Beginning at the end of 2012, Major and Minor League players began making their way to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., to get in some work before spring training. This year’s group is headlined by three of the biggest threats in the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup: Andrew McCutchen (OF), Pedro Alvarez (3B), and Neil Walker (2B).
McCutchen returns to IMG Academy after participating in last year’s Pre-Spring Training program and is coming off a career year in 2012. The NL All-Star earned his first Rawlings Gold Glove award for his elite defensive performance, recording a .997 fielding percentage, and had the best offensive production of his career, maintaining a .327 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, .553 slugging percentage, 194 hits, 96 RBI and 31 home runs – all career highs for the four-year Major Leaguer.
Alvarez is also coming off the best season of his three-year career. Alvarez set new career-bests with 30 home runs, 85 RBI, 25 doubles, 128 hits, and 64 runs, while batting sixth in the Pirates starting lineup. Notably, Alvarez’s bat came alive in August, where he hit .322 with five home runs to extend the Pirates postseason hopes into the month of September.
Walker, meanwhile, posted a .280 batting average and .340 on-base percentage in 2012, in addition to recording 69 RBI and 14 home runs.
McCutchen, Alvarez, and Walker join a group of trainees that includes: Welington Castillo (Chicago Cubs, C); Tyler Pastornicky (Atlanta Braves, SS); Granden Goetzman (Tampa Bay Rays organization, OF); Matt Smoral (Toronto Blue Jays organization, LHP); Dubal Baez (Minnesota Twins organization, OF); Josh Bell (Pittsburgh Pirates organization, OF); Alfredo Escalera (Kansas City Royals organization, OF); Ryan Brenner (OF); Wendell Soto (Anaheim Angels organization, SS); and J.R. Murphy (New York Yankees organization, C). Pastornicky, Escalera, and Murphy are graduates of IMG Academy.
Led by Ken Bolek, Director of Baseball at IMG Academy, the MLB Pre-Spring Training program has been held each year since IMG Academy launched its baseball program more than a decade ago. Bolek has coached at every level of the game, and has created an atmosphere that provides professional training to youth athletes, while providing professional athletes with a place to call their off-season training home. Alumni of the MLB Pre-Spring Training Program have included the likes of 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton; 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto; 2009 All-Star and Gold Glove recipient Ryan Zimmerman; 2x All-Star pitcher Chris Perez; 9x All-Star Gary Sheffield; and many others.
“The Pre-Spring Training Program is a special time of the year for our baseball program, because we get to work one-on-one with established players, and players on the rise,” said Bolek. “This program helps both our high school players and the younger pros learn what it takes to succeed at the next level, while helping the guys that have made it to the Majors stay on top.”
Program participants partake in position-specific work, in addition to receiving training from IMG Academy’s world-renowned coaches and trainers in areas like speed and movement, physical and mental conditioning, vision training, nutrition, and more.