Greenville Drive pitching coach Bob Kipper makes a point while working with the pitchers at Fluor Field (Tom Priddy Photo)
Pitching a baseball is a meticulous art form that can take years of practice and repetition to become good. It is a never-ending skill that must continuously be worked on if improvement and the opportunity to play at an elite level is the goal.
Bob Kipper, pitching coach of the Greenville Drive, an affiliate with the Boston Red Sox, speaks with experience. He was selected by the California Angels with the eighth pick in the first round of the 1982 Major League Baseball Draft. He pitched eight years in the Major Leagues with the Angels, Pittsburgh Pirates and Minnesota Twins. Kipper spoke with the Sports Journalism class on Tuesday.
With the 2020 Minor League baseball season cancelled due to COVID-19, Kipper said the Red Sox organization is looking forward getting back on the field with the young players.
Kipper explained how he and Red Sox coaches planned on working with young pitchers who have not thrown in a competitive game in almost a year and a half, and how pitchers’ health and workloads would be managed this season. “We have a couple pitching coordinators that are responsible for putting together a throwing progression,” Kipper said.
“We were starting to play intrasquad games last March when everything came to a screeching halt and guys went home.,” said Kipper “We came out with a throwing calendar with the idea there could be a season starting in May, but as it became obvious that this was not going to happen, guys continued to throw because now there was a prospect of a Fall Instruction League, which eventually did happen. It is tough because you can throw all the sides or bullpens you want and simulate ups and downs and all that is good, but it doesn’t replace competition,” said Kipper.
Kipper emphasized practice doesn’t replace competition. All the long toss and bullpens you can possibly throw cannot completely compensate for real, live competition, said Kipper. Competing in live games provides an adrenaline rush and sense of urgency that is nearly impossible to create in any other environment.
With most Drive players being unable to compete for more than a year, it is going to take time for the young arms to get acclimated throwing on a daily or weekly basis.
Kipper said this year’s minor league schedule may be helpful, “playing a six-game series, which is unheard of, Tuesday through Sunday,” Kipper said. “So you will play only that one club for six consecutive games. That is designed to mitigate travel and there is a mandatory off day on Mondays.”
Travel is being mitigated for COVID purposes and it may also benefit players as they will have to spend less time on bus trips and traveling. Players also have the ability to get more rest between games during longer stays in each city. The Drive will also be traveling in two buses, instead of one, for social distancing.
The 2021 minor league season is going to look differently than any season in the past, just like most other sporting events and most people’s lives at this point during the pandemic.
Kipper said he and thousands of minor league players are excited that they are going to be back on a baseball field beginning in April and doing what they love – preparing for the minor league season to begin May 4.
Alex Garbrick is a pitcher with USC Upstate. He graduated Morehead State last year and is pursuing a master’s in business analytics. He was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft.