ALTOONA, Pa. – The game of baseball is a series of one-on-one battles.
Every single pitch is a battle within itself.
Every pitch contains the potential of the batter scoring a run or the pitcher recording an out.
Most pitches only push the at-bat marginally to an outcome.
It’s a slow moving process that makes baseball a very tedious game to follow for the casual fan and the uninitiated.
For the hardcore baseball fan, each individual pitch, each individual battle — that is the game.
That game is always controlled by the pitcher.
The pitcher sets the pace of the at-bat. The catcher knows what is coming, but only the pitcher knows how he is going to throw the pitch. Only the pitcher can control the mindset surrounding the execution of the pitch.
One of the most difficult things in this game has to be the act of being a starting pitcher. Maintaining your focus over several hours while being physically active during that time is one of the most daunting tasks in baseball.
Last Friday, while I was in Altoona, I basically attempted the same thing. I had a marathon day of interviews with the Double-A affiliate. In total, there were eight interviews on the day, spanning about three hours. If this was a start for me, I definitely was wearing down after seven innings.
I thought it would be an interesting look to go behind the scenes of that day, but also to detail the struggles of the final interview.
1:27 PM: Kieran Mattison
My first interview of the day was with manager Kieran Mattison. We talked for about 14 minutes about development at this level and with this team. After that, we talked for maybe another 15 minutes just about this game and the process of development. I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of these types of behind the scenes conversations over the years, allowing me to further my knowledge of the game. There’s not really anything to report in these conversations. My thought is these discussions lead to a better understanding of the game, which leads to better articles on this site.
I like that Mattison is an uplifting, positive guy, and also very honest and direct. That’s a combination that makes for a good leader and manager. It’s also a combination that wasn’t always prevalent in the Pirates’ system in the past. It seems to be the standard now.
2:28 PM: Liover Peguero
My first player interview was about an hour later. I was waiting in the dugout and Liover Peguero knew he was one of the players I was waiting on. Each player interview is about 5-6 minutes, depending on the length of their answers. The conversations are pretty straight forward, and usually show up in the interviews.
2:39 PM: Jon Nunnally
Shortly after I finished talking with Peguero, Jon Nunnally walked up to me with some time before the pre-game field work began. He noticed that I had on Ken Griffey Jr./Sr. shoes, and started into a few stories about his time with the Royals and Reds, which I really appreciated and worked into the hitting article. This was one of my favorite articles to write in this site’s history.
This was my first time talking with Nunnally. As I mentioned in P2Daily today, I came away with more knowledge and understanding of hitting from this discussion than ever before. I have to think that’s a good thing for the prospects that Nunnally is coaching.
3:02 PM: Brad Case
My interview with Nunnally was long, although that time included the stories about his playing career. A few minutes later, I talked with Brad Case. From a prospect standpoint, Case isn’t going to move the needle on this site. He’s an older pitcher, and despite good movement on his secondary stuff, he doesn’t have much velocity. However, in all of my interactions with him, including listening to some of his podcast, he’s very knowledgeable about the game. I’ll have a story on him next week from what was an interesting discussion about his development.
3:27 PM: J.C. Flowers
I had about a 20 minute break between talking with Case and talking with Flowers.
I’ll add here the parallel of pitching with interviews. These aren’t scheduled out, and while I have questions and an approach for each player, I need to mostly commit to memory. Suddenly, J.C. Flowers walks up to you, and you have to instantly remember everything you wanted to ask him about. Fortunately, I had the break, and just saw him that week, so everything was fresh on my mind. Anthony Murphy wrote about Flowers today, based on that conversation.
3:38 PM: Aaron Shackelford
I didn’t have an interview set up with Shackelford, but at this point I was waiting on Quinn Priester, who was taking ground balls at shortstop barefoot during batting practice. Shackelford was finishing his day in the dugout, and I was able to talk with him for a few minutes. I also was hoping to talk with Andres Alvarez, since he’s having a good year in Altoona. Despite interviewing a lot of players last week, Alvarez was one of several guys I missed a chance to talk with. This wasn’t a perfect game. I really liked the breakdown from Shackelford on how his mentality shift has helped this year.
3:48 PM: Quinn Priester
I’ve always liked Priester as an elite pitching prospect more for the mentality than the stuff.
He’s a guy who taught himself modern pitching methods in high school. He reminds me a lot of Jameson Taillon in the way that he creates a divide between analytical people and scouting people. The difference is that scouting people are banking on his ability to turn his stuff into a solid Major League starter, while analytical people are worried the current numbers indicate this is impossible. The key with both players is that they aren’t afraid to change their approaches.
Priester has done that with his fastball.
“I’ve always thrown two fastballs,” said Priester. “That started in high school. We were tinkering with just throwing the four seam last year, and ended up bringing back the two seam, and have had a lot of success. It helps the four seam play a little bit better, because it’s not an elite four seam, but the sinker is elite. Both will play off each other. Especially if we use them in the right way. Both of those pitches have been big for me in professional baseball.”
For a player like Priester, who has the stuff but doesn’t have the stats, I’m going to look to the personality of the player as a deciding factor. In Priester’s case, I’m never going to be discouraged by minor league stats when projecting him to become a top of the rotation guy. Eventually, he’s going to find the right approach to maximize his abilities. He’s also not a guy who is afraid to fail while he searches for the right approach.
4:06 PM: Drew Benes
This one I had to labor through, and was my final interview of the day. The first words out of my mouth were a series of verbal pauses, and slowly trying to form a sentence around the leadoff question. If I was a pitcher, trying to throw my first pitch in the eighth inning, it would have been a home run. Fortunately, Drew Benes is a pretty chill guy, and he worked through the slow start.
Around the five minute mark, a bug was flying around my face, distracting me.
At 11 minutes, toward the end of the interview, I couldn’t help but get distracted by the Goodyear blimp while we were talking about Kyle Nicolas. I liked my recovery here, stopping to take a photo to record the event, and then getting back to the follow-up question I had from the response Benes gave.
My own mind can do six things at once. It’s not impossible to get my mind to a singular focus, or even a singular focus and a running thought process and a secondary thought process all aimed at the thing I’m doing. That was easy to control at the start of the day. My conversation with Mattison was easy, with ideas flowing off the top of my head. By the end of talking with Benes three hours later, I was struggling to just ask how difficult it was for a pitcher to focus on every pitch.
I wasn’t even doing much physical activity, aside from periodically pacing around the dugout and infield.
I can’t imagine the mental exhaustion of a pitcher late into a game when that pitcher has been doing non-stop physical activity for hours.
As Benes said, that’s the separator for the highest level.
At a certain point in this game, you stop scouting tools and you start scouting the person.
The right mindset can overcome any lack of tools, and the wrong mindset can’t be saved by any of them.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
ALTOONA CURVE PITCHERS
By Anthony Murphy
ALTOONA CURVE HITTERS
By Tim Williams