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Kyle Stark Interview, Part I

Here's the first part of my interview with Pirates farm director Kyle Stark. This is a little bit less than half of it. It starts a little abruptly here because I started with a question about Tim Alderson that I want to get clarification on, so I'll wait to see if I get it, and then put it in the second part of the interview, which I'll probably put up Sunday night. As you'll see, many of the questions come from this thread, so thanks to all of you for your input. Thanks to Mr. Stark as well as Matt Nordby and Jim Trdinich with the Pirates for helping me get in touch with him.

You have a lot of players right now - a bunch of the players who were in West Virginia last year, and also Robbie Grossman, who was in Bradenton, are striking out a lot. How do you deal with that? What kind of instruction are you giving them? I know strikeouts aren't a big deal once you get to the major-league level, but it might be a problem down in the minors.

A couple things with that. Number one is that I know sabermetrically they're not a big deal, but as a team, it is a big deal. Individual players, not necessarily, because there's some things that correlate with power and approach and those types of things, walks. But as a team, it does not correlate positively. So if you have a team full of high-strikeout guys, it doesn't necessarily lead to high run-scoring environments and high wins. So it is something we talk about, even with guys that are going to hit home runs and strike out a lot. We still talk to them about a two-strike approach, where what we teach is ... one, how did we get to two strikes? We shouldn't change our approach so that we don't get to two strikes so that we don't strike out. We're still looking for a good pitch to hit and a good pitch to drive. And then once we get to two strikes, what do we do? We try to help arm the player with a plan to be able to do those types of things. Some of it's physical, some of it's mental.

I think the other thing is that for some of those players, high strikeouts are an acceptable thing. For some of them, [they] are not. You mentioned Robbie Grossman. He's a guy who's not going to be able to strike out a lot, just for him to maximize his ability. Now, with Robbie, you've got a guy who hasn't been switch-hitting very long. You also have a young player who has a pretty good feel for the zone, and sometimes that will get you in trouble at the lower levels, umpires, what have you.

So some of those strikeouts, [the way] we look at it is, how's he getting to two strikes, and what's he doing with two strikes? But it depends on the guy. Some of the guys, it's a matter of aggression, some of it's guys not adjusting their approach with two strikes. So we take it on a case-by-case basis.

I saw on the roster yesterday that Jesus Brito is listed as a pitcher - is that a mistake?

No. We've transitioned him to pitcher, and so far it's been encouraging. We'll see. We're a long way away from declaring it a success or failure.

What is he throwing, and what is he working on?

More than anything, he's working on development of [his] delivery. When he first did it, he looked like a third baseman on the mound. But there's some arm strength there, some looseness and athleticism, so we're trying to basically build a delivery for him at this point.

You've emphasized fastball command, and that's been talked about a lot. But what exactly does that mean in terms of the percentage of pitches somebody throws? Is this something you emphasize more with the more big-time prospects and are less concerned about with guys who might be relievers in the minors, and that kind of thing?

When we talk about fastball command, there's an ideal, in terms of building a ... Part of our system is based on taking a young high school pitcher and turning him into a front-of-the-rotation starter, and there's ideals that go along with that. Fastball command, in that world, is the ability to command your fastball to all four quadrants of the zone.

Individually, though, fastball command for one guy may be different than for another guy. SInkerballers won't be command[ing] to all four quadrants of the zone, it's going to be down in the zone. So it depends on the guy ... Part of that is guys throwing it - you've got to force guys to throw it. Everybody talks about fastball command. We're not the only organization [that's concerned about that].

Right, it's not totally unique.

But the idea of doing some things to not just talk about something but to actually do it, and that's where, yeah, we do challenge our guys to throw the fastball, so that is an increased percentage goal with guys. Now, you go one step further, yeah, if a guy is a reliever in the minor leagues, especially a guy that you're not necessarily developing as a starter at some point, it's not going to be as theoretical or as long-term. Some of these guys are the 12th man on a staff, and they know they've got to perform ... Now those guys, we still give them the opportunity, still coach them, those types of things, because those guys can still turn into prospects, still turn into big-leaguers.

So, yeah, it depends on the guy, and it's also not just talking about [it], but challenging guys to do some things.

What might the West Virginia pitching staff look like and how are you going to juggle all these innings for all these pitchers?

I think it's going to look somewhat like the State College staff, with those young high school arms. There's a couple guys out of last year's draft, obviously a couple guys at the top that everybody wants to talk about, that, we'll see where we're at with them. But even some college guys, yeah, you're looking at nine or 10 guys that in a normal year you'd like to start.

So we've got to look at, are there some guys we can push to Bradenton? Maybe a couple college guys we can push to Bradenton? If so, we need to do it.

You're talking about last year's draftees?


Like [Tyler] Waldron, maybe?

A Waldron, a [Brandon] Cumpton, one of those guys.

We've [also] got to look at who can or can't handle that workload. You know, is Trent Stevenson physical enough to handle starting every fifth day?

Has he put on weight, by the way?

He has. He's put on about 15 pounds.

So there are some of those decisions that we'll then prioritize. And the other part of it is, yeah, there may be a situation where, some guys, especially this year, we hold onto those lower pitch counts longer in the season than we normally would to get innings for different guys, to protect some arms, and then allow next year to really grow those pitch counts as we go.

Some of it will take care of itself based on health and everything else, but hopefully it is a problem we've got to tackle and be creative with.

Can you talk about Joey Schoenfeld and Elias Diaz and how you balanced playing time between them last year, and what you plan to do this year?

One of the core decisions you have to make in development is who's going to get the opportunities. And obviously we decided that Elias Diaz deserves more time than Joey. I would fully expect that to continue.

Is that a defensive thing?

It's both sides. I know that Elias struggled at the plate last year, but we feel that there's potential there for him to hit. There's potential there for him to be a good player on both sides of the ball ... the guy with the higher upside typically gets the opportunity.

That's interesting, [since] Schoenfeld is a 10th-round draft pick.

Everybody talks about some of the things we talk about in terms of scouting and development being aligned. I've had a really good relationship with our scouting director and a really good relationship with our international scouts, [but] as guys come into the system, that database just continues, and so it's not a matter of, well, Schoenfeld is a 10th-round pick and Diaz got x number of dollars, it wasn't that much. We just talk about abilities and how we got to that point, and where do we go from here.

Jeff Locke was officially sent to Altoona when he was dropped from major-league Spring Training. I know that's somewhat fluid at this point, but can you talk about whether he's likely to actually begin the year there, and if so, what he needs to do in order to make the leap up to Indianapolis?

I think he's likely to start [at Altoona], and part of that is where Jeff's at, and part of that's also, you talked about the crunch at West Virginia, there's going to be a bit of a crunch there at Indy in terms of guys we either want to start or need to start based on depth for the big leagues. You can't just run out five prospect arms there, because if we need somebody in Pittsburgh ...

Brian Burres or something.

Yeah. So there's a little bit of a juggling act with that. I think Jeff made huge strides last year. We're certainly very excited about him. But I think there's a couple of things he can do just in terms of consistency from day to day, let alone from start to start, from inning to inning.

What is an example of that?

Part of the maturation for a young player is trying to figure out how to work ... not that his work ethic is bad, but we challenge our guys to get up here, to be exceptional, and so every time you throw a baseball is with purpose, every pitch is with purpose, every pole you run is with purpose. It adds meaning to the work. As guys go through the day you get more out of it. I think Jeff continues to make great strides [with that]. And he's not alone. He's a 22-year-old man - [it's] pretty normal.