When judging prospects from the draft each year, one of the things we look at is their placement in the minors. That usually gives you a good idea of what the Pittsburgh Pirates think about each player. Prep players go to the Gulf Coast League. College players usually go to Morgantown, unless they were a late round pick or came from a junior college, then they could head to Bristol. College players who go to the GCL bring about a lot of skepticism.
Some of those college players are just in the GCL for a short time because of a long layoff between the end of their season and signing their contract. Some get pushed down due to a lack of room above them at their position and the GCL allows them to play regularly. It’s good to look at each one on a case-by-case basis, including a particular case now pitching as a starter in the GCL.
Brad Case came to the Pirates via Rollins College, a Division II program in Florida. He stood out right away for two reasons. One is that he’s 6’7″, so you tend to notice him. The other was that he received a $100,000 bonus as a 17th round pick. Teams aren’t giving six-figure bonuses to 21-year-old pitchers with three years of college experience, plus a strong high school track record, while hoping that they can handle GCL competition. So there is obviously more to the story here.
Case will be staying in the GCL this summer from what he has been told, and the idea is to get him innings as a starter. The Pirates tend to take a hands off approach with drafted players while they get used to pro ball during their first season. The first changes or adjustments usually come during the Fall Instructional League. That didn’t hold true with Case.
The Pirates had him working with pitching coach Drew Benes, who made a simple tweak that we hear about often within the system, in order to help his velocity. Case was sitting 88-90 MPH this college season. Benes had him stay on his back leg longer to help get more out of his delivery. It not only helped the fastball, it helped him regain his slider, which was his best pitch before he lost a feel for it in college this spring.
“It’s really as simple as he told me to stay on my back leg longer,” Case said about the slider improvement. “It allowed me to really get back on top of it and pull it down to get late sharp break again.”
He went from sitting 88-90 MPH with the fastball, to hitting 94 MPH in his appearance last Thursday. Besides the four-seam fastball and a low 80’s slider, Case also has a two-seam fastball, which was 89-92 in his start yesterday, a cutter and a changeup.
Yesterday’s game, which was his first pro start, was about working on attacking the inner half of the plate. You look at the boxscore and it was a decent start, with two runs and no walks over five innings, though it also included eight hits. Sometimes those things can be explained by the game plan for the pitcher going into their start. Case made adjustments in game that helped him out later, but also didn’t have all of his pitches going, so he had to use what was working that day.
“Today in the first inning I was just behind the ball and I got hit around a bunch,” Case said on Wednesday afternoon. “After that though, I started getting on top of the ball more and throwing it with more conviction and got much better results. I was looking to attack that inner half a little better this outing but only found success with my two-seam over there.”
In the majors, the idea is to get outs. In the minors, the idea is development first. Getting outs by pitching a certain way, even if it isn’t working that day. One prime example from the past was one of the worst outings by Clay Holmes while with Altoona. He was told to throw inside to right-handed batters. It wasn’t working, but he kept doing it all game because that was the plan.
To anyone watching the game, myself included that day, he just looked like he just didn’t have any control that day. Talking to him after the game, we found out that he just stuck to the game plan and results didn’t matter. Under normal circumstances, he would have went to different pitches and locations. It’s something that gets lost in the boxscore, but it’s a key part of developing a pitcher.
Case is clearly just more than a college pitcher in the GCL. He’s a 6’7″, right-hander, who still has some projection left. He has already shown improvements by adding to his velocity and regaining his slider. For now he’s going to continue working on things in the lower stress environment of the GCL, followed by the Fall Instructional League. After this season, then we will get a better idea of what the Pirates think of his potential by seeing where he ends up next year and what role he has on the mound.