Pirates Spring Training 2017: Feb. 16 News & Notes

Marte, Polanco, Harrison Arrive As Cole, Taillon, Nova Return To The Mound

BRADENTON, Fla. (93-7 THE FAN) — Day 3 of Pirates Spring Training was a reporting/physical day for some of the biggest names on the team. The big name pitchers – Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova – got back on the bullpen mound for the second time, as well as the rest of the arms that could fill out the back end of the rotation – Chad Kuhl, Drew Hutchison and Tyler Glasnow.

And Clint Hurdle’s playlist, from Grand Funk Railroad to Bruce Springsteen to Justin Timberlake, continued to dominate.

  • Starling Marte reported to Pirates City and addressed his move to center field, and while he hasn’t had a chance to speak directly with Andrew McCutchen about it yet, he’s excited for the opportunity to go back to his original position after 4½ seasons in left field. “I know that there are adjustments to make, but being able to read the ball and get a good jump, I’m excited about it,” said Marte through interpreter and Special Assistant to the General Manager Mike Gonzalez.

Marte will play center for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic as well, and praised the chemistry and communication that he, McCutchen and Gregory Polanco share, pointing out that he doesn’t expect a true transition of leadership between he and McCutchen due to the equal footing the three of the starting outfielders consider themselves on.

Marte also downplayed his drop in homeruns in 2016, pointing out that his focus is on getting on base and stealing bases.

  • Gregory Polanco said he told Hurdle he was willing to play wherever he was asked to play and feels that being totally healthy will be the key to bouncing back from a season where his OPS dropped 200 points from the 1st half to the 2nd “I got tired last year,” said Polanco in reference to that drop-off, and he reiterated that he’s been training since November, presumably in an effort to improve his conditioning.

Polanco’s preference for hitting cleanup stems from his desire to play every day, and when asked about increasing his workload against left handed pitching, he mentioned wanting to discuss those opportunities with Hurdle.

“I want to play more against lefties, because that’s how you get better. We’re going to talk about that.”

  • Closer Tony Watson lost his arbitration hearing on Wednesday, meaning he’ll make $5.6 million in what very well could be his final year in the organization that drafted him a decade ago. “I got to try and fight for myself, and I would’ve liked to have won, but it was worth it.” Once a starter that led the Carolina League in IP in 2008, Watson transitioned to the bullpen at Altoona in 2010 and will in all likelihood hit free agency in the offseason. A successful ’17 as a closer could put him at the top of the free agent relievers’ market next winter.
  • Josh Harrison reported and received his physical as well, and while unpacking he discussed what impact a possible infield shift due to Jung-ho Kang’s absence could have on him as an everyday second baseman. “I understand baseball’s unpredictable, so I can sit here and say I’m going to play second base, but I have to be ready to bounce around if called upon.”
  • The movement on Nova’s four seamer today was encouraging, as it ran in on the right handed batter’s box late.
  • Pirates Assistant General Manager Kyle Stark, who is heavily involved with what the organization calls “Mental Conditioning,” said the addition of music to workouts this spring was based off of the results of several studies that showed better performance and mental engagement with the music on.
  • Alen Hanson, who is out of options (and therefore, cannot be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers) spent his offseason working on being more prepared to come off the bench, and is familiar with new First Base Coach/Baserunning Coordinator Kimera Bartee, who was the first person to greet Hanson upon his arrival at the Pirate City complex. Hurdle mentioned the possibility of Hanson being used everywhere in the infield but first base, and suggested if he’s able to be versatile enough, he has a shot at being the superutility type of infielder Josh Harrison was in the past.
  • Josh Bell took live swings off a tee in the batting cages, meaning he’s closer to being back at 100% participation following knee surgery.
  • Hitting Coach Jeff Branson worked 1-on-1 with Francisco Cervelli in the cages on the loading of the weight on his back leg and the transference of that weight in his swing, making sure to have Cervelli deliberately load and fire over and over.
  • Cervelli was asked about becoming a cult hero among Pirates fans and complimented the people of Pittsburgh right back, saying he’s “thankful for all of the love the city’s been giving me. Every time I go there, I feel like I’m in heaven.” Cervelli continued to explain that he feels a bond with Pittsburgh sports fans. “I like when people are passionate, and if I’m a fan, I want the same thing. If you give everything, you’re going to see a lot of people smiling.”

For more from Cervelli’s chat with me and Rich Walsh of KDKA-TV Sports, be sure to keep an eye on the KDKA-TV Channel 2 News this weekend.

  • Elias Diaz dropped some mammoth shots at batting practice, including one that got Manny Sanguillen, sitting cageside, to exclaim… something. Would love to tell you I understood it, but my Spanish is terrible.
  • Both Kuhl and Jared Hughes utilized “Big Red,” the batter silhouette dummy, placed in the right hander’s batters’ box, to work on their inside stuff. Neither tagged Big Red with any errant pitches, but whatever Hughes was doing was working, as Pitching Coach Ray Searage exclaimed “Yes! YES!!” after one of Hughes’ deliveries.
  • After one of Hughes’ breaking balls skipped away from Diaz, who was catching, Special Instructor Mike LaValliere reassured the young backstop, joking “It’s a bad ball, Ellie. It’s not round,” before turning to me and teasing “Jared throws lots of those.”
  • Austin Meadows spends his days walking around with a gallon jug of water. He said he typically drinks a gallon and a half a day, weighing himself before and after his workouts to see how much re-hydrating he needs based on the weight he’s lost.
  • Chris Stewart spent most of his early morning playing “Words With Friends” on his tablet against a friend he thinks is merely throwing letters at the app to see if a word sticks. He has another friend he plays against however, who insists that Stewart has to know the definition of the word if it’s to be used.
  • Pat Light was mentioned by me the other day as one of those “big donkeys who throws fuzz,” in Searage parlance, who could have a surprise impact on the staff. He’s not the only righty fireballer who could push pitch-to-contact guys like Hughes and Juan Nicasio in the bullpen, though. 25-year old non-roster invitee Edgar Santana received praise from Hurdle yesterday for his Arizona Fall League work, as he struck out 18 over 13 2/3 innings of relief work. That was an exclamation point on a 3-season rise through the system that started in the Dominican Summer League in 2013 and ended last summer in Indianapolis. Asked about whether he expects that meteoric rise to continue or not this season, he was optimistic. “I’ve been prepared for that, waiting for this moment, and I think it’s going to happen.” He may be right sooner rather than later if he can continue to miss bats at the higher levels after striking out 51 in 57 1/3 IP at AA & AAA last year.
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