Two Prep Pitchers Heading in Opposite Directions With Their Control Problems

BRADENTON, Fla. – The 2017 Bristol Pirates will begin their season tonight, and the roster will be led by two promising pitching prospects in Braeden Ogle and Max Kranick. Both players were selected in the 2016 draft, showing a lot of early promise, with signs of more to come. The Pirates drafted two additional prep pitchers in the 2016 draft, and those two have been on a bit of a different path lately.

Travis MacGregor was drafted in the second round, and Austin Shields was taken in the 33rd round, signing only after competitive balance pick Nick Lodolo decided to go to TCU. MacGregor and Shields were both raw in comparison to Ogle and Kranick, with some obvious things to work on.

MacGregor was taken high, but had a lean, lanky frame with a lot of moving parts to his delivery, and some command problems with his pitches. Shields was fairly new to pitching, and dealing with early struggles as he learned to repeat his delivery. Early during Extended Spring Training, things were looking bad for MacGregor and good for Shields.

MacGregor was showing horrible control, much worse than what he had last year, to the point where it was getting difficult for him to throw strikes. Shields was showing much better control, making some minor changes to his delivery to make it easier to repeat.

But now, with the Bristol season beginning, MacGregor has found a way to turn things around, while Shields has gone back to having poor control, which has actually led to the Pirates leaving him back in the GCL for the start of the year. Let’s break down what happened with both players.

MacGregor Changes His Mechanics

MacGregor got off to that rough start early in extended Spring Training, then the Pirates sat him down for two weeks while he worked on some adjustments to his mechanics.

“They had just changed some stuff on me, some mechanics and delivery-wise,” MacGregor said. “They said it was unfair for me to be trying to get results while working on that stuff, so they took me out for a little while.”

The changes were focused on getting a continuous motion with his arm swing, and getting his glove up out in front of the target. The focus here was not only to improve the command, but to avoid future injuries. He returned on May 29th and threw four innings, showing much better results. He walked one batter in four innings, throwing 10 of 15 first pitch strikes, and 36 of his 60 pitches for strikes.

“It was solid. It felt good out there. The results were there as well,” MacGregor said on that day, following the start.

The mechanics are still going to be an active focus for him, as they’re still new. The Pirates want him focusing on the new adjustments, and just ignoring the results on the mound.

“It’s definitely something I still have to focus on,” MacGregor said. “Continuously just thinking about it while I’m out there. Trying to work on it. … Now they’ve told me they want me to focus on it in the games right now. They’re not really focused on results.”

The results so far have been good enough for MacGregor to go to Bristol. The progress will be hard to judge, as he’s working on new mechanics. The best thing to watch will be his walk total, as that will give some indication of how things are going for him with the new changes.

Shields Takes a Step Back

Things looked promising for Austin Shields when I saw him in Spring Training and in extended Spring Training. I was expecting to see the same control problems he had last year, but he was around the plate a lot more, and throwing more strikes. When I talked to Shields, he mentioned that he was going through some changes with his mechanics as well, and getting more comfortable with his delivery.

“I feel like it’s been getting a lot better,” Shields said at the end of May. “It’s been a lot better recently just with my command and getting more fluent with my mechanics. … Just getting more repetitive with my mechanics and being able to go through it more confidently.”

The Pirates didn’t make any major changes here. The focus was trying to stay back more, and avoiding dropping his arm early and keeping his hands back and his hips in line. Shields was mostly focusing on the fastball command, not getting much of a chance to improve his secondary stuff.

“It’s mostly been fastball command, because I feel like the other pitches will follow,” Shields said. “My slider is usually pretty good when I throw it, and my changeup is getting better as well. So I feel like it’s mainly trying to get my fastball command up.”

Shields was shut down at the end of May after feeling tightness in his forearm and triceps. He had felt that before, but didn’t need to take time off until the most recent issue. That’s not totally uncommon for a young pitcher out of high school. Most prep pitchers are used to throwing from February-May, and only once a week. As they adjust to pitching over a full season, and on a more regular schedule, there will be some soreness where the team takes precaution and sits them down. The same thing has happened to pretty much every prep pitcher the Pirates have drafted over the last few years, Mitch Keller included.

In this case, Shields returned from the time off and his control reverted back to where it was before, to the point where the Pirates made the decision to keep him back in the GCL. It’s hard to say whether this was related to the soreness and the time off, but that will be something to watch early in the season. If he can get back on track with his control, then it’s possible he could make it back up to Bristol with the rest of the 2016 prep pitchers.

  • both are relatively babies at this so lets just relax and give them time to succeed.

  • Great coverage, Tim.

  • Sooo, not to judge him before he has a chance to prove himself, but why exactly did the Pirates draft MacGregor in the 2nd round? From his player page, he’s 6’2″ with a low 90’s fastball, his offspeed pitches “could become average”, and now they are overhauling his mechanics due to lack of control. What exactly were the tools they spent a 2nd round pick on? If this was just about savings, they only saved $49k relative to slot. Kind of disappointing, but again, I’m trying to reserve premature judgement.

    • He got a few “late riser” compliments *after* the draft, but you’re never really sure how much of that is rationalization after the fact.

      But yeah, you’re far from the only one to wonder. He handled himself well in his debut last year, so we’ll see.

    • I think the exact same thing every time his name comes up, so you’re not alone

    • John Dreker
      June 22, 2017 4:33 pm

      I think the pick more reflects where they had to take him to meet his bonus demands, rather than them thinking he was better than someone like Ogle or Kranick. The draft isn’t necessarily just drafting the best players in order. There are things that go on with phone calls between picks, where certain players might drop their bonus the longer they wait. We know a few players who had much high prices on day one than they did on day three, but we have also heard prices drop from round to round as panic sets in.

      • Thanks John. Yeh I mean, I understand the dynamics of the MLB draft (to an extent) and how draft position is not indicative of talent necessarily. But I would think that even the obvious reaches have at least a few high upside tools that the club is wishing on when using a top 10 pick on them. I was just kind of trying to understand what they liked or what they saw.

        (As an aside, I still don’t TRULY understand the post-2012 draft- it continues to boggle my mind in new ways each year. )

  • Tim do you ever do those David Todd interviews anymore? I used to listen to them on the way home from work.

  • Pete Cepulis
    June 22, 2017 1:32 pm

    Shields and Kranick are not on the roster for Bristol released today- they are on the GCL roster. You mention Shields is hurt, but any idea why Kranick isn’t at Bristol? Just keeping him at Bradenton to work on things?

    • John Dreker
      June 22, 2017 1:56 pm

      Update later on Kranick, possibly in the preview tomorrow. I just talked to him for a little while and we are putting together the preview right now. Shields isn’t hurt now, he’s having control issues since he returned from his injury. That kept him back in the GCL for now.

  • Don’t know about Shields, but unfortunately a lot of HS pitchers throw far more pitches at that age than they do their first few years of professional ball. Many pitch 10+ months a year due to all the showcases plus summer and fall ball. Also until the new NFHS rules went into effect this year, there were way too many HS coaches who let pitchers throw 130+ pitches in a game. That is a major cause of TJS.