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Clash of the Titans: Cole vs. Buxton … and other backfield observations

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BRADENTON, Fla. – I was able to slip over to Pirate City on Friday for the 10 a.m. Pirates-Twins ‘B game’ prior to the main event over at McKechnie Field. But the main event for me was really over on the backfields. Yes, there were only a handful of scouts and fans behind chain-link fencing there. Yes, there are no grandstands or amenities at Pirate City. But this venue provided an intimate setting for the best one-on-one matchup of the spring to date.

That matchup was between the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft in Gerrit Cole vs. the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012, Byron Buxton.

 

You can watch Cole-Buxton at bat No. 2 for yourself as my caffeine-deprived fingers captured it via iPhone video:

 

 

Cole got the better of the Buxton on this day as he froze Buxton with a wicked curveball in the first inning for a strikeout and got Buxton to chase out of the zone on an 89 slider, seen above, for a second K.

 

Cole allowed three hits, including a wind-aided solo HR, over three innings of work. He walked one and struck out four. He topped out at 97 mph and sat 92-96. His fastball command was off but his curveball looked really sharp. And that’s a big deal. I liked the velocity separation last year he got from his curveball, which was unveiled in Sept., but questioned the break and shape. Well, the shape and break were both there Friday and that should excite the Pirates. Last year the curve was just a timing-disruption tool. This spring it looks like a true plus pitch to go along with the plus-plus fastball.

 

Other observations …

*Gregory Polanco hit in the No. 3 spot again in the B game and while he didn’t record a hit in the three plate appearances I watched he didn’t once swing out of the zone. He nearly homered to the opposite field – the ball landed just to the left of the foul pole – and he uncoiled and ripped a screaming line drive to right field. Polanco and Starling Marte are both rare baseball athletes. But it’s Polanco’s plate discipline and approach that sets him apart.

 

*Alen Hanson hasn’t gotten much buzz this camp but he barreled up a couple balls vs. the Twins, including a double to the left-center gap. He looks like he’s gotten stronger and he has surprising pop for a middle infielder. He’ll have a future home at second base or shortstop.

 

*Justin Wilson was between 88-94 with his fastball. Stolmy Pimentel hit 95 mph and got three groundballs in the last inning I watched. I can’t imagine Pimentel not making the team mostly due to being out of options.

 

NEWS FROM THE ‘A GAME’

*Wandy Rodriguez looked sharp again, getting a swing and miss from Joe Mauer and striking out Brian Dozier over a couple clean innings. Rodriguez said he feels good which is the biggest development in major league camp to date this spring, imo.

 

*Jason Grilli made his debut and threw a clean inning. It’s early but encouraging for the Pirates.

 

*Andrew McCutchen’s opposite-field power wasn’t the same in 2013 as it had been in 2012 but McCutchen launched an opposite-field HR against the Twins.

 

-TS

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Comments

  1. Jim S. says:

    Good stuff, Travis. Thanks!

  2. Dan Novak says:

    Standing with scouts Hal Morris of the Angels and Bruce Tanner of Detroit… They both said if Cole can throw that breaking ball for strikes he will be top five NL starter…also marvel at Polancos skill set and athleticism of SS Hansen…Tanner in particular left the main game to watch Reese McGuire hit on field 4

  3. The Czar says:

    We have some young talent to get fired up about for sure! Polanco has to arrive in June at the latest right?
    Jameson got roughed up a little yesterday.
    Springing the clocks ahead and inching closer to baseball season!

  4. BostonsCommon says:

    Hansen has to realize this is a big year for him. With the hype is buddy Polanco is getting, he’s gotta know that he’s getting close too. And no one blocking him.

    Is there a scenario out there where Hansen makes it up in September for a taste, breaks camp in 2015 with the big club, and pushes Mercer into the infield super platoon guy by June/July?

  5. JohninOshkosh says:

    Release the Kraken!

  6. Travis Sawchik says:

    Good stuff, Dan. Thanks for sharing. I’m 100 agree percent with the scouts on Cole. If he can repeat the shape and command of that curve he’s going to be a monster.

  7. Pig Legs Robinson says:

    It was that surprising ‘pop’ that made Hanson the breakout star of the season 2 years ago, as he just kept on hitting home runs and extra base hits all year. He is one guy that you cannot judge his power by his size. He must have some excellent wrist action in his swings.

    He didn’t really show the pop last year like he did two years ago, (probably due to going up a couple levels and facing better pitching) but I think it will come out and shine as he matures and gets more used to the pitching in the upper minor leagues as well as majors.

    His hitting abilities have never been questioned, He’s a sure major leaguer on that front. It all hangs on improving his glove work right now.

  8. Arriba Wilver says:

    No scenario where a top prospect breaks camp on the big club. And I agree with that.

  9. Dan Novak says:

    Two things…Polanco is not ready yet ….needs to learn intracacies of the game such as hitting left handed pitching and learning how to play RF..such as angles and overall positioning…also don’t count out Travis Snyder..bat speed is better this year healthy and in much better shape !

  10. Jim S. says:

    Ah, the life of a scout during spring training. Bruce Tanner of the Tigers goes to watch 19 year old Reese McGuire of the Bucs.

  11. Jim S. says:

    I think the earliest we would see Hansen is one year after the Polanco/Taillon timetable. That’s just how they do it, and it seems to be working pretty often.

  12. Jim S. says:

    Hanson’s still very young. I believe he’s just 21, isn’t he? I think you are right, Pig Legs. Will he progress enough with the glove to be able to stick at SS in MLB, or will he have to shift over to 2b? I also think you are right that they are pretty confident of the bat, from both sides of the plate. He has nice pop, based on the couple of times I saw him in AZ last fall. He can fly, too. And, he takes some walks, which is nice. The Bucs seem to be finally getting some young guys from the Dominican that have the chance to bring good OBPs. Nice to see in both Polanco and Hanson.

  13. RobertoForever says:

    Jim

    Agree, its how they do it. And alot of other teams as well. See San with the Twins. Slow played him as is there m.o. and know he is getting TJ surgery and will miss all of this season.

    Its how I would do it as well. But I could see one scenario where Hansen comes up. Walker & Mercer both get hurt the week before opening day, lol

  14. RobertoForever says:

    Appreciate the live update Dan. Always good to get in person observations rather than just debating last years worn out old facts :)

  15. RobertoForever says:

    Travis,

    I was hoping to see some ST next week and get my own observations but plans changed. One good result is that I will be spending some quality time in Central CT where Buxton will start his year. Looking forward to seeing Bugsy the OG (outfield gangster) patrolling CFs in the Eastern League. I had the pleasure of seeing him a bunch in ST last yea in Ft Myers, and then for a week in low A. Dude really earns all his accolades. My favorite story of him by one of his coaches goes something like this. Buxton and 2 other hitters in the lineup that day were standing on the dugout rail during the other teams pitching change. The two other guys were laughing and joking. Buxton leaned over and stated, hey guys we’re gonna see him today or tomorrow. We might want to watch him during warm up. Sounds like the kid has advanced wisdom to go with his other five tools.

    Enjoy the sun and the games! And thanks for the great daily stuff.

  16. Dan Novak says:

    I can tell you this the Twins prospects are really really good !

  17. Jim S. says:

    I was going to say that as well, Roberto. If Hanson has a great season at Indy, hitting and fielding, and the Bucs are in a pennant race where Mercer or Barmes gets injured, I guess he might get a shot.

  18. Leo Walter says:

    I agree with you Dan.I am the self appointed leader of the Polanco fan club,but even I don’t think a couple of hundred ABs in AA and AAA are enough to prepare a young guy for MLB. When he is ready,I feel he will be REALLY ready.

  19. Leo Walter says:

    Jim,I wouldn’t be real surprised if Hanson starts out here in Altoona. He really didn’t set the EL on fire last season,but did do much better in finishing up later in the Summer.

  20. Jim S. says:

    Could be, Walter. I have not heard whether they have decided for sure where he will start this season. Indy is no sure thing. I assume if he plays well, he’ll get to Indy at some point this season.

  21. Jim S. says:

    Sorry, meant Leo! Haha!

  22. Jim S. says:

    The Twins need them to be good because they have next to nothing at the major league level.

  23. Jim S. says:

    Travis:

    Really great stuff with the article on the drafting strategy from 5 years ago that began the pipeline of pitching. Also, congrats on the award for your article on the Pirates defensive strategies. Very deserving! It’s good that you are being recognized by your peers for the quality of work you are producing.

  24. RobertoForever says:

    Jim

    Where did you read about the award for Travis? Would like to read about it.

    Travis, Congrats on recognition for your hard work. You had my awards last year for best new Pgh writer AND best Pirate writing. Keep up the great work.

  25. RobertoForever says:

    Jim,

    Allow me one other reply to your reply. The Twins are an example of what can happen on the bad side when you get a mediocre GM in a small revenue market.

    Terry Ryan was a great GM there, building the team thru trades that many questioned. He tore the team down the year after he took over by trading a bunch of ‘key veterans’. But four years later he had a team that competed for the division every season.

    He resigned in 2007 to spend time with his family and kids. His assistant GM, Bill Smith, took over. His tenure showed that he could not reproduce as a leader, something he had been a part of, missing on some huge decisions. The Twins survived for a few seasons on what Ryan had built in the minors, but Smith was not replenishing at the same rate. Smith was fired at end of 2011 with a 99 loss seasons and a falling minor league ranking. Ryan has been back now just over 1season, and he has already shown his drafting prowess with his two drafts.

    Being a GM in a small revenue job is a tough job with a raor thin margin. I’m glad we have a good one here.

  26. Travis Sawchik says:

    Jim, Roberto. Too kind. Thanks very much for the kind words. Doing my best to be your eyes and ears down here.

 
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