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Sunday, November 27, 2022

Indianapolis prospects on the doorstep to Pittsburgh after journey together

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Chemistry and trust in a clubhouse are things that do not happen overnight. That takes months, and even years, to build.

For the prospect-loaded Indianapolis Indians, the group has had that time together to marinate, and the results are there. Along with the hot 6-3 start to the season, the common theme in talking to the young players in Indianapolis are comfort, confidence, synergy, and even maybe some love mixed in.

Composing the Indianapolis roster are 17 players added by the Pirates as either draft picks or international signings in 2017 and ‘18. Add four more that were acquired the same way in 2016 and a vast majority of the roster have spent a good chunk of their baseball lives together.

“There is a great amount of talent [in Indianapolis to start the season],” said Cal Mitchell, who was added by the Pirates in the second round of the 2017 draft from high school. “We are all about the same age. We have been playing together for a long time. I have been playing with Mason Martin since I was 18…I have been playing with guys for a long, long time. It is cool how we have all accumulated here. We are all trying to make the jump, and I think we can do that together.”

First baseman Mason Martin recalls joining Mitchell in the system for the first time in 2017 out of high school as well.

“We all have each other’s back and we feel like brothers in that clubhouse,” Martin said. “It feels kind of like normal with these guys. We all know each other so well. Some of these guys I have been playing with for five seasons, going into my sixth season. Some guys less, but still we all have years under our belt together. I’m glad that I get to do it this year with this group.”

Martin, who has gotten off to a strong start with the bat, actually credits the chemistry to some of the success that he has on the field.

“When we step onto the field together, we feel really strong about ourselves and as a team,” Martin said. “It makes me feel really confident going into the season, knowing I have all of these great players and friends around me.”

Along with confidence, Mitchell also said that the chemistry and knowing each other so well allows teammates to help others when they have hit the inevitable baseball slump.

“Since we have been playing together forever, you know what a guy is thinking when he is doing good and what a guy might be struggling with, just because we have had such a large sample set together,” Mitchell said. “Problems get ironed out pretty fast, just because we have had that time together.”

While he joined the group as a first round pick in 2018 and made a bit of a jump in joining Indianapolis to kick off last season, Travis Swaggerty spent time with this squad and feels part of the group as well.

“We have been playing together for years,” Swaggerty said. “This is a good group. If we have that same synergy, we will win a lot of games.”

Ji-Hwan Bae had a bit of a rocky trip before joining the Pirates organization, as his contract was voided with the Braves as part of the numerous John Coppolella infractions on international signings.

From the beginning, Bae has said that the harmony has been easy.

“A lot of guys moved up to Triple-A from Altoona,” Bae said. “We have a really good squad and team. I am really excited about that… We already really know each other. We don’t have to really say anything. It is really easy.”

Canaan Smith-Njigba was an outside acquisition to the bunch, as part of the Jameson Taillon trade in 2021. However, he has fit right in and cannot wait to join this group in Triple-A this season, and then to the next level.

“I have been playing with a lot of these guys since 2017, when we first got drafted in rookie ball,” Smith said. “Now we are at this stage and knocking on the door. It is amazing going on this journey with these guys.”

Along with the players, manager Miguel Perez has progressed through the organization as the leader of the team as well. Now joining them at the top level, Perez cannot wait to be the mouthpiece to share that dreams are realized.

“I have been fortunate to be part of the development of a lot of these guys for the last couple of years,” Perez said. “I have seen how much they have grown and where they were a couple of years ago to where they are at now. That is exciting. That is why I say that I am so fortunate, so humble and excited to be that guy to tell them ‘you made it.’”

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Ryan has been following Indianapolis baseball for most of his life, and the Pirates since they became the affiliate in 2005. He began writing for Pirates Prospects in 2013, in a stint that ran through 2016 (with no service time manipulation played in). Ryan rejoined the team in 2022, covering Indianapolis once again. He has covered the Pirates in four different big league stadiums. Ryan was also fortunate enough to cover the 2015 Futures Game in Cincinnati.

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