Saturday, February 14, 2009

Notes From the Campfire...

* Phil Dumatrait is throwing long toss at camp, and in a couple of weeks, he should begin working off of a mound. Widely thought to be a DL candidate, he now looks like he has a chance to be the long man out of the pen when camp breaks, stretching his arm out until he can rejoin the rotation later in the summer.

He can thank extended spring training, due to the WBC, if he leaves Bradenton on the 25-man roster. But what's good for him isn't such great news for a couple of bubble guys that the suits will have to decide on sooner instead of later now.

Donnie Veal, the Rule 5 pick with mechanical hitches, could find another LH long man ahead of him. And whomever the sixth starter for the Pirates ends up to be - Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Dan McCutchen, Gorzo, Zach Duke, or long-shot Jimmy Barthmaier - may find themselves in Indy when the season starts instead of Pittsburgh.

In the long run, the only guy it really affects is Veal. If he doesn't make the roster, he has to be offered back to the Cubs. The other starting pitchers all have options, so they can start in AAA without risking them on waivers.

* The most interesting storyline to GW is what the braintrust decides to do with Craig Hansen. He's the victim of being fast-tracked by the Red Sox, and his potential hasn't translated into MLB production. If ever a guy needed some innings in the minors, Hansen is the one.

But he's out of options. The suits must feel the heat; it would be a blow to their touted player evaluation mystique if he was cut after being a part of the wildly vilified Jason Bay deal last July.

And they're not frivolous or ego-driven decisions being made regarding the futures of Hansen and Veal. Both are huge projects, but have power arms in a popgun system and great upside if they can ever harness their stuff, the key word being "if."

* Which Ian Snell decides to show up for the Pirates will go a long way to determining the effectiveness of the staff. He had a dismal 2008, showing immaturity, a wild streak that wouldn't end, and running up some hellacious pitch counts. But after a trip to the DL cleared his head a bit, Snell went 3-3 with 3.68 ERA in his final eight starts in August and September.

In those final 44 innings of 2008, Snell gave up 42 hits, struck out 37 batters and walked 21. He pitched over 6 innings just once in that span, and threw under 95 pitches twice. So he has a ways to go to get back to the glory days, and being aggressive and getting ahead of batters will be the key.

Another question is whether starting the spring by pitching for Puerto Rico in the WBC will help or hurt. It should give Snell a jolt out of the box, but he's a guy the Pirates expect to start 30+ games, and how his arm will hold up in the dog days will be seen. A good performance in the WBC would have him starting the year with his head screwed on straight, but what if he runs into a couple of tough outings...?

* We're also into redemption (blame that on the good nuns at St. Wendelin's), and Snell's not alone in searching for some. Can Zach Duke, and especially Tom Gorzelanny, find the stuff that made them effective MLB pitchers again? That's a tale we'll be watching with anticipation. They could really solidify the middle and back of the rotation if they're on their game.

* We're looking forward to seeing some of the young arms in action. While GW has his doubts about stalling Steve Pearce, Andrew McCutchen, and Neil Walker at AAA, it does make perfect sense to let Evan Meek get repetitions at Indy and hopefully reinforce the success he had in the minors last season.

Daniel McCutchen, Jimmy Barthmaier, Juan Mateo, Jeff Sues, and Ron Uviedo are all guys whose stuff will be on exhibit, too. This camp has a little more going on than last year's did, and we're eager to see what's ahead.

* Speaking of the future, GW really enjoys following the exploits of the two Indian pitchers, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel. They're going to the GCL, and may - heck, probably - will never get past A ball.

But they love the sport, and bring some uninhibited joy and wonder to spring, kinda like little league kids going straight to the pros. And hey, the strongest substance they're on is probably garam masala. They remind us that baseball isn't always a business - sometimes it's still just a game.

And after all, it's the game that we all love.

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