Blogs > Minor Matters

Run by The Trentonian's Nick Peruffo, this blog will provide daily multimedia coverage of the Trenton Thunder.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pirela heating up with the weather

TRENTON — As is often the case with Latino players experiencing the cold reality of early spring in the Northeast, Jose Pirela had a devil of a time in his first month as the Thunder’s shortstop.

His offensive production over 19 games in April amounted to just a dozen singles and six walks. It took him until April 29 to drive in a run, and he didn’t collect his first extra-base hit (a triple) until May 4 against Portland.

When the weather warmed up in May, however, Pirela’s play did not. His numbers at the plate continued to hover around the Mendoza line, and his fielding was no better. He managed to clank 13 balls over the first two months, including six over the season’s first week.

This month, though, something seems to have clicked for Pirela, who has spent the last three weeks tearing the cover off the ball. Since June 1, the 21-year-old is hitting a sparkling .329/.368/.543 with seven doubles, a triple, three longballs and 13 RBIs.

“He’s doing a great job,” Yankees roving hitting instructor James Rowson said. “He started off the season a little tough and battled through it, and here, as of late, he’s really starting to see the rewards from hard work.”

Pirela freely admits that the frigid April temperatures affected his game. As a young man plucked from the balmy climates of Venezuela, and just a year removed from a season in Tampa, it’s safe to say there was very little the Yankees could do to prepare him for a league that frequently sees snow in the first month of its season.

“This is my first time starting the year in the cold weather,” he said with the help of Dellin Betances, who acted as interpreter. “I try to not use that as an excuse, and I’m just trying to use that to get better and better during the season.”

The hard work Rowson referenced is evident at around 2 p.m. before every game, when he and second baseman Corban Joseph practice their footwork around the bag and double-play exchanges. The two have been a keystone combination since 2009, when both were members of the Charleston RiverDogs, the Yankees’ South Atlantic League affiliate.

That early work has helped Joseph and Pirela combine on 31 of Trenton’s 130 double plays, and Joseph says that he’s become a better defender because of the hours he’s put in with his up-the-middle partner.

“The Yankees really stress about having that common ground and being able to know pretty much what each of us are thinking,” Joseph said. “Just being around him working and seeing how he turns double plays, getting used to his pivots, his throws, where he likes the ball, I think that’s a big factor. … When he plays the game hard, it’s a virus. It travels around and everyone wants to play as hard as he does.”

It was Joseph’s injured wrist late last year that opened a spot for Pirela in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit just .180 with a homer and five RBIs with the Phoenix Desert Dogs. The point of the trip, however, was to get a few more games under his belt before thrusting him into the upper levels. That the league houses some of the sport’s top young talent also didn’t hurt.

“It was a great experience, and it’s definitely something that I think is going to help me through my career,” he said. “Some of those guys have big league time, and most of them are top prospects, so I felt like it definitely helped me a lot in both part of my game.”

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