Pinder Makes Mark As Potential First Rounder
Virginia Tech junior third baseman Chad Pinder has become accustomed to flying under the radar.
He did it in high school, when he wasn't a highly scouted prospect and graduated without being drafted. And he has continued to do so as a key contributor to a Hokies program that doesn't traditionally churn out premium draft talent. In fact, Virginia Tech has the fewest draft picks in the Atlantic Coast Conference over the past 10 years (20, tied with Duke).
Pinder played in the Cape Cod League last summer, but left at the end of July when he needed minor surgery for a sports hernia. He may finally be stepping into the spotlight this spring, however. He was off to a hot start, batting .398/.505/.530 with five doubles and two home runs over the team's first 22 games, and could wind up playing his way into the first round of the draft in June.
The 2013 draft class is thin on college position players, and Pinder has a chance to become the first Virginia Tech position player taken in the first round since the Dodgers drafted first baseman Franklin Stubbs in 1982. He has a little bit of everything scouts like to see.
"I love Chad Pinder," an American League scout said. "He's gotten better every year, he's gotten a little bigger each year, a little stronger each year, a little more power each year, a little better at third base each year . . . He's going to be an everyday third baseman in the big leagues."
Pinder came to Virginia Tech after helping Poquoson High to Virginia 2-A state championships in 2009 and 2010. As a senior, the Islanders went 28-1 and finished the year ranked No. 34 in Baseball America's High School Top 50. Chad's younger brother Chase is a junior shortstop for the team now and has already committed to Clemson.
Chad played travel ball in high school for the Canes program, but he wasn't a priority player for scouts.
"I had a lot to learn and a lot to grow on, physically, mentally and just with the game of baseball," Pinder said. "I did have some looks, but it wasn't too serious. Everyone pretty much knew I needed to go to college and grow."
Pinder came to college at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds and has since bulked up to 192 pounds.
"He was a projection guy all the way and was just really physically immature, that's what was holding him back," Virginia Tech head coach Pete Hughes said. "When he got a little muscle on him and his body started to mature and started to grow—and you have a good skill set, and above everything else, you have a phenomenal work ethic, which he does—you can make jumps. That's exactly what he did, and I can really see him making two or three more big jumps in his life, just with where he's at physically and what his work ethic will allow for him to really grow into. The future's really good for him."
Pinder started in about half of Virginia Tech's games as a freshman and made the move from shortstop, where he played in high school, to right field. He hit .317/.368/.510 with three doubles, four triples and three home runs in 104 at-bats. He moved to third base as a sophomore, played in 53 of the team's 55 games and hit .325/.380/.538 with 22 doubles, one triple and seven home runs.
"He came in as a guy who was a good player with a lot of upside, and he's gotten better every step of the way," Hughes said. "He came in and swung the bat and competed as a freshman, and then made a huge jump from the end of the spring in his freshman year to the fall of his sophomore year, defensively and as a complete player and kind of put it all together."
The most impressive thing about Pinder's sophomore season was that he did it while playing through a sports hernia.
"I got the hernia in February and I played on it all season," Pinder said. "They gave me the option to get surgery on it (after the season), or go play in the Cape and I was like, 'Well, I've dreamed about this since I was a kid and I would love to go play in the Cape.' "
Pinder headed to Chatham and hit .278 with four home runs over 79 at-bats, but left midway through the season as the pain became too much to bear.
"At school I had time to rest on the days between the games," Pinder said. "Up in Chatham, I didn't have much time, playing every day. It just wore on me and started to bother me more and more . . . It was just so nagging. During the season, it would have its moments, and it was just kind of a recurring shooting pain into my groin, and once I got to Chatham, it started to hurt me during just daily things, it started to really bother me."
Pinder had surgery July 31, and his time in the Cape still left a favorable impression on those who saw him. He ranked as the No. 13 prospect in the league in Baseball America's prospect list and earned comparisons to Evan Longoria from Chatham manager John Schiffner.
"Obviously that's an honor," Pinder said. "I think, personally, I have a long ways to go. You have to take that with a grain of salt. The guy's an unbelievable player and I'm definitely honored that he put my name in the same sentence as him, but I'll just take it and keep working."
All The Ingredients
Pinder has tools to go along with his impressive track record. He has a simple, balanced approach at the plate and already shows the ability to drive the ball the other way with ease, something he takes pride in doing. Pinder has a handsy, wristy swing and the ball jumps off his bat to all fields. He puts together quality at-bats and profiles as an above-average hitter with at least average power. Through the team's first 16 games, he struck out twice.
"The most impressive thing about his year this year is handling all the noise that comes with Baseball America and 30-40 scouts watching you all the time, and just handling the hype," Hughes said. "If you look at his strikeout numbers last year to where he is this year, that's unbelievable. That takes a lot of growth, maturity and changing your approach. It's not like he's changed his bat speed or his hand-eye (coordination), and to do that and make that jump in that area with all the attention you're getting, that tells you the kind of kid he is."
Pinder has a lean, athletic frame and quick reactions at third base to go along with soft hands and a strong arm. He is a solid-average runner with good baserunning instincts.
He also plays hard, has an excellent work ethic and is a leader on the team. He does well in the classroom and is set to earn Virginia Tech's community service award for putting in the most community service hours on the team, spearheading a Special Olympics bowling event.
As if that wasn't enough, Pinder also has good bloodlines. His father Chris was a 15th-round pick by the Orioles in 1987 out of Virginia Commonwealth and spent four years in the minor leagues. Even though his time in the minors came before Chad was born, it has helped Chad to have someone to lean on, growing up.
"It's had a huge impact on me," Pinder said. "Just having a father who knows the game is a blessing in itself. A lot of people aren't blessed with that. Just knowing the game from an early age. It's played a huge role in my career . . . mainly on the mental side of the game. Having my dad there and even having someone like Coach Hughes, it's very special to have those guys in your life that have been there, that know the game and know the ups and downs of it and that'll be there for you."