BRADENTON, Fla. – Today was the first day of full squad workouts for minor leaguers at Pirate City. Some players had already reported early, including most of the pitchers. For that reason, there were several pitchers who threw two inning live BPs. That group included top 10 prospects Taylor Hearn and Gage Hinsz, who will both be pitching out of the Bradenton rotation this year.
Hearn was acquired in the Mark Melancon trade last year. That trade will probably be known for Felipe Rivero over the next few seasons, as the Pirates got five years of Rivero in exchange for two months of Melancon. But Hearn could turn that trade into a steal. He’s another hard throwing lefty who sits 95-97 MPH and can hit triple digits. Last year he looked like a guy who wouldn’t need much work to make it to the majors as a late inning reliever. But the Pirates are working him as a starter, which makes sense, as you’d want a big lefty arm like his in the rotation.
“When I was with the Nationals, I was a starter, but then I got hurt,” Hearn said. “The only reason they put me in the bullpen was just to get innings. I’m kind of glad they did. I got a taste of what it’s like to be in the bullpen, and be in late inning games. I can handle both, but I enjoy being a starter. … I got a taste of both worlds, so I know how to handle both. I’ll be ready for whatever they need me to do. Ultimately, I’d like to be a starter.”
In order for Hearn to stick as a starter, he will need to improve his fastball command. The Pirates had him making a few fixes last year, aiming to improve his control. He adjusted his throwing program, only throwing from 120 feet in order to prevent sailing the ball and throwing out of the zone. He also made a mechanical adjustment during instructs, starting his windup while facing the mound, rather than pitching from the stretch all the time.
“I put a lot of work in this offseason on mechanics and everything,” Hearn said. “So it’s nice to see everything is paying off. I felt really good out there facing batters.”
Hearn faced live hitters for two innings today. While he showed some control problems, he also blew a lot of pitches by the opposing hitters. He said that the new mechanics allowed him to get to his legs a lot more, and got around the plate a lot more. He’s also been working on the slider and mixing in the changeup more often this year.
Here is a brief look at Hearn from this afternoon:
Here is another look from the side, facing Adrian Valerio:
I’ll have more on Hearn a little later this evening.
Last year saw the emergence of Mitch Keller in West Virginia, thanks to improved command, better velocity, and a more consistent plus breaking pitch. Right behind Keller was Gage Hinsz, who also saw improved command, better velocity, and a more consistent plus breaking pitch.
Hinsz doesn’t yet have the command that Keller has. The velocity is a tick lower, sitting in the 93-95 MPH range. His curveball flashes plus, but isn’t as consistent. He also won’t turn 21 years old until mid-April, so there’s plenty of time to continue his improvements.
“We did so much in instructs, just working hard, killed it,” Hinsz said. “I think the focus is just getting comfortable in my delivery and having confidence in all of my pitches.”
The focus during instructs was on the breaking pitch and on the mechanics. The goal with the breaking pitch was to make the curve look like the fastball, coming out of the same arm slot. The focus for Hinsz was also on his delivery, making sure he could repeat his mechanics for consistent command. He made improvements in both areas last year, and continued improvements could put him as high as up in the top five of the system next year.
Here is a brief look at his outing from today:
**Luis Escobar went two innings. He’s another hard throwing starter in the lower levels, hitting 97 consistently last year. He has a lot of moving parts to his delivery, and some command issues which come with that. He developed a nice changeup last year, and used that today to get a few swings and misses.
**Connor Joe was practicing at third base today with a lot of the guys who will be in Altoona. Joe played third base in Bradenton last year, but got some work in the outfield during the Arizona Fall League. He has also seen time at first base early in camp.
**We are one week away from the first games in minor league camp.