Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training: We’re Talkin’ About Practice, Man


Mar 3, 2015; Dunedin, FL, USA; A general view of equipment set up on the field for batting practice prior to a spring training baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, Bleacher Report released its mid-spring training edition power rankings. The Pittsburgh Pirates come in at seven.

That’s right. Pirates Spring Training edition power rankings. Well, whoopty friggin’ do.

Please tell me, why do we constantly need to power rank everything, all the time? Mid-spring training edition power rankings?! Good lord. What’s next? Mid-spring cleaning household products power rankings? Pre-fishing season freshwater fish power rankings? Tioga County over-40 beer league softball power rankings? Did the Jolly Miser Bar and Grille finally leapfrog Dry Bones Waterproofing and Wiley Biff’s Pottery Hut in Week 7 action? Better check out the Tioga News weekend power rankings.

Spring training is glorified practice — broadcast, dissected, and written about as though it wasn’t, as Allen Iverson would say, “PRACTICE…we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, but we’re talking about practice…How silly is that?”

Iverson had much, much more to say about practice, actually. His words blurt in my head whenever a spring training game is on my mind.

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Don’t misunderstand me. The players in spring training games are trying. But different players are focusing on different, specific components of their game. Certain skills are being honed. No one cares about winning in March. A pitcher might focus specifically on throwing his curve ball in a spring training outing — ERA and wins/losses be damned. Hitters might be taking pitches to set up a two-strike count, or hoping to work counts even if it means laying off a thigh-high meatball.

For fans, whose eyes are trained for the big-picture, the devil in the details doesn’t have to convince anyone he doesn’t exist. He’s simply an oversight.

Jaff Decker roared unto the March spring training season like a lion, but has since looked more the lamb. He knocked a couple of doubles in his first spring training game, and walloped a king-hell moon blast in his second. After a 4-7 start, fans began to wonder if he was an emerging dark horse to become the fourth outfielder after Travis Snider‘s unexpected departure. The horse has darkened still. As of 3/17/15, Decker is 5-16, with no more extra-base hits. Not that he can’t play his way on to the 25-man roster. But the buzz has dampened. So it goes after two weeks of spring training.

Of course, upon publication of this piece Decker may be batting .564, with 3 dingers, in spring training. Who cares? He’ll still almost certainly be looking up at the big leagues from AAA come Opening Day.

Hey, Andrew McCutchen is 2-12, with 1 RBI and a .250 slugging percentage. Anyone want to get out from underneath that contract? Decker, grab a glove, you’re playing center.

Of course, upon publication of this piece McCutchen may be batting .053, with zero extra-base hits, in spring training. Who cares? He’ll still be the starting center-fielder and one of the most feared hitters in the game come Opening Day.

Hey, Justin Verlander tossed 20 scoreless innings in spring training last year, and his 2015 regular season was in shambles, by his standards.

For fans, whose eyes are trained for the big-picture, the devil in the details doesn’t have to convince anyone he doesn’t exist. He’s simply an oversight.

Ted Berg, of USA Today, reminds readers that the Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules run about 30 games. Even the guys who get the most playing time only amass about 50 or 60 at-bats, or pitch 20 to 25 innings. Besides catching a glimpse or two of a prospect that will be soon jettisoned to AAA, spring training should mean about as much to fans as a simulated game on MLB The Show.

Pirates fans are keeping watch on two perceived position battles this spring. One is the battle between Vance Worley and Jeff Locke for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. The other is the three-way dual between Andrew Lambo, Jose Tabata, and Jaff Decker for the fourth outfield spot. Perhaps other players are in the mix. Spring training offers little intrigue elsewhere.

I don’t have a bug underneath the desk in Clint Hurdle‘s office, or a Whisper 2000 trained on Ray Searage, but I bet that the coaching staff already has a pretty darn good idea where all the pieces fit, fifth starter and fourth outfielder included. Fans largely believe that these position battles are won solely by performances in spring training games. The analysis and predictions by pundits are based almost exclusively on exhibition game stats, and outcomes.

For instance, Jeff Locke’s last outing was a disaster. He struggled through three innings against the Houston Astros, allowing 6 runs on seven hits. Since, many are embossing his name on a tombstone destined for the graveyard of fallen Pirates starters, and crowning Worley the fifth starter.

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I would not be surprised to see Locke start the fifth game of the season. Nor should you be. Spring training games are merely another activity in the “practice process” — I lack a better term. Consider all the practice (I’m beginning to sound like Iverson too) that fans are not privy to. I bet Hurdle and the coaching staff glean just as much information and insight — if not more — from evaluating players during inter-squad exhibitions, drills, work-outs, etc. that aren’t broadcast or televised.

So if Locke is christened as the fifth starter, disagreeing fans should remind themselves that they observed spring training through a peephole.

Okay, in case you are curious, Bleacher Report ranked the Pirates seventh in their mid-spring training power rankings (read: practice rankings) because Charlie Morton has recovered from off-season hip surgery, fire-baller Arquimedes Caminero is outperforming expectations (6 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 9K), and Tony Sanchez is/was 8-15 with two doubles and a home run. Of course, said stats were accurate as of the publication of the Bleacher Report piece.

And in case you are still curious, largemouth bass topped the pre-fishing season freshwater fish power rankings, followed by northern pike, and carp, respectively.

Wake me up on Opening Day, when the real fun begins.

Next: Four things you must know about the 2015 Pirates starting rotation