Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camps, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system.
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camps, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com is visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today we check in on the Pittsburgh Pirates.
BRADENTON, Fla. -- From a "getting ready for the Major League season" standpoint, having the Pirates' entire starting outfield gone from Spring Training because of the World Baseball Classic might not have been ideal. For the folks responsible for the development of the organization's prospects, it proved to be a boon.
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With Andrew McCutchen handling right field, and winning a championship with Team USA, and Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco both in the Dominican Republic's outfield, that left a lot of green to be covered in Grapefruit League action. Austin Meadows, the No. 2 prospect in the organization, has been the biggest prospect name to take advantage, hitting .326/.420/.558 with a pair of homers and nine RBIs in 43 at-bats, showing that while he'll start the year in Triple-A, there might not be that much more he needs to do before he's ready to contribute.
And no one has taken more advantage than No. 29 prospectJose Osuna. He's managed to get 48 at-bats and used them well with a .417/.508/.813 line and a team-leading five homers and 16 RBIs.
"It's been really good," Bucs farm director Larry Broadway said. "It's allowed us to send a lot of other Minor League guys over there to get a lot of at-bats. That's been fun to see. They've been fitting in over there. They've had the chance to meet the big league staff, the big league players, be in that environment and get some exposure. That continues to help link our Major and Minor League system together into one cohesive unit."
With the WBC 2017 trio now back in Bradenton, focusing on getting the big league roster in order and ready will take over. A number of participants in Major League camp have recently been sent over to Pirate City, so those players can get ready for their seasons at Triple-A Indianapolis or Double-A Altoona. It's made things more crowded on the Minor League side, but the energy from the players coming over from big league camp has been positive.
"It shook up camp a little bit," Broadway said. "We've had to realign as a result and we have more Indianapolis, Altoona, Bradenton and West Virginia groups working together now. Guys are starting to jell a little bit as teams."
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Minor League camp hasn't been going on for that long, so those players aren't quite ready for the season to start. But those who needed to report early for that big league camp time are excited for the 2017 season to get here.
"I think there's some eagerness to get out," Broadway said. "They're getting that itch and we're getting close to finalizing everything. The guys who've been in big league camp, who've been here since Feb. 11, they're ready to get going."
Next wave getting closer
Meadows is part of the top of the Pirates' system that is ready to contribute in Pittsburgh. Josh Bell is slated to be the starting first baseman and top prospect Tyler Glasnow is still competing for the No. 5 starter spot. Seeing that trio helping the Bucs in the National League Central this season is very feasible.
There is, of course, more to come behind them. After all, it's not just those three that make the Pirates a top 10 farm system. Of that group, shortstop Kevin Newman got some big league camp time as well, and he impressed by hitting .389 in 18 at-bats. He and right-hander Mitch Keller top the list of those next in line. Broadway is torn about seeing them perform well this spring, wishing to slow the process down a bit, but knowing their talents may not allow that to happen.
"The nucleus is starting to form the next wave," Broadway said. "You feel like you don't want them too close to knocking on the door, you want them to get more reps and have a good foundation. At the same time, they're going to start to force some people's hands around here, and that's a good thing. They're in a great spot. They're prepared from the mentality standpoint to be in a good position when their number is called."
A year ago at this time, Cole Tucker was trying to work his way back from labrum surgery the previous August. It was thought the 2014 first-round pick might miss an entire year rehabbing. Thanks to his tireless efforts in the offseason and during Spring Training last year, he ended up ahead of schedule and made it to West Virginia in the South Atlantic League in May.
Tucker's 2016 season was one focused on getting through healthy and seeing how his shoulder responded. After passing every test with flying colors, he seems poised to take a large developmental step forward. As Tucker is physically maturing, the switch-hitting shortstop has been punishing the baseball in Minor League camp.
"He's come a long way from last year," Broadway said. "His swing and the strength and leverage in his swing now, he's hitting balls far all over the field from both sides of the plate. His bat was lighter last year, but he's getting some of his man strength in him and [learning] how to use his levers."
Kevin Kramer could be Tucker's double-play partner one day, though he figures to be a level ahead of Tucker to start the 2017 season. The 2015 second-rounder out of UCLA had a solid first full season with the bat, albeit one without too much pop. Look for that to change.
"It's hard to judge hitters in the Florida State League," Broadway said about Kramer's output from the 2016 season. "He's been making hard contact all over the field, he's hit some home runs here in camp. It looks like his swing path and pitch selection are in good spots. He has the potential to hit some balls out of the yard and have some production in his bat."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.