The Pirates clearly had the old "you can never have too much pitching" adage in their collective heads when making trades during the season. While big league pitchers like Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon and Arquimedes Caminero were sent away, Pittsburgh made sure it got plenty of young arms in return.
In those three trades, in fact, the Pirates received five pitchers at a variety of levels. Felipe Rivero made an impression at the big league level following the Melancon deal. Drew Hutchinson got some innings with Pittsburgh as well after the Liriano trade.
The other arms are much further away from the big leagues. Lefty Taylor Hearn, the other pitcher acquired from the Nationals for Melancon, got 22 1/3 innings of work with West Virginia in the South Atlantic League before the season ended. Jake Brentz and Pedro Vasquez were the players to be named later sent by the Mariners to the Pirates for Caminero. That wasn't finalized until Sept. 1, so neither got to make their organization debut.
They are doing so now, along with Hearn, in the more unofficial setting of instructional league play. The month-long camp doesn't give any pitcher the chance to load up on innings, but there is no question about the impact the time spent between players and development staff can have. For this trio, perhaps even more so for Brentz and Vasquez, instructs provides an invaluable time of getting to know each other.
PIRATES TOP 30 PROSPECTS AT INSTRUCTS
"The biggest thing is just assimilating them into the culture," Pirates farm director Larry Broadway said. "The scouts did a great job at identifying really good fits. All three are competitors, they're intelligent, they've been really good fits coming in so far.
"That's the goal, any time for a first-year player, building a foundation of being Pirates and for pro baseball. We get to show how we do things. So far it's been really good, with all three of them."
The Pirates aren't spending much of instructs working on anything specific in terms of building repertoires or fixing mechanics. This month is more about getting these new acquisitions ready for their new offseason programs so the Pirates can really see what they have in 2017.
One thing that can't be taught, though, is size. Hearn is 6-foot-5, Vasquez is 6-foot-4 and Brentz is the "short" one at 6-foot-2. Having that kind of clay to mold should have the pitching coordinator and coaches excited to get to work.
"They're athletic, with low body fat and large frames," Broadway said. "They are big, physical athletes on the mound. We're building the relationship with them, seeing where they want to get to."
Arms from the Draft also getting work
New arms at instructs aren't just by way of trades. The Pirates, as they have on many occasions since general manager Neal Huntington and crew have taken over, went after young pitching aggressively in this past June's Draft.
After taking a college bat in Will Craig (who is also at instructs, by the way), Pittsburgh took pitchers with eight of its next 11 selections. Half of those came from the riskiest Draft pool of all, high school pitching. They weren't able to come to terms with Nick Lodolo, their second pick of the Draft, but they did get Travis MacGregor at pick No. 68, then Braeden Ogle two rounds later, who signed for a well above-pick value bonus. Then the Pirates rolled the dice with Max Kranick in the 11th round, going past the $100,000 value for picks beyond the 10th round to get that done. MacGregor and Ogle can be found at the back end of the Pirates' Top 30 prospects list, while Kranick is a strong candidate to make the list in 2017.
Those three young arms all made their debuts in the Gulf Coast League, each throwing reasonably well in a relatively small sample of work. Back in Bradenton for instructs, the Pirates can work with them on really getting started on their careers. The transition from high school to pro ball can be a tough one, especially in learning what it takes to be part of a rotation for a full season. As a result, there's even more foundational work to be done.
"There are a lot of routine-based things," Broadway said. "A lot of guys in high school don't throw every day, they don't throw flat grounds, they don't have five-day retunes, elbow and shoulder maintnence. We're finding out what they've done and starting to progress from that."
All three are buying into the Pirates way of developing pitching and each will have an individualized plan. While all of them come from the high school ranks, they have different body types and stuff, so there is no cookie-cutter way of moving them forward. MacGregor is more pure projection than any of them, with a lot of room to add strength. Having developed pitchers like Tyler Glasnow, the Pirates know to be patient in helping him mature.
Kranick already has a pretty strong build and is less projectable as a result, at least in terms of his physicality. That doesn't mean he can't improve his routines and the work he puts in to prepare for starts. Ogle appears to be between the two in some respects. All three have been good, though Ogle has stood out in how his stuff has looked thus far.
"Ogle has been especially solid, since about a month into the GCL season," Broadway said. "He came in very well developed with a good foundation. We tried to limit some of the effort many of the high school pitchers have. We limited the effort and the fastball stayed the same, 93-95 mph."
Top Pirates prospects on the mend
No. 2 Pirate prospect Austin Meadows was supposed to be preparing for his second stint in the Arizona Fall League right now. But instead of being in the desert with that season set to begin on Oct. 11, he has found himself back in Bradenton.
In his last game with Triple-A Indianapolis, the center fielder suffered a strained oblique. It's not a serious injury, but it was enough for the Pirates to remove him from the AFL roster as a precaution.
"Maybe we could've gotten him ready for opening day in Arizona, but you can't really do that," Broadway said. "He's doing full activities now, with some corrective movements, work on his flexibility. We're making sure he's good to go."
Meadows only accrued 308 at-bats in 2016 because of a couple of injuries, though he did make it to Triple-A at age 21. First, he fractured his right orbital bone while playing catch during Spring Training. Then he dealt with a hamstring issue that forced him out of action -- and out of the Futures Game -- in July.
"We wanted to get him some more playing time, but it is what it is," Broadway said. "Now we want to make sure he's in the best condition he can be for a full season next year."
The same can be said for No. 6 prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes. The 2015 first-rounder was shut down in July, returning only briefly for a couple of rehab appearances in the Gulf Coast League in late August. The culprit was a small rib fracture in an unusual place, under his collar bone.
"There was no acute injury, he just felt discomfort," Broadway said. "He's fine now, doing strength training and rehabbing to get ready for his offseason program."