Minors Report: John Van Benschoten
Right-hander hoping to put control problems in the past
BRADENTON, Fla. -- It looked reminiscent of the John Van Benschoten that just never established control last season. In two innings of work against the Rays last Sunday, the 27-year-old right-hander issued three walks and hit a batter.
However, masked behind what seemed to be pointed control issues were some positives.
He approached the outing with the intention of throwing all of his pitches, relying more heavily on his lower body and getting out in front of the ball more in his delivery. All were a success.
Van Benschoten also insisted that mentally he is on his way back to where he was pre-2007, and that his fastball -- which was the culprit behind many of his problems a year ago -- is in the process of being tamed.
"It's getting there," said Van Benschoten, who went 0-7 with a 10.15 ERA in 11 appearances (nine starts) for the Pirates last season. "In the game the other day, I felt a lot of good [fastballs]. There were a couple of ones that I didn't know, but that's better than not knowing where any fastballs were going, as was the case last year."
Van Benschoten continues to have an uphill climb in his attempt to make the Major League roster out of Spring Training. With the rotation said to be set, and the team's hope of keeping Van Benschoten in a starting role, it would appear that he is headed to Triple-A to begin the season.
Building them up: With the first round of cuts at Major League camp expected to come early next week, it appears likely that Daniel Moskos' time with the big leaguers will soon be over. Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark projected Moskos to begin the season with one of the team's two Class A clubs, though which one has yet to be determined.
Expect Moskos to get further game experience during this month's Minor League schedule of Spring Training games before he is slated to begin the regular season in the rotation at either Lynchburg or Hickory. However, Stark warned, don't jump to the conclusion that Moskos will, as a result, be ushered into the big leagues as a starter.
It's simply part of a theory that the organization is going to employ during the development process of a number of its young pitchers. Stark explains the rationale behind doing so this way:
"It's more about us having a long-term vision of developing Major League pitchers, rather than saying, 'Hey, this guy is going to be a bullpen guy, so we're going to develop him as a bullpen guy,'" Stark said. "We've got five, six levels to do that at."
What's up Doc? Josh Shortslef and Olivo Astacio, both of whom started at Major League camp, continue to work through throwing programs. Neither, however, is healthy enough to participate in a full workout quite yet.
Shortslef, who is dealing with a significant amount of inflammation around his rotator cuff, is on an even slower recovery track than Astacio, and he remains extremely limited in his throwing activities.
New faces: It's been a baptism-by-fire of sorts for Stark, who is leading his first Minor League camp since being named the organization's farm director last November. Because every face is a new face for Stark, he is conducting one-on-one sessions with players this week in order to get acquainted with the organization's prospects.
By Wednesday, Stark hoped to have had an initial meeting with all the pitchers who are in camp, which totals about 80. Next will come sessions with the approximately 75 position players, all of whom must be in Bradenton by Wednesday for a physical. The first full-squad workout for Minor League players will be on Thursday.
They're No. 1: Brad Lincoln, the club's top pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, continues to progress through a throwing program at Pirate City. Stark said that Lincoln will more than likely not be ready to pitch in any of the Minor League games this spring, but that he should be on target to begin pitching at one of the organization's Class A levels in April. However, expect the team to take a cautious approach with Lincoln.
"The pace in which we are trying to push him through is not necessarily the same [as others currently rehabbing injuries]," Stark said. "That's not a reflection of anything we've seen since we got here. It's just the recognition that getting him out there on April 1 isn't as important as getting him out there on September 1."
Class of '07: Stark didn't need an individual session to be introduced to Andrew Walker, a catcher out of Texas Christian University, who was the fifth-round selection of the Pirates in last year's Draft. All Stark had to do was step outside of his office at Pirate City and listen to balls banging off the tin roof of the complex situated behind the outfield fences.
"He peppered the building [on Monday]," Stark said with a grin.
Scouting reports on Walker, 22, have noted power potential in his swing, evidenced by the .328 average, 12 homers and 58 RBIs Walker hit during the collegiate season last year. The Pirates are, however, going to continue zeroing in on getting Walker to be more selective at the plate and improving his footwork and exchange of the ball on his throws from behind the plate.
However, early indications are that Walker is going to be a gem in this system.
"I've seen him both during defensive work and during batting practice," Stark said. "And again, I can see why our scouts like him and why our development staff likes him."
What they're saying: "Camp has been great. It's been really easy to adjust to a new organization. It's really exciting because they are rebuilding the organization and have all new people running the show, and they seem to have brought in the right people," -- Evan Meek, a Rule 5 Draft selection who spent last season at Double-A Montgomery in the Rays' organization
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.