If 22-year-old righthander Travis MacGregor reaches the majors, he’s going to have a lot of former and current major league pitchers to thank.
The 2016 second-rounder out of high school in Tarpon Springs, Fla., showed a tall, lanky frame with a lot of moving parts that made it difficult to control his high-80s fastball. MacGregor had a big-breaking curveball that was spiked too often and wasn’t effective.
He was a project who didn’t yet have a standout portion of his game.
That changed when MacGregor worked with minor league pitching coach and former Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan in 2018. The two worked on overhauling his mechanics, and the result was a 3.25 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 63.2 innings in the low Class A South Atlantic League.
The strikeouts resulted from increased velocity on his fastball—he jumped from 91-93 mph with a high of 95—along with improved control and command.
But then MacGregor went down with Tommy John surgery at the end of that season. As of this offseason, he had finished his rehab and has been throwing since mid-December.
“I felt the control and the velocity was where it needed to be,” MacGregor said. “I’m excited to get to try to mix all of my pitches in during spring training this year.”
MacGregor was only throwing his fastball and changeup during instructional league. When he reports to minor league camp this year, he will continue working on a new slider that he developed in 2018 to replace his curveball.
“They definitely allowed me to think differently about how I’m presenting the slider in certain counts and certain situations,” MacGregor said.
Also working with the group was Nik Turley, who helped him work on his ability to spin the ball.
“He’s a guy who spins it really well,” MacGregor said of Turley. “He was able to help me get to a point where I’m spinning the ball faster than I normally would.”
MacGregor is still a project, but he’s not as raw as he once was.
Catcher is the weakest position in the Pirates’ farm system. The organization doesn’t currently have a minor leaguer who grades as a future starting catcher. Upper level guys like Christian Kelley, Arden Pabst, and Jason Delay profile as backups who could provide depth this year if things get ugly in the majors.
— Low Class A shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae has been playing in the Australian Baseball League this offseason, hitting .297/.416/.469 with two homers and six steals in 64 at-bats. Bae should move up to high Class A Bradenton in 2020.