BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates have a no touch policy with their new prospects. They don’t make changes to their game when a player first enters the system. Instead, they evaluate the player for a few months, then suggest changes after they get to know the player. For drafted players, this holds off changes until instructs or Spring Training.
Today I got to see two prep pitchers from the 2016 draft throw live BP. Second round pick Travis MacGregor and 11th round pick Max Kranick — both big bonus signings — each pitched two innings at Pirate City. After their outings, I talked with them about some of the changes they have been making since the end of last year. There aren’t major adjustments for either player, but each pitcher had something to work on.
Despite being taken later in the draft, Kranick is the higher rated prospect of the two in our rankings. He showed a lot of promise last year, and while he doesn’t have the best stuff of the prep pitching group (the best stuff belongs to Braeden Ogle), he does get the best reviews from scouts for his future potential.
Kranick went into instructs focusing on his changeup and his curveball. The changeup is something he has had for a long time, throwing that and his fastball up until high school. He first started throwing a breaking pitch in high school, then switched to a new curveball around this time last year. The curveball saw improvement throughout the year, but is still something he’s adjusting.
“I think the curveball is coming a long way,” Kranick said. “In the past couple of days, [Justin Meccage] and [Tom Filer] have been working on it a lot with me, just to throw it, so I don’t show it early, so it’s not loopy, so it’s a little harder. I think it felt pretty good today. It needs some work, but it’s coming along.”
Kranick had a few nice curveballs today, but also a few bad ones, including some that he spiked into the dirt before home plate. The video below shows one nice curveball that he dropped in for a strike, setting up a fastball away.
“Today I threw a couple of good ones, a couple of okay ones,” Kranick said. “When I’m throwing it how I want, it’s definitely much better than it was last year.”
One interesting thing is that Kranick is also throwing a two-seam fastball. The Pirates usually take that pitch away from their young starters out of high school, and give it back around High-A or Double-A. Kranick didn’t throw it much last year, but has been throwing it this year in bullpens, and could be bringing it back. That might make sense for him, since he doesn’t have the command issues that most guys have, which leads to the approach with the four seam fastball.
“My first bullpen I started throwing it, and they saw it was improved and there was more movement,” Kranick said of the two-seamer.
Kranick expects to go to Bristol this year, which is where the Pirates have been sending their prep pitchers the year after they are drafted. That gives him plenty of time to work on these adjustments and show improvements before his actual season begins.
MacGregor showed some late improvements in high school last year, with a velocity increase and improvements from his fairly new curveball. He went into the offseason with the goal of getting stronger this year, aiming to put some weight on.
“The whole offseason I decided I’m going to devote my time to getting a little stronger,” MacGregor said. “I was here pretty much most of the offseason. Every now and then I’d take a week or so off and go home to my family.”
MacGregor doesn’t live far away, with his hometown being a little over an hour north of Bradenton. He was a regular at Pirate City over the offseason, trying to add some muscle and strength to his frame, which can only help his velocity continue to improve.
“I needed to come back and put a little more weight on,” MacGregor said. “In general, I felt like I needed to be stronger to improve my game. … Just me being able to last longer out there. Hopefully it will just overall help me gain control and help improve my pitches.”
There were other adjustments he was working on. The biggest one was with his delivery with runners on. He was switched to a delivery that started a little taller and less spread out, aiming to get quicker to the plate and control the running game.
“They changed up my stance with a man on,” MacGregor said. “Kind of kept me up a little taller, a little more upright. That was pretty much it, just trying to help me get a little quicker to the plate.”
MacGregor is also making adjustments with the curveball, looking to throw it like a fastball, but snap it harder at the end. The pitch is relatively new for him, but he’s shown some improvement with the pitch in the last year. The biggest thing he needs to work on is his fastball control, which could improve as he gets stronger and more comfortable with his mechanics and frame.
Today he saw some control problems, but also some nice fastballs, and a few good curveballs. The video below has a nice representation of the good and the bad.
**I got to see Blake Cederlind pitch for the first time today, although I was more focused on photos than watching him. It’s good that he’s back after some elbow soreness last year, and throwing two innings of live BP today. Hector Garcia also threw two innings today, returning from 2015 Tommy John surgery.
**It’s too early for rosters to be set for the minor league teams, but it looks like Connor Joe, Kevin Kramer, and Jordan Luplow are locked in for Altoona, and I think all three have a chance to impress this year.
**I talked to Ke’Bryan Hayes and Will Craig, and will have features on them soon.