrison, Cerveli – All decent players, but none are difference makers and none of them are outstanding at anything. Can the Pirates win consistently with these three in the lineup everyday?
      (12) Finally, defensively, this team made strides from 2015, but is still a below average defensive team. Its not a team strength, regardless of what the FO says.

      • Mercer plays very steady, if not spectacular defense. He really hasn’t had a bad offensive year either, for Jordy Mercer.

    • Last year the Pirates played over their head a bit. A lot had to go right for them to win 98 games. This year they are definitely playing below their talent level. If they have a good pitching one night, the offense sucks and vice versa. I think there has been a lot of that this year.

    • The question is, when is “eventually”? Double-A? Triple-A? After his rookie season in the majors? His fifth year in the majors?

      This same stuff happened with Alvarez. He was projected to eventually end up at first base, which he did. But every step of the way, people wanted to rush that process and get him over to first base before he needed to make the switch, and I don’t understand it. Alvarez was fine at third base, up until the 2014 season when he just fell apart.

      There’s nothing right now that says Craig needs to move right away.

      • Based on the scouting report, his body type and limited athletic ability, and his performance at third base this year, it will likely be sooner than later…..

          • And they were right – Alvarez wasn’t a third baseman, and he ended up being a bad first baseman too. The Pirates drafted a 1B/DH type in the first round – which was foolhardy with Perez sitting there….when was the last time a NL team drafted someone that was projected as a 1B/DH in the first round?

            • Alvarez was a third baseman for four MLB seasons, and wasn’t a guy who needed to move off the position until his fifth year.

              If you’re just saying that Craig will eventually move to first base, then you are going to be right eventually. But if he can play a few years in the majors at third, just like Alvarez did, and not be a total liability, then there’s a reason you draft him.

              The key here is that he’s projected as a 1B/DH long-term. And you’re talking like he’s a 1B/DH now.

      • Wouldn’t you rather develop a player at the position he is likely to play in the majors while in the minors as opposed to losing games at the major league level cause said player can’t field the position that you knew he likely could not play?Then you have to lose even more games while you spend time letting that player figure out a new position in the majors. To me, as soon as you know a player can’t handle a position you move him to one he can and develop him from there. The only benefit of letting a prospect keep playing his initial position at a below average level is to potentially develop some versatility when you later make the position switch. The downside to that though is you end up with a guy who is mediocre at best at a couple positions. I would rather Will Craig be a master at first base as opposed to a mediocre to bad corner infielder. I don’t understand the procrastination mindset at all.

        • What if he’s going to play multiple positions in the majors?

          They’re playing him at first base now. He could just DH while he rests his shoulder, but they’re using this time to get him work at another position. Then he’ll return to third base next season.

          As I’ve reported before, their plan for him this off-season is to focus on conditioning and agility. So anyone giving up on Craig at this point and saying he’s destined to 1B/DH is doing so with absolutely no effort involved in keeping him at third base.

          It makes all the sense in the world to try and keep him at third, and while he will one day be a 1B/DH, that doesn’t mean he will make that switch before he reaches the majors, or even right after he reaches the majors.

      • “There’s nothing right now that says Craig needs to move right away.”

        Other than his *current* inability to actually play the position at an adequate level.

        I think that’s the key difference between Craig and Alvarez. I don’t remember Alvarez ever looking as bad as Craig did this summer.

        • I saw him in Lynchburg his first year. I used to sit on the first base side, behind the bag, and remember sitting in fear when he’d make a throw.

          Half of Craig’s errors this year could have been due to the shoulder and adjusted throwing motion. The other half could be improved with conditioning. There’s no need to move him because of these potential improvement areas.

    • I wonder how often players have injury problems in the minors but they stay pretty healthy in the majors. It might be just a matter of someone’s body maturing. My guess is that an injury prone minor leaguer will be an injury prone major leaguer, but I don’t really know.

  2. Tommy Shanks the mayor of Melonville thinks you need to be versatile in order to make a splash. Unless like Tommy you weigh 350 lbs!

    • Probably just has to do with being in the lower levels and getting hit four times in the first two games. He wasn’t even the team leader. Ty Moore got hit two more times in 41 fewer plate appearances. The lower you go, the more often batters get hit.

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