Although the Pirates believe a common goal is important, they also believe in specificity. Benedict didn’t know any of the players when he took over as pitching coordinator. He gathered the members of the organization who had worked with the pitchers and began investigating. The team speaks to the parents and former coaches of players entering their organization as well as to the scouts who signed them. They watch any video available and scour the Internet for interviews or statistics that may hint at the pitcher’s personality or previous workload.
“It’s the first I’ve heard of that type of deep investigative work to get to know the kid prior to even talking about pitching or delivery,” said minor league pitching coordinator Scott Mitchell, who joined the Pirates after nine years in the Marlins organization.
Once the staff members have an idea of what they have to work with, they begin to tinker. As an 18-year-old in 2005, Andrew McCutchen hit .310 in a season split between rookie ball and short-season Class A but only hit two home runs. When McCutchen reached low-A Hickory in 2006, manager Jeff Branson taught him to harvest more power from his legs during his swing. McCutchen hit 17 homers that season and retained that power, hitting 31 for the Pirates in 2012.
No set formula governs the players’ progress through the minors. Statistics and performance help, but the Pirates believe a player’s foundation and fundamentals, regardless of the results they produce, are equally important.
“Typically when a player gets stressed, when a player gets challenged, he’s going to revert back to his foundation,” Stark said. “If his foundation’s not strong, that’s where you’re going to see guys really struggle or go backwards.”