I just wrapped up a four game series in West Virginia, covering a lot of the lower level prospects. Today I will be driving down to Bristol for part two of this trip, covering five games at that level. I’ve got about 10-11 articles lined up from those four games in West Virginia, along with plenty of article ideas for the Bristol trip (and there always turn out to be more stories than expected, as I only anticipated about six or seven stories during my time in West Virginia). Simply put, we’ve got more live coverage of the lower levels coming in the next week, and a ton of articles lined up for the next few weeks, starting tomorrow.

This kind of lower-level live coverage doesn’t really get a lot of attention. It definitely doesn’t pay for itself. The cost of a round trip flight, a rental car for ten days, and ten nights in a hotel adds up. No matter how much I say “Here’s a video of Oneil Cruz hitting a home run” or “Here is a breakdown of all of the mechanical changes Luis Escobar has made”, we’re not going to get enough new subscribers from this coverage to pay for the trip.

But this coverage is more like an investment. The bread and butter of this site is built in the lower levels. Or maybe baked in the lower levels, since we’re using a bread and butter metaphor. Either way, we start covering guys from the moment they enter the system, and we don’t stop until they leave the system, or until they reach the majors. And in the latter case, we don’t even stop then. So when a player reaches the majors, or reaches the levels higher in the minors that will generate more interest and more subscriptions, we stand out by having more knowledge than any other outlet.

That’s all possible by these trips to Bristol, West Virginia, Morgantown, and sweating my ass off daily at noon in Florida in July watching GCL games. We lay the groundwork here on each player, so when they reach Altoona, Indianapolis, or Pittsburgh, and every other outlet does their “introduction” articles, we are already ten steps ahead, looking at the latest adjustments and changes they are making.

It was always kind of this way. I mean, the site only started as a place where I could write my live reports from seeing Pedro Alvarez and the 2009 Lynchburg Hillcats. The entire original idea of the site was a place for those live reports. So live reports were a big part of the foundation of this outlet.

But I can’t say that it’s always been fully this way. I wrote an article over the weekend about Mitch Keller, and in that article I noted that Jameson Taillon’s 2012 season led to some big changes in the site coverage. I didn’t tell the story then, because I didn’t want to go off on a tangent. So now seems like a good time for the story.

The site was still growing in 2012, and getting to the point where it was actually a full-time job for me. The big “creating something from nothing” milestone that year was that I was able to actually buy a car, which led to me traveling to a lot of places for live coverage. This included four or five trips that year driving from Virginia to Bradenton and back to cover various events (Spring Training, the Marauders, the GCL Pirates, instructs, etc). The Marauders had Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon that year, although Cole wasn’t at the level nearly as long as Taillon.

I spent the very little money we had that year to go see Taillon at different times during the season, learning about what he was working on. You probably don’t need me telling you what that was. This would just be the point where I link to my favorite article about his mechanical adjustments along the way. He was starting to make those adjustments at that time, and I was getting the first information over the long-term study of those changes.

The only problem was that we had a very informal process at the time when it came to writing about topics. Since we didn’t have a lot of live coverage, anyone on the site could write about any player, and usually that involved looking at the stats only. In Taillon’s case, there were a few articles written on the site that summer with concern about his low strikeouts and his struggles in Bradenton. Those were 100% by the numbers, with no insight into what he was working on. Meanwhile, I was spending money getting that insight, which at times led to mixed messages on the site. One article would cite stats and express concern about Taillon. Another would focus on what he was actually working on, and ignore those stats.

This happened with more players than just Taillon. It’s just that he was the highest profile guy at the time. It created a situation where we were saying two different things, almost like two different outlets, with one article talking about information we gathered during live coverage, and another article ignoring all of that and going in a different direction with a different view. It created a very mixed message, especially when those types of articles would go up around the same time.

If the site was going to take the step forward to being a real media outlet, we needed to make a change with this approach. So I made that change the following year. I added a policy that you could only write about players that you were covering live. I also expanded the coverage on the site, adding writers in West Virginia, Altoona, Indianapolis, and Jamestown, which paired with me moving to Bradenton gave us coverage of every team. If you weren’t covering Indianapolis, you couldn’t write about Indianapolis players. If you weren’t covering West Virginia, you couldn’t write about West Virginia players.

It sounds pretty standard, because that’s what we do now. It would be weird now if Sean McCool — our Altoona writer — was writing articles based on the stats of West Virginia players, or if Alan Saunders — our Pittsburgh writer — was writing about the Indianapolis players that Brian Peloza covers on a regular basis.

The transition was rough at the time. There were a few writers who had no role going forward with the site, as they weren’t covering anything. We had writers who were angry at their reduced roles. People were dismissed and people quit as a result. But it was a move that made sense, and it ultimately led to where we are today.

I’ve worked since that point to continuously increase our live coverage, and the subscription model definitely gave that a boost. And now it’s standard for us to have coverage throughout the system, to the point where we are there when Oneil Cruz makes his debut, and we are there when Mitch Keller pitches his first game in Altoona, and there was never really any question about whether we’d be covering the game.

It makes me wonder what would have happened if Jameson Taillon had an easy transition in pro ball, put up dominant numbers in Bradenton, and didn’t have a long mechanical overhaul. For one, I wouldn’t have my favorite article. We probably would have eventually made the switch to the current model, although I wonder how much later it would have happened.

I’m glad it did happen, because it propelled us to the current status, where every single year I feel like our knowledge of this system keeps getting stronger and stronger. And I’m looking to continue that process this week in Bristol.

If you aren’t a subscriber, you should definitely join us to get all of this info (not to mention the only article on Oneil Cruz from the only person who was in the press box, covering the game, and interviewing him afterwards when he made his debut). If you care about guys like Cruz, Luis Escobar, Braeden Ogle, or other players I’m covering during this trip, then you should definitely subscribe. And if you only care about the guys in the upper levels, then we have more information on those guys than you can find anywhere else.

Job Openings

Speaking of our live coverage, we are currently looking for writers for West Virginia and Morgantown. This is primarily for the 2018 season, although we might start things this year, depending on how the rest of the season goes, and depending on the candidate. For more info on each position, check out this post, and then e-mail tim@piratesprospects.com to apply.

App Updates

We currently don’t have an iPhone app, due to various problems with the previous app. We’re probably not going to be able to rebuild the app until after the season, as all attempts during the season have run into the same problems. Once things settle down in the offseason, I’ll be able to fix some of the problems on the site that have been conflicting with the rebuild efforts, and then get the app back in place.

One of the biggest challenges with the switch to a subscription site from day one has been going from a site that existed for six years as a free outlet, and then switching everything over. That has created so many small issues, which lead to problems like this. It makes me wish we could have been a subscription site since day one. Of course, we had like six people reading the site in our first months, so that’s just a dream. I’m looking forward to the offseason arriving, at which point I can get to work on fixing some of these issues.