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Climbing the Ranks: Personnel Decisions in the Pirates System

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Pittsburgh Pirates, Dariel Lopez

This is the fourth in a series of stories giving fans an inside look at how the Pirates’ Dominican academy and international system operate.

With seven affiliate clubs across rookie ball, the Dominican Summer League and Minor League Baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates keep track of how hundreds of players progress in their climb to reach the major leagues. 

A tiny group of those players will become big league starters someday, so the pressure mounts for prospects to continue to advance as they rise through the ranks, each group becoming more exclusive.

Shawn Bowman, the Pirates’ Minor League Field Coordinator, served as a coach for one of the Pirates’ DSL teams. As such, he knows how to keep prospects focused with that pressure looming in the back of their minds.

“One of the overarching concepts that we attack focuses on the mental performance side,” Bowman said. “As a player, the last thing we want them worrying about is ‘oh shit, am I gonna be able to go to the states because I’m one of 20 that did really well?’”

Divide and Conquer

The Pirates divide up and delegate roles to address this. Management focuses on personnel decisions. Players focus on the game ahead of them. The Pirates take the hackneyed baseball mentality of putting up a zero in each inning on the mound and apply it across an entire career. 

“Your job is not to worry about who makes decisions on your career,” Bowman said. “You put yourself in the best situation possible and the way to do that is to understand what is important right now, in this moment, while [you] stand in the batters box or [you] have the ball and [you’re] about to deliver a pitch…then dominate everything within your power and in your control in that moment.”

Easier said than done: players react differently to high stakes scenarios, whether an overarching narrative like a career path or in the moment.

Bowman understands that, but he still wants to drill home the bird’s eye view.

“As a coach you get to change and see things from a different lens,” Bowman said.” “Perspective. At the end of the day our job as coaches is to give doses of perspective.”

Bowman stressed that that remains the same at every level of the sport. Major League Baseball features stars from around the world at various stages of their life. 

Meet in the Middle

Bowman said that taking a detached viewpoint provides a common ground for players to work toward, dumbing goals down to their basic attributes: making it across the water and winning a championship.

“If you look at the makeup of [the Pirates] right now, you have Andrew McCutchen and then you have Oneil Cruz,” Bowman said. “They’re obviously two different people from two different backgrounds at two different ages and stages of their life…the complex part of it is to meet every individual where they’re at.”

That’s where the personal touch the Pirates emphasize comes in, focusing on the people they’re developing instead of the prospects.

“The approach is simple, but it is very hard

and challenging to do because although you’re selling a message that is the same for everybody you have to then bring everybody along at their own individual pace,” Bowman said. “Understanding where players come from allows you to connect with them on a deeper level and understand the pathway they took to get to the moment that you have them in front of you.”

Ebb and Flow

Promotion isn’t always a happy story, though. With each player rising through the ranks comes a corresponding demotion or cut. Management makes the painful decisions. The players and coaches focus on the task at hand.

“At the end of the day, we’re trying to put as many players in the big leagues as possible,” Bowman said. “If players are good enough they are gonna come over, and maybe that comes at the expense of somebody that’s already here [in the states]…you’re trying to measure up what is the possible future for this player to contribute to the Pittsburgh Pirates, what is the highest ceiling.”

Part I of this series can be found here; Part II of this series can be found here; Part III of this series can be found here

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