Pirates' Kaiser hops right back into action
For Connor Kaiser, the best part about coming off the Injured List was reuniting with his teammates. So he celebrated his return by nearly driving in every one of them while finishing a single shy of the cycle. The Pittsburgh infield prospect collected four hits -- a homer, a triple and
The Pittsburgh infield prospect collected four hits -- a homer, a triple and two doubles -- while plating a career-high five runs as Class A Greensboro outlasted Lakewood, 11-10, on Thursday at First Bank National Field.
"I was just excited to see my teammates again," Kaiser said. "That was the main thing, just kind of focusing on my teammates. It was fun playing with them again. ... It was definitely fun to get back up out there."
The 22-year-old was shelved on April 30 when an oblique injury nagged him to the point the Pirates decided to give him rest and treatment.
Hitting sixth in the Grasshoppers' order and playing shortstop, Kaiser pulled the first pitch he saw in a month down the left-field line for a double against Phillies No. 30 prospect
Gameday box score
"Honestly, I just tried to center myself, be on time for the fastball and try not to do too much to it," Kaiser said. "I feel like I got myself in some good counts. I wanted to be aggressive. I didn't want to put myself in a passive mind-set. I just wanted to come out, play loose, play aggressive and happened to put some good swings on the ball."
In the fifth, the Vanderbilt product worked a full count against right-hander
If one of the doubles had been a mere single, Kaiser would have completed the first cycle of his professional career. But that's not what was on the mind of the native of Shawnee Mission, Kansas.
"Some of the guys were messing with me," he said with a laugh. "Obviously, you're not playing the game for individual recognition. So no, if I would have gotten the cycle, it would have been great. I'm just glad we won tonight. It was just great seeing everyone."
The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder stayed with the Grasshoppers for a couple of weeks as the oblique healed and he was limited to minimal baseball activity. Then the Pirates sent him to extended spring training in Florida, so he could participate in games before heading back to Greensboro on Wednesday.
In Florida, Kaiser absorbed the extra coaching to simplify parts of his swing and make his path to the ball more direct. He also emphasized machine work, which he says helped his timing.
"Obviously, it's not live pitching," he said. "As far as timing purposes, I think it's the best way to get ready. We did a lot of that. Sliders, heaters, you got to make adjustments to put the barrel on the ball."
During his junior season at Vanderbilt, Kaiser batted .293/.389/.446 with 12 stolen bases and a .988 fielding percentage. That followed a strong summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League, where he hit .300 and collected nine doubles, one triple and two homers through 37 games. That led to the Pirates to selecting him in the third round of last June's Draft between regionals and super regionals in the College World Series.
"The young man is strong on and off the field; aptitude and attitude," Pirates senior director of amateur scouting Joe DelliCarri told reporters when the organization drafted him.
Kaiser reported to Class A Short Season West Virginia for his first professional assignment and batted .212 with a .563 OPS in 31 games for the Black Bears. In mid-August, Pittsburgh promoted him to Class A West Virginia, where he posted a .303/.338/.381 slash line with a homer and eight RBIs in 16 games (63 at-bats).
Chalk up the disparity, despite the elevation in competition, to a batch of small sample sizes. Or as Kaiser put it:
"Sometimes you kind of go through spurts," he said. "It's just one of those things."
If pro ball has taught Kaiser anything, it's that consistency is vital. Not only in performance, but by taking the field every day, which is important for someone who started 59 games for Vanderbilt during his final collegiate season.
"I think that's the big thing," he said. "Being healthy, being on the field, is often overlooked, but it's very critical, especially when you're traveling, you're playing every day. Just kind of taking care of your body. That's been a big focus of mine.
"I'm confident I'm going to be able to perform. The other thing is just enjoying teammates and coaches along the way. I think everything else will take care of itself."
Fourth-ranked Phillies prospect
Pirates No. 29 prospect
Chris Bumbaca is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @BOOMbaca.