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Observations from minor league camp

BRADENTON, Fla. – Quiet day in Bradenton as the Pirates and Blue Jays were rained out. Too bad because the Blue Jays were bringing a strong lineup of regulars up from Dunedin and Jason Grilli and Wandy Rodriguez were scheduled to throw.  Alas, Grilli will have to wait until Friday to make his Grapefruit League debut and Rodriguez will also have to wait another day to take another step forward in proving the health of his elbow.

On a slow news day, I thought I’d share some observations from the Pirate City complex where I spent some time on Wednesday afternoon. …

*The first thing that jumps out at you is the size of these pitching prospects. Tyler Glasnow now lists himself as at 6-8 (though still a lanky 220 pounds, but stronger than he was). Nick Kingham is built like a man. Not only is he 6-foot-5 but he’s thickly built throughout his frame. He’s build a little bit like Gerrit Cole … only he’s got an inch or two on him.  Luis Heredia appears to be in really good shape. He’s slimmed down as previously reported to give the Pirates another 6-foot-6-plus right-hander. The thing is they’re not even the biggest kids in camp. Twenty-year-old Jen-Lei Liao, a signing from Taiwan, is 6-foot-6 and an easy 270 pounds.

*Austin Meadows is dealing with a Grade 1 (mild) hamstring pull. No timetable on his return, Too bad. Wanted to see him at work.

*Don’t forget about Josh Bell. He’s a rare athlete on a baseball field, remember he was recruited to play baseball by the University of Texas before the Pirates filled up a suitcase with $5 million. Bell looks like he could play outside linebacker or small forward. He’s physical and confident. I’m not sure the bat will ever play enough but he demonstrated he has plus power in batting practice. There’s not many switch-hitters with power in the game. He’s blocked by a number of quality outfielders, but if the hit tool comes they’ll find a place. Maybe first base? Or maybe he becomes an attractive trade chip.

*Stetson Allie is a real wild card. His conversion from pitcher to hitter when better than anyone expected … until he was promoted to High-A.

*Reese McGuire appears to come as advertised. Hard to evaluate pitch framing on spring training backfields but everyone raves about his defensive acumen: the release, the strength, the accuracy of his throws … his understanding of how to call a game at such a young age. He doesn’t look like an overwhelmed teenager. I think he has a chance to be the Pirates’ Francisco Lindor, which is high praise: a plus-plus defender at a key position with at least an average bat and plus instincts and intangibles. Prediction: he’s a consensus top 50 prospect next spring.

*JaCoby Jones is an interesting guy. The Pirates still had him taking grounders at shortstop on Thursday but I have to think his long-term home is int he outfield.  He’s a really good athlete with a Hunter Pence-type of body. He’s a lottery ticket who has had his swing completely rebuilt.

In closing, I haven’t been around any other No. 1-rated farm system’s backfield but I would think this is what they look like, and Polanco and Taillon are in major league camp.

- TS

Comments

  1. cmat0829 says:

    Awesome, Travis, thank you for the ‘backfield banter’… I don’t recall blog entries from a few years back that compare to this, but what a difference in this system and the talent pipeline as compared to say… 4, 5, 8 years ago. Would be interesting to go back in time and read a similar post from that era…

  2. mab71 says:

    Travis, I think Jacoby Jones is interesting as well. He seemed really talented in the CWS. What are the chances of turning him into a third baseman? The Pirates will never be able to afford a post arbitration masher at third which we will find out when Pedro leaves. I think an overall strategy of small ball is one the Pirates have to maintain and Jones, who already has infield experience seems like a toolsy guy who could hit some home runs, lots of double, probably not strike out that much. I feel like the philosophy of having a 30 HR a year guy at third is overvalued. The 79 Pirates won the World Series with a chubby on base percentage guy and who was Boston’s third baseman last year?

  3. Yeah, these aren’t normal prospects. These are hosses.

  4. Steelkings says:

    ****Nick Kingham is built like a man. Not only is he 6-foot-5 but he’s thickly build throughout his frame.*****

    Travis, Are you reporting for the Trib, or Playgirl magazine?

    :) :) :) :) :) :)

  5. Travis,

    When I was reporting daily on Dejan’s Blog 10 days ago about ongoings at Pirate City, I wrote that it was easy to find Stetson Allie, despite no names on the unis . . . . I just had to look for a stocky, bad-haircut guy who looked like he was from Cleveland.

    Accurate, right?!

  6. Dan Novak says:

    I watched Glasnow throw early today and the kid is a really imposing on the mound…Heredia looks to be about 40 pounds lighter than last year…don’t forget about Wyatt Matheson..that kid is really impressive …too bad the rains came early today !

  7. macchamp74 says:

    Travis
    Josh Bell had a baseball scholarship to play at Texas. Are you sure he played football? Never read anything about football before you bringing it up.

  8. Nate83 says:

    The size of these pitchers is impressive. It’s unlikely but can you imagine a starting rotation with Cole, Taillon and 3 of the 4 guys you mentioned. Everyone of them are 6-4 or bigger. The fact that a guy like Jacoby Jones isn’t even mentioned often when talking about Pirate prospects speaks to the strength of the system. Where would guys like him and Heredia, Rameriz, Taylor, Barnes, Holmes…..etc. rank in the Brewers system. Probably all would be in their top 5 some even higher and these guys are afterthoughts when talking about the Pirates prospects because they fall in the 10-20 range.

  9. Jim S. says:

    +++, cmat.

  10. NMR says:

    -Jacoby Jones was my sleeper pick from last years draft, with the caveat that he needed to overhaul his swing (shout out to LeeFoo!). VERY glad to see this happening. Kid is an athletic freak, lots of bat speed.

    -Stetson Allie looks to have also done a lot of swing work over the offseason. Tim Williams at Pirates Prospects has been uploading a lot of spring training prospect video, if watching guys take batting practice and throw bullpens is your thing.

    Last year, you could watch Allie swing a bat and understand why he struck out so much. Now I’m no hitting coach, but the swing Allie has shown this spring will get the job done if the talent is there. It may not be easy to quantify, but I believe there is an innate ability good hitters have to put the bat on the ball, regardless of tools and mechanics. Some have it, some don’t. If Allie has it, there is no doubt he has the tools and the swing to make a big league impact. Soon.

    -Did Barrett Barnes come to camp healthy or is he still hobbled with something or other?

  11. Jim S. says:

    Can you imagine the damage they do at lunch?

  12. Jim S. says:

    Thanks for the insight, Dan. Please continue, if you get to see more. Really love hearing these tidbits from Travis and from fans.

  13. NMR says:

    I’d say if Jones has the hands to play 2B on an SEC contender and the arm to play CF as well, 3B should be one of the easier position conversions.

    Hit tool still scares me against higher level pitching, though.

  14. NMR says:

    Hey, at least he’s not describing any of these guys as “supple”. ;)

  15. Jim S. says:

    “Now I’m no hitting coach, but ….”

    Planting a seed. Haha!

  16. Jim S. says:

    We can laugh about “supple” but give Groat credit for never once using the term “toolsy.”

  17. NMR says:

    Wonder how much longer they’ll keep trying Matheson at catcher with Sanchez, McGuire, and Jang(sp?) in the system? Pretty sure he was a converted high school shortstop. Could be another late-decade 3B candidate.

  18. Nate83 says:

    Wouldn’t that be something if a switch hitting first baseman with 30 HR power just popped up out of nowhere. Obviously I’m not expecting it to happen but after 2 decades of whatever the Pirates went through one would expect some good fortune to come their way.

  19. NMR says:

    Ha, I know the disclaimer is obvious, but I certainly don’t want to come off like I’m predicting doom or failure based on shaky video and two cents worth of swing knowledge.

    Seriousy, though, Allie has me excited. Last year, he swung the bat like it was his first season as a professional hitter. Looks like he has that part down. I still think he’s going to struggle mightily in AA seeing high level stuff, but I love the push anyways. If the talent is there, he’ll eventually adjust. Still, yikes. Gonna be an eye opening couple months for him.

  20. Jim S. says:

    Yeah, I believe he was a SS. With all the stockpiling of catchers, it is like they are taking Ray Shero “collecting defensemen” lessons.

  21. Jim S. says:

    The funny part of his story to me is apparently his dad owns batting cages in Ohio and Florida (at least). You would think, based on that bit of info., that he had good hitting tutelage growing up. But, I guess when you can touch triple digits with your fastball at 18 … you tend to concentrate on that.

  22. NMR says:

    First, Huntington stockpiled pitchers. Second, Huntington stockpiled catchers.

    Still can’t find a damn shorstop to save his a…ah, I kid. ;)

    All I know is I’m glad “flood the system” jokes have stopped on the interwebs.

  23. NMR says:

    Yeah, but pretty sure he has called me one (albeit warranted). :)

  24. Jim S. says:

    We’ll just keep signing Barmes to one year deals far into the future. ;-)

  25. NMR says:

    Heh, I’m sure there are many professional coaches out there who would role their eyes at Dad knowing best about Little Johnnies swing.

  26. Dan Novak says:

    I think the Pirates are going to give Jacoby a long look at SS…not a lot there as we all know…Adam Frazier May be a guy to keep an eye on…as far as Matheson being an all state SS in Texas he is about 5’11 and looks to be around 230…not your average SS…

  27. Travis Sawchik says:

    It was a baseball scholarship. My bad. Fixed.

    That said, Bell still looks like he could be a multi-sport athlete … if those types of dudes still existed

  28. I mentioned to Josh Bell on Tuesday that I traded a $30 Allen Craig for him in the Rotowire keeper league. Pressure is really on him now :)

  29. Amarillo_Fats says:

    That “chubby on-base guy” stole 32 bases in 1979.

    But I get your point. 3B (Mike Schmidt and Graig Nettles excepted) wasn’t really considered a power position in those days. The Pirates made do with the likes of Hoak, Bailey, Wills, Hebner and Garner before Madlock came along; none of which were known for the longball.

    I’ve never been taken with the “power has to come from certain positions” argument. As long as you have enough on-base guys and power to create runs, I don’t care what positions they play. I don’t see any correlation between a player’s power ability and defensive ability, other than preconceived notions about body types. I had thought (or at least hoped) that Ryne Sandberg, Cal Ripken, and A-Rod had put an end to that argument, but I guess old habits die hard.

  30. ICHIRO sk SUZUKI says:

    Having a good swing is very important!

  31. Jim S. says:

    Thanks, Dan. So, no going back to SS for Mathiesen. Sounds like he’s a SS about as much as Russell Martin is one.

  32. Jim S. says:

    Why not? We can’t lose any OBP with Chase replacing Barmes.

  33. Warren says:

    +1 These first-hand reports are what make the Pirates community so awesome!

  34. DJ says:

    I’m glad you posted this, NMR.

    I was watching the same video on Allie as well and my first thought was he looked very smooth, well balanced and controlled. He looked like a big league hitter. I had never seen video on him hitting before this year so I had no basis of comparison, so your observation about much improvement from last year is certainly encouraging.

  35. Scott says:

    What do you mean when you say you’re unsure if Josh Bells bat will ever play. You say he clearly has the power and is a switch hitter. Do you mean you think he just wont hit for average? So he could hit 30 homers, but would probably hit .230? I have him in a dynasty league of mine, really hope by the time hes ready they can move him to first if Outfield is too crowded.

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