Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

PITCHERS: AN EVEN TOUGHER CHALLENGE Series: AN INSIDE LOOK: The Pirates & Player Development

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

PITCHERS: AN EVEN TOUGHER CHALLENGE Series: AN INSIDE LOOK: The Pirates & Player Development

Article excerpt

Despite the individual nature of most of the instruction minor league players receive as they work their way through the system, some basic principles apply to everyone.

Roughly two-thirds of the players selected in the first round of baseball's amateur draft eventually make it to the majors. That number decreases for players selected deeper in the draft.

"You get one legitimate major league player out of a draft and then a couple of other guys who help your major league team, that's probably an average draft," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.

Pitchers face an even tougher path. To give as many pitchers as possible the best chance for success, the Pirates stress some fundamentals to everyone, high among them the need to consistently locate a fastball in the lower half of the strike zone.

"Is it mandatory? No," said special assistant to the GM Jim Benedict, who works with the organization's pitchers in addition to scouting. "But if you want to develop the masses, get a lot of guys to the big leagues, you're going to do it with a fastball as a priority."

Minor league pitching coordinator Scott Mitchell said the Pirates focus more on the fastball at the lower levels. Benedict said Pirates minor leaguers throw 60 to 70 percent of fastballs across all levels. The pitch aids a pitcher's health as well as his production.

"You can't develop unless you're healthy," Benedict said. "Throwing a four-seam fastball with an intact delivery down in the zone, that's a very healthy act."

The emphasis on the fastball also helps pitchers adjust to the effect wooden bats have on contact.

"A lot of kids, coming into pro ball either from high school or college, have pitched away from contact because of the aluminum bat," Mitchell said. "Getting into pro ball with the wood bat, these wood bats break when you start pitching to both sides of the plate, especially when you're pitching with fastballs [inside]. …

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