I spoke to Edgar Varela, the manager of the Pirates' new rookie affiliate in Bristol, in his office Wednesday afternoon. Varela has been with the Pirates organization for the past several years, but this is his first year as a manager. He also, I later found, played for Bristol as a 21-year-old draftee of the White Sox in 2002. Stats in rookie ball don't mean much -- as we discuss in the interview, many of these players look little like the players they might become in five years, and many of them are dealing with cultural challenges as well. That makes it difficult to look at the numbers and tell who the prospects at this level are. My questions focused primarily on bigger-bonus players. Another player I should have asked about is Hector Garcia, a very young lefty who's posted solid numbers as a starter so far. Aside from that, here's who has played for Bristol so far this season. This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What is Jon Sandfort working on here?
He's been working on fastball command, working on a couple secondary pitches as well, working on breaking balls, command of his changeup.
What percentage of fastballs are pitchers throwing here, in general?
Most. Again, going back to the fastball command -- that's what we preach in the organization is learning how to pitch with the fastball first, and then secondary pitches come back after those.
What about the later-round types of guys? Do they have more of a free rein?
Yeah, especially the college guys -- their job is to get outs and stuff like that. So usually, coming out of college, they've pitched with other pitches as well, so we allow them to use some of that stuff.
One of the things that's always striking about coming to a short-season league and watching a game is that a lot of players don't yet look like major league players. What kind of advantage do players have coming in from college [who] maybe look [physically] more like big-league players?
I think at the collegiate level, when they're there for two, three, four years at a time, they've had a chance to develop a little bit more maturity-wise, discipline-wise, so they're able to concentrate a little bit longer. They have the discipline, [and] they have the maturity, to stick with something they're working on. A lot of things in the maturity process, those are big-time years, when they're 18 to 21. Not only that -- their bodies develop in those years.
So you see a lot of difference in terms of practice with an 18-year-old player as opposed to a 20- or 21-year-old player.
Sure, absolutely. I think the stage of ... [Jordy Mercer hits a home run on the TV behind us]. Sorry, I got distracted.
Mercer just hit a two-run homer. Nice. Delete that later (laughs).
[The players] are watching that out there [in the clubhouse] too. Do they always watch the games?
That's the only channel we have on for them. MLB Network. So they can watch and hopefully learn something.
You have a lot of players from Latin America here, including a lot of the younger players. What are the challenges of bringing them to a place like Bristol and spending the summer here?
A lot of the teach points we've had is for them to start to learn the ways of the U.S. For the guys [who] have been in the U.S., they've been at Pirate City, where they're on campus, everything's taken care of. Here, it's the real world, even though they're staying with host families. They're on their own time at night. For example, how to get to the ballpark -- simple things that we take for granted, these kids are starting to learn that here as part of their career. Not only that, but also the language barrier. We have them set up with American players, so they're all mixed up -- it's not like we have a house of just Latin kids.
So you might have two or three kids living together, or one or two might be an American kid ...
Exactly, yeah. It's been very helpful because they have English classes as well ...
Oh, they still have those here?
They have English classes here. We have an English teacher. All the drivers here that got their cars shipped are American kids, so the American kids help them out by giving them rides to their classes.
What has Nick Buckner been working on here?
For the most part, Buckner has been working on getting into a good hitting position on time, consistently.
I read that there might be mechanical issues with his swing ...
I have not been aware of what you've read regarding that.
Yeah, I mean, the kid's 18 years old, 19 years old. Kids are going to have flaws. But he's been working on, primarily, getting into a good hitting position.
What about John Sever. He sticks out as somebody who's putting up really good numbers.
Yeah. He's a college kid, mature. He's got a good arm -- left-handed, good arm, good secondary pitches, and knows how to pitch. He learned how to pitch in college, it looks like.
What about Billy Roth? What is he working on?
I believe he was a two-way player in high school ...
He was an outfielder, yeah.
So he's mastering the pitching side of stuff. Maturity-wise, he's continuing to grow there. This is his first stint away from Pirate City as well, pitching under the lights. He's matured greatly from the start of the season. And pretty much, again, fastball command. Learning how to pitch with the fastball.