A Different Approach To Developing Players

During the most recent Minor League off-season, an additional player assignment was put in place by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, in consideration for the anticipated need that pitchers, positions players and hitters would need to have additional time to condition and/or develop their skills, as many of them had been away from the club, and any form of organized baseball for as long as 18 months due to the cancellation of the Minor League Baseball season. This specific player assignment has come to be known as the Developmental List; which I am sure many of you who keep a close eye on MiLB rosters and transactions have already seen.

These players count against the in-season Minor League 180-Man Domestic Reserve List, but does not count against each Minor League Team’s Active Roster. Thus far this season I have seen only a few players actually added to this list including a few members of the Pirates Alternate Site Roster, #8 Prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Brennan Malone and currently 22 year old Dominican right handed pitcher Estalin Ortiz. It had been reported by General Manager Ben Cherington that Malone had not been pitching at the beginning of the season due to a blister, however, at the time he was on the Developmental List; and no player is allowed to be on said list due to injury rehabilitation or disciplinary action from the club, although there are probably some ways around it, with exact wording and such.

Nevertheless, this is not the only way for players to receive individualized one-on-one development, beyond-while also including-the player centric approach that has been preached by Cherington and Manager Derek Shelton. Both Cole Tucker and Jared Oliva are prime examples of this, as the remained behind in Florida at the same time many of their teammates traveled north, in order to receive hitting instruction from Triple A Hitting Coach Jon Nunnally. We also saw Gregory Polanco take some time off to hit the cages, after some early season struggles; and even though this last type of occurrence is not that rare , it is more about the analytical approach they are taking during these sessions that I would pay more attention to.

As far as pitchers are concerned, I have to believe that in his down time between outings-sometimes extended down time, Rule 5 Pick Luis Oviedo is taking some time in bullpen sessions at the Pirates new lab, that we have started to hear rumblings about; not just being protected from extended work or being hidden in the bullpen. He is most likely working on pitch design, pitch shaping, video work, slow motion camera, Rapsodo/Trackman or motion capture type training, in an attempt to unlock his highest potential, as I see the Pirates preparing him for a rotation spot-most likely at Triple A-Indianapolis -to start the 2022 season.

Also if you have watched a player warming up this year, at times you may have noticed more than just Bullpen Pitching Coach Justin Meccage, a couple of catchers and a handful of other relievers milling around; and probably just assumed without thinking, after you saw the lanyards and a Pirates polo shirt, that there must be some sort of security or other PNC Park personal keeping an eye on the situation. In all actuality they are more than likely members of the Pirates Informatics Department; with their hand held tech, cameras and any other device imaginable to capture every bit of analytical data that could be useful.

Now many will point to the fact that the Pirates, and Cherington, have not really added to their analytics group since taking over for Neil Huntington and Company. I would however punctuate the changes in titles, responsibilities and overall usage of the staff at their disposal in order to provide the players and coaches with the most up to date material.

For the most part I have seen this as doing nothing, but benefiting the organization as a whole by playing of each individual’s strengths. Nevertheless, it can be totally ignored that not every pitcher or hitter needs to be messed with, or changed with the hope of finding the supposed best approach on the mound or at the plate. Sometimes, an adjustment to create launch angle can have unintended consequences because not every hitter can be made into a clean up guy, nor do they need to be. The same goes for a pitcher, who was comfortable with his delivery and command, but was toyed with to the point where they lose confidence in pitches they once found success with.

Of course, it ultimately makes sense at this point for the Pirates to utilize as much of the advanced analytics as they can; that’s where the game is going. However, the most important component of the entire process is using the information effectively, individually and consistently across the organization; from Pirate City to PNC Park.

Published by Craig W. Toth

Former Contributing Author at InsidethePirates.com, Co-Host of the Bucs in the Basement Podcast and life-long/diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan!

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