The Pirates played the Baltimore Orioles last night in a rare Spring Training Night tilt. If you’re of a certain age you understand just how foreign it feels to see spring games on at night, but I have to admit, I really got a kick out of watching people in Florida fully bundled up like they were filming a Hallmark Holiday flick on location.
I’d imagine both coaches had to blow off some steam after this one. An error filled disaster of a baseball game on both sides of the diamond. So it was an odd night to have Kevin Young in the booth talking about defense and the importance of it in the system even while both clubs were kicking the ball all over the field.
Kevin Young made his debut in the booth last night and spent a ton of time talking about his participation in the development system. Really informative stuff from Kevin, but he’s worked with Pirates first basemen for years so there wasn’t any real earth shattering news either.
Then late in the game the Pirates new Director of Coaching and Player Development, John Baker was on live with the booth. I expected a bunch of ‘we just want to get better’ and ‘these guys don’t believe in ceilings” instead what we got was a very honest look at not only where the system is but where it’s going.
It’s not just lip service that the Pirates want to identify the talents that make individuals special and help accentuate them. It’s the very philosophy of the development system.
Now, before I get into this too deep, at this stage, these are just words. We won’t truly know if what the Pirates are trying to implement will work for years to come. You don’t just show up on day one with zero MiLB games, say some words and then call it fixed. I get the impression Mr. Baker is well aware of that, if not frustrated by the lost time 2020 created quite possibly for no area of the club more than his charge.
John won’t be the first or only guy to tell the fans that the club wants to work with individual players to bring out what makes them best. Honestly, Kyle Stark said this stuff. Now, we had almost a decade to see whatever he was doing wasn’t working.
So what makes me believe this guy is really making a change? Well for one thing his coaches are echoing the mantra. Something I rarely if ever heard in a uniform manner during the past regime. You’d hear them pat each other on the back like when the boss shows up at the horseshoe pit at the company picnic. But genuine adoption of the philosophy being preached, no way.
Baker is looking to mix old school and new school. Not ignoring analytics but instead incorporating them into a contact driven approach meant to maximize the talent the Pirates already have.
I know, more words.
Well, except that he’s potentially onto something here. See, every team has a proverbial path to winning, but how many of them have one that doesn’t require a Bryce Harper falling out of the sky?
What does this new school hybrid player look like? Well, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds, those players with plenty of power but the discipline to stay in more at bats and make more contact.
It’s eschewing the three true outcomes to a degree and instead of following the herd potentially leading at least this franchise into a more athletic and pure form of the game John and many of us for that matter grew up enjoying.
It’s actually exactly what baseball in general should be focusing on, rather than creating a new booklet of arcane rules to try to prevent defenders from taking hits away, but I digress.
Looking at the system, especially from a positional standpoint the Pirates have a few things in spades, speed, contact, defense. Those three things are there up and down the system and it seems the club recognizes the best way to translate that to MLB talent is to not try to hammer these players into what the league has turned into, but instead let them be the best version of themselves.
If that means the future team has 6 guys who could hit .275 with 15-20 homeruns instead of 2 who hit .245 with 30-35 along with 160+ strikeouts, I think that’s a win.
Trying to create a dangerous lineup that does more than hunt the homerun, it makes the homerun potentially count more as it stands to reason there would be more guys on base when they happen.
This all has to be executed of course, but the idea itself is something many fans have been calling for seemingly for decades. Get back to fundamentals.
Again, I’m not here to tell you everything is fixed. Surely it isn’t. But I can say, when you look at the types of talent in the system, it’s an approach that might just maximize who is already here, and that in and of itself is light years ahead of where this franchise has been.