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Dejan Kovacevic's Blog

Pittsburgh sports talk with the Trib columnist

Wakeup Call: Pitchers vs. hitters

MESA, Ariz. – Some sporting thoughts before sunrise …

>> My Friday column covers my day here with Gerrit Cole, the Pirates’ $8 million arm. You’ll also find a video I shot of the young man pitching, as well as our interview.

>> Above is a shot I took of Cole signing autographs yesterday. Signed forever, too.

>> The Pirates have a bunch of highly promising arms, to their credit. But they haven’t exactly hit many home runs in drafting position players. If not for Robbie Grossman and Starling Marte, the system would be awful in that area. That’s inexcusable, and it’s something Neal Huntington and Greg Smith must address.

Back to those arms, though. Cole had a chance to see a few in the Pirates’ recent Instructional League sessions in Florida, and he sounded genuinely impressed: “We are just super-deep in pitchers. There were times there when he felt like every single guy we ran out on the mound was better than every single hitter we faced. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be part of that.”

>> Grossman looks great, too, and I’m not ignoring him. He’ll get his own feature in tomorrow’s paper, as well as a photo, video and all that.

>> I hear from three time zones away that James Neal scored yet another goal on yet another low shot. That’s 7 for 7, if you’re scoring from home.

Neal thinks I’m nuts, by the way, on this issue. We’ll see.

>> Heading over to see the Cardinals today, and not the ones missing cutoff throws in the World Series. These Cards have lost four in a row, their new QB is having trouble hooking up with the world’s best wide receiver and … aw, come on, am I the only one that sees this game as little more than a tuneup for the Steelers before New England and Baltimore?

>> Here is our chat transcript from yesterday.


  1. JAL says:

    JAL’s Deadman’s Curve Morning Links


    1- MLB Transactions

    2-MLB Trade Rumors-Pirates

    3- 2011-12 Pirates Prospects Off-Season Calendar

  2. JAL says:

    Steelers Blogs

    -Behind the Steel Curtain

    Steelers vs. Cardinals: Five Players to Watch in Pittsburgh’s Game Against Arizona

    Take It Away, Steelers!

    -Steeler Depot

    Closer Look at Ben’s Deep Passing Stats

    -Steelers Gab

    Steelers at Cardinals Thursday Injury Report

  3. JAL says:

    Pitt Blogs

    Cardiac Hill

    Big East Basketball Blogger Roundtable; Pitt Ranked Third / Gibbs Preseason POY

    WVU Blogs


    Syracuse Memories

    WV Illustrated

    Big East Week 8 Preview



    That’s fire, baby! Pens 3, Montreal 1

  4. Drew71 says:

    89 mile change-up. Wow. And yet the most impressive number is that at 89, it’s still a knee-bending 10-12 miles slower than many of his fastballs.

    I don’t know whether to be more jealous of Cole or of you, Dejan, for being one of the six people in attendance to watch.

  5. Drew71 says:

    Dejan – Can you share a few comments about Grossman ahead of your upcoming column?

    DK: It won’t be a column, Drew. Standard feature. It’s running tomorrow. He looks great.

  6. AJS says:

    I would say that Neals shot wasn’t exactly low last night. It hit the goal post about half way up then richoched downward and hit price’s pad before dribbling in across the line.

    Also it could be that he is having success with the low shot because goalies are expecting him to go high, not because low shots are more successful. Generally it depends on the goalie. Some of them you HAVE to shoot high on. I think you are over analyzing his success/failures a little too much.

  7. JAL says:


    Dejan_Kovacevic Dejan Kovacevic
    Grossman just cracked a leadoff home run for Mesa. Great-looking compact swing, over RF fence

    Dejan_Kovacevic Dejan Kovacevic
    Robbie Grossman lashes a two-run single to RF in the fifth inning. That’s 23 hits now to lead #AFL. Kid’s good.

  8. JAL says:

    Enjoyed this back and forth on Twitter

    Dejan_Kovacevic Dejan Kovacevic
    Gerrit Cole stays really tight/compact in his delivery for all that velocity he gets. Delivery kind of like @Maholm28 in that way. #Pirates

    Maholm28 paul maholm
    by Dejan_Kovacevic
    @Dejan_Kovacevic obviously not the same. He throws 100 mph. Ask him where that comes from if we are similar.

    Dejan_Kovacevic Dejan Kovacevic
    @Maholm28 Just mentioned it to Cole, and he was flattered. You’re in the majors, and he’s not, dude!

  9. SeanE says:

    DK-one of the issues scouts talked about as a weakness for Cole was the lack of movement on his fastball. What were you able to observe in that regard. I know 101 is 101 but if it is dead straight major league hitters will likely catch up.

    DK: Really hard to tell, to be honest, Sean. I spent the first inning behind the visitors’ dugout to shoot photos and video for you, then was back in the press box with another angle off to the left. Didn’t help with seeing movement. Sorry.

  10. @AJS: Neal’s shot was low. He didn’t get great wood on the shot so it ended up a bit of a “duck”, but it was high enough to clear the leg pad of Price (who had already went down in the butterfly). Goalies aren’t playing the high shot they are playing the percentages, which is to say they are taking away the low shot and making you beat them high. Case and point: Sullivan had the forehand on Price on his breakaway, but he couldn’t get the puck over Price’s pads.

    My read on Neal is he is much more power forward than sniper. When he uses his size to drive to the net, create space, and muscle in rebounds he’s a dangerous weapon. He’s becoming much more of a net-front presence now, which allows him the tip-ins, redirects, and quick one-timers in close. That’s where I’ve seen his successes come from.

    Where he gets into trouble is when he tries to play the skill game. He lacks the command of his shot to pick the corners (or the net, honestly) with consistency, so his effectiveness at range is limited. In open ice, he is victimized by turnovers when he tries to do too much with the puck (he’s determined to successfully toe drag around a defender) instead of just using his size to protect and drive North-South with speed. He’s similar to Eric Tangradi in that respect: he’s got all the tools to be an effective power forward, but he instead he concentrates on finesse and style. In Neal’s defense, he is making the adjustments to his game to play more to his strengths.

  11. CWalton_67 says:

    @RELENTLESS, agree with your points on Neal, and it seems to me that he has very much accepted the idea that he’s a power forward. He’s going North-South a lot, physically overpowering other players. I don’t know about his shot accuracy. He’s getting it on the net and past the goalie…. I think his shot is very sneaky, he has a very quick release and gets quite a bit of velocity on it.

  12. Leefoo says:

    If Paul’s FB was as fast as Cole’s changeup, we’d be picking up Maholm’s option.
    JAL…….thx for posting that Twitter exchange. I enjoyed it!

    Encouraging signs for our pitching….getting excited.

  13. David says:

    Hopefully Bell and Dickerson are the start of fixing the position player issue. Those two look pretty good so we will see how it turns out.

  14. Milo Hamilton says:

    My question about Cole is – are they going to let him pitch more than the ridiculous 92.2 innings that Taillon pitched this year ?

  15. Naterosboro says:

    @ Milo Hamilton

    a) Cole is 2-3 yrs older than Taillon and pitched a college schedule (something which Taillon never did). While a college season isn’t close to a major league season, it is more substantial than a HS season. With being older and having a chance to pitch more innings previously, I’d say they’ll give Cole a bigger work load than Taillon got this season (but I wouldn’t expect it to be much bigger, maybe 110-120 max).

    b) I’m not sure Taillon pitching 92.2 innings is that ridiculous. He’s a kid drafted out of HS that’s never had this type of work load before. Plus he’s 19 years old. He’s still developing physically (much more so than a 21 or 22 year old is). 1 other caveat, perhaps they’re erring on the side of caution with an almost $7mil investment.

    c) one reason for the lower inning work load at the low minor levels is due to the abundance of arms at these levels. The Pirates have been very pitcher heavy in their drafts (and not just the early rounds, all throughout their drafts) under Huntington. With more arms that need innings, there’s developed a piggy-backing system, where starts are alternated and guys are paired. I also wouldn’t say that the Pirates are the only team that are cautious with their young pitchers at this moment. Good young pitching is like gold in MLB right now.

  16. JAL says:

    Dejan’s story leaves out the top strikeout pitcher the Pirates have had–Bob Veale, who holds the top 4 spots for the most strikeouts in season for the Pirates:

    276 in 1965
    250 in 1964
    229 in 1966
    213 in 1969

    2nd to Friend in his career with 1652 in 10 seasons while Friend had 1682 in 15 seasons.

    DK: He’s in there, Joe.

  17. Drew71 says:

    Veale is often a victim of bad timing. His best years – and they were pretty freaking good – were during a non-playoff period for the Pirates, 1964-68. During those five seasons, Veale was 80-58, with a 59% winning percentage, when the Pirates were 423-387, or a 52% winning percentage. The team was not bad but not being noticed. Meanwhile, Veale won at a better clip than the team, and with the exception of one ~ehh~ WHIP year, had very strong WHIPS of between 1.14 and 1.27. Not only a high K pitcher, but also a low-hit-per-9-inning guy, with a range of 6.9 to 8.2, and all but his ehh year below 8.0. In other words, very effective.

    And a workhorse. He pitched 1,261.4 innings over those five seasons, AVERAGING 252.3 innings. The range: 203 to 279 point freaking two.

    1969 was a turning point. As the team started to rise towards its 1970s run of excellence, Veale, while still effective, was showing signs of slipping. He still had a tremendous number of strikeouts and innings in ’69, but his ERA rose, and his hits per 9 innings and WHIP soared…to 9.3 per 9 and 1.43. It was the hint of his coming years of mostly mediocrity…just when the team was turning towards the playoffs and people started to pay attention.

    So of course, just when casual fans were starting to take notice of the team, Veale was entering his less effective years. Those later seasons are often the ones that are remembered. And Veale doesn’t always get the credit for the good work during the middle of that decade.

    No aspersions to Dejan and his list. Veale doesn’t quite rate with those other guys. Just wanted to take a moment to give an often forgotten guy his due.

  18. JAL says:


    I saw Friend, Perez, Candelaria , and Law but not Veale. Maybe he hiding and i keep missing him when reread the story.

  19. Drew71 says:

    I misspoke, so to speak. Veale CLEARLY rates with Perez. Above Perez.

  20. Milo Hamilton says:


    I understand their reasoning for babying their pitchers. I just disagree with it. Just because a guy pitches less, there is no proof he’s less likely to get hurt. How can a guy learn how to be a winner when he only sticks around long enough to get 5 decisions in 23 starts ? This is still about winning games, isn’t it ? This stuff about setting an “Innings limit” is patently absurd. You see where that got Joba Chamberlain.

    Gerrit Cole should get the ball opening day at Altoona (gasp) yes Altoona, and then get it every 5th day until the season ends. Hopefully in Indianapolis if he pitches well enough. Or if things go really well, even Pittsburgh. Sure you keep a close eye on him, he’s a huge investment. But you’ve got to let these guys pitch. Maybe then they won’t run out of gas in the middle of a pennant race.

  21. Jandy says:

    Milo, have you come to Altoona to watch the Curve, just curious. I’m from the area.

  22. Milo Hamilton says:


    I have not. I always grab a schedule at Pirate Fest but I never seem to be able to work it out.

  23. @CWalton_67: If you watch Neal, for every shot he gets on net there’s about two that miss. Last night he had a great opportunity in the slot on a feed (if I remember) from behind the net. Neal quickly unleashed a blazing wrister… that went wide right of the net. He had Price dead-to-rights.

    You’re right, he has a quick release and he has a hard shot. I can’t help but wonder: if he took a half-second off his release to concentrate on shot placement, would his accuracy improve? I think Neal has more time and space than he realizes sometimes.

  24. Leefoo says:

    I got to watch Veale in his prime. He made batters VERY uncomfortable. He was effectively wild at times.

    But, like Drew said, its a shame he didn’t get to ‘show off’ in the 70s.


  25. Thundercrack says:

    Thanks for the report on Cole and the video too.

    But I don’t understand why you feel it necessary to include this paragraph in just about everything you write about the Pirate minor league system.
    “But they haven’t exactly hit many home runs in drafting position players. If not for Robbie Grossman and Starling Marte, the system would be awful in that area. That’s inexcusable, and it’s something Neal Huntington and Greg Smith must address”.

    We know what you think of the system in regards to hitters. We know what you think of Neal Huntington and Greg Smith too. Why continue with this every time? I just don’t see where it fits in to a nice piece about a pitcher.

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