Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Pirate Prognosis

Have a great holiday. And for those of you that can tear yourselves away from the grill and cooler for your daily Bucco jones, here's Will and Ron’s view of the state of the 2008 Bucs:

The Pirates will spend the last month of the year in audition mode. What’s your take for 2009 and beyond?

Ron: More lumps until 2010 at the best, more likely 2011. The offense will be adequate, we think, with Ryan Doumit, Nate McLouth, Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche and Andrew McCutchen, but the staff is still all middle-to-back enders. The only thing that could hasten the process is if Snell and Maholm become front-line pitchers. Brad Lincoln, Bryan Murphy, Quinton Miller and Nelson Pereira are seasons away, if they ever arrive.

And we still have to see the infield makeover; almost certainly Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, and Freddy Sanchez will last out no more than another season, if that. They’ll still work the waiver wires, too. So another wave of youth and freshly scrubbed faces will wash over PNC.

Will: I honestly think our pitching staff will be fine. By “fine” I mean, better than average in the short term, with the potential to be legitimately good by 2010-2011. If Brad Lincoln has made it to Pittsburgh by then, and if he is anywhere close to 100% physically, he has the potential to be the best collegiate pitcher to hit MLB since Mark Prior. Meanwhile, let’s assume that the Paul Maholm we saw this season is the real Paul Maholm and not merely a decent fourth starter who’s pitching way over his head. Add a similar performance next season to a rebound by Snell and/or Gorzellany, mix in the dependable Karstens for a whole year, sprinkle liberally with Ohlendorf and McCutchen, and all of a sudden…hmm, not bad!

Unfortunately, that leaves the offense.

Our offense stinks. Period. The team is made up of one-dimensional, station-to-station hitters with the lone exception of Nate McLouth. Andrew McCutchen might help to some extent, but he’s a rookie and also apparently doesn’t really know how to steal bases despite his raw footspeed (which is very good, but oh well). The jury is out on Andy LaRoche at third base; if he keeps stinking, it could re-open the door for faded prospect Neil Walker. Jack Wilson is what he is at shortstop---which is to say, a great glove and an okay-for-his-position bat, but also a guy who’s more valuable to a good team than to this one---and Freddy Sanchez at second doesn’t help you much if he’s not hitting for an exceptional batting average. That’s because, like almost every other current Pirate, he doesn’t hit for much power, and he doesn’t steal any bases.

Adam LaRoche at first base is…okay. There are better ballplayers at his position around MLB, and there are worse. The real issue with him is financial. Adam made some noise this past spring training about his next contract, and sounded a pretty hard line. Add that to his decent but definitely not overwhelming production, and it would seem that he’s a candidate to be dealt by the trade deadline in ’09 if not sooner. However, when you look at the rest of our roster, current or projected, and see almost no one with any power (let alone speed), it might actually be wise to overpay to keep him around. We’ll see.

Otherwise, Ryan Doumit is definitely the real deal and a real plus bat at catcher, but of course must still prove he’s past his tendency to get hurt all the time. I will say that if he’s healthy all year in ’09, our offense will look a lot better. Still substandard to be sure ,but a lot better. Brandon Moss looks pretty good at one corner spot and has shown more power than I thought he had. He’s not headed for Cooperstown, but he appears to be a solid bet going forward. McLouth is probably the best player the Pirates have at present, and his late season fade can be blamed on a persistent virus that knocked him out for more than a week and that probably affected him for a lot longer than that.

The 2009 starting outfield would figure to be Moss, McCutchen, and McLouth left to right, and that’s pretty good, especially defensively. But McCutchen’s rookie growing pains added to the rest of our offensive impotence means it will probably be 2010 before we see any real improvement in our run scoring. That in turn means another long season in ’09 despite our much better pitching and somewhat better team defense.

Were the suits right in trading the present for the future?

Will: Yes, they were. The return the Pirates received in the Bay and Nady/Marte trades was about as good as we could reasonably have expected. We got a wholesale infusion of not great, but definitely interesting pitching talent, along with two young position players (Moss and Andy LaRoche) who had nothing left to prove in the minors. All in all, there’s no question whatsoever that the Pirates are a better team and a better organization from top to bottom, than they were prior to the trades.

Unfortunately, Andy LaRoche has continued to struggle since arriving in Pittsburgh, and he has displayed the same problems with the stick that he showed in Los Angeles. To be fair, he’s coming off both a thumb injury and a bad back, but surely he’s got to show something soon. Unfortunately, too, the need to sacrifice Bay and Nady in order to acquire pitching only served to highlight the fact that even before the trades, the Pirates were not a balanced offensive team despite their ability to mash. The team must now address its offensive deficiencies going forward before it will be legitimately competitive.

Ron: Without a doubt. The team was in the same old rut, sometimes entertaining but never playoff competitive. The minors were a shamble from top to bottom. The team took a vicious short-term blow, but the organization needed a makeover if it was to ever shake its sad sack performance. It’s a slow process and will sorely try Pittsburgh fans that love baseball more than fireworks, bobbleheads, and concerts. It’ll show in attendance, but that’s a bullet they’ll have to bite. Hopefully, it’ll serve as a prod, too.

How would you rate John Russell and the field staff’s first campaign?

Ron: Coaching a team with so much turnover, so many injuries, and so little pitching would try the talents of John McGraw, much less a first-year skipper. And we like his quiet demeanor. The last thing this team needed was a drama queen at the helm.

He uses everyone, too - with the exception of Bryan Bullington - and that's a welcome change from the past when guys were buried on the bench.

There are things he does that make us tear our gray hairs out. The constant tinkering with the lineup, the lack of aggressiveness on the basepaths – not just stealing sacks, but going from first to third or second to home – lack of fundamental play in the field, and keeping late inning guys on the mound for 2 inning stints or more, burning out an already overworked bullpen, stick out.

We're also a little unsure of his communication with the team. Gorzo and Bautista seemed stunned at their demotion. They were deserved, but it doesn't seem like Russell presented that as an option to them. That may be his bad, or maybe just denial on the players part. Still, he looks like an old school guy that runs his web through the locker room vets rather than one-on-one.

But we’re more than willing to see what he can do with a stable roster. He’s spent the year trying to make lemonade out of lemons, and we’re not ready to throw stones. It will be interesting to see if Jeff Andrews gets another shot with the hurlers, though an upsurge in the pitching since the trades may have saved his tweakin’ ways for another day. Don Long seems to have gotten the hitters to buy into more disciplined at bats, and that’s long overdue. And we think Gary Varsho is a manager waiting to happen.

Will: My biggest beef with John Russell is that he looks for all the world like he is trying to manage the Boston Red Sox when he’s actually managing the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although his ultraconservative managing strategy might be somewhat dictated by the team’s current personnel, there’s still no way that Nate McLouth, for example, should have just 14 steals for the entire season as we head into September. Russell, in short, does not push the action despite having a team that is badly lacking in both speed and home run power. While he can’t do anything about our paucity of power and speed, he can still be far more aggressive and innovative at creating runs than he has been to this point. It is still possible (and with this team, it is mandatory) to take the action to the enemy far more aggressively than the Pirates have shown this season.

What are your thoughts on the Huntington era so far?

Will: I’m not concerned about losing the likes of Paulino, Castillo, and Bautista, and while it would have been nice to have Torres in our bullpen, by himself he wasn’t going to make the difference between winning and losing, and he had had a huge spat with ownership and management prior to Huntington taking over. Regardless of who was right in that dispute, it was time for him to move on. All in all I am convinced that losing the players above was mostly addition by subtraction.

The deadline deals showed beyond all doubt that Neil Huntington is a much tougher and more competent customer in trade negotiations than Dave Littlefield ever was. His first draft likewise netted a far better and much deeper class than any of Littlefield’s drafts did, regardless of how much (if at all) Littlefield was hamstrung by financial constraints. Huntington also made a number of smart, good-sense signings and trades before and during the season that brought in highly useful guys such as Doug Mientkiewicz, Tyler Yates and Jason Michaels, among others.

So far, so good overall, though of course the final act of this play has yet to be written. But the early reviews are definitely positive, overall.

Ron: We think they are trying to stay on track to beef up the system and keep the team somewhat capable on the field. The draft was one of the better ones, certainly in recent memory. Whether that has to do with scouting, the budget available to them, or a swing in philosophy will be seen in future rounds, but we liked bringing in some young talent, especially high school players, to counter a gray-bearded minor league system. And the veteran bench, though lacking pop, was a needed counter for a teamload of puppies.

But we still have a couple of questions that time will answer. We’re still not convinced their eye is any sharper at spotting talent – well, except for Dave Littlefield’s – than anyone else’s. It looks like they’re roping in everyone they can to see who sticks, although that may be more a reflection of the state of the farm than their abilities. We do expect more movement in the scouting ranks, too.

And every pitcher doesn’t need to be 6’6” with a 96 MPH fast ball. We don’t know if that’s become an institutional benchmark, or if they were just addressing a need. The old suits certainly went overboard in the other direction, so it may be a temporary adjustment to balance the pitching options.

We’re also a little concerned that they are a bit overeager to make their own name and are dumping guys – Solly Torres, Jose Castillo, Ronny Paulino, & Jose Bautista all come to mind – that were possibly useful pieces but identified with the old regime. Performance counts, but it looks like they intend to clean house.

Finally, what’s your take on the whole Pedro mess?

Ron: There are so many subplots, it’d be a bestseller in paperback. Ego, professional rivalry, corporate one-upping, late round teams highballing the pot, collusion charges… There are also underlying currents that we don’t think will ever come out, but from what we gather, Pedro agreed to the deal without Boras’ blessing, and in the aftermath, the agent talked him into believing that he left as much money on the table as he took home, and he’d be better off diving into next year’s draft, even without any leverage. We think Boras is overplaying his cards, but that will be seen soon enough.

Will: Boras is a cancer, and both he and Pedro are dysfunctional egomaniacs. I would be perfectly happy to see our front office tell both of them where to go. Let’s hope that Pedro enjoys the thrills and chills of playing indy-league ball, because that and a massive reduction in his signing bonus next year are what await him.

Sunday Stuff

Ten in a row. Wow.

The only suspense is whether Andy LaRoche's 45-foot dribbler, picked up and dropped by CC Sabathia, should be a hit or an error. Was it a no-hitter or one-hitter? That's what the Pirate season has come to in 2008.

> 3B Neil Walker was named the 2008 Indianapolis Indians MVP after hitting .245 with a team-high 16 homers, seven triples and 79 RBI through 130 games so far this season.

Walker, rated by Baseball America as the Pirates #2 prospect entering 2008, owns a .946 fielding percentage in 130 games in his first full season at third base. The converted catcher also ranks among the International League leaders in games played (5th, 130), triples (T-9th, 7) and RBI (T-9th, 79).

Other Tribe awards will go to Andrew McCutchen (Rookie of the Year), Steve Pearce (Slugger of the Year), Brian Bixler (Defensive Player of the Year), and Jesse Chavez (Henry Smock Relief Pitcher of the Year).

> Jim Negrych has been named to the Carolina League’s All-Star Team for his work at A Lynchburg, even though he's been at AA Altoona for a month. His current combined .359 batting average is third in Minor League Baseball, and he's still second in total hits in the Carolina League.

Negrych was selected in the 6th round of the 2006 Player Draft by the Pirates out of the University of Pittsburgh, where he was a First Team All-American second baseman. He's one of three players in Pitt history to accumulate 200 career hits.

> The Pirates will send RHPs Jimmy Barthmaier, Jared Hughes, Jeff Sues, and Mike Crotta to the Scottsdale Scorpions to play in the fall Arizona League. C Steve Lerud and 2B Shelby Ford will join them. The Pirates have yet to select an outfielder; AA and AAA players are eligible for the roster, along with one A player (Crotta).

> Add another ex-Pirate to the unemployment lines. The Phils released RHP Kris Benson, who was pitching in AAA Lehigh Valley rehabbing from right shoulder surgery. The 33-year old was 1-4 with a 5.52 ERA and 1.67 WHIP at LV. He also had tendinitis and a groin pull this year. Even Anna can't kiss away all those boo-boos.

Benson was 43-49 for Pittsburgh with a 4.26 ERA from 1999-2004, when he was traded to the Mets with Jeff Keppinger for Jose Bautista and Ty Wiggington. His overall MLB stats line is 68-73 with a 4.34 ERA. He never became the next big thing.

> The Phils picked up another old Bucco, Matt Stairs, for the stretch run. He was hitting .250 with 11 HRs and 44 RBI at Toronto. He was a fan favorite when played here in 2003, batting .292 with 20 homers and 57 RBI. Philly is his 11th MLB team.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Beat Goes On...

When you make Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan look like Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, you know you're in for a long series, especially with CC Sabathia on deck. And the Brew Crew took it to the Pirates again, pounding out an 11-3 win tonight.

Milwaukee smacked around almost every pitcher the Pirates put on the hill - Paul Maholm, Jesse Chavez, Matt Capps; only Tyler Yates escaped unscathed. The 5 through 8 hitters for the Brewers went 10-19, with 8 runs scored, 9 RBI, three doubles and two homers. Thank God they didn't have a DH!

The loss was the ninth in a row for the Pirates, who have dropped 13 of their past 15 games. The Brewers are now 10-1 against the Bucs this season.

Brandon Moss was the only bright spot in an otherwise dark evening. He went 2-3 with a walk, double and his seventh long ball, a two run shot in the sixth.

Let's hope that the September road trip to Cincy, San Fran, and Houston cures what ails the Bucs. The two best teams in the NL have proved their mettle.

In ex-Pirate news, Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors says he wouldn't be surprised to see the Yankees let Damaso Marte go and bolster their bullpen via free agency. Marte is 0-2 with a 7.15 ERA for the Bronx Bombers, his ERA doubling in the transition (it was 3.47 in Pittsburgh, where he was 4-0 with 5 saves).

Todd Redmond, the RHP Pittsburgh traded for Tyler Yates, is 13-5 with a 3.42 ERA for the Brave's AA Mississippi club. The 23-year old has 128 K's in 160-1/3 innings. He may or may not be a MLB arm, but Redmond sure would have looked nice in Altoona.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Back to Baseball

Well, Pedro and Boras gave us something to talk about during the off day. Today, Pittsburgh was back between the white lines. It was another dose of same ol', same ol', as the Bucs went down to the Brewers 3-1.

Gorzo gave up a single, walk, and Ryan Braun homer to start the game. He settled down after the first, giving up just two hits in the following six innings and retiring 21 of 24 batters. But the damage had been done.

The only Pirate response was a solo shot by Nate McLouth. Oh, they outhit the Brew Crew, 8-6, and got a couple of walks and errors to aid the cause, but stranded 11, 6 in scoring position. My kingdom for a two-out knock.

The Pirates are 7-19 for August, have lost eight in a row, and 12 of the last 14. September can't be worse...can it?

The Bucs plan to call up Ross Ohlendorf after Indy's season ends on Monday, and at least start with a six-man rotation, according to Jenifer Langosch of
"It works out pretty well I think," Russell said of employing a six-man rotation. "We still haven't solidified it, but we've put together a rough draft of how we want it to work. It might be six for two or three times around the rotation and then drop it down depending on where we're at."

After Monday's off-day, the Pirates will play on 20 consecutive days.

In minor league news, Bradenton lost its' one-and-out playoff game to the GCL Phillies, 7-4, yesterday.

3B Jarek Cunningham went 4-4 with a home run and 3 RBI to cap a terrific rookie year. The 18th-round, high school pick hit .318 with 5 homers and 22 RBI. 2B Adenson Chourio hit .335, third in the GCL, and was second in stolen bases, with 30.

LHPs Nelson Pereira and Tyler Cox finished 1-2 in the GCL ERA race at 1.62 and 1.79 respectively. Pereira was 6-2 with 46 K's in 50 innings, while Cox, a 35th round draft pick, was 2-3 with 42 strikeouts in 45 innings.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Morning After...

OK, we know everybody is about up to here with Pedro stuff, deadlines, hearings, options, yada, yada.

And if it's over $200K for a contract already drawn up for a guaranteed $6M, Scott Boras has way more ego than smarts -and he's a very smart man - and Pedro didn't get a very good education at Vanderbilt, to pass up a possible chance to get into free agency a year quicker than he now will and burn his goodwill.

We think something deeper is going on than just an arbitration over a contract for nothing more than bragging rights. And we will be the first to admit, except for the possibility of some unknown physical problem or Boras' first assault on the player draft as it now is, we have no idea what the ultimate game may be.

Now ego is a powerful motivator, for both Boras and Alvarez. The uber-agent has a rep to uphold, and nobody knows how many people have whispered in the kid's ear that he's the best ballplayer drafted and should have gotten the biggest slice of pie. It could be as simple as that.

But it seems to be a high-risk gamble if it's all about saving face. So we'll be watching very closely to see if it's a pure old-fashioned money grab or something more. Your thoughts?

(Here is's version Bucs, Boras Battle over Alvarez)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bad Day to be a Buc

Imagine GW's surprise when arriving home from PNC to find out not only had the Pirates lost the ballgame but Pedro, too. Let it rain...

First, the ballgame. Nicely pitched by Zach Duke and Jason Marquis. The game was decided in the seventh on two bunts and a well-placed double.

Reed Johnson led off with a bunt single to the left side of the diamond, right after Andy LaRoche had dropped back after playing him tight, we would guess on the bench's command. Mark DeRosa followed by doubling down the line.

With the infield in, Ronny Cedano hit a soft roller to third. LaRoche had an iffy play at plate, and took the sure out at first. We're not sure we agree that was the right choice given the circumstances, but c'est la vie. Then Henry Blanco popped up a safety squeeze, dropping it in a step beyond Duke and stopping fair by a ball's width.

Two manufactured runs, and that was the ballgame. You won't win many with five hits anyway, although early on the Pirates stranded a pair at third with two down. But Raul Chavez' lead-off single in the fifth would be the last hit for Pittsburgh.

We did see enough in person of Andy LaRoche to confirm that he's gonna be a project at third base, after seeing reports all over the board on his fielding. We're not too concerned about his bat. Once he relaxes, it'll come around.

But he doesn't seem to be very instinctive or reactive at the hot corner, he doesn't range far afield, and we were surprised he didn't trip over himself a couple of times with his watusi footwork. He does have a nice arm.

Correctable faults? To a degree, but we don't ever see him as becoming more than an average fielding third baseman at best. His lumber will have to carry him, and that's not at all uncommon on the corner.

The Pirates made a roster move before the game, adding RHP Jesse Chavez to both the 40-man (Phil Dumatrait was placed on the 60-day DL) and active rosters, and sending Craig Hansen to Indy for a few days. He pitched a scoreless ninth, featuring a Chavez-to-Chavez battery.

Now on to the big news, the Boras claim that Pedro's contract is invalid because it was filed after midnight. This may not have much to do with Pittsburgh, but with the draft system as it currently exists.

He's always felt the deadline worked to managements' advantage, and if his goal is to stretch it out or perhaps dismantle the whole thing, his groundwork will be laid out in arbitration, with an eye towards the next contract.

Then again, it could and probably does have everything to do with Boras telling prospective clients that he was going to get the biggest bonus of the draft for his guys. Gotta protect that SBC (Scott Boras Corporation) brand name.

Jenifer Langosch of wrote "According to one source familiar with the dissension, Boras is believed to be asking that the Pirates pay another $200,000 in addition to the agreed upon $6 million. Doing so would ensure that Alvarez joined Buster Posey as the highest paid player in the Draft."

The Player's Union is involved, too, and their participation will be on the contractual issue of the midnight deadlines and a wink-wink agreement to process late paperwork in violation of the Basic Agreement. It's not a strong case as we understand, but the MLBPA is the mechanism Boras chose to press his case.

We were always a bit concerned about the whole "e-mail the contract to the League unsigned" scenario legally. The Bucs never claimed that the entire contract was in by midnight, just that its basic agreed-upon structure was presented in a "timely manner." Now we'll find out what an arbitrator thinks of the process.

(Jonathan Mayo of has a good piece with the history and legalities of the situation at The Alvarez Saga)

A third very-out-there possibility is that there are other forces at work that we're unaware of. What if, for example, Alvarez is hurt in some fashion?

There's nothing to suggest this scenario except Alvarez' reluctance to show up Pittsburgh, but if he is damaged goods, Boras has gained him another month (August 15 - September 10, the earliest arbitration date) to recover and pass his minor league physical, the last step of approving his contract.

In any case, don't look for the Pirates, along with many other teams, to deal with Boras again without a gun held to their heads. If a deal's not a deal, what's the point?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cubs Roar

Ouch. The Pirates banged out 15 hits, drew five walks, and were the beneficiary of three Cubbie miscues - and still got spanked, 14-9. The Chicago gang countered with 14 hits and Bucco hurlers gave up 9 walks (5 scored).

Geovany Soto was a one-man wrecking crew, driving home seven runs. He has 19 RBI against Pittsburgh in 17 games.

Ian Snell, Craig Hansen and Sean Burnett combined for five innings and gave up eleven runs on nine hits and seven walks. Seven different Pirate pitchers saw action. Matt Capps was the only one that wasn't scored on, as he threw a clean ninth with two K's.

All in all, Pirate pitchers let the leadoff man reach base seven times, and five of them scored.

Playing Milwaukee and Chicago back-to-back is certainly a reality check. Here's looking at 2009.

On the minor league front: Indy lost 3-2. The Tribe managed just five hits, one being DH Ryan Mulhern's (.239) 12th homer. RHP Marino Salas (4-4, 3.67 ERA) gave up a leadoff long ball in the ninth to take the loss.

> Altoona went down 5-1. 2B Shelby Ford (.287) had three hits and CF Jose Tabata (.270) hit his fifth HR for the Curve.

> Lynchburg lost 7-3. RHP Brad Lincoln (1-5, 4.75 ERA) went 4-2/3 innings, giving up 6 hits, 2 earned runs, and striking out three. He got the loss. The Hillcats threw two balls away, leading to five unearned runs. C Chris Jones (.264) had two hits and a run scored.

> Hickory was off today.

> State College split a pair of 7-inning games, winning, 5-3 after losing 7-6. SS Chase d'Arnaud (.311) had three hits, including his first home run during the twinbill. DH Kyle Morgan (.239) drove in a pair with a double, and CF Ciro Rosero (.251) had three hits, walk, and scored three times.

DH Quincy Latimore (.253) hit his third HR, with an RBI and two runs scored. RF Butch Biela (.257) had a pair of RBI.

RHP Jorge Charry (1-0) went three innings for the win in the nightcap, giving up 4 hits and striking out a pair. He's a recent call-up from Bradenton.

> Bradenton won 6-5. The baby Bucs overcame three errors, worth three unearned runs.

C Jesus Aguilera (.292) went 3-4 with a run and RBI. 1B Alex Vegas (.281) had two hits and 2 RBI. 2B Adenson Churio (.335) and DH Freizer Pedron (.243) both had three hits, two runs, and a stolen base. For Churio, it was swipe #30.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bucs Blasted

It's pretty obvious why Chicago has the best record in the league, especially when they play the Bucs. The Cubs are 12-4 against Pittsburgh, and three of those losses were by a run. Throw in some horrid Pirate pitching, and you have formula for a blowout.

Jeff Karstens went 3 innings and gave up 5 runs, and Jason Davis lasted two more, also yielding a five-spot. The final was an ugly 12-3 thumping, to the appreciative cheers of the Cubbie faithful at PNC. That was as embarrassing as the score.

The only bright spot was the bat of Brandon Moss, who homered and doubled. He may finally be settling in to a starting routine, unlike Andy LaRoche, who had another 0-for night.

On the minor league front:
Indy lost in the tenth, 9-8. RHP Jesse Chavez (2-6, 3.80 ERA) gave up a lead off double, and after a bunt, walked the next two intentionally. The strategy was foiled when the next batter singled. RHP Jimmy Barthmaier (3.73) got roughed up at the start, giving up 5 runs in 4 innings.

3B Neil Walker (.241) had a pair of hits and his 16th HR, driving in 4 and scoring once. SS Brian Bixler (.285) went 2-4 with his 7th HR and a stolen base, his 20th, scored 3 runs, and had one RBI. SS Luis Cruz (.320) had two hits and a run.

> Altoona was off today.

> Lynchburg mustered one hit and went down 5-0 tonight. SS Brian Friday (.292) had the only knock, a double, and stole a base.

LF Jared Keel has been named the Carolina League’s Player of the Week for August 18-24. The Panama City, Florida-native’s week consisted of three multi-hit efforts and a trio of three-RBI contests.

The 2006 31st-round draftee from Troy U. hit .409 with four home runs and nine RBI during the week. Keel also had eight runs scored, while his OBP of .536 and slugging percentage of 1.045 combined for an astronomical 1.581 OPS.

Hitting only .208 after July, the 24-year old's season average has risen 21 points to .236 in August and his 19 home runs not only lead the Hillcats, but are tied for third in the league. He’s also tied for fifth in the league in RBI with 78.

Former Lynchburg OF Jamie Romak, now with Altoona, won the award in June, while LHP Brian Holliday won Pitcher of the Week in July.

> Hickory was rained out tonight.

> State College lost 8-7. RHP Yoffri Martinez (2-5, 4.58 ERA) dropped another one in relief, giving up 5 runs in two innings of work. He's taken the the last three losses for the Spikes. CF David Rubenstein (.217) doubled and had 3 RBI.

> Bradenton scored twice in the ninth, using two stolen bases to manufacture runs, and won 7-6. LHP Carlos Teller (4-0, 4.37 ERA) and RHP Gary Amato (0.00 ERA) worked the last three innings for the win and save, giving up two hits and striking out four.

Amato has worked 13 scoreless innings in 8 appearances with 19 K's for the baby Bucs since being sent down from State College, where he had a Matty Mo-like ERA of 8.86.

DH Jarek Cunningham (.322) went 3-4 with his fifth home run and a stolen base, 2 runs and 2 RBI. 1B Carlos Silva (.329) had two hits, including his fifth homer, a stolen base, two runs and two RBI. LF Edwin Roman (.221) hit his second home run, a solo shot.

Here's To You, Mr. Robinzon

The Player To Be Named Later in the Jose Bautista deal with Toronto was named today. He’s catcher Robinzon Diaz.

The 24-year-old RH backstop hit .285 with 11 doubles, four home runs and 26 RBI in 57 minor league games this season. He also appeared in one game with Toronto as the DH and went hitless in four at bats at Tampa Bay.

Diaz began 2008 with AAA Syracuse and has spent most of the season with the Chiefs, where he was hitting .244 with a HR and 13 RBI in 131 at-bats. He was on the DL with a right ankle sprain from May 3 through July 16.

He hit .386 while playing 15 games on rehab with the GCL Blue Jays from June 27 through July 16. He was then assigned to Class A Dunedin, batting .320 in six games while knocking off the rust before re-joining Syracuse on July 24.

In 640 career minor league games, Diaz has batted .304, with 135 doubles, 17 home runs and 327 RBI. The Jays were supposed to be fairly high on him. He was their 18th ranked prospect last season, and Toronto thought well enough of Diaz to carry him on their 40-man roster for the past couple of years.

Baseball Prospectus said of him before the season:
Diaz is a little bit of an anomaly: A catcher who hits like a middle infielder, with good contact-hitting ability, a very low strikeout rate, and above-average speed. His defense is quite good, and repeating the level can't be held against him because the organization gave priority to Curtis Thigpen. Still, the toll of the catching position is going to make it hard for him to keep legging out base hits, so there may not be much development in his bat.
Jordan Bastion of wrote about him in the spring:
Diaz, who was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2000, has yet to make it to the Majors, but (GM J.P.) Ricciardi said that fact might be a result of circumstances. As is the case for many players who come from Spanish-speaking countries, there are some hurdles that raw talent can't always overcome.

"He's a tough kid. He's physical," Ricciardi said. "But I think like most of the kids who come out of the Dominican, his catching up with the language and all that stuff has been really the only thing that's held him back. He's been around a long time now."

Over the past four seasons, the 24-year-old Diaz has been named to six Minor League All-Star teams, and he suited up for the World team in the Futures Game during All-Star week in San Francisco last year. In 2007, Diaz hit .320 with four home runs and 40 RBIs in 93 games between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Syracuse.

Besides catching, Diaz has some limited experience at second and third base. Ricciardi said the catcher is sound defensively, and while Diaz tends to be a free swinger at the plate, he's performed well offensively throughout his Minor League career. In 519 games in the Minors, Diaz has hit .305 with a .341 on-base percentage.

"He can hit," Ricciardi said. "He's not the kind of guy you look at and say, 'This is our ideal offensive posterboy,' but he can hit. He barrels balls. He'll barrel a ball off the top of his shoe, a ball over his head.

"He's a lot like a Nomar [Garciaparra] strike zone, or like [an Alfonso] Soriano strike zone. He's hacking when he goes up there, but he could be the exception to the rule. He's done well everywhere he's played."
He was added to the Pirate's 40-man roster and assigned to Indy. Sounds like a mini-Jason Kendall in the making to GW. Pittsburgh should get so lucky again.

The obvious questions - was it a depth move by the Bucs or part of a master plan to move Ryan Doumit to first base by 2010? And how does Ronny Paulino fit in now?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Long Day At The Ballyard

Both teams squandered opportunity after opportunity, but someone had to win. It's in the rules.

So after four hours, 392 pitches, 31 hits, 6 walks, 23 stranded base runners, each team loading the bases with no one out without scoring, and two ejections, Milwaukee finally ended the drawn-out affair with a 4-3 win over the Pirates in 12 innings this afternoon.

It was entertaining baseball in a macabre way, but in the end, it was the Brew Crew that weaved its old black magic for its eighth win in nine tries against the snakebitten Bucs. If Milwaukee does get to the Series (or Chicago, for that matter), Pittsburgh deserves a share of the pot.

> Those that think John Russell doesn't have any fire should have seen his jaw to jaw throw down with plate ump John Davidson. Russell was thrown out defending Adam LaRoche, ejected moments earlier for bemoaning a bad strikeout call. He felt LaRoche was being baited by Davidson.

Russell may not argue judgment calls - what's the point? - but he does have the player's backs when they need it.

> Nate McLouth had a pinch hit, RBI single today, but isn't quite ready for showtime yet. He's expected to return for the Cubs series, though he's not sure when. The Bucs won't rush him. Nyjer Morgan went 7-13 in the Brewers series with two doubles and three runs scored, lifting his average over eighty points to .226.

> Today's web debate, on the PBC Blog - did the Bucs set up Gorzo for failure by bringing him back against the Brewers at Miller Park? We think not for two reasons - one, he did his time at Indy, and deserved a call back sooner rather than later.

Two - the Bucs play Milwaukee and Chicago until the end of the month, so he would have been on ice until September if they waited for Cincy or San Fran, and missed a start or two here.

They did hold him a day to go against Jeff Suppan, who he should have matched up OK against. After all, it's the bigs; you can't pick and choose your opponent.

The minor league report: Indy won 10-6. RHP Ross Ohlendorf (4-4, 3.52) went 8 innings, giving up a run on 5 hits and a walk, and K'ing 6. He's about ready to join the big club, too.

C Candy Maldonado (.246) had three hits, including a double, and 3 RBI. RF Steve Pearce (.258) went 2-4 with a walk, scored once and drove home two. 1B Jason Delaney (.227) went 2-3 with a walk, 2 runs, and an RBI. CF Andrew McCutchen (.280) had a hit, walk, and scored twice.

> Altoona lost, 5-2. LF Jonel Pocheco (.272) was 2-3 with a walk and RBI. C Miguel Perez (.283) had two hits. 2B Shelby Ford (.281) tripled and scored, and 3B Milver Reyes (.174) hit his first HR, a solo shot.

> Lynchburg won 8-5. LHP Brian Holliday (6-10, 5.34 ERA) went six pedestrian innings. LHP Danny Moskos (6.06 ERA) pitched two frames, giving up two hits, a walk, and striking out three.

LF Jared Keel (.236) hit his 19th home run, drew 2 walks, scored 3 and drove in 3. 2B Matt Cavagnaro (.389) doubled, tripled, and scored twice. C Chris Jones (.235) had 4 hits, and SS Jose De Los Santos (.237) added a pair more with a run and a steal.

> Hickory won, 5-2. RHP Emilis Guerraro (1-3, 5.61 ERA) went seven scoreless innings, giving up 6 hits, a walk, and striking out 2. He made an emergency start, and is the fireman of Pittsburgh farm pitchers - he's pitched at every level from Altoona to Bradenton so far this season, five in all.

Crawdad pitchers now sport a 1.74 ERA in their last seven games, allowing just 12 earned runs in their last 62 innings of work.

1B Erik Huber (.266) had a big night, with 3 hits, including his 12th HR, two RBI and a run. SS Jordy Mercer (.240) had two hits and a run. DH Matt Hague (.316) hit a solo homer, his sixth.

> State College finally had a laugher, winning 10-5. RHP Rudy Owens (2-6, 5.21 ERA) went five innings without giving up a hit. He walked one and struck out two.

SS Andy Vasquez (.254) had 3 hits, including his second HR, with 5 RBI and 2 runs. DH Kyle Morgan (.226) was 3-3 with 2 walks, a double, and his second long ball. He had an RBI and 4 runs tallied. LF David Rubenstein (.216) had 2 hits with a run, and CF Ciro Rosero (.244) hit his 2nd HR, walked, scored, and had 2 RBI.

> Bradenton was off today.

Sunday pre game notes

> How consistent has Paul Maholm become? His last outing marked the 19th consecutive start in which he pitched at least six innings. Eleven of his 20 starts have lasted at least seven innings. Maholm is 3-2 with a 2.63 ERA over his past nine starts.

> Out of the reams of stuff written about Adam LaRoche, the one item that really sticks out is his RISP line. He's batting just .223 with runners in scoring position, which goes a long way towards explaining his disappointing 55 RBI year.

Last year, when he drove in 88 runs, his RISP average was .313. That might have been an anomaly, as he was a .255-.265 RISP hitter in his three seasons with the Braves. It surely suggests that he's better suited to the six hole instead of a prime RBI lineup spot in the middle of the order.

> We're a little surprised over the hubbub concerning Steve Pearce's demotion. He was auditioning with Brandon Moss for next year's RF spot, and was losing. Moss' line in Pittsburgh is .209-3-7 with a .312 OBP and .403 slugging %. (Overall in 2008, he's .255-5-18, .325/.434) Certainly, that's not mashing it.

But Pearce was just .224-0-7 with a .299 OBP and .349 slugging %. Moss runs and fields circles around him. Factor in Nyjer Morgan's showing at Indy and Nate McLouth's virus, and it probably wasn't that hard of a choice for the Pirates.

He'll be back in a week. Our guess is that Pearce will spend September battling Morgan, or maybe even Chris Duffy in the spring, for the fourth OF spot in 2009. He's the favorite, but he'll have to show some pop in his bat to seal the deal.

> Factoid of the day: Chris Duffy (4/20/80 DOB) is just 10 weeks older than Nyjer Morgan (7/2/80 DOB). Time sure flies.

> Mike from Hyzdu Headquarters caught the Curve game against New Hampshire, and saw the Pirate scouts out in force. His take is that they're checking out the Jay's AA position players at NH for the Player To Be Named as the return on the Jose Bautista deal.

> Brian Bixler may be getting groomed for a utility spot on the Bucs next year. He's been spending a little time at second, as 24-year old Luis Cruz, signed as a minor league free agent from the Padre organization, has been playing more and more at shortstop since being brought up from Altoona a month or so ago.

BB first played second base last year, and in 22 games over two years, has yet to make an error there. It's also a good way to get two bats into Indy's lineup, as Bixler is hitting .285 and Cruz .322.

> After winning 15 games last year, LHP Oliver Perez is 9-7 with a 3.93 ERA this season. Jon Heyman, in SI's Daily Scoop, believes the soon-to-be free agent and ex-Pirate will command $12M/year over 4 or 5 seasons when he hits the market.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Same Ol'

And we thought the Cubs owned Pittsburgh. The Brewers have taken 6 out of 7 from the increasingly sad sack Pirates.

The new Gorzo looked a lot like the old Gorzo. He went 4-2/3 innings, giving up six runs on seven hits, walking three and striking out a trio. He threw 94 pitches, just 52 for strikes. It was all the Brew Crew needed, hanging another loss on Pittsburgh, this time 6-3.

Jeff Suppan didn't run into very much resistance from the Bucs, facing a lineup that hasn't produced even when Ryan Doumit and Nate McLouth were in the lineup, which they weren't tonight. Doumit should be back tomorrow, McLouth won't be.

And to add a little salt to the wound, Solly Torres picked up his 25th save against his former teammates. He's 6-3 with a 2.52 ERA. Marino Salas and Kevin Roberts, where are you?

It gets better. The Pirates face CC Sabathia, Ted Lilly, and Carlos Zambrano next.

On the minor league front:
Indy beat Durham 6-3 tonight. LHP Corey Hamman (4-3, 5.03 ERA) got the win, going 5-1/3 and giving up six hits, 2 earned runs, walking one and striking out six. RHP Evan Meek (2.61 ERA) pitched the last two frames, striking out three and earning his second save.

Durham starter and hot Tampa Bay prospect David Price went four innings and gave up two runs. He wasn't involved in the decision.

SS Luis Cruz (.322) had three hits, including a double and his first homer, with 2 RBI and runs scored. LF Chris Duffy (.333) had two hits, two stolen bases, and an RBI. 2B Brian Bixler (.285) went 2-4 with a double, stolen sack, and tally. RF Matt Kata (.245) added a pair of hits.

> Altoona won 5-2 behind RHP Yoslan Herrera (6-9, 3.41 ERA). He went 6-2/3 innings, yielding two runs on three hits, with a walk and three K's. RHP Juan Mateo (2.32 ERA) notched his fourth save, going the last 2-1/3 frames giving up a hit and striking out four.

1B Jamie Romak (.229) went 2-3 with a walk and his 7th HR, driving in two and scoring once. RF James Boone (.227) had two hits, including his 9th homer, a solo shot. 3B Jason Bowers (.253) went 2-3 with a double and run. 2B Shelby Ford (.281) had a pair of hits, including a triple, and swiped a sack. CF Jose Tabata (.274) had a hit, walk, and stolen base.

> Lynchburg romped, 13-5. RHP Matt McSwain (1-2, 6.16 ERA) went five innings, giving up three hits, and two runs, with a pair of walks and strike outs.

LF Jared Keel (.235) hit two home runs, his 17th & 18th, drove in three and scored the same. They also walked him twice.

SS Brian Friday (.296) had three hits, a double, scored a run and drove home two. 2B Jose De Los Santos (.233) had two hits, including a triple, and a walk, scoring once and collecting an RBI.

> Hickory gave up the game's only scores in the eighth, losing 2-0. RHP Rafael De Los Santos (5.73 ERA) went five shutout innings, giving up three hits and a walk while striking out eight.

1B Tom Hagan (.273) had three hits and SS Silvio Pena (.264) had a pair, including a double. The Crawdads didn't help their own cause, being thrown out three times trying to steal in three attempts.

> State College ended an 11 game slide with a 2-1 win tonight. It was also its seventh straight one-run game.

RHP Carlos Amaro (1-1, 2.38 ERA) went five scoreless innings, giving up 6 hits with a K. He was sent down from Hickory, where he was in the bullpen, to join the Spike rotation. RHP Alan Knotts (3.62) went 1-2/3 innings for his first save.

DH Kyle Morgan (.198) had three hits and an RBI. 1B Jeremy Farrell (.306) went 2-4 with a run and stolen base, and 3B Matt Payne (.273) had two hits, a run, and stole a base.

> Bradenton won 3-1 in a Fay shortened, six inning game. The baby Bucs only had one hit, but rode four walks and two errors to the win. 1B Carlos Silva (.319) had the sole GCL Pirate knock, a ground ball single that drove home the winning runs.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Call 911

So much for bragging on the bullpen. The Zachster staggered through six innings, but left with the score still well in hand at 4-3. Denny Bautista and Sean Burnett made quick work of that, giving up 6 runs in the seventh as the Bucs fell 10-4.

Two walks, a beaned batter, four extra base hits - and it took a DP to get them out of the inning. Ouch.

> Ryan Doumit was yanked from the game in the seventh inning. The team says he either had a case of the flu or suffered from dehydration in the muggy Milwaukee night. We'll see tomorrow how serious it is.

> The Bucs optioned Romulo Sanchez back to Indy. They still have another move to make. We think that it's going to be a pitcher, maybe Jason Davis or less likely, Craig Hansen, though Nyjer Morgan's status may hinge on Nate McLouth's health.

EDIT - wrong again. TJ Beam got the bus ticket, and Jay Davis is going to the bullpen. The suits said Beam and Sanchez will be back in September. We thought they'd give Davis a start or two at Indy, but with only ten games to go, the Tribe will probably just trot out Mike Thompson a couple of more times.

> John Russell explained to Nick Zaccardi of that holding Gorzo for tomorrow was mostly to give Jeff Karstens a blow. Karstens will be pushed back two days to start the series opener against the Cubs.

"His workload this year has been a lot more than last year," Russell said. "We're monitoring him, giving him a couple extra days here and there. It's just to make sure he's strong and he feels good."

Karstens' start on Monday pushes Ian Snell to Tuesday and puts Jason Davis' status in the air. Paul Maholm will still start Sunday.

If you're confused now, just wait until September, when they try to find starts for six or seven pitchers.

> Jordan Bastian of talked to Joey Bats about his new gig with the Blue Jays:
Jose Bautista felt a sense of relief when he learned that the Pirates had traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays. An organizational change was precisely what the third baseman had hoped for after losing his job in Pittsburgh earlier this month.

Declining to delve into specifics, Bautista said his relationship had soured with Pittsburgh manager John Russell.

"For some reason, it just wasn't a good fit for me," Bautista said. "Me and the manager and maybe the people that kept a direct relationship in the front office with him just couldn't see eye to eye on a couple things. It's just how the ball rolls sometimes."

Bautista said that joining the Jays, who entered Friday seven games back of the top slot in the American League Wild Card standings, is a welcome change of pace.

"I'm glad to be on a winning team," Bautista said. "It's been up and down for the last five years and I've never been on a winning team. So, it's going to be a great atmosphere for me to be in and, hopefully, I can contribute to keep getting more wins and closer to that playoff spot."
A pretty straightforward response to his situation, we think.

Bautista will keep third base warm with Marco Scutaro until Scott Rolen comes off the DL, and is expected to see some work in the OF. He bounced out as a PH in his first Toronto plate appearance tonight.

On the minor league front: Indy rode a strong performance from RHP Daniel McCutchen (6-8, 3.94 ERA) to a 3-2 win tonight. McCutchen went seven innings, giving up four hits and two runs while striking out seven. He pounded the plate, with 62 of his 85 pitches being strikes.

His overall 2008 WHIP is a pretty good 1.17, but he's given up 18 HR's in 107-1/3 innings of work. We know strike throwers are prone to surrendering the long ball, but that's something he has to cut down a bit to be successful in the bigs.

To compare, Zach Duke leads the Pirates in HR's given up, with 19 in 151-1/3 innings (and no, we're not going near Gorzo's stats!)

CF Andrew McCutchen (.280) had two hits, including a double, and scored. The big blow was delivered by veteran RF Jorges Cortes (.167), who hit his first homer, a two run shot.

> Altoona blew a 4-3 ninth inning lead to lose 5-4 in ten innings. CF Jose Tabata (.274) went 3-4 with a double, RBI, and run. Jim Negrych (.325) had two hits and an RBI.

> Lynchburg won 2-1 behind LHP Anthony Watson (7-12, 3.67 ERA), who went 7 innings and gave up 2 hits, an unearned run, one walk and striking out six. 1B Kent Sakamota (.258) had two hits, including a double.

The Hillcats manufactured a run in the eighth for the win. SS Brian Friday (.292) led off with a double, moved to third on a bunt, and scored on a sac fly.

> Hickory took advantage of five Lexington errors to take home a 7-5 win. The Crawdads committed two of their own, allowing 4 unearned runs, to keep it close.

DH Keanon Simon (.241) went 2-4 with his third HR and a walk, scoring once and plating a pair. RF Albert Laboy (.244) hit his 5th homer and had 2 RBI and runs scored. C Aeden McQueary (.208) added a pair of hits.

> State College gave up runs in the ninth and tenth innings to drop a tough 2-1 decision. 3B (.301) Jeremy Farrell had three of the Spikes six hits.

RHP Yoffri Martinez (2-4, 3.62 ERA) took the loss for the second consecutive night, giving up two singles and a sac fly in the tenth. The tying run in the ninth scored on a two out error by LF Matt Payne. It's the Spikes second straight loss thanks to a last inning outfield misadventure.

> Bradenton lost, 7-3. SS Andury Acevedo (.227) had two hits, an RBI and run. 1B Alex Vargas (.272) had two hits and a walk.

Friday Pre Game Notes

Dirt Dog Doug is back with the team, and the Steve Pearce (.218, 0, 7) era has ended, at least until September, as he went back to Indy today. Gorzo isn't, as widely speculated, pitching tonight, but he will take the hill tomorrow. We'll see how Zach Duke does under the gun.

>Matt Capps should rejoin the Pirates today in Milwaukee and be activated from the DL on Saturday. The much-anticipated bullpen meltdown after his injury and the later departure of Damaso Marte didn't happen, though, thanks to a DFA deal and a couple of guys thriving under game-on-the-line pressure.

Five different pitchers recorded saves after Capps went down. Before he was hurt, the Pirates relievers had a 4.64 ERA. Since July 2, when Capps went on the DL, the bullpen has posted a 3.83 ERA.

Sean Burnett, TJ Beam, and Denny Bautista (thank you, Tigers) stepped up to fill the gap, along with the lone remaining late inning guy, John Grabow. And the starting pitchers getting on the far side of the sixth inning helped the cause, too.

It looks like one of the team's biggest question marks heading into 2008 should be a squad strength in 2009. Every cloud...

> The Pirates will have to move two guys back to Indy tomorrow when Gorzo and Capps rejoin the roster. Our guess is that it'll be Romulo Sanchez and Jason Davis, although Nyjer Morgan could go, too.

> Nate McLouth is still under the weather - Morgan will make another start in center tonight. He has an unidentified virus, and may be out for a while longer.

>Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors writes on Jack Splat:
Pirates GM Neal Huntington was diplomatic when asked about Jack Wilson's future with the Pirates. But it seems pretty clear the 30 year-old shortstop will be shopped this winter.

Wilson makes a fine trade chip for the Bucs, especially given the free agent market for shortstops. Orlando Cabrera may require three or four years, and he'll be 34 in November. Rafael Furcal wants to stay with the Dodgers. All the other free agents are question marks. Teams such as the Blue Jays, Tigers, Twins, Reds, Cardinals, and Giants may be looking for a shortstop. The Jays would probably only enter the mix for Wilson if J.P. Ricciardi is fired.

Wilson will earn $7.25MM in '09 and may see his $8.4MM option for '10 exercised. He can block trades to six teams. He's hitting .279/.322/.355 this year in 288 plate appearances, down from last year but near his career marks. His defense is highly regarded.
And you wonder why, as Dejan reported today, Jack Splat is feeling the heat.

> The Oakland A's, according to ESPN's Buster Olney, had a chance to make a big splash before the trade deadline with a swap for Jason Bay. Pittsburgh wanted a package that included RHP Vin Mazzaro, the 21-year-old who went 12-3 with a 1.90 ERA in Double-A this year, and Oakland wouldn't part with him.

> The Padre's Jody Gerut has emerged as a candidate for comeback player of the year, according to

Gerut, 30, did not play in the majors in 2006 or '07 while recovering from a series of surgeries on his right knee. But in 328 plate appearances with the Padres, his batting/on-base/slugging line is .299-.357-.492, and general manager Kevin Towers says Gerut is playing above-average in center field.

"If there's a bright spot on our club this year, it's that Jody Gerut's back," Towers says. "We'll be very comfortable if he is our center fielder next year."

The Padres signed Gerut as a minor-league free agent last winter after he batted .390 in the Venezuelan winter league.

On July 31, 2005, the Pittsburgh Pirates got him and cash from the Cubs for Matt Lawton. Gerut batted 18 times for the Bucs before his knee, and seemingly his career, folded. They released him in March of 2007 after nearly two years of inactivity, and never seemed convinced that his injury was as bad as it apparently was.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thursday on the Farm

Indy dropped a 2-1 decision, with JVB (7-4, 4.03 ERA) taking the loss, more the victim of non-support than bad pitching.

He went three innings, giving up two hits and striking out five. Unfortunately, one of those hits left the park. RHP Mike Thompson (4.74 ERA) went the first five innings, surrendering six hits and a run, walking one and K'ing one.

SS Brian Bixler (.284) had a pair of singles and an RBI. DH Ronny Paulino (.329), back in the lineup after a bout of bursitis, went 0-4 with three strikeouts.

> Altoona hung on for a 4-3 victory. LHP Kyle Bloom (5-7, 4.13 ERA) went seven shutout innings, giving up two hits and striking out six. LHP Josh Shortslef (3.03 ERA) gave up a three run homer in the eighth, but shut Portland down in the ninth.

1B Jamie Romak (.225) went 1-2 with a double, two walks, and 2 RBI. CF Jose Tabata (.269) went 2-2 with a double, triple, two walks, and two runs scored. SS Angel Gonzalez (.287) had a pair of hits, including a double, and an RBI.

> Lynchburg had its modest two-game win streak stopped, 2-1, in ten innings.

RHP Brad Lincoln had a strong outing, going six innings and allowing a run on three hits while striking out seven. LHP Danny Moskos (6.18 ERA) pitched two scoreless innings of relief and allowed two hits. He struck out three. DH Brian Friday (.291) had two hits and a run.

> Hickory lost today 7-5 when LHP Wanell Macia (0-4, 6.21 ERA) gave up a five spot in the ninth inning, four runs scoring with two away. SS Silvio Pena booted a ball with two outs and a two run lead to keep Lexington alive. The next batter homered.

LF Erik Huber (.267) had three hits including his 11th HR and a double, with an RBI and two runs scored. SS Pena (.267) added a pair of knocks.

> State College lost 7-6, when a runner that reached on an error by CF David Rubenstein scored in the ninth. RHP Yoffri Martinez (2-3, 3.47 ERA) took the loss.

SS Chase d'Arnaud (.342), fresh off his All-Star appearance, had two hits with a double and 3 RBI. 2B Chad Rice (.240) had two hits, a walk, and two runs scored. C Mark Carver (.211) hit his first pro home run.

> Bradenton won 3-2 behind the arm of LHP Chris Aure (4.01 ERA), who pitched perfect ball over the final three innings, striking out four, to notch his second save. The win went to LHP Nelson Pereira (6-2, 1.76 ERA), who went four innings, giving up six hits, two runs, and striking out six.

1B Carlos Silva (.319) had two hits. LF Wesley Freeman (.100) doubled for his first hit and drove in a pair of runs. Aure and Freeman are high school kids drafted this year by the Bucs, Aure from Alaska and Freeman from California. Dude!

Off Day Bits and Pieces

Matt Capps is supposed to rejoin the team at Milwaukee. It'll be nice to have him back if for no other reason than to bump Tyler Yates, who's been struggling big time, back a peg or two in the Pirate pen's pecking order.

Nate McLouth is expected back, too, after a bout of sickness.

> In the past couple of games, the Pirate batters appear to be regaining their discipline at the plate. And though it didn't pay off last night, the Cards noticed.

Catcher Jason LaRue told Robert Falkoff of "There were some situations where he (Todd Wellemeyer) could have gotten outs on 0-2 or 1-2 counts and we wound up going 2-2. I have to tip my hat to their guys because they didn't chase those pitches."

"It was a battle tonight," Wellemeyer added. "They were fouling everything off and I had some long at-bats against guys.

It's a positive sign that the team is starting to get back to the business of playing baseball again after all the disruptions of the past three weeks.

> The Blue Jays have taken on Joey Bats for a player to be named later. Pedro Alvarez, Andy LaRoche and Neil Walker made him a fifth wheel as Pittsburgh looks toward the future.

Bautista, 27, was last spotted at Indy, where he appeared in five games, hitting .300 with two doubles, two home runs and eight RBI. In 107 games for the Pirates this season, he posted a .242 average, with 12 home runs and 44 RBI.

The Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic native is in his 5th major league season - it seems longer, doesn't it? - posting double-digit home runs in each of the last three seasons, including a career high 16 in 2006.

The 6'0", 195 lb. utilityman has appeared in 441 games for four different clubs (Baltimore 2004, Kansas City 2004, Tampa Bay 2004, & Pittsburgh 2004-08) during his MLB career, posting a .240 avg., with 161 home runs and 541 runs batted in.

Bautista is making $1.8M this season, his first of arbitration eligibility, after signing a 1-year deal last winter.

He was originally drafted by Pittsburgh in 2000, but was lost via the Rule 5 draft. Bautista was reacquired on July 30, 2004 from the New York Mets with Matt Peterson and Ty Wigginton for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger.

> Altoona LHP Dave Davidson finished his Olympics yesterday when Team Canada was eliminated. The reliever threw 5 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run.

> The Jose Castillo change of address from Jose De Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle:
The Astros claimed Jose Castillo off waivers from the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday, and the 27-year-old infielder will join the club at Shea Stadium on Friday for the start of a four-game series against the New York Mets.

"We just felt that at this point with (Ty) Wigginton playing a lot of outfield and (Kazuo) Matsui down — if we had a chance to get this guy he'd give us another experienced infielder — and it gives (Cecil Cooper) a lot more flexibility," general manager Ed Wade explained.

Castillo, who will be under the Astros' control as an arbitration-eligible player this winter, is a career .253 hitter, batting .244 with 28 doubles, 35 RBIs and six home runs this season.

Wade remembered the raves Castillo would get from former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Chuck Tanner, who was scouting out of the Pittsburgh area when Castillo played for the Pirates from 2004 through 2007.

"When you look at it, he's 27 and he could do more than just serving a reserve role for us at the end of the season," Wade said. "He's got a chance to help us going forward as well, so it made sense."

J.R. House was sent back to Class AAA Round Rock to make room for Castillo, who will join the club Friday.
Baseball is such an ironic sport.

> Another old Pirate moves on: Kip Wells, released by the Rockies last week, has joined the Kansas City Royals, where he will work in the bullpen, with an eventual chance to start.

Wells was sidelined from April 30 through July 22 with a blood clot in his right hand, and went 1-2 with a 5.27 ERA with the Rox. They released Wells to make room for Livan Hernandez. Go figure. And at $3.1M/year, Kip is still a bargain, more or less.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cards Fly High

Well, the pitching couldn't be great every night. Jason Davis was whacked around by the Cards and the Bucs couldn't climb out of the early abyss, losing 11-2.

Davis lasted 3-2/3 innings, giving up nine hits, three walks, and eight runs (six earned). He may have just punched the ticket for Gorzo's comeback tour of Pittsburgh. We'll find out soon; Gorzelanny is slated to start for Indy tomorrow.

Brandon Moss made a quick return to the lineup and chipped in with a pair of knocks. Nyjer Morgan doubled and drew a couple of walks. Ryan Doumit continued his hot hitting with three hits and a two-run homer, his 13th.

There's been some talk of late on the web boards that the Bucs should consider returning Doumit to RF or 1B next season because of the wear and tear of catching and the need for his bat in the new Pirate offense.

While his defense, which had steadily improved only to drop off again as the season reached its dog days, is a concern, we think the bigger concern is finding a capable offensive back up to give Doumit a blow behind the dish.

Maybe that'll be Ronny Paulino; the jury is still out on that decision. But there's not much chance of him moving next year. Pittsburgh has too many young OF'ers and no young catchers. And while there's noise of trying to deal Adam LaRoche in the winter, it's likely he'll be Pittsburgh's 2009 first baseman.

So for the foreseeable future, look for Doumit to keep donning the tools of ignorance as his Buc uniform.

On the minor league front: Indy lost in eleven innings, 5-4. RHP Jimmy Barthmaier took the game into the sixth, but both Evan Meek and Frankie Osoria blew save opportunities. RHP Jesse Chavez (2-5, 3.74 ERA) took the loss.

3B Neil Walker (.239) had two hits and 2 RBI. CF Chris Duffy (.333), in his second start, went 1-2 with two walks. RF Ryan Mulhern (.242) hit his 11th HR.

Ol' Bucco prospect Brad Eldred tied the game with a solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and then singled in the game-winning run with two-outs in the bottom of the 11th. Pity he couldn't do that for Pittsburgh.

C Ronny Paulino, according to a couple of web reports, has bursitis in his right shoulder.

Joe Sheehan of writes in "You Just Wait" for Sports Illustrated, an article on the up and comers:
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates. A true centerfielder with strong leadoff skills, McCutchen has made a steady climb through Pittsburgh's system since being the team's top pick in 2005. At each level that he's played, McCutchen has been among the youngest players, yet his contact rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio (key statistics for any front office in assessing a prospect) have improved in each of the last three years. Scouts look at McCutchen's arms and see power potential as well, giving him middle-of-the-order upside, not dissimilar to that of the Indians' Grady Sizemore.

> Altoona dropped a 4-3 decision. Matt Capps pitched an inning with a walk and strikeout.

3B Jim Negrych (.312) was 2-3 with an RBI and stolen base. DH Brad Corley (.271) was 2-4 with an RBI, and CF Jose Tabata (.265) was 1-3 with a walk and a run scored.

> Lynchburg banged out five doubles and three long balls on the way to an 11-5 win tonight. RHP Mike Crotta (9-9, 4.82 ERA) was the beneficiary of the outburst, going six innings, giving up seven hits, two runs, and striking out three.

2B Matt Cavagnaro (.500), in his third game since being called up from Hickory, went 4-5 with two doubles and 3 RBI. SS Jose De Los Santos (.227) had three hits, a double, and a run. 1B Kent Satamoto (.255) was 2-3 with a walk and two runs scored. LF Jared Keel (.233) hit his 16th homer & a double, with 3 RBI and a tally.

DH Brian Friday (.290) hit his second home run, and RF Miles Durham (.235) went yard for the fourth time this season.

> Hickory lost 2-1. LHP Michael Felix started and went 5 scoreless innings, giving up 2 hits, three walks, and striking out 4. RHP Victor Igsema (1-1, 6.66 ERA) gave up a run in the ninth to take the loss, going 1-1/3 innings surrendering 2 hits, a walk, and a run. He struck out one.

3B Matt Hague (.319) had half the Crawdad hits, going 2-4 at the plate.

> State College was off tonight.

> Bradenton won 4-1 behind the pitching of LHP Tyler Cox (1.79 ERA) and RHP Albert Fagan (3-2, 3.09 ERA). Cox started and went four innings, giving up a run on three hits with a walk and 6 strike outs. Fagan got the win, pitching four innings, yielding a hit and K'ing a pair.

LF Edwin Roman (.224) went 2-3 with a double, run and RBI. 3B Jarek Cunningham (.321) homered,his fourth, and drew two free passes, while CF Robbie Grossman was held hitless, but walked and stole a base.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Corsairs Cage Cards

The old Ian Snell showed up tonight and St. Louis became the Keystone Kards in the ninth as the Bucs broke open a 1-0 nailbiter and won 4-1.

Nyjer Morgan's leadoff walk eventually turned into a run on Ryan Doumit's double, the first of his three hits, to take an early lead. Snell went seven innings and made it hold up, giving up 4 hits with one walk and eight strike outs.

Snell (5-10) won for only the second time in 11 starts since June 17. He allowed just two runners to reach scoring position against a team that scored 19 earned runs in 19 innings against him in four previous starts this year.

Quietly, he's now strung together three straight quality starts, and won his first road game since late April.

Sean Burnett and Denny Bautista, saved by a fine running catch on the track by Morgan on an Albert Pujos shot after a nine pitch at bat, got through the eighth. Then the action really picked up.

Doumit and Adam LaRoche started off the ninth with singles, and Jay Michael's bunt was fielded by Yadier Molina, who opted to go to third for the force. Bad choice; everyone was safe.

The next batter, Andy LaRoche, bounced one to second that came home for the force out - but Molina dropped the perfect throw, looking to first and a possible DP.

Steve Pearce walked to plate another run. Then Luis Rivas lifted a fly into medium center. For some reason, Michaels didn't tag, and young LaRoche was hung up between the sacks.

But the throw went through everyone, and another run came in. The pitcher, backing up the play, got to the ball, but Molina capped his performance by leaving the plate uncovered while chasing down the throw to let Michaels in uncontested.

By then, it was 4-0, and it was all over but for the shouting. And there was some noise - John Grabow and TJ Beam gave up a run on three walks and a bloop hit in the bottom of the ninth, but Beam struck out Brian Barton with the bases juiced for his first MLB save. He became the seventh Pirate hurler to earn a save, the most since 1996.

In real life, Jodi Mientkiewicz came home today after a pacemaker was installed in her heart to combat a viral infection, and that's great news. On the other side of the coin, young John Challis lost his public battle with cancer after inspiring so many by taking his fight to the wire.

On the draft front:
Jim Callis of Baseball America picked his top ten signing coups of this year's draft, and two Pirate selections were among them:
Robbie Grossman, of (sixth round, $1 million, No. 49 on BA Top 200) Athletic switch-hitter adds to Pittsburgh's burgeoning outfield talent.
Quinton Miller, rhp (20th round, $900,000, No. 158 on BA Top 200) He shows flashes of a low-90s fastball, plus slider and average changeup.

Nice to know that the Pittsburgh draft, for once, drew cheers instead of jeers.

On the minor league front: Indy and RHP Ross Ohlendorf (3-4, 3.86 ERA) lost tonight, 4-3. The Big O went six innings, giving up 6 hits, including a homer (to ex Bucco Big Country Brad Eldred, his 33rd), and four runs. He walked two and struck out seven.

C Candy Maldonado was the unlikely batting leader with a double and home run, his third, adding an RBI and two runs scored. RF Chris Duffy was activated to replace Nyjer Morgan, and went 1-4.

> Altoona gave up three runs in the ninth, but hung on to win 7-6. Veteran RHP Dan Reichert (2-3, 4.81 ERA) went six innings for the win, giving up four hits, 3 runs (two earned), three K's and two walks.

C Steve Lerud (.280) and LF Jonel Pocheco (.275) both had two hits and two runs scored. CF Jose Tabata (.264) had two hits and an RBI. 1B Jamie Romak (.217) homered and had 3 RBI, and RF Jim Boone (.229) also went yard, his eighth.

> Lynchburg surrendered two runs in the ninth, but came back in the tenth to win 6-5. LHP Brian Holliday (5.23 ERA) went eight innings, giving up 8 hits, two runs, and striking out 9. RHP Eric Krebs (4-2, 4.25 ERA) went 1-2/3 innings yielding a hit for the win.

1B Kent Sakamota homered in the extra frame, his tenth, to bring home the bacon. LF Jared Keel (.231) had three hits, including a triple. DH Danny Bomback (.273) had two hits, one being his 2nd HR, a solo shot. CF James Barksdale (.265) also had a pair of knocks, with a triple.

The go-go Curve stole five bases in 7 tries, with Keel swiping his 13th & 14th sacks.

> Hickory pounded out an 8-2 win tonight. RHP Rodolfo Aguirre (2-3, 4.39 ERA) went six shutout innings, giving up 2 hits, walking 3 and striking out 7.

CF Keanon Simon (.237) continued to tear it up with four hits, a run and 2 RBI. CF Austin McClune (.212) went 3-6, with his 4th homer and a double, 3 RBI and a run. C Ronald Pena (.255) had two hits, a double, a run and an RBI. RF Erik Huber (.266) hit his 10th home run.

> State College was off for the NYPL All-Star game, with SS Chase d'Arnaud (.339, 0-12) and 1B/3B Jeremy Farrell (.297, 0-19) representing the Spikes.

Both smacked doubles in the National League’s 4-3 All-Star Game victory in Troy, New York. Farrell entered the game in the sixth inning, doubling to left field. Farrell played the remainder of the game at first base.

d’Arnaud joined the fun in the bottom of the fifth inning. After walking in the seventh, d’Arnaud led off the ninth inning with a double to left field and scored.

> Bradenton was off today.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Day At A Time

Hey, the Bucs finally took advantage of another strong pitching performance against the Mets this afternoon, scoring five times in the last three innings to pull out a 5-2 win on getaway day.

Led by Adam LaRoche's 16th home run and Jack Splat's two-run double, the Pirate attack, stymied by John Maine over the front five, jumped all over the Met bullpen. A little plate patience paid off. Maine threw 96 pitches and got the early hook, leaving the NY relievers exposed without Billy Wagner.

Paul Maholm gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings, walking three and K'ing four in another stellar start. He's pitched a minimum of six innings for the 19th straight outing, the longest streak by a Pirates pitcher since Doug Drabek in 1992.

He handed the game over to the Buc pen, and they made it exciting over the last two innings. John Grabow, who got his fourth save, and Tyler Yates teamed up to walk four batters in 1-2/3 innings, but they kept the scoreboard clean.

Sean Burnett got the win when he retired the only hitter he faced, Carlos Delgado, on a bases loaded, two-out pop up in the eighth. It was his first W in a Pirate uniform since he was a rookie in 2004.

Met manager Jerry Manuel got bounced by Joe West for arguing over one of the odder DP's turned by the Bucs. Argenis Reyes bounced into what was shaping up to be a routine Freddie Sanchez to Jack Wilson to Adam LaRoche DP, but Jack Splat hurried his throw and it bounded off of the first base railing.

Ryan Doumit backed up the play, ran down the ball, and tagged Reyes, who had made a small turn towards second. West rang him up, much to Manuel's dismay. That's a call you don't see much in MLB - and Manuel probably hopes to never see it again. It was scored 4-6-2.

The four-game series drew 129,473 fans, a PNC Park record. We're glad they took one, even if it was in front of the smallest crowd of the week.

And do you think the Pirates have had it bad since getting rid of Jay Bay and the X-Man? How about the Oakland A's, who dumped their pitching and have since lost 10 straight series, falling to a big league-worst 5-23 since the All-Star break.

On the Pirate front:
Doug Mientkiewicz has temporarily left the team to be with his wife, Jodi, who had heart surgery at AGH today. Mientkiewicz is on the bereavement list now, and will be out until at least Friday.

He's expected to stay with his wife for as long as he's needed. We wish Jodi a quick and complete recovery.

Nyjer Morgan, who has been tearing it up at Indy during the past month both at the plate and on the basepaths, was called up to take the roster spot of Dirt Dog Doug.

> Brandon Moss' ankle sprain shouldn't land him on the DL. He'll be kept out of action for the St. Louis series, which begins on Tuesday. However, the Pirates are targeting their weekend series in Milwaukee as a hopeful return date for Moss.

> Manager John Russell said closer Matt Capps is close to from returning to the Pirates. The 24-year-old has been on the DL since July 2nd with bursitis in his right shoulder, and was here today to get it checked out by the team docs.

Capps will join Altoona again on Tuesday and pitch an inning in the Curve's game Wednesday. He'll follow by throwing a side session on Thursday to simulate back-to-back performances. If his wing holds up, Capps may join the Pirates in Milwaukee on Saturday.

It's been a pretty quick recovery for the Buc closer. He's already thrown in five rehab games, two with Bradenton, two with Altoona, and one at Indy. His arm is hopefully as solid as his frequent flier account.

> Phil Dumatrait was also in town today and will stay with the team for the remainder of the season. The lefty will continue his rehab work with the Pirates.

He had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder on August 8th, and went home to California for nine days of down time before coming back to Pittsburgh. Doumatrait's recovery should be complete by spring training.

On the hot stove front: SI's Jon Heyman confirms that "Ian Snell was available before the trade deadline. The Pirates wanted pitching prospect Franklin Morales and then some from the Rockies. Snell is on an affordable long-term contract, so maybe talks will be revisited in December."

On the minor league front: Indy won in the bottom of the ninth, 9-8. RHP Jesse Chavez (2-4, 3.70 ERA) gave up a two-out triple in the ninth that tied the game, and managed the rare blown save/win daily double. JVB pitched 2 innings, and gave up a hit with two walks and a strikeout.

RF Joey Bats ran amok again, going 3-4 with a walk, double, homer, two runs and 3 RBI. Oh, he threw a guy out at second, too.

2B Brian Bixler (.285) had two hits and 2 RBI. SS Luis Cruz (.338) went 2-4 with a double, RBI, and two runs scored. LF Matt Kata (.245) had two hits and a walk.

> Hickory finally got some pitching and took a 3-2 victory home tonight. RHP Rafael De Los Santos (3-9, 6.00 ERA) went 5 innings, giving up two hits and two runs while walking three and striking out 4. LHP Wanell Macia (6.28) and RHP Harrison Bishop (3.29) finished up the last four innings without yielding a run, and giving up just one hit.

The hitting hero was C Ronald Pena (.253), who went 3-4 with a double and a run.

> Bradenton got spanked this afternoon 8-2. 2B Adenson Choura (.337) went 3-4 with a double and scored. 3B Jarek Cunningham (.318) had two hits, a walk, an RBI and scored.

Altoona, Lynchburg, and State College were off today.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Pirate Draft, Part 2

And now for the backside of the draft, from which the organization’s depth and the occasional big leaguer emerge:

Zachary Wilson (26- Wilson HS, 3B) Rated 140th by Baseball America, with a scholarship to Arizona State in his pocket and Scott Boras as his man, Wilson was no doubt out of Pittsburgh’s price range this year.
Edwin Roman (27- Puerto Rican Baseball Academy, CF) He’s supposed to be the fastest dude in PR and a great glove with no lumber to speak of. He’s playing LF at Bradenton, hitting .220. He’s got 12 stolen bases, but he’s been caught 7 times.
Kyle Saukko (28- Sierra JC, OF/P) He was a hybrid in college, just the kind of guy Dave Littlefield loved, and was drafted by the Rockies as a pitcher last year. He went to Bradenton as a CF. He’s hitting .218. It’s tough to build up your average when you’ve K’d 22 times in 55 AB’s.
Kevin Komstadius (29- East Valley HS, 1B) Has a free ride to Washington, and probably priced himself out of Pittsburgh’s plans this year, asking for $200K.
Daniel Martin (30- Panola JC, RHP) Drafted by the Mets in 2005, he’s going to McNeese State. He’s another player who told the Pirates he needed to be wowed by the money to sign.
Ryan Hinson (31- Clemson, LHP) After having two very good years at college, he dropped off badly in 2008 and decided to stay in school for his senior year to try to improve his draft slot.
TJ Forrest (32- Bossier Parish CC, RHP) He was drafted by the Marlins in 2006 out of LSU, but had TJ surgery. Pitched well after transferring to Bossier. He decided to have a last hurrah at school to raise his draft stock.
Mark Carver (33- North Carolina Wilmington, C) A senior, he signed early and went to State College. A below average catcher in the field, he tore it up at the plate in college, hitting .347 with 21 HR’s and 82 RBI. He’s hitting .208 for the Spikes.
Matt Payne (34- North Carolina State, 3B) Good plate discipline, and hit over .320 in his three years as a position player (he pitched his freshman year.) He signed and went to State College. Payne is batting .266 with 3 HR’s.
Tyler Cox (35- Illinois State, LHP) Average college pitcher, he started his last two years. The Bucs sent him to Bradenton, even though he’s 22. He’s doing nicely there, with a 2-3 record, 1.74 ERA, and 36 K’s in 41-1/3 innings with a WHIP of 1.02.
Kyle Morgan (36- San Francisco, OF) He played two years of JC ball, sat on the Long Beach pine, and transferred to SF, where he hit .286 without much power. He’s at Bradenton, where he’s hitting .148 in 27 at-bats. He started out at State College, where he hit .164 before being sent down.
Matthew Curry (37- Howard College, 1B) He transferred to TCU to continue his career.
Alan Knotts (38- Louisiana Tech, RHP) He’s a senior with fairly pedestrian college numbers. At State College, he’s 2-1 with a 4.01 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and a great K:BB ratio of 35:6 in 33-2/3 innings of bullpen work.
AJ Fagan (39- Manhattanville College, RHP) Sat out a year of baseball after an unsuccessful tryout with the Cubs in 2007, which burned his college eligibility. He signed and went to Bradenton. He’s 2-2 there with a 3.72 ERA in 19-1/3 innings, a 14:5 K to BB ratio, and WHIP of 1.02.
Beau Didier (40- Bellarmine Prep, 3B) Went to LSU.
Chris Simmons (41- West Point, C) Rode a solid senior year (.318, 8 HR) to a spot in the draft. The Pirates sent him to State College, where he was hitting .257 when the Army called him back to active duty.
Cole White (42- West Point, OF) Great hitter for Army, batting .403 and .373 his last two season, and pitched, too. He signed as an OF’er and went to State College. He was hitting .338 there before the Army decided to recall him to active duty.
Johnny Gunter (43- Chattahoochee Valley CC, RHP) No, really, it’s a school in Alabama. He didn’t sign, choosing to return to Chattahoochee for another season.
Mike Williams (44- Mt. Olive College, LHP) Drafted as a senior, he was the third starter (8-2, 4.01 ERA) for the Division 3 champs, Mt. Olive. He signed and went to State College. He’s 1-1 with a 4.82 ERA for the Spikes. In 18-2/3 innings, William’s struck out 16, walked eight, and has a WHIP of 1.29 out of the pen.
Allen Ponder (45- Auburn @ Montgomery, RHP) He’s a sidewinder that struck out 68 batters in 48 innings and will be used as a bullpen arm. He’ll be 25 in September, so he better impress in a hurry if he ever plans to pitch at PNC. He’s 0-2 with a 4.55 ERA, but a excellent K:BB ratio of 29:7 in 31-2/3 innings.
Scott McGough (46- Plum HS, SS/P) He’s going to Oregon. The Ducks plan to use him at SS, though he throws 94 MPH heat and may become a hybrid infielder/closer.
Jordan Craft (47- Kennesaw Mountain HS, OF) He’s going to play at Kennesaw State.
Owen Brolsma (48- Texas Tech, RHP) He had TJ surgery in 2005, pitched a year, sat a year, and pitched another year, and not very well. He has a low 90’s fastball and a slider, but with poor command. The Bucs signed him and sent him to State College to see if his arm could be salvaged. Brolsma’s getting beat up there, too, with a record of 0-3, 7.61 ERA, and 1.91 WHIP. He’s given up 4 homers in 23-2/3 innings.
Zachary Foster (49- Pitt Bradford, RHP) A junior without a lot of success at Division 3, the Bucs signed him and sent him to Bradenton to work in the bullpen. He’s a one trick horse, depending on his fastball, so he has to try to develop a second pitch to succeed. Foster is 1-1 with a 4.45 ERA. In 28 innings, he’s given up 38 hits and 15 walks, K’ing 23.
Craig Parry (50- South Dakota State, OF) He’s a LH power guy that hit 17 HR’s in the past two years, and has played C, OF, and 3B. He’s hitting .308 at Bradenton with an .852 OPS, but hasn’t gone yard yet, though he’s only batted 52 times. They list him as a LF.

Draft picks 1-25 are posted below. For more detailed reporting on these guys and every Bucco, click over to Wilbur Miller's Pirate Profiles.

Somewhere along the line, we'll check out the new guys the suits brought in this year both at camp and through deals as we look at the retooling of the Bucs from top to bottom.

The Pirate Draft, Part 1

Now that that draft is a thing of the past, here's a list of the top 25 Pirate picks and their current status as of Sunday:

Pedro Alvarez (1- Vanderbilt, 3B) Widely considered the top talent in the draft, he signed for $6M at the deadline and will report to the Fall Instructional League, where his performance will dictate his 2009 assignment, probably Lynchburg. He’s the LH power bat that the Bucs would love to showcase at PNC Field.
Tanner Scheppers (2- Fresno State, RHP) Injured, the Pirates took a flyer on him. He wanted 1st round cash, but his arm was still iffy, and no deal was struck.
Jordy Mercer (3- San Diego State, SS) He was sent to Hickory after signing for a $508K bonus. Has a rep for a good bat, strong arm, so-so range. He’s hitting .231 with 4 homers after a terrible start.
Chase d’Arnaud (4- Pepperdine, SS) He signed for $293K and was assigned to State College. Good stick with gap power, average SS, good 3B’man. He’s hitting .346 in 104 AB’s with 8 doubles, 4 triples, with 20 runs scored, and stolen 10 bases in 11 tries, earning an All-Star spot of the NY-Penn League. He's got the look of a pretty good top of the order guy.
Justin Wilson (5- Fresno State, LHP) Signed late for $195K. Wilson picked up his game during the College World Series, but couldn’t turn it into a bonus above slot. He’ll report to the Fall Instructional League, and probably head to Hickory in 2009.
Robbie Grossman (6- Cyprus/Fairbanks HS, CF) Gave up his scholarship to Texas for a $1M bonus. He’s considered a high energy tweener with some power potential and lots of upside without being overly toolsy, in the Nate McLouth/Brandon Moss mold. Baseball America rated him as a late #1 pick, which explains the bonus. He’ll go to the Fall Instructional League.
Benji Gonzalez (7- Puerto Rican Baseball Academy, SS) Got $130K to sign on the dotted line and pass up a ride to Oklahoma State. He runs well, has a good glove, and his questions center on his bat. He’s playing at Bradenton, where he’s hitting .225 with 7 stolen bases in eight attempts.
Jeremy Farrell (8- Virginia, 3B/1B) Son of Bosox coach John Farrell, signed for $103K and was assigned to State College. Has some power and plays both infield corner positions. He’s hitting .300, but hasn’t gone deep yet, somewhat worrisome for a corner infielder, though he has 11 extra base knocks in 140 AB’s. He landed a spot on the NY-Penn All-Star team.
Matt Hague (9- Oklahoma State, 3B/OF) He inked a deal for $25K. Good power and plate discipline. He was drafted by Cleveland last year. Hague signed early and went to Hickory, where he’s batting .322, with 5 HR’s and 23 RBI in 171 AB’s with an .855 OPS. He’s tough to sneak a ball past – Hague’s only struck out 21 times.
Drew Gagnon (10- Brentwood HS, RHP) Opted to attend Long Beach State.
David Rubenstein (11- Appalachian State, CF) Sent to State College. He showed a decent eye and solid stick in college. He’s hitting .197, but has come out a miserable funk in the past week. Maybe the light’s finally gone on for him.
Calvin Anderson (12- Southern A&M, 1B) The son of former Steeler Fred Anderson, he hit for average and power in the SWAC. He’s a very raw player, and went to State College for some polish. He’s batting .265 with 6 HR’s and 28 RBI in 170 AB’s.
Robert Gardner (13- Highland Park HS, CF) Went to Arkansas.
Mike Colla (14- Arizona, RHP) Considered a project, he was assigned to State College in July, appeared briefly in August, and then was shipped to Bradenton, where he has yet to appear. He must need a lot of work: the Spikes were shorthanded arms before his demotion.
Christopher Aure (15- North Pole HS, LHP) The Alaskan native was signed on potential, and was sent to Bradenton. He's 3-2 with a 4.57 ERA there, with 12 K’s and 12 BB’s in 21-2/3 innings of work.
Wesley Freeman (16- All Saints Academy, CF) Signed late, but is a potential 5 tool player. His swing needs some work, but he's playing with the GCL Bradenton Bucs for now and then to the Instructional League. He projected as a fifth rounder, and got roughly $225K to sign.
Jaron Shepherd (17- Navarro College, CF) Still has a year of JC eligibility, and said he was looking for a payday. Pittsburgh didn't give him one.
Jarek Cunningham (18- Mead HS, SS) He had a scholarship to Arizona State, but turned pro and went to Bradenton. He plays third base for the baby Bucs, hitting .310 with 3 HR’s, 15 RBI, and an OPS of .849.
Jason Hanniger (19- Georgia Tech, C) He replaced Matt Weiter behind the plate, and is a good defensive catcher with some power and a high strike out rate. He decided to try to pump up his stock by returning for another year at school.
Quinton Miller (20 – Shawnee HS, RHP) Signed late in the process when Scheppers and Gagnon passed on deals. He got a $900K bonus, as Baseball America considered him a third-rounder this year. He’ll go to the Fall Instructional League.
Brent Klinger (21- Glendale CC, RHP) Has a 94 MPH heater and good strikeout rate, but was selected on potential rather than performance. He’s tearing up Bradenton, with 11 K’s in 11-2/3 innings and an ERA of 0.77.
Patrick Palmeiro (22- Colleyville Heritage HS, 3B) Rafael’s son, the Bucs made a late push to sign him, but he followed his dad’s advice and headed to Mississippi State.
Austin Wright (23- Hoffman Estates HS, LHP) Going to Arkansas.
Brian Litwin (24- St. Stephens HS, 3B) Committed to Duke.
Brian Leach (25- Southern Mississippi, RHP) Was drafted by the Royals last year. His college stats are pretty horrible, but apparently his arm is intriguing. The Bucs sent him to State College. He’s doing OK for the Spikes, with a 1-1 record and 3.65 ERA. His control has been fine, with 29 K’s and 11 BB’s in 42 innings and a WHIP of 1.21.

For more detailed reporting on these guys and every Bucco, click over to Wilbur Miller's Pirate Profiles.

When the spirit moves us, we'll check out the back side of the draft in another post, and the new guys the suits brought in this year both at camp and through deals as we look at the retooling of the Bucs from top to bottom.

Kids Day, Strike Four

When you're a team that's struggling mightily at the plate, the last thing you need to see is Johan Santana on top of his game. And that's what the Bucs saw this afternoon, as he spun a three-hit, seven K, complete game shutout, winning 4-0.

Jeff Karstens was overmatched, although he continues to eat innings and keep the score manageable. The FSN guys compare him to Jeff Suppan, and that's probably as good a comparison as you'll come up with; a competitive, dependable back of the rotation pitcher.

His control wasn't as sharp today as it's been, as shown by the nine hits he gave up in 6 innings. But he would have needed a repeat of his near perfect game to match pitches with Santana today.

And to add injury to insult, Brandon Moss sprained his ankle while running out a grounder. It's not broken, and they'll poke and probe him some more tomorrow to figure out the extent of the injury.

But the biggest disappointment was that the Pirates lost with 36,000+ fans in the house. The last four games have been played in front of 145,000, and the Bucs have given the crowd four losses and some very uninspired play to remember. That's no way to turn Skyblast and Kid's Day fans into baseball fans.

On the draft front:
What do the Bucs think of the draft? Well, Jack Splat's a little bitter. reports:
Many think the $6 million the Pirates spent on third baseman Pedro Alvarez before Friday's midnight ET deadline was money well spent. In several ways, it was. But in other ways, like Jack Wilson pointed out, it's "a joke."

"No one in here cares about Draft picks, because the fastest guy will be here in three or four years," said Wilson, whose 2008 salary is $6.5 million. "The fact of the matter is that if we sign our No. 1 pick, he's going to be the highest-paid player on our team. So the Draft is completely out of control."

On the minor league front: RF Joey Bats hit a home run and double, collected three knocks, and drove in four to lead Indy to a 12-5 win. SS Brian Bixler (.283) added three more hits, a walk and a stolen base, as did CF Andrew McCutchen (.280) who scored twice and had an RBI.

SS Luis Cruz (.328) and 3B Neil Walker (.237) each had a pair of hits. C Ronny Paulino (.388) doubled and had 3 RBI, and DH Ryan Mulhern (.243) hit his 10th home run.

RHP Daniel McCutchen (4.04 ERA) lasted only 4-2/3 innings, giving up 5 runs on seven hits, walking one and striking out three. RHP Matt Capps went 1-2/3 innings and escaped unscathed, although he gave up 3 walks. RHP Mike Thompson (3-3, 5.23 ERA) went 1-1/3 perfect innings for the win.

> Altoona scored four times in the ninth to pull out a 5-4 win this afternoon. RHP Yoslan Herrera (3.45 ERA) went the first five, giving up 2 runs on nine hits and striking out two. The winner was LHP Josh Shortslef (5-2, 2.67 ERA), who went the last 2-1/3 innings giving up a hit and a walk.

Melvin Dorta (.292) pinch hit and came through with a two-out, two-run single to plate the winning runs. LF Jonel Pacheco (.272) had two hits, two runs, and an RBI.

> Lynchburg lost the lead in the ninth, rallied to tie it, and then lost in ten innings, 6-5. The winning run was set up by a wild pick-off attempt.

RF James Barksdale (.258) had three hits, a double, a stolen base and a pair of tallies. DH Miles Durham (.235) had two hits, a double, a swipe, and 2 RBI. 1B Kent Sakamoto had two hits with a run and RBI.

> Hickory gave up 5 long balls and lost 14-6, after falling into a 13-1 hole.

Hickory has surrendered nine home runs in the three games of the Kannapolis series and 17 in the seven games of the current homestand. The Crawdads, league leaders in round-trippers allowed with 135, have served up home runs in 14 of their last 15 games, 11 times allowing multiple homers. Ouch!

RF Keanon Simon (.231) had a 4-5 game, with two doubles, two runs scored and an RBI. 3B Matt Hague (.320) also added two RBIs and a run, going 1-4 with a two-run double. 2B Greg Picart (.263) notched a pair of singles on the night.

Though hitting just .231, Simon has been afire lately. He's now 16-33 (.485) with nine runs, six RBI and five doubles through the first seven games of the homestand.

> Bradenton slapped out 14 hits and won 4-2 this afternoon. RHP Emilis Guerraro, 22, threw 6 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits, walking one and striking out 6. He's had an odd year, stopping in every minor league town in the Pirate system but Indy during the season. He was just sent from State College to the GCL.

The way the Spike's season is going, shouldn't those pitching exchanges be going the other way?

RF Victor Sanchez (.315) had three hits, and 1B Alex Vargas (.262), 2B Freizer Pedron (.220), 3B Andury Aceveto (.228), and CF Kyle Saukko (.218) each had a pair of hits.

> State College, working with a short bullpen, lost 4-3 tonight when it gave up two runs in the ninth. DH Quincy Latimore (.262) had three hits, including a double, and RF David Rubenstein (.206) added a pair and scored.