Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Ax Falls...And May Not Be Done

-- Chop chop: RHPs Virgil Vasquez, Chris Bootcheck, Denny Bautista and Jason Davis, OF Jeff Salazar, IF Andy Phillips, 1B Garrett Jones, and C Erik Kratz were trimmed from the roster today.

RHP Romulo Sanchez was lopped from the 40-man roster to make way for OF Craig Monroe.

That leaves one to go, among Sean Burnett, who's probably safe, Evan Meek and Jesse Chavez. The trio are the finalists for the final two bullpen spots.

In addition, John Paul Morosi of the Detroit Free Press says that OF Brent Clevlen, out of options and unlikely to make the cut, is on the Buc's radar.

The 25-year old RH is considered a good corner OF, and had a line of .279/22/82 at AAA Toledo last year. But he struck out 166 times in 476 at-bats.

So the possibility exists that someone could get plucked from the waiver wires or in a last-minute deal, too. The suits claim that they don't have any irons in the fire; we'll see.

-- The Bucs lost to Boston this afternoon 4-3, as Paul Maholm finally had a shaky start; we hope it's out of his system now. The lefty gave up three runs in four innings, with all the damage coming as a result of a wind blown homer.

Nyjer Morgan was the hitting star - first time we got to write that! - going 3-for-4 with two doubles and a run scored. Nate McLouth hit his fourth homer of the spring, a two run shot off of Josh Beckett.

The Pirates will have two games on Thursday. The big club will tackle the Reds in the main bout. Ian Snell is scheduled to start, health allowing (he has the flu, too), against Edinson Volquez.

The Pirates also play Manatee Community College at McKechnie Field in their annual charity exhibition. Virgil Vasquez will go for the Pirates, with a minor-league crew behind him.

-- One player the Pirates were supposed to be in on, IF Robert Andino, was traded to the Orioles by Florida today for Hayden Penn, a pitcher that was hot a couple of years ago but has run on hard times since. So you can take Andino off the hot stove.

-- Where are they now: Jason Michaels is the bench OF for the Astros.

Ronny Paulino is sitting pretty as the back-up receiver at Florida. His .355 lifetime average against lefties makes him the perfect partner for LH Scott Baker, the Fish' everyday backstop.

Toronto has stockpiled ex-Pirates, but utility infielder Jose Bautista is the only one that will break camp with them. Raul Chavez, TJ Beam and Bryan Bullington were all sent to AAA Las Vegas.

Doug Meintkiewicz is still in the running for a reserve role in LA, as is Chris Gomez in Baltimore, although he looks to get a visit from the Turk now that Andino has joined the club.

Chris Duffy and Tony Gwynn Jr. are in a battle for the last outfield position in Milwaukee; Gwynn is probably the favorite, as he's out of options. The Nat's Jose Castillo, the Cub's Luis Rivas, and the White Sox' John Van Benschoten were all sent to minor league camp for assignment.

-- Once-upon-a-time Pirate farm hand, infielder Jeff Keppinger, was traded to the Astros by the Reds late yesterday.

Finding 25 Good Men Isn't That Easy...

-- Jeff Karstens didn't help his own cause this afternoon, allowing five runs in 5-2/3 innings against the Twins. He gave up 10 hits, walked two, and struck out two. Karstens also got nine fly-ball outs, indicating that he again had trouble keeping his pitches down in the zone. His spring ERA is now 6.17.

The Twins won, 12-8, and no Bucco hurler exactly covered himself in glory. Matt Capps faced six batters; four scored. Craig Hansen and Chris Bootcheck were nicked for runs, too. Jesse Chavez alone escaped unscathed, yielding a hit in 1/3 inning.

The Pirate youngsters did most of the damage. 2B Jim Negrych had two hits and three RBI; 2007's fourth round draft pick, 20-year old OF Quincy Latimore, had two hits, with a triple and two runs scored; and last year's third rounder, SS Jordy Mercer, walked and scored.

Jack Splat had a two-run homer and Ramon Vazquez added a pair of hits and a tally.

The Pirates face the Red Sox tomorrow at McKechnie Field. Paul Maholm will start for Pittsburgh, and he'll go against Josh Beckett.

-- To add a little drama to the Pirate bullpen situation, the Pirate beat writers report that Evan Meek just doesn't have the flu, but bronchitis. Bad timing for both Meek and the Bucs.

So the Pirate pitching dilemma continues. The question isn't who to cut, but who deserves to stay. And there may not be a dozen that earned a ticket north judged on their spring performance. With a week to go until the games count, you'd like your pitching to fall into place, not disarray.

-- The rumor mill in Florida, from beat writer Joe Fisaro on his Fish Pond blog:

As reported, Robert Andino is on the Pirates radar, and the Marlins are talking Brian Bixler as a possible return. Given Bix's spring, that deal is unlikely. The Pirates might try to wait out Florida and pick Andino up on waivers if he doesn't make the cut or get dealt elsewhere.

The Fish are also looking for a lefty to balance their bullpen, and Sean Burnett is an arm that might interest them, according to Fisaro.

-- Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports says that the Pirates are in the mix for the Ray's RHPs Jeff Niemann or Jason Hammell, along with the Rangers, Nationals, Indians, Padres, Brewers and Rockies.

They're both out of options, and are available, if the price is right, because of the depth of Tampa Bay's highly-regarded AAA staff, led by David Price. But the Rays won't give them away; they could keep both and cut Lance Cormier if the offers aren't up to snuff. Nice situation to be in, hey?

-- Rosenthal adds that the Rockies could end up keeping Jeff Baker as a right-handed pinch-hitter rather than trading him. Apparently no one, including the Pirates, have made an offer they like yet.

-- Jason Stark of ESPN picks a variety of All-Money Ball teams. In his "All-Future Markets" team for up-and-comers, he includes Pirate ranch hands Shelby Ford ("Watch out, Freddy Sanchez"), Pedro Alvavrez ("Pirates still buzzing about his 550-foot BP homer this spring") and Andrew McCutchen ("Why do you think Jason Bay doesn't work here anymore?").

-- In a related piece, Jen Langosch of MLB.com has an article on the Indy club, which she believes may have seven potential position-playing Pirates on the roster now or shortly in the future: Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Shelby Ford, Brian Bixler and Steve Pearce, with Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata joining later in the year. Langosch likes Robinzon Diaz and Garrett Jones as well.

She may be wildly optimistic, but hey, it's nice to see actual young talent in AAA instead of waiver wire guys and old vets. And we did notice that she avoided mention of any pitchers.

-- Langosch also says that the Pirates are leaning heavily to keeping former #1 pick Daniel Moskos in the rotation. They're working on his mechanics, trying to get a return to college form for the hard-throwing lefty by eliminating some head movement. He'll start at Altoona.

-- GW caught the end of "Baseball Today" on ESPN when he got home from work, and they were doing the Central Division previews. They picked the Cubs first, natch, and the Bucs last - with 62 wins! The only Pirates they showed any love for were Nate McLouth and Pedro Alvarez. The previews will be on their website Thursday.

-- Yahoo!Sports has a breakdown of the Pirates strength's and weaknesses as they embark on the 2009 season.

Monday, March 30, 2009

And Then There Were Ten...

-- The ax fell on Andrew McCutchen and Brian Bixler today, as both were assigned to minor league camp on their way to Indy. The reasoning was that they both had things to work on, and better to do it everyday in the bushes than on the bench at Pittsburgh.

Dunno that GW agrees with that pretzel logic, but it was in the cards. And now the roster is down to 35...ten more meetings with the Turk to go until April 6th.

-- Another name is popping up for that extra infielder spot. The Marlin's Robert Andino is out of minor league options and no cinch to stick with the club. His name was brought up during the Ronny Paulino trade talks, so either the Pirates had some interest in him or the Marlins were ready to dump him in the off season.

Andino, the Marlin's #2 pick in 2002, is a good glove, bad stick (.201 lifetime) middle infielder. He has a couple of connections in Pittsburgh, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review. Scout Marc DelPiano signed Andino, and he's now a special assistant to GM Neal Huntington. Perry Hill coached him when he was on Florida's staff.

The suits still have some interest in Colorado's Jeff Baker, too, so if we were Luis Cruz, we wouldn't send those bags to PNC quite yet.

-- Phil Dumatrait will start on the DL - he just started throwing live again over the weekend - and is 4-6 weeks from rejoining the club.

-- Andy LaRoche's disappearance from the lineup didn't have anything to do with injury; he's got the flu. So does Evan Meek, so we'll see if that impacts his chances of breaking camp with the big club.

-- The Pirate rotation seems set with Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens. The bullpen isn't quite so set.

Matt Capps, Tyler Yates and John Grabow are in; Donnie Veal and Craig Hansen likely, and Meek, Sean Burnett, Chris Bootcheck and Jesse Chavez are fighting for the last two spots, and it could be down to one if the suits decide to keep Jason Davis or Virgil Vasquez as a long man during a busy April.

Of course, that mix could change if someone becomes available in the next week during final cuts. It does look like Pedro Martinez and Will Ohman can both be crossed off the Bucco shopping list. (EDIT - Ohman for sure; he inked a deal with the Dodgers this afternoon.)

-- Ditto for the Pirate bench; Ramon Vazquez, Eric Hinske, and Jason Jaramillo are locks; Craig Monroe is the favorite to take the last OF spot from Jeff Salazar, and if no moves are made, the Bradenton scuttlebutt says that Luis Cruz will take the fifth spot, with Andy Phillips making up for injury time at Indy.

The regular lineup looks like Nyjer Morgan, Freddy Sanchez, Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, Adam LaRoche, Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss and Jack Splat. Hinske and Monroe could see some OF platoon time, both to rest Moss in right and spell Morgan in left, especially if he doesn't find his stick soon.

-- The Big O had another strong outing in the Pirates 3-2 win over the Reds today. He went 5-1/3 innings, giving up a run on three hits, with three K's and two walks. The Bucs scored twice in the ninth with two away when Salazar singled home the tying run and Jaramillo singling up the middle for the walk-off knock.

Jeff Karstens will pitch against the Twins tomorrow against Nick Blackburn. A good outing should cement his spot on the staff, but a bad day at the office could turn the struggle for the rotation's last spot into a cage match.

-- The Bucs picked up 24-year old LHP Shawn Cunningham from the Tribe today for a player to be named later. Cunningham had OK stats as a starter, but a bad start on the hill followed by a switch to the pen led to some pretty horrible numbers in 2008.

He has a fastball that hits 89-91 MPH, and a good curveball and changeup. Cunningham is supposed to have some mechanical problems, and the Bucs will try to salvage his career at Altoona.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Between The Raindrops

-- The Evil Empire scored the go-ahead run in the eighth off Jason Davis and held off the Pirates 9-8 this afternoon. Zach Duke and AJ Burnett hit the showers early; it was 8-8 after the top of the fifth.

Yesterday the bubble players showed their stuff; today the regular lineup was penciled in. Nyjer Morgan, Freddy Sanchez, Ryan Doumit, Adam LaRoche and Brandon Moss each had a pair of hits. Doumit, LaRoche, and DH Eric Hinske homered.

Brian Bixler had a tough day subbing for Jack Wilson. He threw a pair of balls away and struck out, though he did have another hit. Backup catcher Jason Jaramillo threw out another base-stealer, and late inning replacement Andrew McCutchen banged out a hit in his only at-bat; he's unconscious at the plate right now.

For the ex-Pirate Pinstripes, it was a mixed day. The X-Man, Xavier Nady, was 2-for-3 with a double and run scored, but Damaso Marte gave up a run on a couple of hits in 2/3 of an inning.

Phil Coke, one of the names originally mentioned in last year's deadline deal, got the win. He threw two shut-out innings, giving up a hit and striking out four. The lefty is 3-0 with a 1.54 ERA this spring.

-- The Pirate beat reporters are writing that Jack Splat's agent Page Odle has approached the suits about a contract extension. Wilson is in the last season of a three-year deal, with an $8.4M team option ($600K buyout) for 2010.

That figure doesn't work, and was a major hangup in the efforts to deal Wilson. While the talks haven't reached a point where specifics are being discussed, GM Neal Huntington said he'd be willing to carry the discussion into the season, a scenario usually avoided by Pittsburgh.

The 31-year old Wilson has stated publicly that he'd like like one more contract before hanging them up, and we assume that he's looking for a two or three-year deal with salary concessions and limited trade protection; Wilson would probably be OK with a West Coast or contender deal.

That would work for both sides. Wilson would have a little security and a chance to finish his career with one team, and the Bucs wouldn't have to rush anyone through the system or deal outside the organization to replace him.

There's no heir apparent outside of Ramon Vazquez or Brian Bixler, and neither is thought to be an everyday player.

Splat's bruised knee is OK; he should be back in the lineup tomorrow.

-- Charlie Wilmoth of the Bucs Dugout has his Five Questions: Pittsburgh Pirates on the Hardball Times.

-- Jen Langosch of MLB.com has a piece on Pirate righty Brad Lincoln and his future in the organization. He'll start the season at AA Altoona, but could be fast tracked.

According to head scout Kyle Stark: "The reality is that if he is in Double-A, he's close. The way we develop players is if the player accomplishes what we want him to accomplish in Double-A, theoretically, he is ready for the big leagues."

That's interesting, especially considering that Jose Tabata will start with the Curve and Pedro Alvarez should be in Altoona sooner rather than later this season.

-- The Tigers returned Rule 5 pick Kyle Bloom to the Pirates. The Bucs are expected to ship the lefty to AA Altoona.

-- Dirt Dog Doug has opened some eyes in Dodgertown this spring, and has a shot at breaking camp with the team. If not, he still wants to play for at least another season in the bigs before he calls it a career, reports Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times:

Mientkiewicz said he "absolutely" believes that he can still play in the majors and that he will become a free agent if he isn't added to the 25-man roster by April 6, as his contract allows.

With five more months in the majors, the 34-year-old utilityman will have 10 years of service time, which would improve his retirement benefits. Mientkiewicz has already assured himself of receiving healthcare for the rest of his life; reaching 10 years will ensure that his wife, Jodi, is also covered.
Jodi, as you may recall, had a serious heart procedure last season.

-- Kris Benson, old Pirate righty, is still hanging around the Ranger camp, and has a shot at earning the fifth spot in the rotation. He'll pitch tomorrow against the Giants, and it could be a make or break game for him according to MLB.com's TR Sullivan.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sweatin' Those Last Cuts

The Pirates treated Jamie Moyer and the Phils like AIG treated the fed's bailout money this afternoon, pounding out a 10-4 victory. And even better, it gave GW three storylines, a blogger's delight.

The big story is how the Pirates' bubble players are refusing to get cut without a fight. Andrew McCutchen went 5-for-5 with a home run, three doubles, two RBI, and three runs scored. Brian Bixler went 2-for-4 and scored, while Garrett Jones hit a three-run homer as a pinch hitter.

Hey, their fate may be predestined, but it's sweet watching guys force the suits to make hard decisions about roster spots instead of the usual annointing of players.

The next tale concerns Ian Snell, who lasted six innings with a line of one run on two hits, with three walks and five whiffs. Snell induced 9 ground outs to go with his 5 K's and a Jason Jaramillo pick-off (JJ also threw out a would-be stealer, showing why he made the cut).

The only caveat is that his control could use some sharpening. But on a day when the winds were blowing out at 30 MPH, it was key to keep the pitches down. He did, against a lineup that featured Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz with top subs Geoff Jenkins and Matt Stairs.

And finally, the Bucs got a chance to let some of the minor league boys get their feet wet. Jim Negrych and Brian Friday ended the game as the middle infielders, Rob Grossman got some time in right field, and Erik Krantz finished behind the dish. It's nice to see the second wave of prospects get a sip in the bigs, even if only for a spring game.

All in all, a good day to be a Pirate. We'll see if they can do it again tomorrow afternoon in Tampa against the Yankees. Zach Duke will make the start against A.J. Burnett.

Pellas On The Pirates: Son Of 10 Days To Go

My take on your observations, questions, and comments with "10 Days To Go..."

* Virgil Vasquez will not go north with the club, but he is no worse than the second option if/when any of our starters get hurt or implode. He definitely gets after enemy batters, though I don't know how good his raw stuff really is.

But he appears to be another in an increasingly long line of smart, low profile but highly productive moves this team has made since Neil Huntington took over as General Manager. While guys like Vasquez are not going to lead you to the promised land, they are the kind of baseball lifer - professionals that every organization needs and can use, sometimes more often, sometimes less, but you need to have them (think: Luis Sojo with the great Yankees teams of the 90s).

PS: Karstens is going to start the season as our fifth starter, but it's pretty clear the Pirates' front office would prefer than someone else seize that spot sooner rather than later. Vasquez could slide down the food chain a spot or two if Daniel McCutchen gets his head out and/or if the Pirates sign an end-of-spring-training-out-of-options pickup. But I'm still glad we have him.

* Will Ohman would be an excellent signing by this team, but he is holding out for interest from a contender. I don't think he'll come here though I'd love to see him in black and gold.

* I'll believe it when I see it from Ian Snell.

* I do think Evan Meek is the real deal. His performance last season at both double and triple-A was exceptional. I don't know that many Pirates fans understand just how dominant Meek was in our system after he got sent down. Let's hope his shoulder woes aren't anything serious. If healthy, he could get a sniff of the closer's role before long.

* Phil Dumatrait can flat out pitch. The only issue with him is his health, as it always is. I don't know that he'll ever hold together long enough to give us more than a dozen effective starts or so, but it sure would be great if he could. I believe he will be our fifth starter for the remainder of the season if/when he makes it back from injury. If not, presumably Daniel McCutchen would be next in line, then Vasquez. Forget Gorzellany, but more on that below.

* Andy Phillips is far better than any other infield utility options the Pirates have anywhere in the system. But, he's another one in the M*A*S*H unit. Back injuries are tricky. Again, he's another "he can really help us if he can stay on the field" kinda guy.

* Jeff Baker wouldn't be a bad fallback option, but why give anything up to Colorado to acquire him when we've already got Phillips? If Phillips is not seriously hurt, I'd just as soon make do with Cruz or even (*SHUDDER*) Bixler for a month or weeks until Phillips makes it back.

* Monroe will make the team. Pearce doesn't appear to have a future with this organization; he's not a true outfielder and Garrett Jones has, I think, passed him up at first base and will get the first shot there once Adam LaRoche is traded or walks. Salazar is a nice little player but is another lefthanded bat and so is not likely to spend much time in Pittsburgh barring injury. Unless....

*....unless Nyjer Morgan keeps stinking it up again. What is up with Morgan? Last year he had a chance to stay with the club and blew it, but we all said, well, he needs to be in there every day and look how he played when he came back up.

Surely this year was going to be his year if EVER there was going to be his year, but he joins Andrew McCutchen and Daniel McCutchen as guys who inexplicably fell flat on their faces when big time opportunity was staring them in the face. Morgan, like Karstens, will go north with the club, but both are on a short leash.

* Robinzon Diaz. Robinzon Diaz. Robinzon Diaz. Robinzon Diaz. 'Nuff said!

* Gorzellany's fall-down-go-boom was no surprise to me. I'll say it yet again: if he's hurt, can we all stop the stupid charade and fix whatever it is that needs fixing?

If he's not hurt, he richly deserves his demotion, not only because of his performance, but because by most accounts he's a serious jerk. No, I don't know that for sure, I don't know the guy, and yes we have to take scuttlebutt with a grain of salt.

But Gorzellany definitely appears to have earned more ire from the front office than his performance alone would merit. How many teams keep running underachieving lefthanders out there year after year after year, hoping they'll catch lightning in a bottle? The Pirates' patience with Gorzellany has been much less than similar cases with similar players on other teams. That lends credence to the Gorzo The Jerk theory.

(GW can't sneak anything past Will Pellas)

Weekend Weenie

-- Roy Halladay showed the Pirates how it's done yesterday, going seven innings and giving up a run on four hits as the Blue Jays won 4-1 in Grapefruit League action.

Virgil Vasquez went 5-2/3 innings, giving up three runs on five hits. It wasn't a bad showing for him; the big blow was a two-out, two run homer by 2B Brad Emaus on a day when the wind was whistling straight out at 20 MPH.

Brandon Moss singled in the Bucs' only run, driving in Eric Hinske, while Brian Bixler had a hit and a walk and was the only Pirate to reach base twice.

The Pirates play the Phillies this afternoon at McKechnie Field. Ian Snell gets the start, and he'll match up against Philadelphia's ageless one, Jamie Moyer.

-- Paul Maholm threw seven innings in a Triple-A game at Pirate City yesterday. The outing was to keep him on his five-day schedule, now that he's officially slated to pitch on Opening Day. Well, who else?

-- Jack Wilson is out after fouling a ball off of his knee yesterday. The extent of his injury, which now isn't being considered serious, could have an effect on the extra infielder kept when the team breaks camp.

-- The Pirates optioned OF/1B Steve Pearce and C Robinzon Diaz to Indy today and assigned infielder Anderson Machado to minor league camp. So Jason Jaramillo's glove won out over Diaz's bat, at least for the time being.

-- As the Jose Tabata tabloid tale unfolds, it seems to GW like a young guy with a future so bright he needs sunglasses simply fell into the clutches of a golddigger looking for a big payday. It's easy enough to understand; a teen immersed in a culture so foreign to him that he can't even speak the language is fair game for the local con artists.

We're interested in how the Pirates support him now. Apparently the Yankees didn't do much to acclimate him to life in the states outside the lines, and if the Pittsburgh suits want to make inroads in Latin America, they'll have to provide a substitute family for their young charges. Budgets and academies are part of the equation; being a surrogate big bro is, too.

-- When he was on the Buc's "to-move" list after the 2008 season, Ronny Paulino's rumored landing spot was Florida. And after failing to impress his new honchos in Philadelphia, that's exactly where he ended up, in a round-about way.

Hours after Philadelphia traded him to the Giants for LH reliever Jack Taschner, the G-Men shipped him to the Marlins for 21-year old Class A RH starter Hector Correa.

Remember what a hot battery Tom Gorzelanny and Paulino made in 2007? Now one's in the minors, and the other is fighting for a back-up job. The future is what you make it, especially in MLB.

Friday, March 27, 2009

10 Days To Go...

Ten days to go before the Bucs kick it off with a four game set at St. Louis, and there are still some story lines yet to finalized...

-- Virgil Vasquez will take the hill tonight to claim his stake in the unlikely battle with Jeff Karstens for the fifth spot, with Jason Davis hovering as a spot starter/long guy.

-- What Ian Snell will the Pirates have in 2009? The 2007 version would be nice; the 2008 edition pretty much guarantees another dismal year for a young and not-so-settled staff.

-- Will the Bucs land Will Ohman? Sean Burnett hasn't proven to be any more than a LOOGY so far this spring, and Donnie Veal has been great or terrible, with no in-between. John Grabow and Ohman would be a nice, veteran set of lefties behind the rotation.

-- Can Evan Meek stick this time around? He had a leg up until he went down with a sore shoulder; his next couple of appearances should write his ticket to either PNC or Indy.

-- When will Phil Dumatrait return, and will he be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

-- Andy Phillips is supposed to be ready to play this weekend. If he hits the field tomorrow, he'll have eight games left to convince the suits that he's a better choice than Brian Bixler, Luis Cruz, or Rox trade bait Jeff Baker for utility dude.

-- Craig Monroe has to stay strong down the stretch to hold off Jeff Salazar and Steve Pearce. We expect he will, given his production and right-handedness.

-- Ditto for Nyjer Morgan, except he has to show something and in a hurry, we assume. The poor hitting (.186) wouldn't necessarily be a deal-buster at this point, but without the patience to draw a walk (.242 OBP), well, we'll see how that accountability thing works this year.

-- Robinzon Diaz or Jason Jaramillo? One can hit the ball; the other can catch a game. And both are looking better than Ronny Paulino. The ex-Pirate was supposed to make 36-year old Chris Coste expendable in Philly; instead Paulino is the one on the block.

-- What LaRoches will show up when the games count? Can Adam overcome the April blues, and will Andy look like the can't-miss prospect he was touted to be or revert to his sad sack 2008 showing?

-- Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Shelby Ford, and especially Pedro Alvarez have shown that the Pirates do have a little organizational depth and a reason to believe in the future.

-- Garrett Jones and Brian Bixler are having nice springs, and will probably get stockpiled at Indy as the insurance policies for potential down-the-road deals involving Adam LaRoche and/or Jack Splat.

-- Tom Gorzelanny's fall from grace is astounding to us. We have to wonder if he'll screw his head on straight at Indy or if his days as a Pirate are done.

-- The Bucs are carrying 40 guys; they have a week and three days to get it pared down to 25. We'd expect some cuts to come this weekend. And as other teams trim their rosters, will any pitching fall into the Pirates lap?

Six weeks of camp gone, and still more questions than answers.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pellas On The Pirates - Has McCutchen Hit The Wall?

Once again, the world wonders concerning Andrew McCutchen.

Generally speaking, when the higher ups tell you to "hit the ball on the ground and run", (as they apparently have told McCutchen, according to today's blurb in the GW) it usually means, "You're a punch and judy hitter but you sure are fast, so slap-hitting looks like the only way you're going to stick around." Is that anything to say to a supposedly elite prospect?

For comparison: does anyone think Eric Davis, who was even faster than the fleet McCutchen, was EVER told to "hit the ball on the ground and run"? And this was a guy who once stole 80---eighty!!!---bases in a single season! Of course, that's because Davis also had 30-plus home run power and usually hit for a respectable average, as well. Which is why nobody---NOBODY---ever told him he needed to stop hitting so many fly balls.

To be sure, no one was predicting that McCutchen was going to be Eric Davis v 2.0. But he was definitely thought to be the best high school player in the country the year he was drafted, and he was definitely thought to be, at minimum, a Gold Glove defender with a better than average all around offensive game. If the Pirates were confident he'd even be that good, let alone a player like Davis, would they be telling him what they're apparently telling him now?

McCutchen's numbers at Triple-A last season weren't terrible, and yes, he was young for his level, and yes, his defense is already more than adequate for the big time. But he definitely didn't set the world on fire at Indianapolis. Nor has he done so this spring in Florida, which is particularly disconcerting because the common perception was that he could force his way onto the 25 man roster with a strong spring.

The bottom line? If Pirates' brass is telling him, stop hitting so many fly balls, it probably means several things, none of them good.

One, that he has warning track power or at least doesn't hit the ball as far as he ought to be if he is going to be a fly ball hitter.

Two, that he also doesn't hit for enough of an average, and the brass figures he can add 10 or 20 points by outrunning the defense on ground balls. This is not a bad thing in and of itself, of course, but---cue the broken record---it's not the kind of thing you tell a truly elite hitting prospect.

Three, that management believes he's not likely to get significantly better than he is right now, and so they are trying to maximize McCutchen's raw athletic acumen as opposed to banking on improvement from his baseball skills. (In other words, running real fast in a straight line is not, in and of itself, a "baseball skill"; it is an athletic attribute that can be translated into on field performance, but it is not the same thing as hand-eye co-ordination or an innate knack for hitting the ball consistently hard.)

The inescapable conclusion, for me, is that Andrew McCutchen is in trouble. By extension, so are the Pirates. If he flames out, or merely ends up a significantly lesser player than he was thought to be when drafted, the team essentially loses the current crown jewel of the farm system.

While it's really not right in the end to load even more expectations on McCutchen than he already has to deal with, it's also plainly true that if he isn't what he was thought to be---which is to say, a near-phenom---then the Pirates immediate future is considerably darker than it was thought to be heading into this season.

Will the world come to an end if he is more Marvell Wynne than Mike Cameron? No. But the Pirates' rebuilding process will certainly be significantly lengthened, and there will be a ripple effect that will be felt throughout the entire organization, top to bottom. Unfair, yes. But that's reality.

(Will Pellas is back writing for GW with his periodic take on all things Bucco.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Green Weenie Wonders...

* The latest media take on Brian Bixler, who's reinvented himself this spring, is that he'll end up at Indy no matter what so he can get regular at bats, and a lesser light (ie, Luis Cruz) will get the back-up role in the show.

Now, unless the Bucs feel like Bix will be be back this year to be Jack Splat's placeholder, that makes no sense at all to GW. It really may be that they want him ready to replace Wilson at some point, but it sure doesn't look like there's much market for the guy, given his age, performance, contract, and oft stated desire to hang 'em up sooner rather than later.

So hey, let the best man break camp. A couple hundred more at-bats in Indy aren't gonna do much to make or break BB. It's time to see if the deer-in-the-headlights play last season was a phase or a permanent condition.

* Ditto with Andrew McCutchen. The suits want him to work on hitting fewer fly balls before they bring him up. Hey, his call-up is inevitable; we don't know exactly why McCutch hasn't taken Nyjer Morgan's place on the roster yet. As far as hitting more grounders, well, that reminds us eerily of the Chris Duffy makeover. And that's not a good memory.

* Jose Tabata made the national news because his wife is accused of baby-snatching. There are just too many weird strings attached to this tale, and GW is letting it be until the whole story unfolds.

* Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports writes the Pirates are sniffing around infielder Jeff Baker of Colorado. With Andy Phillips down, maybe they're looking for one more bench piece. It could well be that they don't feel comfortable with Bixler or Cruz as the fifth man (blowing GW's whole opening rant!).

* The Bucs whupped the Braves last night at Disney World 5-2. Atlanta handled the baseball like a live hand grenade, gift wrapping three unearned runs for Pittsburgh. Bixler (.356) had three knocks and Ryan Doumit (.295) added a pair.

Ross Ohlendorf had his good juju going, scattering five hits over six innings while striking out three. He's given up one earned run in 15-1/3 innings, and looks to have a death grip on the fourth spot in the rotation now. The Big O needed a strong outing to separate himself from the pack, and came through.

The Pirates will send Jeff Karstens to the mound tonight when they visit the Rays. Tampa Bay will start Jeff Niemann.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Smokin' Steve Strasburg

Hey, we mentioned in passing a coupla posts ago that Scott Boras was hinting to the Washington Nats, holder of the top spot in this year's player draft, that he was looking for $50M for his hoss, stud righty Stephen Strasburg.

Boras posturing? Yes and no.

Strasburg is the real deal. He can hit 100 pretty regularly with his heater, and has been clocked at 103, making him the second fastest pitcher (with Matt Anderson and Mark Wohlers, who hit 103 in the nineties) of the radar gun era, behind only the Tigers' Joel Zumaya, who registered almost 105 in 2006.

Ah, you say, he probably can't hit the broad side of a barn, right? Um, no. Strasburg has 74 strikeouts in 34-1/3 innings as of Friday. He's walked seven, and has a 1.57 ERA. Strasburg has given up 21 hits, so if you do the math, only 50 at-bats out of 131 have resulted in a ball being put into play this season.

He fanned 23 batters in one game last year, and in seven outings with Team USA last summer, he struck out 62 hitters in 41 innings. In fact, in 210 frames of college and international ball played during the past three seasons, he’s walked 45 batters while striking out 316. That's a sweet track record.

Well, hey, he'll never get by on one pitch, no matter how good it is, you think. That may be so in most cases, although Bob Feller, Tom Seaver, and Nolan Ryan may disagree. But the truth is the junior from San Diego State has an 86 MPH breaking ball, a sharp, hard curve that's almost a slider. It's his out pitch.

So the big question is how rich will this kid be when he finally signs? We know the Boras schtick pretty well - drag negotiations to the deadline with the veiled threat of returning to college or going indy.

Now $50M is a little outlandish, and even Boras knows that. Power pitchers are notorious for being a pitch away from the DL or TJ surgery; it's the nature of the beast.

But most reports that GW has read indicate the talks will start at $15M, with Boras probably looking for $25M for his hard-throwing client. Hey, Cory Humes of the Pirate Revolution writes that the Bucco suits should tamper a bit and float an offer of $100M over 10 years. Holy CC Sabathia!

We don't think that'll fly, although Boras would jump through hoops for that deal. The largest guaranteed contract for a draft pick was the $10.5M, five-year deal the Chicago Cubs gave to Mark Prior in 2001. Tampa Bay's David Price, the first pick in 2007 out of Vanderbilt, signed a six-year, $11.5M contract that included an $8.5M guarantee.

And remember, Washington has to deal with its fan base, as it is, after mishandling the Aaron Crow inking last year. So rest assured that Boras will beat the record; he has the talent and the ego. Seattle picks second; bet the ranch that if the Nats won't pony up, the Mariners will.

Geez, to be 20 years old and ready to bring the heat, both with a baseball and a contract. Welcome to the show.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What A Difference A Day Makes...

* Zach Duke went out and spun five more solid innings today, giving up no runs on two hits, two walks, and four strikeouts to the Rays in a 4-1 win. The Zachster yielded just three fly ball outs in that span, and his ERA is 1.86 so far this spring.

Eric Hinske and Jack Splat had a pair of knocks apiece, and Andrew McCutchen drew three walks. Jason Jaramillo threw out two of three guys trying to steal off him.

Duke has done what he had to this spring, but we're not so sure about yesterday's losing pitcher, Ian Snell.

Snell got in a handful of exhibition innings before he joined up with his adopted homeland of Puerto Rico for the WBC. He's back three weeks later, with just two starts under his belt, and it showed against the Reds on Sunday.

Snell lasted 4-1/3 innings against Cincy, and was on the hook for six runs on nine hits, four for extra bases, including a long ball surrendered to Jonny Gomes. He walked a couple more, and left with a blister on his foot. His ERA is 8.53.

Given last season, it would have been nice to see him loaf around camp this spring and try to soak up some of what Joe Kerrigan is splashing around. Six or seven weeks of training with the squad would have done more for him than being a spot starter during the WBC.

It's not time to hit the panic button yet, but there are only a couple of weeks left, and given the state of the Pirate rotation, Pittsburgh needs Snell to step up.

Tricia Lafferty of the Tribune Review catches up with the righty on his return to Bradenton. John Perrotto of the Pirates Report gets Snell to open up on the difference between the Pirate City crowd and the flag-waving followers of the World Classic.

The Pirates travel to Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista for a 6:05 p.m. game against the Braves tomorrow night. Ross Ohlendorf will start for Pittsburgh, and he could use a good outing to get back in the pitching race.

* Jen Langosch of MLB.com has a piece on Jason Davis and the late charge he's making to stick with the Bucs when they break camp.

* Chuck Finder of the Post Gazette covers the travails of Jack Wilson as he works on a new batting style in his old age.

* John Grabow is expected back in camp tonight or tomorrow. With his return, the Bucs will have everyone but the banged-up Andy Phillips and Phil Dumatrait available for duty. Evan Meek is slated to miss a week, too, with a sore shoulder.

* Perrotto, Langosch, and Finder all talk about the never ending search to upgrade the Pirate pitching.

* What does a spring record mean? Jim Ingraham of the Cleveland News-Herald writes:
At the start of play Saturday, the Astros' spring record was 2-16. That's a winning percentage of .111 and puts them on a pace to make some history.

The worst spring training winning percentage in the last 25 years is by the 1985 Pirates, who were 6-18 (.250), en route to a regular-season record of 57-104.

The second-worst spring record in the last 25 years was the 7-20 (.259) mark by the 1984 Cubs, who then went on to win a division title with a regular-season record of 93-69.
Wonder which team Houston will imitate?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Roster Battles - Present and Future - Continue

* Jen Langosch of MLB.com has a piece on Andy Phillips and his achy, breaky back. It seems like the utility man had a setback in his rehab, and the clock is working to loosen his once fairly firm grasp on a roster spot. It's an adage as old as the game: you can't make the club in a tub.

Luis Cruz and Brian Bixler are auditioning for his bench role. Cruz is more versatile in the field, but his bat has been AWOL all spring. Bix has had his strongest camp, and more telling, the suits are working him out at first base a little bit, too. That bodes poorly for both Cruz and Garrett Jones.

John Perrotto of Pirates Report has the dope on Bix.

* Chuck Finder of the Post Gazette has an article on Neil Walker and his place in the Pirate sun. The suits have plans for him; what they are is still up in the air. Neal Huntington said of the third base logjam:
"We're still developing Neil Walker to be an everyday player at the major-league level. When we have two guys who are well established, quality, everyday third basemen, then we have a decision to make: Do we trade one, or do we move positions with one? It might be Andy, it might be Neil or it might be Pedro who will go somewhere else or go to another position. Right now, we're excited about all three."
For example, it's rumored that the Brave's 30-year old RHP Jorge Campillo is on the market. He was 8-7 with a 3.91 ERA in 25 starts and 39 appearances for Atlanta. And guess what? They're looking for a third baseman. Hmmm...

GW isn't necessarily advocating that match - we don't know much about Campillo other than he's a screwball artist, ala countryman Fernando Valenzuela - but there are deals to be made, and we expect a couple before camp breaks.

*Finder also provided a look at Garrett Jones, who fills an aching void at first base in the upper levels of the Pirate system and is the ace-up-the-sleeve when Adam LaRoche moves on.

* Langosch added a story on the forgotten man in the Jay Bay trade, Bryan Morris. He's 100% healthy and rarin' to go. The suits will start him at Lynchburg, and the righty power arm will be Altoona-bound in a heartbeat if he continues to show progress against the High-A sticks.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Maholm Mah-velous; Bullpen Brutal

* Paul Maholm was all that again, going 6 frames and shutting down the Reds on three hits. He's given up one run in 19-2/3 spring innings; hopefully Maholm's bottling his performance for the regular season.

The pen was handed a 6-0 lead to hold for three innings. The final ended up 6-5, and the bases were juiced with Cincy runners when the last out was finally recorded. Aye carimba!

Matt Capps gave up a two-run homer, but he was working on his slider during his inning. His change-up was looking good, but he left a pitch over the plate, maybe a slider or meatball heater, and Jay Bruce drove it over the wall, across the parking lot, and into the next practice field.

Jesse Chavez gave up three more in the eighth. His stuff is nasty, but where it's going is anybody's guess, and an Anderson Machado boot at the hot corner didn't help his cause.

Then it was Craig Hansen's turn. He struck out the first batter, got the second on a weak bouncer, and then walked the next three Reds, two after being ahead 1 and 2 in the count. Hansen then ran up a three-one count on Joey Votto, but he swung through a heater that was up and took a borderline curve for strike three.

It looked on the tube as if he was just overthrowing; maybe he's trying too hard to impress. But it kills his delivery, as pointed out by Jeff Brantley, who shared the mic with Greg Brown on a FSN split-feed. It was kinda interesting to get the views of other team's talking heads on the Pirate players.

Hey, let's hope they're just going through their dead arm period.

The hitters looked sharp against Homer Bailey and Jeff Kennard, scoring six times. They banged out five extra base hits, including homers by Nate McLouth and Ramon Vazquez. Ryan Doumit went 3-for-3 with a double, and Freddy Sanchez added a single and walk.

Nyjer Morgan continued to look lost at the dish, going 0-for-3 with a short sac fly. On the other side of the coin, Brian Bixler had another hit, and his average is up to .342. He's put himself back on the Pirate map, and if the suits decide to keep two middle infielders on the 25-man roster, he may well come north with the team.

Tomorrow afternoon is the rematch at Bradenton, with Ian Snell making the start for Pittsburgh. The Reds will counter with Aaron Harang.

* The draft is months away, but the Scott Boras saber-rattling is already hard at work. According to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Major League Trade Rumors:

ESPN's Peter Gammons heard that top amateur pitcher Stephen Strasburg and his agent, Scott Boras, could demand $50M over six years if he's selected first overall by the Nationals in the June draft. If the Nationals pick Strasburg and seem unwilling to pay him as much as he wants, Boras could threaten to send the prospect to pitch in Japan for a year. If the Nats are scared off, the Mariners and Padres are next in line for Strasburg.

So how could an amateur player get away with these lofty demands? Strasburg has struck out 74 and walked only seven in the 34.1 innings he's pitched for San Diego State and scouts rave about his stuff.

Sure, the Bucs are willing to deal with another Scott Boras client - probably when there's ice-skating in Hades. And who can blame them?

If a cap ever comes about, it will because of guys like Boras. The draft is supposed to be the great equalizer in baseball, but if it's left to the machinations of agents like him, only the big market teams will be able to play and the gap between the haves and have-nots will become an abyss, if it isn't already.

And forget a Boras client signing a long-term deal early in his career to cover a year or two or free agency as the Pirates like to do; Boras thinks the players are being robbed, according to Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. He may have a point; an agent always is looking for the next payday, not necessarily security or "cost-certainy."

Hey, the guy does a great job for his A-list clients. But as for the business and game of baseball, well, we think he's not so useful. But he'll be the first to say that he didn't build the system; he just works it.

And therein lies the problem.

The Day The Music Died

Old time sports fans in Pittsburgh couldn't imagine going to a ball game - or for that matter, a hockey night in Pittsburgh - without hearing the organ of Vince Lascheid extorting the team or blasting out a player intro.

Vince died late Thursday at the age of 85, ending an era in Pittsburgh sports. Oh, he was more than a house organist; he played for big bands like Tex Benecke and Glenn Miller before deciding life on the road wasn't for him and returning to the Pittsburgh club scene. But stadium and arena rock would make his reputation.

Vince was the first to tie a player and song snippet together, and some were classics. He played "Brian's Song" for Brian Giles, snake-charmer music for Dave "The Cobra" Parker, "My Favorite Martian" for Al Martin, "Elmer's Song" for Elmer Dessens, "Rubber Band Man" for the tireless Kent Tekulve, and "Jesus Christ, Superstar" for the Great One, Roberto Clemente.

Opposing players were fair game, too. Mark "Big Mac" McGwire was greeted by the McDonald's ad theme "You Deserve A Break Today," Mark Grace was introduced with "Amazing Grace," and GW's favorite was for Oriole Benny Ayala who played against the Bucs in the '79 World Series to the strains of "Tie Ayala (A Yellow) Ribbon 'Round The Old Oak Tree."

When the opposing manager would go to the bullpen, the yanked pitcher would head to the dugout accompanied by Vince gleefully pounding out Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" or the Beatle's "Fool on the Hill."

He was just as rascally at the Arena. Lascheid would welcome the refs with "Three Blind Mice" until the NHL made him stop. He tickled the keys into "Let There Be Peace On Earth" whenever a brawl broke out on the ice.

And hey, the Igloo still plays "Let's Go Pens," the long-time three note ("da-da-da") rallying cry of the Penguin faithful. Heck, he's even in the Pen's Hall of Fame. Even Billy Crystal can't top that! His taped "Let's Go Bucs" rings out in the North Shore during every Pirate rally to this day. Sometimes it even helps.

We'll miss Vince, as we have over the years when his witty (or corny; take your pick) organ interludes were replaced by three-chord rock anthems. But the Pirates stuck with tradition long enough to record him playing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," and at least that lives on, played during every PNC seventh-inning stretch

Friday, March 20, 2009

Deja Vu All Over Again

Well, it was to be expected that the Buccos would get taken to the woodshed by the BoSox today - it was an away game at Fort Meyers, so all the Red Sox would be there while the Pirates sent a busload of B-squadders to more or less compete.

The final was 11-4, and the highlights were a three-hit day by Robinzon Diaz (.500), who added a double, 2 RBI, and a run scored, and two more knocks from Craig Monroe (.311). And Brandon Moss returned to action, going 1-for-4 and looking like he'll be in shape for opening day.

But that pitching...Jeff Karstens went three innings, giving up 4 runs and 3 walks; Donnie Veal walked 4 in 1-2/3 frames, and Denny Bautista, Evan Meek, and Sean Burnett, who gave up three tallies in his inning of work, were all roughed up. Ross Ohlendorf was banged around in yesterday's minor league game.

So the bullpen, which had been so stellar in the early part of camp, is now springing leaks galore. And the starters? Remember last year's complaint that the rotation was set without any competition? Well, the first game isn't until April 6th, and as it stands now, your five starters are annointed. The more things change...

But we think that if there isn't a seachange for the better from the Pirate arms - and the team's record will depend mightily on their work - that there will be some change.

It won't come from free agency; Pedro Martinez is the only guy out there that would help, and his price and self-value seem to preclude any Pittsburgh interest. And there's no one on the near horizon skyrocketing in the Pirate system.

In the next coupla weeks, though, teams will be faced with cut downs. There are some interesting arms that could pop loose, maybe as trade bait, maybe as guys without an option left.

Cory of the Pirate Revolution mentions the Rays' Jeff Niemann, and there are other possibilities to join the list, like the A's Chad Gaudin, the Indian's Anthony Reyes, the Twins' Philip Humber, the Angels' Shane Loux, the O's David Pauley, and they're not alone.

So we think this year will be different. After last season's bitter lesson about pitching depth, we don't believe the Pittsburgh suits will sit still for a repeat performance. Hopefully, the staff will answer the bell for 2009. If not...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

18 Days And 15 Players To Go...

The Bucs had the day off, and we figured it's time to take a look at who's left standing with 2-1/2 weeks until opening day. There are 40 guys remaining, and the final roster, as GW sees it, is in bold:

Starters: Jason Davis, Zach Duke, Phil Dumatrait, Jeff Karstens, Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, Ian Snell, and Virgil Vasquez.

Except for injury, trade, or self-destruction, this rotation is set - but the fifth guy better not get too comfortable; Dumatrait will take a spot as soon as his arm is ready. And the Pirates were actively seeking a back-ender when free agency started; although that well is dry, the possibility of a deal for a late cut could still be struck.

Bullpen: Denny Bautista, Chris Bootcheck, Sean Burnett, Matt Capps, Jesse Chavez, John Grabow, Craig Hansen, Evan Meek, Donnie Veal, and Tyler Yates.

There's some wobble room here, especially regarding Burnett if Grabow and Veal both break camp; Bootcheck or even Chavez will have an opening if he doesn't straighten up. They'll take 12 arms north with them; there are a slew of games in April because of the WBC.

Catchers: Robinzon Diaz, Ryan Doumit, and Jason Jaramillo.

We think they'll start with a bat over a glove, but the local beat guys say both Jaramillo and Diaz could caddy for Doumit, alternating between the big club and Indy.

Infield: Brian Bixler, Luis Cruz, Garrett Jones, Adam LaRoche, Andy LaRoche, Pedro Lopez, Anderson Machado, Andy Phillips, Freddy Sanchez, Ramon Vazquez, and Jack Wilson.

Jones has made a strong case, but there are just too many corner guys in the mix. But if Adam LaRoche gets shipped this year, he'll be the guy they'll plug into his spot. Phillips should make the club, but he better climb out of the tub soon or Bix could claim his spot.

Outfield: Eric Hinske, Andrew McCutchen, Nate McLouth, Craig Monroe, Brandon Moss, Nyjer Morgan, Steve Pearce, and Jeff Salazar.

If Morgan keeps hitting like a hockey player, Salazar could sneak in, although the Pirates would like to have two center-field types until McCutchen gets his call. Pearce will go back to first at Indy as a Plan B for any Adam LaRoche deal.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gorzo Gonzo; Rotation Setting Up

* We're not sure just exactly what it is that Tom Gorzelanny does to get under the suits' skin, but whatever it is, it sure works.

Shortly after setting him up to work the same day as Jeff Karstens and in effect staging a head-to-head battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, the Bucs shipped Gorzo to Indy. End of debate.

The Pirates' cited inconsistent mechanics, the same line they used to ship Romulo Sanchez out of camp as the first cut. We're not sure what all is involved in this fall from grace, but Tom Gorzelanny sure better figure it out, and soon.

That leaves the Pittsburgh starting five looking like Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens coming out of Bradenton. If somebody implodes or gets hurt, Virgil Vasquez is hovering, Jason Davis is stretching his arm out, and either would be delighted with a shot as a Bucco back-ender.

And it does make us think they'll have Phil Dumatrait back sooner rather than later.

The move will also cause some decisions to be made at Indy. Right now, they have starters Gorzo, Dan McCutchen, Jimmy Barthmaier, Ty Taubenheim, Yoslin Herrera and Corey Hamman on the roster, with a couple of more arms to join the fray shortly.

* Neil Walker and Dave Davidson were sent to Indy today, Jose Tabata was assigned to Altoona, and Brian Slocum was posted to minor league camp. By our count, there are 40 guys left in the hunt for 25 spots. Now it's getting interesting.

* The Bucs took a 4-3, 10 inning decision from the Twins this afternoon. Anderson Machado banged out a walk-off single into right, bringing home Jeff Salazar with the game winner. Andrew McCutchen added a pair of hits, including a double, raising his spring average to .280.

Eric Hinske made his first showing since February, playing right field and going 0-for-2 with a whiff and a walk.

Zach Duke went the first five innings, giving up two runs on a pair of solo shots. He surrendered five hits and a walk, and struck out four while getting nine outs on the ground. So far this spring, he's put together a nifty little 2.45 ERA.

Matt Capps gave up a run, while Denny Bautista, Jason Davis, and Craig Hansen, who got the win, put up goose eggs.

The Pirates are off tomorrow, and return to action Friday to play the Red Sox on in Fort Myers at 1:05 p.m. Jeff Karstens will start for Pittsburgh.

* Duquesne grad and ex-Bucco Joe Beimel, from St. Marys, PA, signed a one year, $2M deal with the Washington Nats today.

* The USA scored three times in the ninth, keyed by a walk-off, two run Texas League single by David Wright, to earn a spot in the one-and-out round of the WBC. Ramon Vazquez came in late in the game to play the hot corner, and was 1-for-1 with an RBI. Ian Snell got to camp today; Vazquez is expected tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sabathia and Rivera and Sonnanstine and Price, Oh My!

* Well, so much for the Virgil Vasquez buzz. The Yankees suited up Jorge Posada, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady, Melky Cabrera and the boys, and the Bucs brought a busload of guys like Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Steve Pearce, Luis Cruz, Andrew McCutchen, Jody Mercer, Jeremy Farrell, Eric Kratz ...we guess you get the idea.

It was the Pinstripes a lot, the good guys a little, or a 9-2 final for those of you with a scoring fetish.

CC and Mariana K'd nine Pirates in five innings, while Vasquez was lit up like a Times Square Christmas tree by the Bronx Bullies. Evan Meek even fell to earth, walking three guys. Mama said there'd be days like this. Mama's always right.

This afternoon's game is more of the same; there aren't many no-name pitchers left in Florida now. The Pirates return to McKechnie Field to face the Twins at 1:05 p.m. when Zach Duke and Francisco Liriano square off in a battle of the lefties.

* Hey, it must be getting near serious baseball time in Florida. The Bucs saw Andy Sonnanstine and David Price last night, and get to take some cuts against CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera tonight. Now we'll see what the boys have.

They swung the bat pretty well against Tampa, but left a dozen guys on base in falling to the Rays, 6-4. Pittsburgh banged out six hits in 5-1/3 innings against Sonnanstine and Wright, but only scored twice.

They had 13 hits in all, including 5 doubles, but eight guys were left in scoring position during the contest. Robinzon Diaz and Craig Monroe each had a pair of knocks with a double, and Monroe brought a pair home, his 10th and 11th RBI of camp.

Paul Maholm was all that again, going 4-2/3 scoreless innings, lifted only because he hit his pitch count of 55 offerings. He gave up two hits, a walk, and whiffed four (including Evan Longeria and Pat Burrell) as his spring ERA dropped to 0.66. Ah, but the pen.

Five bullpen guys gave up ten! walks, and if Joe Kerrigan is a drinking man, he sure had an excuse last night. TB got four hits total, but the free passes were brutal.

Dave Davidson, Brian Slocum, and Jesse Chavez were particularly ugly. Donnie Veal and Jeremy Powell struggled through a zippo inning apiece, somewhat bloodied but unbowed.

The next round of cuts may not be very hard to make. And John Perrotto of Pirates Report says it appears that there are no free agent arms looming in the Bucco future.

* Ian Snell took the loss to Venezuela last night. He worked 4 innings, giving up five hits, two walks, and a run while collecting five strikeouts. Ramon Vazquez tripled in four at-bats, but K'ed the other three ups. 1-for-4 should be his middle name, at least in the WBC.

* Eric Hinske is on schedule to DH Wednesday, and Brandon Moss may get into some minor league games late in the week. Andy Phillips still has a balky back and is day-to-day. Jason Davis and Steve Pearce have healed from calf strains, so it looks like Phil Dumatrait is the only player down - and he's even long tossing. Minor league guys Shelby Ford and Jose Tabata have both mended up, too.

* To celebrate his 50th season with the team, Steve Blass will toss out the first pitch on opening day. Fittingly, his battery mate will be Manny Sanguillen.

* And hey, thanks to the guys that stopped by for the live blog. We'll run that feature every so often; it seemed to work out OK last night

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bucs - Rays Live Blog

Cut Down, Competition, Live Blog (We Hope)

* The Bucs made their first cuts today, sending eight guys to minor league camp.

RHP Jimmy Barthmaier is headed for AAA Indy. RHP Jeff Sues and C Steve Lerud are off to AA Altoona, and 3B Pedro Alvarez and RHP Ron Uviedo will start out at High-A Lynchburg. RHP's Juan Mateo and Daniel McCutchen join 2B Shelby Ford in Pirate City, waiting on their new assignment.

The other players will hang around until the WBC players and walking wounded return to action. April 6th is fast approaching.

* A couple of unexpected battles are being waged in camp. LHP Sean Burnett was ripped for the third straight game; he's may be opening the door for Dave Davidson.

Luis Cruz missed a couple of balls yesterday at 2B; he may drop out of the running for the extra bench infielder and let Andy Phillips and Brian Bixler (who woulda thunk it? But BB is hitting .379 and his glovework is betting better every day) duke it out.

Ryan Doumit's caddies, Jason Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz, are both doing decent jobs and haven't created any real separation between themselves yet. And if Neal Huntington is to be believed, Steve Pearce is giving Craig Monroe a run for his money as the RH'ed OF.

The GM also says that Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Gorzo are fighting for two spots in the rotation. All three did OK in their last start, so we'll see what the next three weeks have in store.

* Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay fought to a 7-7 draw yesterday. Alvarez crushed a two-out ball in the ninth to center to plate three (his first), and Garrett Jones went deep to right during the next at-bat to forge the improbable tie.

Andrew McCutchen tripled, scored and made a great grab in center. Jose Tabata singled, doubled, hit a sac fly, and threw out Carl Crawford at home. The future's so bright we need shades, hey?

* Some bloggers have formed a tag-team to live blog some Pirate games, and Brian McElhinny of Raise The Jolly Roger will take the first shot. If you can't get to a TV - and if GW can cut and paste code, always a challenge - we'll be posting the live blog here at 7 PM.

Paul Maholm will start for the Pirates, then Denny Bautista, Sean Burnett, Craig Hansen, Donnie Veal, and Chris Bootcheck will round out the evening's pitchers.

Andy Sonnanstine will start for the Rays, followed by Mitch Talbot and David Price.

The Weather Channel will be broadcasting live from the game; don't ask why because there's a 60% chance that we don't know.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Today's Battles and Tomorrow's Warriors

* The Bucs were blasted by the Yankees B team yesterday, 13-10, in a game that wasn't as close as the score (Pittsburgh scored five runs in the ninth).

What's interesting in the results is how the starting rotation, with the caveat that there are still three weeks of camp left, is beginning to come together.

Ross Ohlendorf (0.96 ERA) went 4 innings of no-hit ball, and looks pretty solid behind Paul Maholm (1.00 ERA), Ian Snell (WBC), and Zach Duke (1.86 ERA). But what happened to the rest of the field?

Jimmy Barthmaier (18.69 ERA) and Daniel McCutchen (11.37 ERA) appear to have pitched their way back to minor league camp, and Tom Gorzelanny (7.50 ERA) and Jeff Karstens (6.75 ERA) have been lackluster, to be generous. Oddly, both claim to be pleased with their stuff, and say they're just suffering from the bumps associated with spring training, working on different pitches and command issues.

Phil Dumatrait just began tossing again, but he'll be on the DL to start the season. Virgil Vasquez and Jason Davis have had their moments, but they're Indy insurance policies.

Well, the Bucs are better off than they were a year ago. But even if Joe Kerrigan can walk on water, it speaks volumes to the organizational gap in pitching talent Dave Littlefield left as his legacy. The Pirates' best young arms are buried deep in the lower levels of the system, and Pittsburgh is still lacking in the NL arms race.

(Jen Langosch of MLB.com looks at the rotation generally in Pirates Need Pick-Me-Up From Pitchers.)

* The Pirates visit the Rays in Port Charlotte today for a 1:05 p.m. contest. It's the first of back-to-back games between Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.

The Pirates moved Jeff Karstens up a day in the pitching rotation in order to get him off the day that Paul Maholm was pitching, according to Jen Langosch in her blog. Karstens and Tom Gorzelanny will now both be pitching on the same day for the rest of the spring. Head to head for the fifth spot? We like it.

Jason Davis and Tyler Yates are also both scheduled to take the mound. The game will be broadcast on 104.7 FM.

* A couple of guys have taken a look at the Pirates' farm hands. There's no doubt the suits have strengthened that area; now the depth is considered mid-pack instead of bottom feeders, and it could be a couple of drafts away from nudging into the top third.

John Perrotto of Pirates Report features Farm System Making Progress while Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com offers Ten Pirate Prospects To Watch and Pirates Regime Offers Promise.

Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review takes a quick look at the fast track the Bucs' Big Three of Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Tabata are on in his notes Talented Trio Ticketed For Minors.

* Chuck Finder of the Post Gazette highlights Perry Hill, Bucco infield coach. Among the tidbits are how Hill uses golf tees to position his players and has the infielders start warmups on their knees to speed up and soften their hands.

* Team USA got clobbered by Puerto Rico yesterday, 11-1. The game was called in the seventh, thanks to a ten run mercy rule, just like your local little league uses to protect its sad sack teams. Ramon Vazquez went 1-for-4 with a double and two runs scored; he's hitting .250 in the WBC. John Grabow pitched a perfect inning with two K's, and has been unscored on in limited work.

* If you're still in a lather about the lack of a cap in MLB circles, prepare to say "I told you so" after looking at the spreadsheet of Final Payrolls 2002-2008 put together by Maury Brown, who runs the Biz of Baseball. The rankings won't surprise you, though the gap between the Evil Empire and the rest of the league may.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pellas On The Pirates: Daniel McCutchen At A Crossroad

It's no secret that I have been a fan of Daniel McCutchen ever since he arrived in the Pirates' system last year as part of the Xavier Nady - Damaso Marte trade with the Yankees. After taking a closer look at what sabermetric wonks call his "peripherals", I concluded that he was an even better prospect than he first appeared to be, which is saying something.

"The Other McCutchen" has been a premiere control pitcher throughout his minor league career, with very strong BB/9 and WHIP figures; he even posted fairly good strikeout numbers, at least when compared with most "hit your spots" pitchers. Even a so-so year at triple-A in 2008 didn't cause any alarm. McCutchen's ERA of just over 4 was probably the result of giving up a few too many long balls, but that can be attributed to his exceptional control---he's always throwing strikes---and he still logged nearly 200 innings, which is a respectable milestone for any big league pitcher, let alone a guy in triple-A.

So, everything was in place for McCutchen to seize the day and grab a spot in the Pirates' retooled starting rotation in 2009.

Only now I can't figure him out. The guy has been an absolute terminator througout his minor league career, with a fearless, old school style. Granted, he's been a control pitcher terminator rather than the power pitcher version, but he's been extremely effective nonetheless. Unfortunately he's been getting his head handed to him pretty regularly during spring training. That spells "triple A" for him, but the thing is, there doesn't seem to be much more he can---or should---prove in the minors. What gives?

Two suspicions come to mind: one, that he is a control guy and that many pitchers of his type take longer to get their stuff together every year, since their margin for error is small and they have to hit their spots and it takes them time to hone their game.

The other thought is that maybe McCutchen is one of those guys who has really good breaking stuff compared with most young pitchers and so looks dominant in the lower minors, but because he doesn't throw hard enough, starts getting hit at the triple-A level and then gets killed at the big league level. In other words, the classic "four A" pitcher.

I am really disappointed in McCutchen's performance this spring, the more so when a spot in Pittsburgh's starting rotation was clearly his for the taking and he failed to take it. While it's not over for him yet by any means, his star has definitely dimmed, at least until we see what he does at triple-A Indianapolis.

If he hits the ground running at Indy and turns in a dominant half season---which is still well within his capabilities---we'll no doubt see him in Pittsburgh sometime in the second half of 2009. If he falls back from here, though, it could be his Waterloo as a pro baseball player, as he is in his mid-20s now and it's time for him to make it if indeed he can make it.

Four A, or future cornerstone? We'll find out this season.

(Will Pellas is a regular contributor of the GW, and we're glad that he's back in the saddle after taking an off-season hiatus)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mpho Ngoepe - South Africa's Gift To Pittsburgh

19-year old Mpho Gift Ngoepe (pronounced "n-WEEP-ay") is a wisp of a kid at 5'10", 175 pounds, and is said to be the first indigenous African to be inked to an American baseball contract.

And it was your Pittsburgh Pirate Baseball Club that got him to sign on the dotted line. Never let it be said that the new suits leave any scouting stone unturned.

Ngoepe is from Randburg, South Africa, a suburb of Johannesburg, and is a graduate of Rand Park High. He's a Sotho tribesman who grew up on baseball fields of his local club, which operate teams from pee-wees to a senior division, playing in regular leagues and tournaments.

He was a 2-year old when his mother Hope took a job with the Randsburg Mets as a caretaker for the fields and clubhouse. She moved Gift and a sibling into a room in the clubhouse, so he literally grew up with a baseball field as his personal playground.

Ngoepe played on his first national team as a 10-year old and spent most of his teen years playing against South African men rather than in youth leagues.

He's also a longtime A's fan, thanks to PlayStation; he loves Jason Giambi's video dingers.

He hopes become the first player from South Africa to reach the majors. Ngoepe's got some competition now; five of his countrymen have also signed minor league contracts.

They're pitchers Alessio Angelucci (San Diego), Justin Erasmus (Boston), Dylan Lindsay (Kansas City), and Hein Robb (Minnesota), along with shortstop Anthony Phillips (Seattle). He joined several of them on this year's South African WBC club.

Ngoepe spent the last two summers at the European Baseball Academy, a MLB training school for talented kids from non-traditional baseball countries. He was tutored last season by ex-Red shortstop Barry Larkins, who Ngoepe credits for much of his development.

He first came to MLB attention during a 2007 tournament in Durban, South Africa, and the Pirates brought him into the fold last year after watching him play in a tourney in Pisa, Italy, staged by the Baseball Academy.

The switch-hitting shortstop is a slap hitter along the lines of Juan Pierre, and has the speed to pull it off; besides getting down the line in a hurry, he's an excellent base-stealer.

Defensively, the Pirates compare him to a draftable high school or JC prospect, meaning he has the potential but is still a project. The word "raw" is tossed around so much regarding Ngoepe that one could easily use it to replace "Gift" as his middle name.

He's primarily a shortstop, but played second in the WBC so that he and Phillips could be on the field at the same time. Ngoepe also manned the OF as the youngest player (he was 17) on the South African team that competed in the 2007 Baseball World Cup.

MLB Network talking head Jose Mota went a little further during the Mexico-South Africa game recently televised, saying Ngoepe's style of play resembles that of Angels' utility man Chone Figgins. We're not sure about all that, but he is projected as a utility-type player in the organization.

Ngoepe didn't have much chance to show his skills in the WBC as South Africa went two and out. But he batted 2-for-5, with both hits being triples, and turned a DP. Now he's back in Pirate City, and he's slated to start his career as a GCL Bradenton Pirate in the rookie league.

It's a big jump from South Africa to South Florida. But Ngoepe's got the faith of a nation behind him. Guess who's smilin' face is gracing the cover of the latest South African edition of Sports Illustrated under the tag "Baseball's Great Gift?"

Yep, it's Mpho. Let's hope we see him on the SI's US cover someday.

* Hey, the Bucs played Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde today, and thanks to a hot start by Zach Duke and a hot finish by Jeff Salazar, prevailed over the Phillies 6-5.

Duke went 3-2/3 innings, shutting out the Brotherly Lovers on a hit and a walk. He struck out two, and didn't give up a fly ball during his stint. His ERA is now 1.86 for the spring. Dan McCutchen wasn't so fortunate. After a 1-2-3 fourth, he got clocked, giving up five runs and only retiring one batter in the fifth.

But the bullpen was rock steady again, with Dave Davidson, Jeff Sues, Evan Meek, Brian Slocum, and minor-leaguer Jeremy Powell shutting down the Phils the rest of the way.

The heroics came in the ninth, when an unlikely trio of Buccos teamed up for the win. Brian Bixler singled, Anderson Machado walked, and Salazar launched a three run shot, jumping on the first pitch. Bixler, who's hitting .391 in camp, was 3-for-4, as was Steve Pearce, back from a calf pull, who's put together a .385 average.

Salazar is batting just .208, but has two long balls and leads the club with 10 RBI.

The first big cuts are coming next week, and they'll cause a little more deep thinking by the powers that be than they did last season, when the roster was pretty much set in stone. A small step, but it does show that the suits have made some progress in getting the team back on track.

The Pirates are back at McKechnie Field tomorrow for a 1:05 p.m. game against the Yankees. Ross Ohlendorf will get the start for the Bucs, his first outing against his his former teammates. Denny Bautista, Chris Bootcheck, Sean Burnett, Jesse Chavez, Craig Hansen and Donnie Veal are also scheduled to pitch.

The Evil Empire is bringing a split squad to Bradenton, with RHP Phil Hughes taking the hill for the NY nine.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Big Country Holding On to the Dream

* Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports today that Brad Eldred is opening some eyes in the Nat camp.
"He beat the Houston Astros with a walk-off, two-run homer Monday, then crushed a three-run homer to the opposite field off New York Mets right-hander John Maine on Tuesday.

Eldred spent last season with the Class AAA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, for whom he hit 35 homers and drove in 100 runs in just 427 at-bats. He also struck out 144 times, and he's stuck behind a slew of Nationals veterans capable of playing first base -- Nick Johnson, Dmitri Young, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham among them."
Big Country is on the wrong end of a numbers game, but still carries a thunderous stick.

The 29-year old slugger hit .199 for the Pirates in two roster visits in 2005 and 2007, pounding 14 HR and 30 RBI in 236 at-bats. More noticable were his 93 strike outs, a 42% K rate. His career minor league line is .263-157-495 in 2,257 at-bats, with 698 whiffs (31%).

Svrluga also reports a bit of conditional Washington love for newly signed Kip Wells, whom the team is hoping has a come-back year under the tutelage of his former pitching guru Spin Williams.

* The wind was blowing straight out today, and Craig Monroe loved it. The big guy walloped three home runs - and two were really tagged - with 4 RBI as the Bucs took a 6-4 win home today against the Twins. Ryan Doumit and Nate McLouth went yard, too.

Virgil Vasquez went three scoreless innings, giving up two hits, as he tries to join the fray for the "fifth man in the rotation" competition. Craig Hansen and Tyler Yates continued their unscored-upon spring streaks, and Jesse Chavez and Chris Bootcheck put up zips.

Denny Bautista gave up a homer, and Sean Burnett gave up three runs when he allowed a two-out, two-run single to Drew Butera.

The Pirates meet the Phillies at Clearwater tomorrow for a 1:05 p.m. game. Zach Duke will start for the Bucs, followed by Daniel McCutchen, Matt Capps, Brian Slocum and returning Canuck WBC lefty Dave Davidson.

* Hey, it's Dan McCutchen day in the media. Jen Langosch covers the righty for MLB.com, while John Perrotto at Pirate Report focuses on his shared Oklahoma background with skipper John Russell. The GW even covered him Friday as "The Other McCutchen."

* Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review does a piece on Ross Ohlendorf, trying to rediscover his change-up now that he's starting instead of bullpen fodder.

* The beat guys are looking hard at the pitching battles in camp. Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette writes of the looming decision for the last spot, so far being contested between Evan Meek and Chris Bootcheck, while John Perrotto of the Pirate Report checks out how the rotation is shaking out.

* DK also mentions that Andy Phillips has missed a few days with a stiff back, the result of a misstep after a bus ride to Saturday's game at Fort Meyers. He may be back for the weekend.

* Jen Langosch in her blog adds that Phil Dumatrait was shut down because of shoulder soreness, and may miss a couple of weeks before he's ready to pitch BP again. We're sure he'll start the year on the DL now, but GW has to wonder if his arm is a blowout waiting to happen after this latest setback.

She also reports that Shelby Ford jammed his wrist and will be out for a few days, too.

* The Altoona Curve are jumping on the Steeler bandwagon. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley will be da man at Blair County Ballpark for the team’s home opener on Thursday, April 16 against the Erie SeaWolves and will toss out the ceremonial first pitch.

* And then there were eight, as the WBC keeps rolling along. The next round will pit the US, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Holland in one pool while the second grouping will have Cuba, Japan, Mexico, and Korea go at it. The two winners from each bracket advance.

The four survivors play single game eliminations on Saturday and Sunday, March 21-22, and the two left standing go for all the marbles on Monday, March 23. Then it's MLB, all the time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Double Dutch Treat

* Hey, a couple of Buccos are extending their vacation from camp as their teams move on up in the WBC - Ian Snell, John Grabow, and Ramon Vazquez. A trio of youngsters fared well, too, even if their national nines didn't - Ray Chang, Gift Ngoepe, and Dave Davidson. (Jen Langosch of MLB.com has their tale.)

But the story today is the hellcats from Holland clawing their way to another win over the WBC darlings, the Domincan Republic, claiming a 2-1, 11 inning victory to advance to the next round of play by eliminating the Latinos. And right in the middle of the mess is old Bucco Yurendell de Caster.

You don't remember the ex-Pirate? The infielder toiled at Indy and the other Bucco outposts from 2000-2007 (de Caster is now in the Detroit organization), where he showed a decent stick and some versatility in the field. But his big league line is kinda sad. Yurendell played three games in 2006 for Pittsburgh, and got up twice. He K'ed both times.

Not that he's doing much better for the Dutch. He's hitting a whopping .091 so far in WBC competition, and when he came up with the winning run on third and two outs, he was wearing the collar with three punch-outs.

de Caster didn't exactly crush it, but he did claim a walk-off error to notch the win, when he smacked a hard grounder to first that bounced off Willy Aybar's mitt and rolled gently into right field. Put the ball in play and good things happen, hey? And a walk-off hit is a walk-off hit, whether it bounds off the wall or some leather.

Randall Simon is also on the club, playing first and hitting .200, while Bert Blyleven is the pitching coach. He must be doing something right; his charges went 11 innings against the Dominican without giving up an earned run.

* The real Bucs, meanwhile, came back from their day off with rested arms and wimpy bats, hanging on for a 2-2 tie with Toronto, called after 11 innings when both sides ran out of pitchers.

Paul Maholm was sharp, going four scoreless innings, giving up two hits and striking out four while getting eight ground outs. It took him 38 pitches, 28 for strikes, to breeze through the Jays. Jeff Karstens wasn't as sharp, staying up in the zone and surrendering a pair in two frames of work.

Matt Capps, Donnie Veal, Evan Meek, Jason Davis, and Jeff Sues all threw zeroes in their inning of work. Capps, Meek, and Sues have yet to give up an earned run.

Old Corsair teammate TJ Beam pitched a perfect eighth inning for Toronto, with a strikeout.

The Bucs scored when Nyjer Morgan singled, stole second, and came around on Adam LaRoche's single. The other run was a ninth-inning longball by Craig Monroe. The Pirates only had four hits to go with six walks, and struck out eleven times. Monroe led the pack with 3 K's.

The Pirates take on the Twins tomorrow at 1:05 p.m. at McKechnie Field. Toeing the rubber for the Pirates are Virgil Vasquez, Tyler Yates, Jesse Chavez, Chris Bootcheck, Denny Bautista and Sean Burnett. Minnesota is starting Scott Baker.

* John Perrotto features minor-league catching prospect and 40-man roster dude Steve Lerud in today's Pirate Report.

* Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review has a story on RHP Bryan Morris, who many consider to be the main piece of the Bay deal.

* "Dude, there's a buzz here." Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette has the tale of a team that's doing more than going through the motions at camp this spring.

* The Nationals have inked a minor-league deal with ol' bud Kip Wells, according to MASN Sports. He's 65-94 with a 4.67 ERA in 256 games (205 starts) in 10 big league seasons. He was with the Bucs from 2002-06.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lookin' Ahead

Hey, the Bucs have a day off, and the coaches were good enough to let the boys run free today, so we're sure they're out golfing, beach-bumming, or whatever else young guys in Florida with clubhouse fever do with a hooky day.

We're off too, news-wise, so we thought we'd spend the time looking at what's become a big event now that Dave Littlefield and Ed Creech got their walking papers - draft day. Here's a capsule look at some of the young guns:

Top Five Pitchers: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, San Diego State - he's da bomb, throws 100 MPH heat with movement plus a slider and change. Scott Boras is his agent, of course, and the Nats couldn't sign their #1 Aaron Crow last year, so we'll see what nest he ends up in. Strasburg is everyone's primo beast this year.

Alex White, RHP, North Carolina - he reaches the mid-90s with a splitter and slider. The junior has 196 K's in 200 innings going into this year. White is still a little on the wild side, with 90 walks over that period.

Aaron Crow, RHP, Missouri/Fort Worth Cats - last year, he threw 107 innings for the Tigers, going 13-0 with a 2.35 ERA, 127 strikeouts and yielding 38 walks. Crow was an All-American and won the 2008 Roger Clemens Award, given to the best college pitcher. But he and agent JD Smart ended up about a $1M smackeroos short of a deal with the Nats, so back into this year's pond he goes after some indy ball.

Andy Oliver, LHP, Oklahoma State - he was suspended for having an agent when first drafted in 2006, but that was thrown out of court last month. He dumped the first rep for Scott Boras, and that's what is alleged to have set off the fireworks. Anyway, he's compared to ex-Angel Chuck Finley. His sits in the 89-93 range, touching 95, works inside, has good control and sink, and gets a ton of groundouts. Oliver needs to improve his secondary pitches.

Kyle Gibson, LHP, Missouri - the 6'6" junior's fastball hits the low ninties, and he has a good slider and change. Probably a mid-round pick; he's what the scouts like to call "projectable."

Next Up: Mike Minor, LHP, Vanderbilt; Kendal Volz, RHP, Baylor; Tanner Scheppers, RHP, St. Paul Saints/Fresno State (yah, him); Jason Stoffel, RHP, Arizona; Sean Black, RHP, Seton Hall.

Top Five Position Players: Grant Green, SS, Southern Cal - last year, the junior batted .390 with 15 doubles, five triples, nine home runs, 10 stolen bases and 46 RBI. He made Baseball America's third team All-America and tore it up in Cape Cod over the summer. Green is probably a top-five pick.

Dustin Ackley, 1B/OF, North Carolina - the junior is a pure hitter with good speed, but not enough power to play first. Might be a tweener, but belts line drives out almost every at-bat and has hit over .400 both years at UNC. Ackley projects as a LF and #2 type batter in MLB.

Kentrail Davis, LF, Tennessee - the soph was selected to the Freshman All-America team and is on Rivals and Baseball America's A-A squads this year. He led the Vols in batting average (.330), home runs (13), and RBI (44), hits (68), triples (3), total bases (120), hit-by-pitches (15) and on-base percentage (.435).

D.J. LeMahieu, SS, LSU - he was the Tigers’ starting shortstop as a true freshman in 2008, and hit .337 with 11 doubles, one triple, six homers, 44 RBI and 10 steals. LeMahieu was rated the #6 prospect in the Cape Cod League last year by Baseball America and was his team's MVP.

Ryan Jackson, SS, Miami (FL) - the junior hit .360 in 2008 with 19 doubles. He was one of the top defensive shorstops in the NCAA last season, committing just eight errors in 310 chances (.974) at SS. Jackson was a member of the USA Baseball National Team last year.

Next Up: Blake Smith, OF/RHP, California; AJ Pollock, OF, Notre Dame.

Top Five High School Players: Matt Purke, LHP, Klein HS (TX) - he's considered by many to be the top pitching prospect in the 2009 high school class. He pitches in the low 90’s with top flight movement to his fastball. Purke has an easy delivery and mixes in his secondary stuff; he projects as a potential #1 pitcher in the show.

Tyler Matzek, LHP, Capistrano Valley HS (CA) - he's a 6-foot-3, 215-pound pitcher with a 94 MPH fastball. Matzek reestablished himself with a series of post-season tournament games; his junior year was up and down as his dad was fighting cancer during the school year. But his father, we're glad to say, has recovered, Matzek put on 20 pounds and added some velocity to his heater, and looks like an early pick.

Donovan Tate, CF, Cartersville HS (GA) - son of Bulldog and Tampa Bay running back Lars Tate, Donovan is a five-tooler. He profiles similarly to Cameron Maybin. Tate already has Scott Boras for an agent, and is a football star, too, which may or may not affect his draft slot, though he could be a top-five baseball pick.

Mychal Givens, RHP, Plant HS (FL) - he's is a contact hitter who profiles as a number two type batter and also a smooth fielder. And don't question the kid's arm; he throws a mid 90’s fastball. Some thought he was the number two scholastic SS last year, behind top pick Tim Beckham.

Shelby Miller, RHP, Brownwood HS (TX) - Miller can do it all. His pitching line last year was 8-2 with a 1.11 ERA and 119 K's in 57 innings of work. He also hit .413-9-32. Miller committed to Texas A&M, so someone will have to show him the money to get him into the fold.

Next Up: Jacob Turner, RHP, Westminster Christian Academy (ME), Zach Wheeler, RHP, East Paudling HS (GA); and Luke Bailey, C, Troupe HS (GA).

OK, guys, that's our first look at the draft class; we're sure they'll jockey positions as June approaches. And it ain't that far away - could another Scott Boras soap opera be in the cards?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Shoulda Went For Two...

* Hey, the Bucs scored seven times in the eighth and ninth to take the Red Sox into extra innings, but came up a safety short in a 15-14 loss.

Gorzo had another rough start, giving up four earned runs in two innings, along with two homers, a walk, and a beaned batter. His ERA is an unsightly 7.50 so far this spring. Chris Bootcheck, Brian Slocum, and Juan Mateo, who took the loss, all gave up three spots. The BoSox had eight extra-base knocks, including four homers.

The Pirates pounded out 16 hits, nine for extra bases, and drew nine walks. They were led by Jose Tabata, who went 3-for-3 with two doubles and 4 RBI. Garrett Jones and Robinzon Diaz each had a pair of doubles, and Neil Walker and Nyjer Morgan added a pair of hits. Morgan had a tough day on the bases, getting caught stealing and picked off.

Pittsburgh left twelve runners on base.

The 8-4 Pirates have their first off-day of the spring tomorrow, and there's no practice scheduled, so the boys can play in the sun. The Bucs return to action to face Toronto on the road Wednesday afternoon.

* Brandon Moss' thumb is bruised and sprained, but an MRI confirmed that there's no ligament damage. Whether he'll be ready to go when the season starts is still up in the air.

* The Pirates announced their first cuts of camp today. RHP Romulo Sanchez was optioned to Indy, while LHP Daniel Haigwood, SS Pedro Lopez and C Miguel Perez were sent to the minor league camp for assignment.

* Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports has an article on Ian Snell and his Puerto Rico ties. His stepdad, Juan Davila, is a native of Yabucoa, and his better half, Angelica nee Oquendo, is a native of Ponce. "My heart and soul is in Puerto Rico," Snell says. So's his arm, at least for the duration of the WBC.

* Jen Langosch of MLB.com has an article on former Twin Garrett Jones, trying to earn a spot on the Bucco roster as a 1B-OF stick.

* Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette did a piece on the slimmed down - well, as slimmed down as you can be at 240 pounds - Matt Capps and how his fastball is coming back to life.

* Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review writes how the pressure is off of Andy LaRoche now that he's quit trying to impress and just being himself.

* John Perrotto of the Pirate Report takes a look at the shortstop depth in the Pirate system, a pretty timely topic as Jack Splat's Pirate career winds down.

* Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors offers his "Pirates Offseason In Review" op piece.

* Jesse Specter of the New York Daily News has a chat with Sean Forman, founder of the absolutely essential hardball wonk's site, Baseball Reference, covering its beginnings and how he plans to spiff it up in the future.