Our Pirates Winter Report highlights one Pittsburgh Pirates prospect each week, with brief notes from each country playing winter ball. This week we feature catcher Dylan Shockley, who spent this off-season in Australia.
Dylan Shockley has the defense behind the plate to make the majors.
The 34th round pick in the 2019 draft came into the 2022 season with just 63 games of pro experience. An injury to Henry Davis opened up playing time behind the plate this past year in Altoona. However, Shockley suffered his own season-ending injury to his thumb in July.
Shockley finished up his season with 24 games played. Inconsistent at-bats after getting pushed to the upper levels of the system led to a .147/.284/.191 slash line in 82 plate appearances. He doesn’t need to hit like an All-Star to eventually make it to the show, but needs to play to make progress.
He was sent to Australia this winter to finally get those consistent at-bats. Shockley ended up with 131 plate appearances this off-season, one short of his season high in pro ball. He batted .220/.331/.358 in 36 games this winter.
We often get asked about the competition level of winter leagues compared to the level of the minors. I often say that depending on the players each year, Australia is either the same as High-A or Double-A. Reaching out to Shockey to discuss his season, he agreed.
“I thought the competition level was very similar to Altoona,” Shockley said. “You had a lot of experienced pitchers that threw in the big leagues, guys who played overseas, and some High-A and Double-A arms. Overall, I thought the competition was very close, other than not seeing velo as consistently.”
That is a key difference between how you get pitched in winter ball, and what you see in the minors.
“Three or four clubs had velo guys, but the others were around the 88-93 MPH range,” said Shockley. “Not a lot of guys that threw over 95, but guys knew how to pitch with their amount of experience, so that’s what made it good.”
The low minors have a lot of pitchers who have velocity and not much else. Those skills develop over the years. Shockley didn’t see many polished pitchers coming up through the system, so Australia provided those types of challenges.
“You would have a couple guys that were a lot older, and be in the 80’s,” Shockley said. “They were crafty guys who would change arms slots on every pitch and had ten pitches it seemed like. They attacked a little different because they knew what they were good at, as opposed to guys in the minors still learning and trying to find out who they are.”
Shockley seemed to be at the perfect level for his experience this winter, plus he had the added bonus of making up for missed time. It’s interesting to get his perspective of the winter assignment.
“Going to Australia definitely helped,” Shockley said. “Where I’ve been kind of stuck in our organization with surplus of plus catchers and not getting a lot of at-bats. With my season-ending surgery, I was able to get the at-bats I needed.”
Shockley said that the first couple of weeks of winter were a build-up after not playing for about four months. He was just happy to see pitching and catch everyday after returning from his thumb surgery. The season gave him a chance to develop the hitting side of the ball.
“The biggest thing was seeing pitching everyday and building confidence within myself,” said Shockley. “It was so much easier to hit, and being able to put good at-bats together after I was comfortable and had the confidence.”
The first couple weeks saw a lot of different adjustments for Shockley, between seeing pitching for the first time in four months, and getting used to seeing more polished pitchers. He said after that breaking in period, he was able to barrel up balls more consistently and put together quality at-bats.
As for the defensive side, Shockley is recognized as one of the best catchers in the system. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have work to do behind the plate, and getting more reps in winter ball could only help in that area. He did have something specific to work on to help out his game.
“My main focus was to work on back-picking more from my knees,” Shockley noted. “That’s just another tool to add to my toolbox because my catching is one of the main reasons why I’m still here. That’s why they sent me to Australia to work on hitting, because if I can put together more quality at-bats, who knows what will happen?”
Shockley played on the Sydney Blue Sox, along with five other members of the Pirates minor league system. His manager was Tony Harris, a long-time scout for the Pirates, who has plenty of managerial experience. While Shockley didn’t know Harris before he went to Australia, it helped to have someone from the Pirates there as his manager in a foreign country.
“[Harris] definitely made everything a lot easier on the Pirates players adjusting to being there,” Shockley said. “It was definitely more comfortable, because we would know exactly what we needed to work on, what the Pirates would want, and we would get feedback. I thought he handled everything very well and he was a great person to be around as well.”
Shockley was quick to point out that the rest of the coaching staff did amazing work with the players. All six of the Pirates players sent there were position players, so they also leaned on hitting coach Brendan Kingman, who played seven years in the minors, and also had plenty of experience playing in Australia.
“[Kingman] helped us on trying to be simple and don’t try to do too much,” Shockley said. “Anytime we needed something or more work, the coaching staff was always on it. They were all great mates (Australian pun intended). I loved every second of being there”
The feelings were mutual between Harris and Shockley, as the Sydney manager sang huge praises of the leadership work done by his catcher this winter.
“What he brings to the table with his intangibles of leadership, the relationship he builds with the pitchers and the presence on the field, instantly makes the club better,” Harris said. “He has total respect from his pitchers, and he brings the best out of them in every outing. He can be a pitcher’s best friend, but tough when needed. He leads the club from behind the plate with his presence and quarterback mentality.”
Harris backed up the scouting reports on Shockley, noting that he saw a plus glove, and an arm that controlled the running game. He also went into detail about him needing/getting at-bats this winter after missing time due to his injury, and how he progressed with those at-bats.
“He worked on using more of the field, and in particular, getting in good hitter’s counts,” Harris said about Shockley’s work at the plate. “It was definitely an objective for him, and I saw a great deal of progress over his time here with using the left side of the field with some authority. I feel he’s in a really good spot to have a great Spring Training and season ahead.”
Harris closed things out by saying that Shockley was a great teammate and ambassador for the Pirates organization this winter.
Shockley has certainly impressed with his defense over the years. We will see if the progress he made this winter helps him get the rest of his game to the next level.
Around the World
The only thing going on in winter ball for the Pirates over the last week is Francisco Acuna representing Colombia in the Caribbean Series. He had an extremely impressive first game against Puerto Rico on Thursday, going 4-for-4 with a double, three runs and an RBI. He went 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI on Friday.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.
Pirates management and coaches should read this. I don’t understand how it’s not the standard for young players. “It was so much easier to hit, and being able to put good at-bats together after I was comfortable and had the confidence.”
Baseball players need a routine, everyday at-bats and confidence; especially young ones. That also entails hitting in the same spot in the lineup everyday and playing the same position in the field.
Not every guy is a utility player and should play multi positions. Just like only certain guys are good pinch hitters. And most of the time the good pinch hitters and good utility players are veterans(see Josh Harrison, Ben Zobrist etc.).
I just think it’s such a detriment to these young guys to make them learn multi positions. Sure some guys like Andres Alverez need to in order to make them more valuable and gives them a better chance to make the show. But just because a player is a good athletic and can do it doesn’t mean they should be doing it.
I can’t understand why Pirates coaches/management can’t realize that using a different batting order everyday or having every player learn multi positions throws off the “routine” needed to help young players be successful.
I met a couple who said they were from the same hometown as Dylan, Portsmouth,Ohio I believe, and said he was an absolutely great kid. BTW, they said it was the same town Al Oliver was from and he still lives there and is an active part of the community. I had the same thought as TNBucs that Dylan has a future as a manager/coach, hopefully for the Pirates.
Shockley knows Al Oliver personally. I believe Oliver’s grandson was on his baseball team at some level.
Love the depth of this article. I had forgotten that Shockley was drafted out of an NAIA school so between that and his injuries, that he was able to have some success in Australia is impressive and provides hope that he can be a major league backup someday.
Also, he sounds like a future manager.
Really good read John.
Let’s hope Pirates have themselves an Eddie Perez for our next Greg Maddux.
Great article on Dylan Shockley, one of the most pleasant and cordial young men in MiLB. My season tickets at Altoona are in the first base bleachers about 10-12 feet away from where the bullpen catcher sets up. I got to talk to Dylan briefly on a number of occasions. Having never played baseball I am continually amazed at his ability to handle the young flame throwers.
Many of the 2022 Altoona Curve bullpen had great velocity but were some-times lacking in control. As the bullpen catcher Dylan had to block many a ball in the dirt and I would often wince when I heard the thud of a 95-98 mph pitch bouncing off his chest protector. Many times, even if he didn’t get into the game, as the bullpen catcher he took more of a pounding than any other player. Once I watched him warm up Colin Selby and the crack as the ball hit his catchers glove could be heard all over the park. During a brief pause in the action I asked Dylan if those pitches stung his hand even though his glove had padding. He looked over at me, laughed, and said “every time.”
Even though catchers seem so stoic, I cannot imagine how painful baseball must be at times.
Thanks for sharing. I had a really long conversation with him that continued on well past the interview part. He told me about a catcher war story that was the reason he was a late scratch from joining the big league club during this past Spring Training for a game. I won’t share the off-record details but use your imagination and it will probably be correct
Once again, John, thanks for the article on one of my favorite players. Dylan’s beautiful wife is a DPT. (Doctor of Physical Therapy) I have teased him several times that as often as he gets injured, that was the reason he married her. He just laughs and says “Yea, but she’s tougher than the team trainers. She doesn’t cut me any slack.”
Great comment. Thanks for sharing.