Pirates Have Pitching Help On The Horizon

Kyle McPherson is just one of the Mike Steele success stories. A 14th round pick from 2007, McPherson was the 2009 Spikes Pitcher of the Year. In 2010 with the WV Power he is in third in the South Atlantic League with 115 strikeouts in 109.1 innings pitched. Photo:RumBunter.com

It has to be enough to keep Mike Steele up at night staring into the lush Mount Nittany.  We can only imagine how his mind races.  How in the world will all of the seemingly endless stream of talented young arms sent to him be able to get enough action to fully develop?  How can we possibly get the pitchers we have enough innings?  In less than a week two of the biggest arms in the 2010 draft will likely be signed.  Are they going to be headed my way next year too?

The Pittsburgh Pirates are sending talented arm after talented arm to State College, Pennsylvania.  The Spikes play their home games in the shadow of two of my favorite things, Beaver Stadium and Mount Nittany.    It’s hard to imagine three better things in life:  a phenomenal college environment with great scenery and stud pitching

But be careful what you wish for though, having that much talented pitching can be a challenge.   The rules are mandated and while pitch counts are a constant, creating a consistent rhythm for his staff is much more difficult.    All the while, the major league club is struggling to send capable pitchers to the bump each night.

Mike Steele is a young, talented pitching coach.    A 31-year old former pitcher in the Tigers and Mariners organizations, Steel is assigned the task of developing very wealthy young arms thanks to the Pirates draft philosphy.  It’s gotta be a tough job. And worse, his overall staff pitching statistics this year aren’t a lot to admire.

But don’t be fooled by numbers.  Mike Steele is directed to manage his pitching staff a bit differently. 

The sheer volume of arms in State College is daunting.  I swear it seems the Spikes sent more starters to the mound in the first month of their season than the Pirates did.  

Think of this:  Zack Von Rosenberg is 19 years old and until just the other night had never pitched professionally past the fifth inning.   Von Rosenberg was signed for $1.2 million dollars last season. 

But the Pirates are extremely cautious with their young pitchers for good reason.  It doesn’t take a Pirates fan more than five seconds to run off the names of highly-touted pitching prospects that have failed, been hurt, and never pitched in the bigs because of minor league mis-management.

Steele actually has such a young staff I wonder what they do for fun in a college town loaded with temptation.  With recent promotions, we counted eleven pitchers under the age of 20.  Even though the team ERA of 4.19  is near the bottom of the New York Penn League (after finishing fifth last season) and even though the staff is last in strikeouts (300) there is some reasoning behind it. 

Youth and fastball command.  It can be a mother.  

The staff has allowed 453 hits in 442 innings pitched and has a team WHIP of 1.35 while allowing 206 earned runs.  A bright side?  Just 21 long balls and only 143 walks have been allowed by Steele’s staff.

While other teams are throwing hammer curves for strikeouts, the Spikes pitchers are typically told to locate fastballs.  It’s enough to make hitters drool. 

It reminds me of how the young guys must feel being surrounded by such a fun social scene in State College and not being old enough to enter the doors.  You know it’s there, but it’s best not to go there.  Just locate that fastball.  The breaking stuff will come soon enough.

We’re curious to see how the Spikes can do in the stretch run in the tough Pinckney Division.  State College has never fielded such a competitive team.   Will anything change in the Pirates development system with Jeff Banister jumping in the dugout tomorrow night?   Will the Pirates management be tempted allow a few more innings if it means a few more wins for the Spikes in the final month?

What happens if somehow the Spikes can be in contention? 

Maybe a slight change in approach will be visible due to the organizational changes.  Perhaps someone will focus on changeup development now that Ray Searage is the Major League Coach.  It will definently be interesting to see if any philosphical changes are made.  It wouldn’t make a bit of sense, but this Pirates season is so bad that any news is interesting to us right now. 

Maybe it’s because it takes so long for the Pirates philosphy of draft investment to produce talent at the higher levels and eventually the big leagues that most of us fans are just dying to see some big numbers from the young pitchers.  Some improvement.  Some hope.  An ace.   

If Steele can put the finishing touches on the Spikes most successful season, it will definently be attributed to the pitching staff.  Would a few years of  sustained success by Steele with the young pitchers be rewarded by the Pirates?   Or is it viewed as a can’t miss with so much talent being fed to Steele? 

Time will tell.

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Topics: Mike Steele, Pirates Blog, Pittsburgh Pirates

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