I just wrote a piece a couple days back about exactly how hard it is to trust numbers or results from Spring games, but we also touched on some of the nuggets that are there outside the stats. Today I’d like to put a few of those observations down on, ha, screen I guess, I was totally gonna write paper.
I feel like I could go on all day so let’s go with 9 for the 9 games they’ve played.
1. Different Strokes for Different Folks
Certainly there are outliers, but for this many of the sticks to be seeing the ball this early you almost have to look to Rick Eckstein for executing the instruction plan. Everyone has their individual swing profiles but you can see small adjustments for almost every player and the general approach is leading to much more consistent contact.
It’s impressive to see that straight through approach pay off. For a team with little in the power department, that kind of approach will draw effectiveness out of players a whole lot faster than preaching launch angle. Encouraging start.
And yes, I get that the pitchers could be working on stuff, Look at Atlanta yesterday, C’mon, you think Ozuna was stumped all day cause he’s tuned in? Credit where due, its a good start.
2. Investments for Later
There have been quite a few performances by players who have very little chance of making this team out of camp, but the club won’t forget them when they need reinforcements from Indianapolis or the Training Site.
Let’s start with Troy Stokes Jr. who has done nothing but play clean defense and make consistent hard contact from the jump. He almost surely won’t make the club, but what a nice player to stash in AAA.
Joe Hudson has stung the ball this year thus far, and he is probably choice number four to backstop this club. Depth at the catching position was a big issue for the past handful of seasons, it’s nice to be sitting on 4 qualified catchers who could hold their own if called upon.
3. Todd Frazier Can Really Pick It
Age has changed Todd Frazier as it does every player, but the 35 year old elder statesman of the club has shown he is more than capable of not only filling in at first base but can really play there and third with expert level slickness. Certainly nice to have that in your back pocket on the bench.
Many will focus on what Todd can bring back to the club in a trade, but we shouldn’t ignore what he can and will bring to the club on the daily. He’ll make more news for the home runs he hits but without his defense it would make the decision to get him at bats more difficult.
4. Ke’Bryan Hayes is No Joke
The hype is rarely warranted, but Ke’Bryan isn’t just lucking into wind blown doubles or covering the plate to accumulate singles. No, Ke’ is absolutely pounding the ball with authority to all fields. Last season he was only shifted (to an extreme level) two times, and if he continues to hit like this that’s exactly how defenses will continue to set up for his at bats.
By taking an approach that hitting the ball hard is more important than hunting homeruns he’ll actually take an arrow out of the quiver opponents have to protect themselves. The most difficult thing he could face in 2021 could be facing nothing hittable due to lacking protection in the lineup, that’s one thing that can’t and won’t be simulated in Spring Training. He’s shown he’ll take his walks, but at some point the pressure to perform tends to get everyone.
Point is, believing in this kid is not insane, he’s that good.
5. Kevin Newman Has a New Approach
We talked earlier about the hitters having a universal new focus and brought down to the individual with mechanical changes. Kevin has changed the positioning of his hands and is standing up a bit straighter. It’s allowing him to get more power in his swing and thus making contact more meaningful.
Analytics wonks will tell you what Newman put on the back of his card in 2019 wasn’t sustainable, and they’re completely correct. His peripherals spoke to a lucky streak that should have sent him to Vegas in the off season. These changes are hunting change for one of those measurables in particular, hard hit rate.
It’s far too early in Spring to assume he’s a new man, but I can say while he’s racking up hits, these aren’t cheap stats, he’s stroking the ball, and potentially changing the narrative.
6. Blake Cederlind Needs a Minute
Cederlind is the most logical choice for “future closer” but he hasn’t exactly impressed yet here in the early going. Oh, he’s still got a scary and often triple digit fastball but he’s also spraying the ball all over the place. That will need to be tightened up a bit.
Derek Shelton even made a comment that he wished Blake had his formerly signature blonde hair back by way of supposing the Sampson effect was in full force. Dejan Kovacevic reported watching him throw live batting practice where hitters would simply put the bat on their shoulder knowing they wouldn’t see a hittable ball.
When he starts in AAA, let’s get out in front of this one and go ahead and say it’s not for manipulation of service time purposes.
Also, don’t panic, he’ll figure it out, he’s had these issues before, that’s why he wasn’t all over our radar prior to last season.
7. Miguel Yajure & Wil Crowe Will Both Pitch in MLB this Year
Both pitchers have looked very much so capable of taking the ball in a regular spot. Yajure is throwing 4 distinct pitches and placing them like he’s walking them to the catcher. We all know that the Pirates aren’t done wheeling and dealing, as we enter the season Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Adam Frazier and potentially Colin Moran are all in position to get some teams interested which would make room for players like this to get their day in the sun, and we haven’t even mentioned injury as a vehicle for promotion.
Almost all the trades made this off season were to bring in young, high ceiling guys, but these two will both contribute quickly. Toss in Cody Ponce and the Pirates have at least 3 pitchers who could certainly help when needed.
8. Bryan Reynolds is Close
He’s fought through 2020 and you could see it on his face. This year so far he’s taking his walks and squaring up the ball when the pitcher brings it into the zone. If that sounds familiar, it should, that’s 2019 Bryan Reynolds. Now, this doesn’t mean he’ll hit over .300 but it does mean I think we can expect to see more of what we did in 2019.
He’s too good a player to have assumed he wouldn’t rebound but it’s still comforting to see him put it into practice. He’s still suffered from getting little to no help from the blue on borderline calls, all of which seemed to go his way in his rookie campaign, but reputation will help with that over time.
Next question is, who protects him in the lineup? It’s either Moran or Hayes in my mind and will directly affect how often he is pitched around.
9. The Pirates Will Have to Cross Their Fingers and Waive
Toward the end of Spring as the Pirates get closer to making final decisions on the roster it’s going to be almost impossible to not lose some players to the Waiver Wire. That is, if they intend to truly bring the best they have North. There is a path in which they would be able to avoid all that, but it might force them to start a player like Brian Goodwin in AAA using the fact he signed a minor league contract, or they can keep five outfielders. If not, they may need to hope Dustin Fowler or Anthony Alford could slide through.
This is just one example, the bullpen is riddled (no pun intended) with these types of scenarios. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle this and we shouldn’t discount how the construction of the 40-man roster will play in.
So, there you have it. Nine real observable things from a grand total of nine spring games that you can’t even count on having complete innings played. Fun Spring so far. Now hit me with some of your observations, let’s talk.