I made it to Pirate City today for the first time this year since the minor leaguers took over the facility. It’s interesting to see how much things have changed there as far as the viewing public is concerned. About 8-10 years ago, when minor league camp had started I might find a couple of scouts and a small handful of players’ girlfriends and parents out there, and that was all, apart from the players themselves. Now it’s actually getting a little crowded. It’s hard to know whether to attribute this to increased interest in the minor leagues generally, given the vast increase in the amount of information available on the web in the last few years; or to interest in the Pirates’ system specifically, given the long overdue focus on it by the team’s front office. Or probably it’s both.
Today the Pirates’ A-ball squads were facing the Yankees. The Pirates didn’t have many of their better prospects on the field today, so I didn’t find a lot of excitement today. The starters at least were real prospects: lefties Zack Dodson and Zac Fuesser. I couldn’t really see any clear distinction between low A and high A, so as far as I’m concerned it was all just “A-ball.” Dodson and Fuesser both fared well. Fuesser was throwing his fastball mostly around 86-87, but he was going heavily with a changeup and mixing in some curves. The change appeared to be his most effective pitch. He didn’t have much trouble until his third inning, when he allowed a run. (I don’t think he allowed any others, but it’s pretty hard to be sure when you’re trying to follow two games.) Dodson, by contrast, threw mostly fastballs, sitting 89-91. His control was a little off in the first inning but he didn’t allow any runs that I saw.
Trent Stevenson followed Dodson and threw two scoreless innings. He’s still thin and lanky, with a motion that’s a little awkward. He was throwing 88-89, with a curve that he buried pretty well. He wasn’t missing bats but didn’t allow anything to be hit hard. Jordan Cooper and Jason Townsend also pitched in the “Dodson game.” Cooper was throwing in the low 90s and got hit hard. Townsend was throwing 90-91, which is well off the mid-90s velocity he showed shortly after getting drafted.
Pitchers in the other game included Michael Jefferson, Fraylin Campos, Isaac Sanchez, and Bryce Weidman. All but Sanchez struggled. I’d never seen Sanchez before and was curious about him after he had a strong debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2010. He got hurt after just three games, but moved up to the GCL last year and got in 31 innings. He’s reminiscent of Leo Nunez, or whatever he’s called these days, in that Sanchez is 6’0″ tall with a slight build, but a live arm. He sat at 91-93, mostly 93, with good run. I didn’t see him throw any offspeed pitches. He came on after Campos, struggling with wildness, failed to retire any of the four batters he faced. Sanchez got out of a bases loaded, no outs situation with only one run allowed, then threw a scoreless inning, allowing runners only on a hit batter and a boot by third baseman Dan Gamache. Of the others, Jefferson, a lefty, showed only an 85-87 mph fastball and a loopy curve, and got hit hard. Weidman, a righty, was throwing only 83-85. Tim reported a few days ago that Weidman’s velocity hasn’t been good, so this wasn’t new.
Possibly the most interesting of the hitters were the first three in the order in the “Fuesser game:” Latin prospects Gregory Polanco, Willy Garcia and Yhonathan Barrios. All three struggled with offspeed stuff, especially sliders thrown by the Yankees’ starter, who looked very tough. (No idea who it was. The Yankees, like the Pirates, are one of the few teams that don’t put minor leaguers’ names on their jerseys, except in their case I also had no roster to look at.) I know Tim Williams likes Polanco a lot and I can see what interests the Pirates. He’s tall, very fast, and he looks like he’s gotten a lot stronger over the last couple years, which apparently has shown in batting practice. I just don’t like his swing, which still seems to me to loop too slowly through the strike zone. He did manage a groundball single. He also got a late start on a catchable drive in the outfield. Garcia had more success after the Yankees lifted their starter. Barrios flailed at sliders well outside in his first couple at-bats, but later hit a long triple to right. He’s getting very stocky; he’s already starting to resemble the late-career Ronnie Belliard. It showed when Barrios scored on a wild pitch; he slid awkwardly, although there was no play, and hurt his knee. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt badly enough to leave the game.
Among the other players in that game, Gamache looked the best at the plate. He homered his first time up–he was the only hitter who seemed able to get a read on the Yankees’ starter–and had at least one other hit. He didn’t do as well in the field. Jared Lakind started at first. In one at-bat I saw he laced a single to right. He struggled mightily to make contact last year, so that was good to see. Rodarrick Jones came in about mid-game and in the one at-bat I saw, he hit a long, opposite-field double. He also badly misjudged a ball in the outfield. (Flyballs are always an adventure at Pirate City. I’ve seen good outfielders–Alex Presley, for instance–struggle badly there, so I don’t necessarily read a lot into outfield mishaps.) Josh Bell also came in at mid-game and, in his only at-bat before I left, grounded to short on the first pitch.
I didn’t spend a lot of time watching the hitters in the “Dodson game” because I wasn’t very interested in most of them. Samuel Gonzalez was an exception. He was DHing, so he’s evidently healthy enough now to hit at least. Physically and at the plate he reminds me of Manny Sanguillen. He seems to wait on pitches and try to drive them to right, which he did effectively today. Gift Ngoepe got in late and hit a single.