Since I’ve been writing about the Pirates, few people have been more generous with their time than Michael McKenry. First of all, to talk to a catcher always provides more information than any one other position set. Catchers have to hit, play good defense, and understand pitching at a level some pitchers don’t even get to see.
Recently we got a chance to sit down again as the Pirates prepared to play their first Spring Training game and because of how much top talent was invited we of course spoke about prospects a bit.
I was asking Michael about game prep, you know, how you prepare to face an opposing pitcher and how it’s different at the various levels of the system when he dropped a quote about something we’ve touched on here in the past, individual development.
“I mean, the game has just changed so much. And they do a really good job now of individualizing it and that’s something that a lot of people don’t realize that this new regime, they’re doing that from the very, very bottom of the organization to the top now, that was not the case just two years ago. So there may be some wild names thrown out in terms of prospect talk, because of changes they’re going to make and adjustments, they’re going to see pretty drastically, just because they’re doing the things that they’re actually good at, instead of chasing the thing that they want them to be good at.”
There is nothing that will change the direction of this organization more than this difference, and we haven’t even begun to see these changes in full effect yet.
I mean, surely this isn’t going to mean the redefinition of players in the system or that the Pirates will unlock some hidden skill set right?
“Let’s take power, something that they’re missing throughout the organization is they don’t have a lot of power bats. I haven’t even gotten really in depth with a lot of the major league guys on my studies, because I’ve just been looking at gaps, like, like you’re talking about where are some of the gaps that, you know, may be filled with, you know, some kid that all of a sudden realizes, hey, I have a lot of pop, but I’m fast, and they tell me hit the ball on the ground or, you know, hit low line drives, and he just changes the depth of where he’s hitting the ball and he pops 30 this year, right? Because we’ve seen that in the big leagues. We’ve seen that in the minor leagues now because of analytics and biomechanics and all this information that helps things expedite. So it’s gonna be interesting to see if they can, you know, pull some of that out.”
The development system is probably the biggest story that will come out of 2021. We’re going to see how they progress players through, and we’re going to get an idea of how analytics help drive the training. This is all part of the group of things we all assumed the Pirates and every other team for that matter was already doing, but now realize they weren’t.
I mean give me an example of this really changing things for a player Fort!
“You’re talking about things that change people’s lives in the sense of the way that they even process things, because they’ve been here and now they’re up here like Justin Turner and Max Muncy, because when I was playing against Max in 16, he couldn’t hit a fastball. Now, I’ll watch him catch up to 98 at his eyes, and it’s cool to see those little adjustments he made to be able to do that.”
Obviously the development system worked for some players, so I guess it has a whole lot to do with the makeup of the individual player as well. Take Stallings for instance.
“He’s a different breed. And I think that’s what it takes. I think that’s what it takes for especially small market teams, but especially for guys like Stallings to kind of mold himself into what he has. It wasn’t just an accident that he was in the Gold Glove talk last year, he’s really worked hard at it. He’s always been good with his pictures, very cerebral.”
Next up we turned to talking about the development that happens at the MLB level and I wanted to focus on Oscar Marin, who we really didn’t get to see impact the club last season due to injuries to the staff and an insanely short season that didn’t leave time for slow moving mechanical changes.
“Yeah, he did some really cool things though, like Rich Rodriguez, you know, changing his pitch usage and throwing the slider more with more depth, more spin, getting more swinging misses with that. I mean, that makes Richard Rodriguez unpredictable. And he was super predictable. He was going to get hit that’s what would happen in the short stance. He started utilizing that slider more which got him in the zone. You’re gonna see clay Holmes, I think have a big year. I think he’ll make the team out of camp. Because this stuff’s too good. They’ve spent a lot of time redesigning and reconfiguring his arsenal.”
This is the type of stuff that is really going to be fun to watch. You can focus on the overall record but as Fort alluded to, we’re also going to get to see some guys maybe we’ve already mentally cast off find that formula.
Here’s what Michael had to say about one of those former cast offs, Jacob Stallings.
“I guess, three or four years going up and down, up and down, really, never knowing what was next has set him up for just ultimate success in this role. Because, you can’t put as much pressure on him now, as he did back then, you know, not knowing if he was going to have a job going through waivers, you know, having a family being like, I don’t know where I’ll be in three days, because I have to make it through waivers. And then I’m ultimately coming back to the pirates, you know, probably having a little bit of resentment in his heart like, hey, do you guys not care? I’ve done all this for for so long for you guys. And then ultimately showing Hey, look, I’m really good. If you give me an opportunity, a chance. I’m really good.”
He’s right you know, I can say I absolutely wrote off Stallings as nothing more than a backup at his peak. I was wrong.
Good for the Pirates, good for Jake.
Michael is an optimistic person but he’s not blinded by it, that’s a rare quality that comes across as speaking the party line at times, but trust me, underneath that optimism reality of the situation, and the opportunity lies.
Special thanks to the Fort for a wonderful sit down and if you’d like to hear more check out this week’s Bucs in the Basement Podcast.