Figueroa takes calculated approach in hopes of making Pirates roster
March 7, 2016 12:00 AM
Pittsburgh Pirates Cole Figueroa bats against the Twins at McKechnie Field on Friday in Bradenton, Fla.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. — Cole Figueroa has been a numbers guy for as long as he can remember. If baseball hadn’t gotten in the way, he would’ve studied engineering rather than sports business at the University of Florida. He enjoys writing code with R and Python, computer programming languages.
Seems like someone who might know every digit of pi, right?
“Well, haven’t tried this in a while,” Figueroa said Sunday, then tried anyway. “It goes something like this … 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510.
“That’s the first 50.”
Figueroa, 28, signed with the Pirates in December as a minor league free agent. He has been running the math this spring and figures his best chance to break camp with the big league club is to bounce around the diamond. At this stage, he said, defensive versatility means more at-bats.
An infielder by trade, Figueroa played outfield just twice in the minors. This month, he already has played nine innings in left field, and five apiece at shortstop and third base.
“Just trying to find out where we can go with him,” manager Clint Hurdle said over the weekend. “We profiled him as a super-utility guy. … We’ve got to get him out there and take looks.”
Figueroa has a proud baseball heritage. His father, Bien (short for Bienvenido), played briefly for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1992. His godfather, Luis Alicea, spent 13 years in the majors. Figueroa and his identical twin brother, J.C., were a double-play duo through high school in Tallahassee, Fla.
“Short-and-second twins,” Figueroa said with a smile. “Exactly what you’d expect.”
The brothers were drafted in 2006, but did not sign and parted ways for college. J.C. played at St. Petersburg College and University of Tampa and was selected in the 41st round in 2008 — he now runs a hitting academy in Tallahassee.
Figueroa, the older twin, was a sixth-round pick by the San Diego Padres in 2008. He spent six years in the Padres and Tampa Bay Rays minor league systems before debuting for the Rays May 16, 2014 — 22 years minus a day after his father’s major-league debut.
Figueroa signed a minor league deal with the New York Yankees last year and batted .292 with a .355 on-base percentage at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He said he had multiple offers this offseason but ultimately saw the Pirates as the best fit.
“When you go through that process, it’s all about sincerity,” he said. “You go where your gut tells you after you look at the rosters and the opportunities there. Pittsburgh is a smaller-market club. I knew they weren’t going to go out and sign a bunch of big-name free agents, so I knew there’d be more of an opportunity. Do your homework, and if it works out, great. If it doesn’t, do well in the minors and try to put yourself into the lineup.”
With few spots open, Figueroa still has an outside chance at making the 25-man roster. The way he sees it, being an above-average defender at a half-dozen positions could go a long way.
“I’m 28 — that’s the prime of a career,” he said. “Whatever gets me out there and playing. You want to help the team, not hurt it. If I’m out there and I can contribute in the outfield and the infield, that’s where I need to be. That’s fine with me.”
And if Figueroa ends up starting the season in the minors, he might spend the long bus rides catching up on reading. He likes the physics, geometry and analytics of baseball. He bought a book recently called ‘Analyzing Baseball Data with R.’ Or he might just memorize the next 50 digits.
“It’s almost Pi Day, by the way,” he said, referring to March 14. “Caught me a couple days early.”
Score: Astros 11, Pirates 8
Records: Astros (3-1), Pirates (2-3-1)
Starter: Juan Nicasio: 2 IP, H, 2K
Hitter: Max Moroff: 2 for 2
Of note: Before the Astros offense caught fire Sunday, Nicasio had its number. The only hit he gave up was a chopper to third base that Moroff couldn’t quite handle.
“Feeling good,” Nicasio said afterward.
The Pirates are stretching Nicasio out this spring, so he will be an option to either start games or enter in long relief. He said he’d be happy to work out of the rotation or the bullpen.
“He’s in the mix as a starting option — a depth starter — or we can work him back into the bullpen,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We haven’t made that decision yet.”
News of the day
Left-handed reliever Cory Luebke (hamstring) threw a bullpen session Sunday in front of pitching coach Ray Searage and is ready to face live hitters. Luebke said he is pitching with “no reservations.” He’ll throw two simulated games this week. … Andrew McCutchen’s fifth-inning single was his first hit this spring.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com and on Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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