Name: Chad Pinder
Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 195
How Acquired: Selected in the compensation round B of the 2013 MLB Draft
Chad Pinder had a solid 2014 season with the High-A Stockton Ports, but it was his 2015 season with the Double-A Midland RockHounds that firmly planted him among the top prospects in the Oakland A’s system. Going into 2016, Pinder has an opportunity to make a breakthrough to the major leagues.
Pinder has been asked to make a lot of changes since coming to the A’s with their third overall pick in 2013. A shortstop and third baseman in college at Virginia Tech, Pinder moved to second base in 2014 so that he could play in the same infield everyday with fellow prospects Daniel Robertson (SS), Renato Nunez (3B) and Ryon Healy (3B/1B). Just as Pinder got comfortable at second, the A’s moved him back to short in 2015 after they traded Robertson to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Chad Pinder stats
Changes in the field weren’t the only ones Pinder has made since turning pro. The A’s also worked with him on changing his swing mechanics during his first fall Instructs. That carried over into 2014. In between the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Pinder worked on being more selective at the plate. Through all of these changes in the field and at the plate, Pinder has improved in all aspects of his game every season.
In 2015, Pinder earned the Texas League’s Most Outstanding Player award thanks to a .317/.361/.486 line with 15 homers in 117 games for the Midland RockHounds. Pinder was consistently good, starting the year with an 866 OPS in April and hitting better than .290 in every month but one. Pinder’s walk rate fell as the season went on, but he improved his ability to lay off tough pitches and wait for ones he could handle. He also improved his contact rate from 2014 to 2015 by 3.1%.
Pinder followed that up with a solid stint in the Arizona Fall League when he posted an 865 OPS. He hit only .235, but he had seven extra-base hits in 51 at-bats, including four homeruns. After the season, he was named the A’s minor league Player of the Year and earned the same award from OaklandClubhouse.
Midland hitting coach Eric Martins said that Pinder’s consistency at the plate was a product of his work ethic and preparation.
“Chad is a smart kid. He is really a student of the game. His dad played. He really worked at things,” Martins said. “He was breaking down video and we would go over scouting reports and he was putting in his work. We kept a pretty good routine this season. That’s one that might have helped him was that he had a routine. He stuck with it, studied the pitchers, watched video.
“At the beginning of the year, we kind of talked about his offensive approach and what we wanted to work on this year. For him, he is a high strike-out guy. I talked to him about why there were so many strike-outs. We didn’t want to take away his aggressiveness but it was about having a better approach, understanding what pitchers were going to try to do to get him out at the plate. Chad’s not a free swinger. He had an idea of what he wanted to do at-bat to at-bat. He really stuck to that and did a great job.”
Pinder made 26 errors at short in 2015, but the general consensus within the A’s organization was that he did better than they expected he would at short. Arm strength has never been a question for Pinder. Footwork was an issue for Pinder at the start of the year as he re-learned turning the double-play from the left-side of the bag, but that improved as the season went on. The biggest issue has been whether he has a quick enough first step to cover enough ground to be an everyday shortstop. The A’s were pleased with what they saw from Pinder in terms of range, while scouts from other organizations remain somewhat skeptical that he will stay there long-term.
Video of Chad Pinder from the Arizona Fall League (video by Kimberly Contreras)
Martins – who also served as the RockHounds’ infield coach – saw Pinder improve significantly throughout the year.
“To play that position, if you haven’t played it in awhile, the game speeds up a little bit with guys who can run a little more than they can in the college ranks,” Martins said. “He did a good job. Fundamentally, Chad has good hands. He has a plus arm. It’s just working on some different reads, footwork and angles with him. It’s something that he had to really work on the first month of the season. There would be times when he would be asking for the extra work, which was awesome. One thing that we were worried about was that it was going to take away from his offensive production to have to worry about playing shortstop, but he obviously proved us all wrong with that.”
A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman believes that Pinder’s time at second base in 2014 made him a better shortstop in 2015.
“I think that his progression has been pretty much above what we expected,” Lieppman said. “He made the routine plays and the exceptional plays in the hole. His arm is there, quick actions. He’s in that phase now where he has done it enough that he doesn’t have to rush and he understands how the double-play works. What makes it better is that he understands [the double-play turn] from both locations.
“Having that much experience at both positions and having an idea of how the play works from both positions certainly has allowed him to learn how to take the throw from the bag side of the double-play and use the throw to protect himself from the runner. He’s learned to go through the bag, turn right on the bag, jump off the bag. All of those things have come into play and he understands now how to execute them. Now it’s more a matter of getting the experience so he knows when to just go in and get the out when you don’t have a chance to turn two.”
Pinder’s versatility may be the key for him to break-through to the big leagues. The A’s have a lot of moving parts in their infield currently, so it isn’t clear whether the next opportunity for a minor leaguer to establish himself in Oakland will come at short, second or third. Although Pinder hasn’t played much third base since turning pro, he was a solid third baseman in college and some within the A’s organization believe Pinder profiles best as a third baseman.
As a hitter, Pinder improved his pitch selectivity last season, but he still needs to cut down on his swings-and-misses. He has above-average power for a middle infielder and has shown the ability to hit for average. Pinder uses the whole field well, although – like most hitters – he gets most of his power to his pull side. He has average foot speed but has never been much of a factor on the bases.
A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens sees Pinder profiling similarly to Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, at least offensively.
“We have always had – from a comparison standpoint – J.J. Hardy aspirations [for Pinder] given that he is a long, lean right-handed hitter who is able to play good defense on the left side of the infield,” Owens said. “This year, Chad took a major step forward with his defense, showing off his plus arm strength and his good hands, which are going to make him able to play shortstop or third base at the top level. From a hitting standpoint, he is continuing to tighten that strike-zone. He hit for damage and he hit the baseball to all fields. He also showed a strong approach for the whole season.”
One area Pinder also improved on in 2015 was his ability to stay on the field. Injuries limited Pinder both during his pro debut in Vermont and in 2014, when he played in only 93 games. Pinder still missed about two weeks midway through the season, but he was able to manage that injury and limit the length of his absence. Pinder played through a variety of nagging injuries down-the-stretch, as well. He missed the Texas League Championship Series with a leg injury he suffered making an outstanding catch in the game that clinched the semi-final series, but he was able to return to the Arizona Fall League a few weeks later.
“He grinded it out. That Texas League isn’t an easy league to stay strong in. There are a lot of physical demands. The travel, the weather conditions,” Lieppman said. “To grind through that in the summer there, he did a very good job. He was able to handle all of the situations. He had a little leg thing towards the end of the year that he handled. You are going to get fluky things from time-to-time, but luckily it wasn’t anything that lasted for any duration.”
Pinder is a non-roster invitee to big league camp for the first time this spring. He is slated to start the year with Triple-A Nashville. Pinder should see the majority of his playing time at shortstop, but he could move around the infield some to keep his skills at the other positions fresh. He will need to be added to the A’s 40-man roster this off-season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make his major-league debut at some point this summer.