The perils of being a prospect in New York

Marc Carig's Q&A with Jim Hendry
Nunez leaves game with right hand contusion

Michael Pineda might not be a prospect, but that doesn’t stop people from treating him like one. In a way that’s unfair, since he did pitch a full major league season in 2011, and put up good numbers in the campaign. But in another way it is fair, since he still has plenty to prove. Any pitcher at his age and experience does. Of course, having something to prove in Seattle is quite different than having something to prove in New York. The media, unsurprisingly, is already on top of Pineda.

This morning a couple if infamous New York media scribes published articles on Pineda. Unsurprisingly, they focused on the negative. It’s not that these cases are without merit; again, Pineda is a work in progress. The problem is that they homed in on the negative while ignoring the adjacent positives.

On Pineda’s weight

Michael Pineda is a big dude. He stands at six feet and seven inches tall (or six-foot-eight, depending on who’s publishing the information). At that size, it’s hard to determine a normal weight. There are so many variables in body composition that it’s tough to determine if he’s carrying too much fat, or if he’s just a bulky dude. Still, playing weight is a hot-button issue in the media. Pineda did not help his case by showing up to camp at 280 pounds and saying that he’d like to be at 270. To the media, that translates to being 10 pounds overweight.

It’s hard to determine Pineda’s ideal weight. Maybe it really is 280. Maybe it’s 270, which is what he says he weighed at the end of 2011. Maybe it’s even lower than that. To criticize him for being 280 when he says he wants to be 270, then, is a bit much. This isn’t like you or me being 10 pounds overweight. This is a six-foot-seven athlete coming in 10 pounds heavier than he was at the end of last season. It’s less than 4 percent of his overall bodyweight. To conclude from these 10 pounds that he has exercise or nutrition problems is a blind and poor judgment.

Might he have these problems? Absolutely. But the 10 pound weight gain is not necessarily a signal of that. He’s still just 23, and still has to learn how to operate inside an enormous frame. It’s not easy. Even so, Pineda has already addressed the issue. As Jack Curry reported after Pineda’s performance today: “Pineda said he has lost 7 or 8 pounds. Wants to lose a few more.” So there you go. He’s been in camp for three weeks and has already dropped more than half of his goal weight. This should not be an issue.

On Pineda’s changeup

Immediately after the Yankees acquired Pineda, they addressed his repertoire. Brian Cashman said that if Pineda doesn’t develop a changeup and become an ace, he’ll have made a mistake in trading Jesus Montero for him. It seems that Pineda’s name can’t come up now without a reference to his changeup.

There is no doubt that eventually developing a changeup is important. That probably won’t come this year. The changeup can be a difficult pitch to master. It took CC Sabathia years and years before he successfully implemented one. There is a chance that Pineda could follow a similar development path. He could still get by with the fastball and slider while working the changeup in more regularly. But this is not an issue that will be decided this year.

Still, from all accounts Pineda has put a lot of work into his changeup this spring. That’s something he can afford, thanks to his already electric fastball and slider offerings.

On the Montero comparisons

Another constant when writing about Pineda: mentioning that the Yankees took a big risk in trading Montero for him. This is undoubtedly true. Montero is a hugely hyped prospect who could hit in the middle of the order. Yet the NY media didn’t quite see it that way previously. While Montero was with the team he came under fire for attitude issues. Writers constantly questioned his defensive ability. He was treated, in other words, as a prospect.

But now that the Yankees traded him he’s apparently the second coming of Babe Ruth. It’s quite unsettling to see the turnaround on him. Would the writers have been this lavish in their praise if Montero were still with the Yankees? (Somehow I doubt it.)

There is no denying that Michael Pineda has a lot of work to do. He does need to develop a changeup eventually. He does need to maintain a healthy weight. Unfortunately for us, these are not one-time issues. They both take time. He’ll have to work constantly to keep himself in shape, and he’ll have to work even harder on getting a feel for his changeup. There is no quick fix. Does this mean that we’ll hear about the changeup and the weight with every poor start? Probably. Just keep that in mind, though, when you run across an article or column critical of him. While the criticism is probably valid in some ways, there are equally positive points right next door.

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Marc Carig's Q&A with Jim Hendry
Nunez leaves game with right hand contusion
  • BK2ATL

    The NY Media strikes again….

    • All Praise Be To Mo

      King is a moron, if we got Lincecum he’d be too short, Halladay he’d been overworked, King Felix they know something’s wrong with him and they got rid of him early. Anything this guy writes is a waste of megabytes and ink.

      • CJ

        Lincecum would also be on track for a major injury with a “funky delivery” and “torque.” Tim would also be unproven in the American League. It’s nonsense. Unfortunately is does affect the players.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      Yeah. As much as I love NY, the media is just so irritating.

  • steve s

    Hughes and Joba have been killed for coming in overweight/out of shape as well (so was Montero if I remember correctly). As a matter of first impressions Yanks should have anticipated this a little better than they did and should have done a little more monitoring to ensure Pineda was coming into camp at a weight that was no more than he ended last season at.

    • Steve (different one)

      Is this allowed? I am not sure teams are allowed to tell their players what to do in the offseason.

      • Havok9120

        Teams have very, very little control over offseason behavior unless its specifically written into the contract. That’s my understanding anyway.

    • m1kew

      Keep in mind the trade to acquire Pineda was not finalized until late January. Point is that the Yankees did not have a lot of time to talk to Pineda about meeting expectations. Hopefully Pineda will have postive role models in Sabathia and Hughes both of whom have had to address weight/conditioning situations.

      • steve s

        Trade was mid-January and Pineda had to pass a physical (so presumably Yanks knew his weight then). Unless he gained the weight in the weeks after the physical Yanks should have been more on top of this. I agree with Steve (different one) that teams can’t contractually “force” a player to subject themselves to team-sponsored workouts in the off-season but got to believe if Yanks said we need you to start a weight losing regimen Pineda would have cooperated.

        • RetroRob

          Do you think if he came in at 270 they wouldn’t be writing about something else? The Post, the News will find something negative. That’s what they do.

          We can also say the Yankees should have anticipated that Pineda wouldn’t be experienced in talking to the NY media, and they should have flown down a team of PR consultants to speak in Jeterian bland talk. I kid of course, but he will learn to answer questions without ever saying anything that’s quotable. Pretty much all NY players learn that on some level. Well, everyone but A-Rod.

          • Havok9120

            And even he has just clammed up completely the last couple years. I think he figured out that NOTHING he said could be bland enough not to evoke outrage or mockery.

          • thenamestsam

            Right. We don’t even know what weight the Yankees want him at. He said he wanted to lose ten pounds and somehow this becomes a story. If he had said he was in the best shape of his life that would have been the story. This story has a lot more to do with a young kid learning what he should and shouldn’t say to the rabid NY media than it does with any conditioning issue.

          • CJ

            Well wait till they blame his love for the great Dominican restaurants in NY.

        • Havok9120

          But why should they have said that? They don’t know any better than anyone what his “optimal” weight is. Should they have done this in order to curtail media outrage? Good luck with that. Especially since the only reason it became an issue was because Pineda himself said he was over his target. For all we know, the Yankees told him to do what he felt he needed to because they had no idea what he felt comfortable with.

          Its only recently, after 3 seasons watching him pitch, that the Yankees have started actively working with CC to keep his weight under control. Maybe they now understand his mechanics well enough to play with optimization and they don’t feel the same about Pineda yet.

          Or not. We don’t know. Saying what they should or shouldn’t have done is kind of silly when we have NO IDEA what they actually did.

          • steve s

            I would hope that the Yanks physical for Pineda was more than lip service and that they would have made some assessment as to what they thought his reporting weight should be. What else could they be looking for, Valley Fever or something?

          • Fernando

            But don’t you know that writers like King (and his idol Lupica) all think that they know better than the team executives or anyone else for that matter. (Dripping sarcasm).

  • Mister D(elaware)

    Devil’s advocate: Is it possible this ever works out to the player and team’s advantage? More intense scrutiny leading to an actual flaw being fixed? Like maybe a guy like Hughes would be more inclined to come into camp “in the best shape of his life” in NY rather than a more apathetic baseball city.

    • Havok9120

      Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? Finding real flaws and addressing them almost requires a measure of both objectivity and reason. Neither of which has been in particularly high supply with Pineda/Montero.

      Could they luck into something that hits a nerve with Pineda and causes him to reform? Sure. They could just as easily drive him completely insane and wreck him.

      Of course, either of those outcomes would require Pineda to actually pay attention to the narratives being spun about him, something we shouldn’t really assume. ESPECIALLY since I’m almost certain every single clubhouse vet from Jeter/Mo/ARod/Hughes to Cory Freaking Wade will be telling him not to give a damn what they say.

  • forensic

    6’7″ or not, he certainly looked a bit pudgy today. Certainly seemed bigger than last season.

    • Bo Knows

      When compared to ST of last year yes he does, but him at the end of the season he looks about the same to me. He does look like he is wearing his uniform baggier than when he was in Seattle

  • Stu H

    Just makes me remember when Arodys Vizcaino “magically” became a 5* instead of a 4* prospect as soon as he was traded from NYY to Atlanta a couple years back.

    • Steve (different one)

      Or how Casey Kelly moved from B+ to B- (something like that) after he was traded to SD.

  • David Ortiz’s Dealer

    Let’s hope he learned a lesson about what he says to the media, and if the Yanks staff determines he needs some body adjustments he makes them.

    Based on a couple pics, he does NOT look as doughie or out of shape as Hughes did last spring.

    The Montero comparisons are inevitable, he was so hyped that in some ways now Pineda has that hype to answer to.

  • David Ortiz’s Dealer

    and let me add.. I recently lost some weight and started weightlifting seriously … my doc felt I looked better at 203 than at 199 last July, so pounds is just one number to look at

  • Peter North

    Wallace Matthews is the worst offender, in my book.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      He’s unbearable. It’s a shame because ESPNNY is a cool site, but I’ve completely given up on bothering to read anything that zero writes.

      • Boomer’s Boy

        Today Wally reported the speeds of Pineda’s Cutter, Curve and Splitter. The funny thing is, Pineda doesn’t throw any of those.

        • GardnergoesYardner

          How does anyone at ESPN think that’s acceptable? I understand poor writing can slip through, but to botch facts like that? Honestly, it’s laughable that he has the gall to criticize Pineda when Pineda could probably write a better article than he could.

  • Guest

    Joe, to quote many a congregrant in the Baptist churches of my youth, “PREACH!!!!…Come on, now…PREACH!!!!”

    The King piece was absolute, total, and utter drivel. Just a veritable monument to atrocious sports writing. FJM worthy, really.

    It was wrong on so many levels, not the least of which being comparing someone’s weight in March to his end of season weight. Especially when that person is a 6’7″ monster of a man. At that size, I imagine people can put on and lose weight pretty quickly. Especially, you know, when going through the rigors of a baseball season.

    And, what’s this from Jack Curry? He’s already lost 7 lbs? You mean that a young, huge athlete can lose relatively small percentages of his weight relatively quickly during spring training? WOW. This is a shocking, SHOCKING development.

    Raise your hand if you find it depressing that the George King’s of the world make more money in a month than the people at FanGraphs/River Ave. Blues make in an entire year.

    Sigh. I guess the free market system ISN’T perfect after all…

    • G

      Not baseball, but the volleyball player Phil Dalhausser, who’s 6’9″, has been known to drop 20 pounds in a single match. Bet it’s more or less the same thing.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        Phil Dalhausser from………Daytona Beach.

  • Sweet Dick Willie

    You must remember that their (the scribes) job is not to inform, but rather to sell papers. And bad news sells more than good news.

    • Guest

      I agree that they have to bring eye-balls to the papers, but I don’t think they need to produce craptacular-misleading-bunk to do so. If this were the case, we wouldn’t have great writers like the Joe Posnanski’s of the world reach the highest heights of the profession.

      You can write provactive pieces that give way to eye-catching headlines AND produce well reasoned and well researched opinions.

      You don’t need to call someone who you’ve barely met and who hasn’t thrown a single pitch for his new team fat and/or lazy because he says he’d rather be at his end of season weight than his pre-Spring training weight. Especially since the odds are weight will fly of his huge frame while Spring training procedes.

      The King article was a waste of perfectly fine tree pulp and ink that could have been put to better use.

      • Sweet Dick Willie

        I agree with you wholeheartedly, but it takes talent to “write provactive pieces that give way to eye-catching headlines AND produce well reasoned and well researched opinions.”

        Unfortunately, there are too few Joe Posnanskis and too many Peter Kings.

        Thank Mo for RAB.

        • Sweet Dick Willie

          and too many Peter George Kings.

      • Havok9120

        Sure, you don’t HAVE to do it that way. However, it takes much less effort and FAR less skill to do it through negativity.

    • Rookie

      And there are more Yankee hating potential readers than Yankee fans — and more Red Sox fans in and around Bristol and others who know that they curry more favor with ESPN’s Red Sox loving/former WEEI top management by writing such drivel than by playing it down the middle.

  • Murderers’ Row Boat

    It’s the New York media, if he pitches well he’ll be the second coming Guidry until the day he doesn’t pitch well. Then they’ll be calling on him to go back to Seattle. The backpage writers are like 11 year olds off their ADHD medication. I’ve seen kindergartners with longer attention spans and better analytic thinking skills.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    The coverage of the NY sports teams is second to none. They’ll write about everything and anything. In the private world its about your work performance if its up to snuff than your left alone until whatever is affecting your work.

    Our athletes have people watching them at every turn. Pineda will learn and get great advise from Yankee veterans. This advice will assist in handling the media.

    As far as his weight, 10 pounds on that frame maybe hard to fine. Some guys need to come in a bit above playing weight to monitor the loss and eating habits and the maintenance of their playing weight.

    As far as the trade Pineda and top pitching potential is the best choice. How many opportunities do the Yankees get to draft top pitching with their draft choices especially when they hold one of the top records in baseball year after year. Montero would have been nice to watch at the plate and difficult to watch behind the plate. IMHO, the trade was a good one. Maybe the NY media needs to refresh the meaning of the word patience when it comes to Pineda’s development of the off speed pitch.

    • Guest

      Co-sign everything here. I invested HEAVILY in Montero. Read everything about him I could find, checked DOTF on a daily basis, and being at his two HR game against Baltimore was amazing….

      And with all that said, I was pro the trade from day one. Could Jesus turn into a passable defensive catcher and an elite hitter while Pineda flames out? Of course. Totally possible.

      But Mike Pineda is one of the rarest things in baseball today. Cost controlled, HUGE, young, top end pitcher with power stuff and good control. The Yankees have to make that trade everyday of the week and twice on Sunday.

      Ex-ante, it was the right move and we just have to hope that the ex-post results fit with the Yankees’ hopes and expectations.

  • leftylarry

    Actually, 6’7 280 IS way to heavy for him.

    even a thick guy, a 6′ 215 lber, if you add 7 inches, at 5 lbs per inch which is what Football scouts often say is the difference between some size/speed ratio guys , ie: Jim Leonhard at 5’8 185 running 4.5 is equivalent to a safety who is SAY 6′ 205 running 4.55 approx.
    So to be in great shape a 6’7 athlete could weigh 245 ish. I doubt he’s football strong so 280 is just plain fat.
    How many 6’7 NBA players weigh 280 lbs? Probably none, maybe one or two Charles BArkley shaped guys but even he wasn’t that heavy (or that tall).
    CC is a fatso also, let’s not talk “big” he’s obese.
    Can you pitch obese? Yes, plenty have done it.Are you likely to stay healthy year after year and perform at your highest level year after year? Probably not..

    • Tim

      Looks to me like CC has stayed healthy year after year and performed at the highest level year after year…

    • thenamestsam

      I don’t think it’s quite this cut and dry. For one, we don’t know his exact height. A lot of the players heights can be off by a few inches, and he looked a couple inches taller than CC when I saw them together. He might be more like 6’9″ than 6’7″.

      Also pitching is pretty different than most other activities, certainly than football. He basically never has to run and there is much less aerobic exertion than even a lineman in football. A body geared for maximum power is going to be much heavier than one built for other activities (i.e. weightlifters are heavier than lineman are heavier than safetys are heavier than shortstops). He has a pretty unusual build for a pitcher and I’m not sure it’s possible as an outsider to say that it’s not ideal for him.

    • Guest

      Sorry. I think I don’t quite understand what you are getting at here.

      Are you trying to say that every 6’7″ person has the same body-type and therefore all good athletes at that height should weigh the same thing? If so, then I disagree.

      Pineda is not just 6’7″, he’s also a BIG BOY. Broad shoulders, thick legs, the whole thing. Maybe most of that is muscle with a bit of fat layered over it. Maybe his ideal weight is 270, maybe it’s 260, maybe its 250. I think body-types are different enough that you can’t say one size fits all.

      Classic example, Lebron might be listed as 6’7″ 250; but many NBA insiders say he’s more like 6’8″ 275. The dude has 5% bodyfat, which is like sprinter level jacked. He’s just got broad shoulders and a huge frame. Kevin Durant is 6’9″ and probably 255 soaking wet. They are both sick athletes in ridiculous shape, just with different body types.

      All of this is to say that we can’t determine Pineda’s ideal weight just based on his height.

    • Bo Knows

      Completely different sports, a 250 lb Basketball player is going to have a completely different body type from a 250 lb football player, and they both will have a different body from a baseball player.

      That also fails to take into account the individual body types.

      For example, I’m 6’0 ft 193 lbs, and very active my body type is very top heavy, meaning I have naturally broad shoulders I have a cousin who is 6’0 ft 190 lbs his body type is much more slender than mine. The point I’m making is that weight is carried in different ways by different people

  • STONE COLD Austin Romine

    “Would the writers have been this lavish in their praise if Montero were still with the Yankees?”

    Of course not. The narrative would have evolved or de-evolved into something else.

  • Holy Ghost

    Athletes at Pineda and Hughes’ ages gain and lose weight pretty easily. I’d be more concerned about weight gain for veteran players in their 30s. It’s much more difficult to shed pounds once you reach your thirties…

  • leftylarry

    We saw what an extra 10-15 pounds looked like on Hughes last year.

  • GardnergoesYardner

    I think that each player knows their own body best, and thus should be allowed to make the desicions that are best for them. Having a set weight for each player is just stupid. Sure, it matters for health issues, but if CC’s pitching near 300 pounds and he’s pitching well, who are the Yankees to demand that he lose a substantial amount of weight? If it affects performance, sure, but so far it hasn’t. Pineda seems to know what works best for him, and any reports attacking his weight are unbased. They shouldn’t be attacking his motivation, which by attacking his body weight, they are.

    In Shaquille O’Neal’s autobiography, he talks about how Pat Riley made every player get to a certain body fat percentage and how hard that was for him to get to 13% body fat. That was a reason he became disenchanted with Riley. If the team is hard nosed about weight, they will undoubtably have players becoming angry. Best to just carefully advise each player until it becomes an issue, which for Pineda it shouldn’t be.

  • Fernando

    All 270 pound people are not the same. It depends on how much of that weight is fat and how much is muscle. That said, you can be fat and still have success in MLB. CC Sabathia, John Kruk, Lamar Hoyt, Pudge Rodriguez, Kirby Puckett, etc. I can just as easily think of guys that were in great shape yet were not great ballplayers — how about Ruben Rivera, Wily Mo Pena,and Gabe Kapler? Kapler was in tremendous shape, yet he wasn’t very good.

    Do you really think that the Red Sox lost last year because Beckett and Lester were drinking beer and eating chicken? No, but that’s what the writers are going to focus on. The fact was that they had a lot of injuries and they lost the the players that were in the game, not the ones that were in the clubhouse/not playing.

    • Fin

      Yes, but as long as the media keeps badgering Beckett with beer and chicken questions, I’m a happy man.

  • forensic

    According to fangraphs, CC has thrown his change up over 12.5% of the time every year since his rookie year and it’s been an above average pitch for him that whole time. It doesn’t appear it took him years and years before successfully using it.

    • Bo Knows

      there is a difference between throwing a pitch and being comfortable with a pitch (which CC himself has said took him a while to be comfortable with)

  • leftylarry

    “””””Do you really think that the Red Sox lost last year because Beckett and Lester were drinking beer and eating chicken?””””

    Absolutely.

  • O Coelho

    Bottom line: I’d rather have Montero’s bat than Pineda’s size. This guy showed up fat and out of shape WHEN THEY ARE HANDING HIM THE NUMBER TWO SLOT IN THE NY YANKEES STARTING ROTATION!!! Prediction: this will be the BIGGEST bust of Brian Cashman’s looooonnng list of inept pitcher acquisitions. And Montero will quickly become the second coming of Edgar Martinez for Seattle.

    Bad move by the worst GM this side of Omar Minaya.

    And finally: this blog seems to be a blind, Pravda-like apologist for the Yankees front office. Where’s the journalistic integrity, boys?

    • Troll Killer

      You awful troll.