Notes: Kelly's plan for a purposeful Pirates camp

February 13th, 2020

BRADENTON, Fla. -- At 11:40 a.m. on Thursday, the man in the No. 12 Pirates jersey walked quickly from Field 4 at Pirate City to join the throng gathered between Fields 1 and 2. Batting practice was over, one group of pitchers was engaged in pick-off drills, and another group’s bullpen session was drawing a crowd.

This Spring Training, it’s Don Kelly’s job to make sure all of it goes according to plan.

As Pittsburgh’s new bench coach, Kelly is charged with creating the daily schedule at Pirate City and monitoring the workouts so that everything runs as it should. That process began long before pitchers and catchers reported, with countless offseason phone calls to and from manager Derek Shelton.

By his estimation, Kelly started planning for Spring Training right after he was hired on Dec. 7. Shelton could sympathize, having overseen Spring Training for the Twins the past two years with a pair of first-time managers.

“Shelty was unbelievable helping me, getting input from him and other guys. When you sit there and you start talking about rotations and timing and all this stuff, you don’t know how it’s going to go until you get out there,” Kelly said. “You make adjustments as you go, and you’re really trying to put the players in the best position to get them ready for the season and make sure they’re getting done what they need to get done in a timely manner.”

Part of the plan for Shelton and Kelly? Efficiency. They want the Pirates to put in high-quality, intentional practice rather than spending hours on the field going through the motions.

“I know players appreciate when you’re on the field and there’s a purpose and you’re doing something for a reason and not just doing it to do it,” Shelton said.

The changes are noticeable on the daily schedule Kelly creates, the grid-filled piece of paper posted in the hallway outside the clubhouse. (“You know what, I did all right with Excel!” Kelly said proudly. “I couldn’t design a spreadsheet, but to manipulate cells and that stuff, it went well -- better than expected.”)

Everything is scheduled down to the minute, but the workday is shorter than it’s been in years past. As starter Joe Musgrove put it, the idea is to “maximize the work that we’re getting in, but minimize the time that we’re out there.” And, as Shelton said, players already seem to appreciate that philosophy.

The team meets in the morning to review the schedule, then players have the better part of an hour to prepare for that day’s workout however they see fit. Most of the roster then splits up for standard Spring Training fare: pitchers’ fielding practice and bunting practice, catchers’ defensive drills and batting practice, position players’ defense work and batting practice.

But for pitchers throwing bullpen sessions, the day is built around their time on the mound. It’s a game-like routine. They meet in the video room to create individualized plans with pitching coach Oscar Marin, bullpen coach Justin Meccage and Major League advance coordinator Aaron Razum, then they warm up and pitch.

“Now, there’s an intention behind the bullpens. You’re not just going out throwing your 25 pitches to get your arm warm,” Musgrove said. “There’s a focus and an intent behind what you’re doing. The progression we can make in the six, seven weeks we have here is going to be incredible.”

Planning Spring Training is a group effort, with Kelly receiving valuable feedback from the rest of the coaching staff and the players, but he still put his own stamp on the schedule. The Pittsburgh native divided the Pirates’ pitchers into three groups, all named for local colleges: the (Pittsburgh) Panthers, the (Duquesne) Dukes and the (Penn State) Nittany Lions.

There could be a few more added when position players join the fray for full-squad workouts, including a nod to the bench coach’s local alma mater.

“Don’t forget about Point Park,” Kelly said, smiling.

Around the horn

• After signing outfielder Jarrod Dyson, general manager Ben Cherington left open the possibility of additional signings or trades but said the Pirates have “nothing on the burner right now.”

• First baseman Josh Bell joined the group of position players and took batting practice on Thursday morning, regularly crushing balls over the fence. José Osuna and JT Riddle also arrived, leaving only a small handful of position players yet to report early.

• Cherington and Shelton are meeting individually with players as they arrive for Spring Training. Shelton said the meetings are relatively quick and primarily a way for the GM and manager to introduce themselves and get to know their players, while setting expectations and also asking for feedback.