BRADENTON, Fla. (93-7 THE FAN) – On the final day of workouts at the Pirate City complex, Tony Clark, the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, held a 90+ minute meeting with the players discussing a range of issues, not the least of which was MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s focus on pace-of-play initiatives, including the elimination of the four-pitch intentional walk less than 40 days before the regular season starts.
“The offseason calendar pushed a lot of these conversations back,” said Clark, in reference to the negotiations that hammered out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement just after Thanksgiving. “Oftentimes these types of on-field discussions happen in November or early December, where you have some runway. You’re willing to have the conversation, but the calendar does present some challenges as guys start preparing for the year against the backdrop of what they know, or assume the rules are going to be, and the later that conversation happens, or the longer it gets into Spring Training, the more delicate a balance it becomes.”
He also addressed the idea of a pitch clock, which has been used at the minor league level, and the lack of enthusiasm for the idea among players. “There are sensitivities with respect to anything that is counting down or counting up in the outfield, because it hadn’t historically been a part of the game,” said Clark. “That’s a tough one for us to appreciate, particularly once you get to the big league level, and all of the different things that are on the line.”
Asked about disciplinary issues that may spring up in the DUI case currently keeping Jung-ho Kang in South Korea, the union acknowledged that this being his third conviction for driving while intoxicated could play a part in any reprimand.
“We’ll have to see,” said Clark. “Appreciating an individual’s past, along with the circumstances that are in the present, may or may not lend itself to an end game discussion with respect to discipline, or lack thereof. I won’t sit here and tell you what someone does in the past is insignificant, but how it manifests itself moving forward against what may have just happened is always going to be a topic of conversation.”
Before departing for Orioles’ Spring Training down the road in Sarasota, Clark was asked about Andrew McCutchen, and if the idea of a player playing an entire career with one team has died. “You won’t hear me say that,” said Clark. “You assume that when you start [as a player] that you’re going to play with that team the rest of your career. I think you start out believing you’re going to be in one place, and then business changes, and the world changes, and suddenly you don’t find yourself there, and you adjust accordingly. I think every player understands on some level the business aspect that becomes a part of the conversation. It just doesn’t always become a part of the conversation to the player until a little bit later. But it’s always a part of the conversation on the management side because of the business they’re running.”
As for the on-field fun…
- Andrew McCutchen looks very comfortable ranging to his right to track down balls in the right-center gap. Given the tremendous amount of range Starling Marte has in center, the Pirates may be afforded the opportunity of playing McCutchen a little closer to the line in right and letting his and Marte’s collective speed turn the gap in to a dead zone for extra base hits while still gaining added coverage near the foul line. Cutting off balls headed toward the right field corner on his backhand never seemed to be a strong suit of Gregory Polanco’s.
- David Freese received hoots, hollers, and pats on the back from Marte for his domination of the Execution Game. More impressive on Field #2 were the two mammoth shots John Jaso put on to the golf course beyond right field. Asked after today’s workout if he felt any different this spring, Jaso said he’d come in to Spring Training “a little bit stronger, a little bit leaner this year,” and to the naked eye in batting practice, it’s shown.
- Marte generated some excitement of his own when he put consecutive BP pitches out to left, with one clanging loudly off the roof of the batting cages, approximately 400+ feet from home plate. The other was nearly to the top of the 20-foot tall left field fence on Field #1, meaning had it been at PNC Park, it would have obliterated someone’s nachos in the bleachers of section 236.
- Again, maybe it’s just to the uneducated naked eye, but early in Spring Training, Polanco looks aware of the power expected to come from his bat this season. Several instances of pulling off and flying open have been noticed when the 25-year old swings for the fences at Pirate City.
- Austin Meadows, on the other hand, looked dialed in on Thursday, driving pitch after pitch in BP to the left-center gap and beyond from the left side of the plate. The organization is thick at the upper levels with impact bats who somehow possess both the patience and ability to make hard contact from gap to gap without getting ahead and/or turning on pitches too enthusiastically. From Meadows (21 years old) to Adam Frazier (25) to Josh Bell (24), the Pirates seem to be in a good place with young on-base machines.
- Speaking of Frazier, his spray chart will tell you all you need to know about how a modern day Major Leaguer beats the shift: He hits the ball wherever it’s pitched. In batting practice, it’s obvious Frazier has the ability to turn on 8-10 pitches a year and put them out of the park. Instead, he sits, patiently waits, and keeps his hands back. It’s why in his first 3½ months at the Major League level his batting average actually climbed slightly, to .301 from his career minor league average of .299.
- Manager Clint Hurdle said he’d spoken to his big name World Baseball Classic participants earlier this week about their ramp up before departing for the WBC. “Sat down with Marte, Polanco, and McCutchen, scripted out the entire push all the way up ‘til travel day for Marte and Polanco. McCutchen I’ve got a plan in place starting up, getting cranked up. Those are my primary focus guys coming in; you’ll see it as it plays out here.” The expectation, at least from Marte when asked after workouts today, was to get “maybe 3, 4 games” in out of the 8 scheduled between this Saturday and March 5th when they’ll leave for their national teams. The guess here is that those will very likely be in home games at LECOM Park on February 25, 26, 28, and/or March 3 & 4.
- Still no word on whether Francisco Cervelli will be 100% for the Italian team in the WBC, but he was back as a full participant in batting practice today.
- Today’s workouts concluded with sliding drills that should make the clubhouse laundry attendants happy, as mats were placed in the outfield for the players to practice on, after morning drizzle created muddy infields and wet grass.
- The batting cages open early tomorrow morning at LECOM Park – 6:40am – and the day concludes at 12:30 with what’s being called “Pirates Chopped,” a competition pitting 15 different quartets of players against each other in a 30-minute cooking challenge. Josh Harrison’s team may be in trouble, as J-Hay was heard telling McCutchen “My 30 minutes, I may just make a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. My signature dish.”
- One final note: Bobby Bonilla and Dave Winfield were also at Pirates City today as part of their roles with the MLBPA, and judging by the looks of him, Bonilla may be eating all of the $1.19 million per year the Mets are still paying him to this day.