Every offseason there are MLB players and prospects that play in winter leagues for various reasons. This offseason the Pittsburgh Pirates have players playing in the traditional winter leagues in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. However, they also have three prospects playing in the Australian Baseball League.
When players play winter ball it could be for a variety of different reasons. Some players play winter ball to make up for lost time the previous season due to injury, other do it to try and re-establish their value following injuries and time missed.
Another group of players who play winter ball are prospects. Playing in winter ball can be very beneficial for prospects, but especially this winter after there was no minor league season in 2020. That is the boat that Pirate prospects Bligh Madris, Beau Sulser and Robbie Glendinning are in this winter.
The 24-year-old Madris, an outfielder, who is also a friend of the Rum Bunter Radio Podcast, is playing in Australia for the first time. This comes on the heels of spending the 2019 season with Double-A Altoona where he posted a solid 106 wRC+.
Saturday evening we were able to exchange messages with Madris about what he is looking to work on while playing winter ball:
“Focusing on barrel accuracy and catching the baseball more out front to hit for more power. I’m trying to tap into that raw power that I have. I need to be willing to sell out to it and be ok with making mistakes but then learning from them at the end of the day.” He added, “I want to come into spring training in 2021 and show the organization that I’ve been working hard and learning more about myself. I want to be a guy that comes out of the shadows this year and makes an impact!”
As of the end of play on Saturday, Madris was hitting for a .217/.250/.391 slash line with the Brisbane Bandits. In 23 at-bats Madris has hit a home run and a double, he has also draw a walk while striking out seven times. While Madris has not found the success he would have hoped for, what is most important is to be getting at-bats to make up for the lost at-bats from 2020.
“It was really important for me to get out here and get some at-bats after not playing for 9 months and get out all of mechanical issues and get my timing back,” Madris told us when asked about the importance of getting at-bats in winter ball this offseason. “Hitting a baseball in a game is not easy and it takes time for your eyes and body to get use to it again after that long of being away from game action. Im happy I have the opportunity to be around a great group of guys this winter and be around a great manager in David Nilsson,” Madris added.
As for Glendinning, this is his fourth straight offseason palying for the Perth Heat. Following a two home run performance on Saturday, the second base/shortstop is now hitting for a .300/.417/.533 slash line with the Heat. In 30 at-bats he’s hit those two home runs, a double, driven in 10 runs, and walked five times to go with nine strikeouts.
The 25-year-old Glendinning was a 21st round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2017 MLB Draft. He split the 2019 season between High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona. In 346 at-bats across 100 games with High-A and Double-A, Glendinning hit for a a strong .298/.368/.488 slash line, 9.7% walk rate, 10.9% extra base hit rate, and a 152 wRC+. There is a good shot that Glendinning will make the jump to the Triple-A level for the 2021 minor league season.
Sulser, a pitcher selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 10th round of the 2017 draft, is also playing for the Heat. In two starts with the Heat he has allowed just one run, which was a solo home run, while walking one battter and striking out seven in 9.0 innings pitched.
Sulser’s strong performance in Australia follows up a strong 2019 season at the Double-A level. With the Curve, Sulser posted a 2.72 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 7.8% walk rate, and a 15.8% walk rate. He logged 96.0 innings in 33 games, six of which were starts, and he allowed four home runs.