BRADENTON, Fla. – I don’t know if the Pirates made a specific decision to change their strategy of seeking power in the draft. What I do know is that the results from the 2017 draft class were much different than the draft classes from previous years.
The Pirates had a trend of drafting a lot of players who lacked power, but who got on base, hit for average, and played a premium defensive position. The upside with these guys was low, although the risk was also low. This led to a lot of guys reaching the upper levels who could reach the majors in a bench role, or perhaps make it as an average starter at best.
The 2017 draft saw more guys drafted with power potential than we’ve seen drafted by the Pirates in previous years. Two of those guys came from the prep ranks, and both could have a shot at West Virginia this year. Calvin Mitchell was taken in the second round last year, while Mason Martin was an over-slot signing in the 17th round. The duo showed a lot of power potential last year, with Martin’s power carrying over to the game in a big way.
Now, both hitters are playing on what is likely going to end up the West Virginia roster, with both having a good shot of opening the season in Low-A.
Can Martin Repeat His GCL Season?
Mason Martin had a huge season in 2017. He hit 11 home runs and had a 1.087 OPS on the season, setting some GCL Pirates records in the process, while leading the league in a lot of key categories. The question now is whether he can do the same thing in the higher levels.
The Pirates aren’t changing much with Martin, for obvious reasons when considering the results.
“We’re just making minor tweaks on the approach,” Martin said of his work early in Spring Training. “I’m feeling pretty comfortable. I’ve been getting into a lot of deep counts, so I’ve been seeing a lot of pitches right now.”
One of the small things they’re trying to tweak is a tendency he showed last year to try and muscle up on balls, which would lead to a longer swing. His focus this year has been trying to get a shorter swing, which has less to do with mechanics, and more about waiting as long as possible to start his swing.
“I want to get away from a long swing, and just be short and compact and let the pitcher’s velocity do the work for me,” Martin said. “I don’t think it’s much of a mechanical change. I think it’s more of a mental focus. It’s just convincing myself that I just want to wait as long as possible for that ball to get to me, and be as short as possible to the ball.”
The Pirates have a tendency to shorten a swing by lowering a hitter’s hands to his shoulder and chest area. That is already Martin’s natural hand position, so no adjustment is needed, other than making sure he stays short, rather than trying to take big cuts.
Martin is going to need to show power as he moves up, since his likely position will be first base. He moved to that spot last year, after being drafted as an outfielder. He could still have a shot at right field in the future, although he will be moving up with more talented outfielders, so first base will be his primary spot. He looked a little rough at the position last year, but has looked better this spring, showing the work he put into the position this offseason with Kevin Young and Gary Green.
“We worked over the instructional league,” Martin said of his work with Young and Green. “We kind of sat down and went over the basic fundamentals of playing first base. We’ve gotten a lot of early work sessions in. That has been super, super beneficial for me. I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable over there, because we’ve just really spent a lot of time focusing on first base, so I can really get that down and get that going.”
The ability to carry himself at first base is a good thing. The biggest thing for Martin will be his bat, as that will carry him as a prospect going forward. He should get his first test this year in West Virginia.
Mitchell Working on Carrying His Power to the Game
From what I saw last year, Calvin Mitchell has easy power. He’s got a smooth swing, and when he connects with one, it looks effortless. The problem is that he hasn’t seen that power translating consistently over to games. Mitchell had a lower average and had some strikeout issues in the second half, while seeing a drop in his in-game power production. The Pirates made some minor adjustments, hoping to find a fix.
An issue for Mitchell was that he was closing off his shoulder a bit. The focus this year is for him to have better direction through the ball. The coaches noticed this during the GCL season, and asked him to work on it after the season. The adjustment doesn’t take much.
“In my setup, just thinking about pointing my shoulders straight at the pitcher,” Mitchell said. “Keeping both eyes on the pitcher throughout my sequence, and that helps me stay [in line].”
Mitchell doesn’t think that led to the strikeout issues. That problem could be fixed by better pitch recognition.
“I think a lot of it was pitch recognition,” Mitchell said. “Just trying to see the ball a little bit better, and I think I’m doing that a lot better now.”
Mitchell said that seeing more at-bats and getting more experience picking up the release point earlier and more often has helped in that regard. He should get a chance to show how these small adjustments will translate over to the field in West Virginia this year.
“They said I’ve got a good shot at playing the full season in Charleston, so I’m working towards that,” Mitchell said.