Saturday, October 31, 2009

Colton "Billy" Cain

The Pirates signed 8th rounder Colton Cain, 18, for $1.125M. The 6-3, 225-pound left-handed from Waxahachie High had a scholarship in hand from Texas, but hey, money talks. Cain fell in the draft and into the Pirates' lap after telling teams he wanted a seven-figure bonus to leave the Longhorns.

The price was the highest over-slot amount dished out for his round, but Cain was ranked the #14 prospect in Texas, and #109 in the country, so he was quite a landing for the Buccos, and probably a decent value with the #253 selection.

He signed in August, after breaking off earlier negotiations to take a little trout fishing vacation. Cain throws in the low-90s, and has an OK curve that should become a plus pitch in time, along with a work-in-progress change.

An All-State pick and star on U.S. national youth and junior teams the last two summers, he won his two starts for Team USA in 2008 with victories over Chinese Taipei and Korea. He posted a 6-2 slate with a 2.17 ERA and had 118 Ks against just 18 walks in 58 innings of work his senior year.

He also was a first sacker with big lefty power potential, enough potential that at least two scouting services had him as a fringe first-rounder at first base. But Cain's Pittsburgh future is on the mound, though he's raw. Velocity, especially for a southpaw, is something that's tough to coach - he once struck out 19 players in a game.

Here's the report on him:
Fastball: Cain touched 94 mph and throws a hard, heavy fastball with sink.
Curve: It was inconsistent, though he showed some rotation. A slider might be his best bet in the future.
Changeup: Showed some feel for a change. He has good arm speed and it has a chance to be a good pitch down the line.
Control: Overall, it was pretty good. He left the ball up in the zone at times, but could get away with it at this level.
Poise: An oustanding competitor who is very aggressive on the mound.
Physical Description: Cain is a big, strong lefty, kind of like a young Greg Swindell.
Strengths: Outstanding heavy fastball from the left side; pounds the zone with it. Good athlete who's very competitive.
Weaknesses: Other pitches lag behind the fastball, though he does have a breaking ball and a feel for a change.
Summary: Cain is a big, strong lefty out of the high school ranks who will have to be signed away from being a two-way player at University of Texas. He's improved his Draft prospect stock as a pitcher, running his heavy fastball up to about 94 mph. His other offerings are behind the heater, but he does have a feel for pitching. He's a step behind the elite prep lefties in this class, but he's not too far below them.
He signed late enough that the Pirates just gave him a look-see in Florida and held him out of competition.

We expect that he'll start in the GCL at Bradenton in 2010 as he makes the transition from two-way player to the hill, with a strong showing earning him a later ticket to State College.

(Next: Evan Chambers)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Jarek Cunningham

SS Jarek Cunningham was an 18th round pick in the 2008 draft, taken from Washington's Mt. Spokane High. He had a scholarship to Arizona State, but a $100K bonus was enough to get the Spokane native to turn pro.

Cunningham was named an Under Armour Preseason All-America by in 2008, and was on the 2006 US Baseball Stars international team as a sophomore. He hit .397 with seven home runs as a junior, and was selected as "Mr. Baseball" by the Spokane Coaches League in 2007.

He slipped to the Bucs because teams shied away from him due to a knee injury (he had a torn ACL that reattached itself without surgery) that wiped out his senior year. It would come back full-blown later to bite him in 2009.

The 6-1, 185 pound, 19 year-old (he turns 20 on Christmas) had a super 2008 season in Bradenton, where he hit .318 with five homers and 22 RBIs in 43 games with a .507 slugging percentage. He finished ranked as the 13th best prospect in the Pirate organization by Baseball America heading into this season.

Drafted as a shortstop, Cunningham played 11 games at shortstop and 26 games at third in the GCL, primarily to protect his knee. Both positions are a bit of a logjam in the lower minors; they're working him at second base now.

But he tore his ACL again twisting during a conditioning drill at Pirate City in March and missed the entire 2009 season. After some rehab, he went to the chop shop, and everything seems to have worked out fine; they found much of the problem to be with scar tissue remaining from the original injury. He took part in the September Florida Instructional League workouts with no lingering aftereffects.

As with any youngster, he has his strengths and weaknesses. His swing has an arc that will produce a lot of flyballs, good for power, not so good for average. He has a loop in it that the more veteran pitchers he'll meet on the way up will take advantage of, so he has to shorten it up a bit. JK also has a touch of the Garrett Jones bug. He hit .410 and all of his homers with the bases empty, but just .214 with runners on at Bradenton.

He has an excellent arm and adequate range afield, but his footwork leaves something to be desired. That will be one of the keys to what position he ends up at; some scouts think that he's going to eventually outgrow shortstop.

Make no mistake, Cunningham is most valuable to the Pirates as a middle infielder. The Pirates already have Pedro Alvarez and a cast of thousands for the hot corner. But he has more potential firepower at the plate than any of the current Buc SS/2B prospects - Shelby Ford, Brian Friday, Chase D'Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, and Brock Holt.

So we'll watch and see how his knee holds up this season. He's expected to be 100% in the field for the first time in three years, and that bodes well for him sticking in the middle of the diamond. Before his latest injury, John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus predicted that Cunningham would be the Pirate's starting shortstop in 2012. The potential is there, even if the timeline is a bit delayed.

We expect him to start at West Virginia this year, teaming up with Holt as d'Arnaud and Mercer man the middle at Lynchburg. If his leather work is OK and his bat continues to launch balls, the Pirates should promote him aggressively through the system. He has the ability to become a top-ten prospect in 2011.

(Next - Colton "Billy" Cain)

The Latest

OK, the Bucs aren't exactly wheelin' and dealin' yet, but there are some moves afoot to report on before the hot stove league fires up:

-- Carlos Garcia, 42, took Perry Hill's spot as infield/first base coach; guess he didn't waste his time in the dugout when he joined the September call-ups in Pittsburgh.

Actually, Garcia is considered an up-and-comer in the infield coaching fraternity. He's been the Buc's minor-league infield coordinator the past two years after some prior major-league work.

He served as the hitting and infield coach for the Indians' at AAA Buffalo in 2003-04, then crossed the coast to work the next three seasons as Seattle's third base coach and infield guru for Mike Hargrove. In 2005, the Mariners led the AL in fielding during his first season, and finished as top-five glovemen the other two years.

Before that, Garcia played primarily shortstop and second base from 1990-96 with the Pirates, then Toronto in 1997, and Anaheim in 1998 before ending his MLB days with San Diego in 1999, finishing with a career .266 average and an All-Star appearance during his ten-year stint in the show.

So the Pirates continue to get younger, and no doubt save a couple of bucks. The front office stuck to the program, even for coaches. But we think the beat should go on with Garcia, although the presentation will be different.

-- The Pirates claimed southpaw reliever Justin Thomas, 25, from Seattle. He was 2-4 with a 4.48 ERA and six saves in AAA Tacoma, walking 40 and striking out 53 in 60-1/3 innings pitched. He was the Mariners’ #23 rated prospect coming into the season according to Baseball America, but didn't live up to the hype.

But the Pirates do need lefties, and Neal Huntington said that "we feel he could be an interesting option for our bullpen." Faint praise, hey? He becomes the 41st member of the forty-man roster, counting DL'ed guys Evan Meek and Jose Ascanio, so a flurry of leaves will be falling from that tree shortly.

Thomas, a fourth-round pick in the 2005 draft, has four innings of work in the bigs from 2008. The 6-3, 215 pounder was born in Toledo, Ohio, attended Youngstown State University and helped the Penguins capture a Horizon League Title in 2004, pitching the team into the finals and making its first ever appearance in the College World Series.

-- The much discussed Jeff Clement was in Bradenton for the Pirates' instructional league, but didn't take part in any on-field drills. He is said to be completely healed of his oblique strain, though. We're not sure how to take that, unless the Pirates were just laying a little TLC on him, but it does seem to make him a long-shot to break camp with the team in March.

-- The G-Men reupped Freddy Sanchez today, according to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. The contract is worth $6M a year, $12M total. So he is taking a $2.1M pay cut for 2010 in return for $6M guaranteed in 2011.

-- The Pirates and Reds will swap high Class A teams, with Pittsburgh buying Cincy's Florida State League team in Sarasota, Florida, and moving it to nearby Bradenton, where it would play at McKechnie Field.

The Reds, meanwhile, will take over the Lynchburg Hillcats, which has been a Pirate affiliate since 1995 and won three titles during that span. They were on thin ice as a Pirate club ever since Bradenton ponied up for lights at McKechnie in 2008.

A no brainer here, with the Bucs getting better weather early in the year and instant access to the coaches and facilities at Pirate City.

Approval is expected at the November 12th FSL meeting.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Zack Dodson

The Pirates agreed to terms with their 2009 4th round pick, LHP Zackry Dodson, in early August, a week before the deadline, signing him for $600K, nearly tripling the slot recommendation (though it was reported that he was holding out for a $1M bonus). The Natalia, Texas native had a scholarship to Baylor awaiting him.

Like another dog-days signee, Zack Von Rosenberg, he got an inning in at Bradenton of the GCL, and notched his first paid-to-play strikeout.

Dodson, 19, was 10-0 with a 1.20 ERA in 64-1/3 innings pitched his senior year at Medina Valley High. He struck out 129 batters and walked 36, and was named the San Antonio Player of the Year. Last season, he went 13-0 with a 0.59 ERA and 149 Ks as a junior, earning him a spot on the 2008 Louisville Slugger All-American Team.

Like most high school players, he also swung the bat with some authority, compiling a .465 average with 11 homers in 101 at-bats as an outfielder. But the scouts agree his future is on the mound.

Dodson, 6-1, 175 pounds, has a 91-94 MPH fastball and a usable curve, with a work-in-progress change up. Baseball America listed him as the #27th prospect in Texas, but he wasn't ranked in their top 200 overall. He was also unranked by

He fits into the Pirate draft strategy of signing young arms with high upside, and filled a need as a left-hander in an organization that suddenly was bereft of southpaws, which explains the fourth-round reach. But Dodson is still raw, and needs a lot of work to smooth out his mechanics.

He just finished up a stint in the Florida Instructional League, with the rest of the first dozen picks of the 2009 draft class. Where he'll begin 2010 is still up in the air, and depends on how well he tuned his technique. Dodson could start anywhere from Bradenton to West Virginia, although State College seems to be the likeliest jumping-off point for his Pirate career.

(Next - Jarek Cunningham)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mike Dubee

The son of Phillie pitching coach Rich Dubee, RHP Mike Dubee, 23, was drafted from Okaloosa Walton Community College (he was signed to attend Tennessee) in 2006 in the 18th round, the third time he had been drafted.

Dubee, 6-3, 185 pounds, is considered a fringe-to-average prospect, and has toiled at seven different minor league stops in the past four seasons. In 2007, he was traded to the White Sox for 2B Tad Iguchi, and this year he came to the Bucs for Andy Phillips.

A starter and reliever in the bushes, he pitched in Lynchburg before being promoted to Altoona, working entirely out of the pen and proving capable of filling several roles on the staff. He opened some eyes this year, going 5-1-7 for the Curve, Lynchburg, and Winston-Salem with a 2.14 ERA.

In a combined 71 innings on the hill, he struck out 81 and walked 13 while putting together a whip of 1.107, enjoying a breakout season. He was workmanlike at Altoona, with a 2.91 ERA, but had some problems when batters laid off his soft stuff and sat on the heater.

Dubee features a 90-91 MPH fastball, change, curve, and cutter. He relies on the fastball and changeup, using the hook as his out pitch, and has always been fairly decent at missing bats, with a career 8.2/K per nine innings.

The Pirates like pitchers with size, fastball command, and a viable change-up, but his age (he'll be 24 in January) and pedigree could work against him. At this point, he projects as a mid-inning or set-up pitcher with a potential MLB show-up date of 2012-13.

It's hard to auger Dubee's future with the Pirates. He becomes Rule 5 eligible this year, so we'll find out next month if the Bucs - or for that matter, any major league team - consider him organizational depth or someone with a shot at the bigs. If Dubee dodges that bullet, he'll start 2010 at Altoona, and we'll discover if he's a late bloomer or a guy that had a freak season.

(Next - Zach Dodson)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Brock Holt

Second baseman/shortstop Brock Holt, 21, from Rice University, who was the club's ninth round selection in the 2009 draft, signed in mid-June for $125K and went to earn his daily bread at State College.

He played 18 games at second base, 48 at shortstop, and committed only nine errors combined, while doing a good job with the bat, too.

Holt put together a line of .299/.361/.449, pretty nice for a middle infielder, and had six homers (one was a 420' blast), fourteen doubles, 33 RBI, and 45 runs scored in 254 at-bats, and was nine-of-nine stealing sacks. He puts the ball in play - Holt drew 26 walks, and was struck out just 31 times.

And that's after batting just .172 in June; he improved every month at the dish as he got used to ash instead of titanium bats. The mighty mite - he's 5-10, 165 pounds - was rewarded by being named to the New York-Penn League All-Star team.

Holt hit .348 with 12 home runs and 43 RBI in 59 games as a junior for Rice. He also led the Owls with 67 runs scored and shared the team lead with 11 stolen bases.

During his junior campaign he was named to the All-NCAA Regional Team and to the All-Silver Glove Trophy Series team. He has a rep as a scrappy, heady player, a throwback to the Phil Garner/Tim Foli days.

Holt has to prove that he can continue to deliver some pop from his pint-sized frame, but his glovework should help tide him over any rough stretches at the plate. And he has his work cut out for him. Shelby Ford, Brian Friday, Chase d'Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, and Jarek Cunningham are all ahead of him right now.

Although his age and performance would merit him a trip to Lynchburg, he'll probably have to wait until one of the middle infield prospects, d'Arnaud or Mercer, move to Altoona. We think he'll start 2010 in West Virginia.

(Next - Mike Dubee)

Monday, October 26, 2009

The News...

-- Andrew McCutchen was named Baseball America's MLB Rookie of the Year today.

McCutchen batted .286 with 26 doubles, nine triples, 12 home runs, 54 RBIs, 22 stolen bases and a .364 on-base percentage in 108 games.

The 23-year-old McCutchen's 47 extra-base hits led NL rookies, and he ranked second among them in multihit games (36), runs, walks and total bases (204). He was third in RBI, third in stolen bases, third in slugging percentage (.471), third in doubles, fifth in batting and fourth in on-base percentage.

Garrett Jones was named to the 2009 All-Rookie team as a first baseman. He batted .293 and led all Major League rookies with 21 home runs.

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance, which is represented by bloggers from every MLB team, also announced Andrew McCutchen as their NL ROY last week.

McCutchen finished first over Tommy Hanson and J.A. Happ as he received 12 of the possible 20 1st place votes. Garrett Jones was sixth (noted by Jim Rosati at the North Side Notch.)

The big enchilada, the American League and National League Rookie of the Year Awards as selected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, will be announced on November 16th.

-- RHP Tyler Yates elected free agency after being outrighted by the Pirates, as reported by MLB Trade Rumors. Yates had Tommy John surgery in July, and DFA'ing him takes him off the 40-man roster earlier than non-tendering him in December, their original plan.

The roster is now at 37 players. They'll need to make some more room by November to protect the up-and-comers from the Rule 5 draft; they have to add Evan Meek and Jose Ascanio from the DL, too.

-- Before everyone writes off Matt Capps, let Brad Lidge serve as a cautionary tale. As Rob Maaddi of the Canadian Press reminds us of Lidge:
"He led the majors with 11 blown saves and went 0-8 with a 7.21 earned-run average. None of that matters now. Lidge is lights-out again. He's 1-0 with three saves in as many tries and hasn't allowed a run in five appearances. The hard-throwing right-hander has given up just one hit in four innings."
We'll find out soon if his season was an aberration, or if the playoffs are so far.

Brooks Pounders

Brooks Pounders, 19, the 6-5, 230 pound Temecula Valley HS (Calif.) hurler with a four-pitch repertoire, was the Buccos' second round pick in 2009.

Reports were all over the board with him. He was ranked as the #89 player by Real Baseball Intelligence, and The Sporting News considered him a fringe first-rounder, but Baseball America didn't rank him among their top 200. Go figure.

Some think the Pirates made a slight leap to grab him in the second round because of signability concerns; others say he ideally fits the profile of a guy with exceptional fastball command and a viable change-up, two key building blocks of the Pittsburgh pitching philosophy.

Pounders wasn't coy about signing, even though he had a free ride to Southern Cal. He joined the organization in mid-June, signing at slot for $670K.

He was shipped off to Bradenton, where he worked 23-2/3 frames and had a 2-2 slate with a 3.04 ERA. Opponents hit .218 off him, and he K'd 20 and walked 11. His showing was good enough for Baseball America to select him as the #15 Gulf Coast prospect.

The righty was 9-2 with a 1.96 ERA and four complete games in his senior year in high school. As an added bonus, Pounders can also bring the lumber, with 17 home runs over his past two scholastic seasons, playing first when he wasn't on the hill. He was named All-State, MVP of the Southwestern League, and the North County Times' All-Valley Player of the Year.

Here's what scouts think of him:
Fastball: Pounders threw his fastball in the 88-90 mph range. It has average life, but his command allowed him to keep the ball down at all times.
Curve: It's a decent offering, aroumd 75 mph, that stays around the strike zone and has a solid rotation.
Slider: He threw it around 80 mph. It was tight with late bite.
Changeup: A plus pitch now, will be a solid out pitch.
Control: Throws strikes, has above-average fastball command. Will be a plus command guy in the future.
Poise: Good poise, works quickly, and has a no-nonsense attitude on the mound.
Physical Description: Big-body guy; doesn't look it, but actually is fairly athletic when it comes to repeating his delivery. Kind of a Jonathan Broxton type.
Strengths: Four at least average pitches from a high schooler. Works fast and throws strikes, the type who can throw a two-hour game.
Weaknesses: Will have to maintain his body. To get into the upper echelon, some would like to see an increase in velocity.
Summary: Pounders might be more substance than style. He doesn't seem to have the best body in the world, but he's more athletic in his delivery than you'd think. He won't light up a radar gun, but he does have four pitches he can throw for strikes. That kind of pitchability doesn't grow on trees, especially from the prep ranks.
Real Baseball Intelligence was quite high on Pounders:
Brooks Pounders has excellent size and is a good athlete despite his girth. As his name suggests, he pounds the zone with three solid pitches: a plus changeup and an average slider and fastball. His command is excellent.

Pounders' fastball isn't as impressive as the other elite prep pitchers in this class. It's only 89 mph and it is fairly straight. Although he's tall, Pounders isn't long and lean like a lot of other high school pitchers.

The Future:

Pitchers with average fastballs and excellent command tend to be underrated. Pounders may not be a first round pick, but in five years, he'll be one of the best high school pitchers to come out of this draft class.
Pounders fits the Pirate mold of selecting tall trees for the mound, although he projects more as a finesse guy than flamethrower. If he can keep away from the Hi-Hos, his command and four-pitch toolkit give him a pretty high upside.

We expect him to start the year at State College, though he has a chance, given his strong showing in the GCL, to land at West Virginia.

(Next: Brock Holt)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Trent Stevenson

RHP Trent Stevenson, the club's seventh round pick of the 2009 draft, was signed on July 23rd.

Stevenson, 19, went 7-2 with a 3.91 ERA in 48-1/3 innings of work in high school this season, with two complete games, one shutout and 59 strikeouts for Brophy Jesuit Prep School in Phoenix, Arizona (he's from Scottsdale). He was headed to the University of Arizona Wildcats as the #1 rated high school pitcher in the state when the Pirates called.

They got Stevenson to sign for a reported $350K, about third-round money and $200K more than the slot for anyone selected after round five. He was ranked #197 by Baseball America.

Stevenson has a string bean physique: he's 6'6 and just 175 pounds. And he's not nearly as polished as some of the other guys are; Stevenson is "projectable."

His fastball is clocked at 88-93, which is expected to improve both in consistency and velocity as he fills out his frame, and he has a good slider for his age. But he'll need work on his command, mechanics, and being able to repeat his motion and release, none of which he could count on dependably as a high-schooler.

The young righty came to terms soon enough to get a little time in with the GCL Bradenton Pirates, where he went 0-1 with a 1.20 ERA in 15 innings, striking out eight and walking not a soul in four starts. His WHIP was 0.867.

Given his uncertain mechanics and age, we expect to see him at State College in 2010.

(Tomorrow: Brooks Pounders)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Zack Von Rosenberg

Nineteen year-old RHP Zack Von Rosenberg, 6-5 and 205 pounds, was rated 41st in the 2009 draft pool by Baseball America, even if he was a peach-fuzzed high school kid. The only rub was the Bayou boy was signed to go to his home state school, Louisiana State, and everyone expected him to honor his scholarship.

Still, the Bucs had a wad of draft cash in their pocket thanks to the Tony Sanchez deal, and selected Von Rosenberg in the sixth round as part of their strategy to add some young, upside arms to a system that needed some help badly.

And hey, ZVR let it be known that if they thought enough of him to wave some first-round money under his nose, well, he could always go to night school. They did, and he inked the dotted line on a $1.2M contract in early August. Slot, schlot!

He has all the bona fides. Von Rosenberg led Barbe-Lake Charles High to a state title as a freshman, then pitched Zachary High to three more state crowns - and he started and won all four title games. Oh, and he was selected Mr. Louisiana the past two seasons and was named a 2009 Louisville Slugger High School All-American.

This past season, he went 11-1 with a 0.60 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 91 innings as a scholastic player. On his days off, he played SS and hit .489 with 10 home runs, 28 stolen bases and 45 runs batted in. Heck, he even punted for the football team.

Perfect Game USA had this report on him:
"Von Rosenberg has a tall frame and a good pitchers' build. His arm is loose and smooth and really projects. He showed good mechanics and repeats his delivery well. He topped at 88 (other combines had him hitting 91), but more will be coming. He has good off-speed pitches including a late breaking curveball at 76 mph and a changeup with good fade at 78 mph."
He reported to Bradenton for some evaluation and a little work. The Bucs even managed to squeeze in an inning for him during the GCL season, and he got his first pro K. ZVR is in the Florida instructional league now.

We'd expect to see him start 2010 in State College and move on to West Virginia, and wouldn't be surprised if he landed at Indy sometime in 2012, even though the Pirates aren't quite as aggressive moving pitchers along in the system as position players. The glut they drafted this year may change that philosophy, though.

GW doesn't have Von Rosenberg rated yet; one frame in the Florida sunshine doesn't a prospect make. But we've seen several publications claim that as far as ability and upside, he's already one of the Pirates Top Ten farm hands.

(Tomorrow: Trent Stevenson)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Top Twenty Five Prospects

Green Weenie's Top Twenty Five Prospects:

01 - Pedro Alvarez, 3B (Altoona)
02 - Jose Tabata, OF (Altoona)
03 - Brad Lincoln, RHP (Altoona/Indy)
04 - Chase d'Arnaud, SS (West Virginia/Lynchburg)
05 - Tim Alderson, RHP (Altoona)
06 - Daniel McCutchen, RHP (Indy-Pittsburgh)
07 - Tony Sanchez, C (West Virginia/Lynchburg)
08 - Rudy Owens, LHP (West Virginia/Lynchburg)
09 - Gorkys Hernandez, CF (Altoona)
10 - Donnie Veal, LHP (Pittsburgh)
11 - Ron Uviedo, RHP (Lynchburg)
12 - Quinton Miller, RHP (West Virginia)
13 - Bryan Morris, RHP (Lynchburg)
14 - Jeff Locke, RHP (Lynchburg)
15 - Neil Walker, 3B (Indy/Pittsburgh)
16 - Brian Friday, SS (Altoona)
17 - Starling Marte, OF (Lynchburg)
18 - Brett Lorin, RHP (West Virginia)
19 - Jim Negrych, IF (Altoona)
20 - Jordy Mercer, SS (Lynchburg)
21 - Justin Wilson, LHP (Lynchburg)
22 - Robbie Grossman, OF (West Virginia)
23 - Nelson Pereira, LHP (State College))
24 - Daniel Moskos, LHP (Altoona)
25 - Jeff Sues, RHP (Altoona-Indy)

We tried to stay with guys that had some sort of track record; Tony Sanchez was the only 2009 pick to make the charts. And even without that class, the players that the current suits brought in have just about shouldered past Littlefield's legacies. But there are some very interesting arms on the way to State College and West Virginia in 2010.

A dozen aiming for next season's list: RHP Ramon Aguero, RHP Victor Black, OF Evan Chambers, LHP Colton "Billy" Cain, IF Jarek Cunningham, LHP Zack Dodson, RHP Mike Dubee, 2B Shelby Ford, IF Brock Holt, RHP Brooks Pounders, RHP Trent Stevenson, and RHP Zack Von Rosenberg.

(No, we didn't run out words, heaven forbid! We'll be doing reports on the guys in the coming days, starting with the 12 pups and working our way to the Franchise, Pedro Alvarez.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Matter of Trust

We're sure you've seen Chuck Finder's piece in the Post Gazette that says Perry Hill, contrary to the Pirates' statement, does want to coach in 2010, just not at Pittsburgh.

That's no surprise; otherwise the Buc suits wouldn't have held him to his option year, which basically means that Hill has to get their OK to take another job next season.

No one can harp on the ramifications of a business decision, which both parties came to last week after a messy, finger-pointing negotiation. But what is clear is that the relationship between the suits and the uniformed staff are not exactly lovey-dovey.

The Coonelly/Huntington era has been marked by a series of dust-ups that would have ended in PFAs if they were domestic instead of baseball-related. And we think the franchise will be better off in the future if the management end of the operation took a little more human approach into the business decisions and relationships they enter.

Listen, we understand they had to break up the Bucs, and that's not an easy process. But they oftentimes seem to be operating a cold fantasy baseball world of sabermetrics and predicted values rather than what at heart is a people business.

They could fill a Hollywood celeb blog with their dealings with Pedro Alvarez and Scott Boras, Miguel Sano and Rob Plummer, Nate McLouth, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Splat, Ian Snell, and writer John Perrotto, not to mention the Pirate nation as a a whole.

We're not debating their business model. Time will tell if they're on the right track or not. But we think it's about time that they lost the attitude, took the chip off their shoulder, maybe invest in a Dale Carnegie book or two, and realize that business relationships are built on personal relationships; they are not and have never been mutually exclusive.

Moves have to be made, and not all are popular. But honest communication with the players and coaches would make the whole tear down-build up phase they're currently working on a lot more bearable on both sides of the equation.

As the Pirates grow as an organization, we hope that their people skills sprout, too. Eventually, the trust they build - or lose - will have an effect on players now in the system signing on with contracts after arbitration has run its course, or on bringing in hired guns from the free agent market. And the product they put on the field will be the measuring stick for Pittsburgh fans.

Hey, all they have to do is look at Heinz Field or the Igloo. The Steelers and Pens are widely praised for having organizations people eagerly line up to join. Partially, that's because they win. Just as importantly, it's because of how they treat their hired hands.

After all, when's the last time an ex-player from the Rooney or Lemieux clubs called their old team a "laughingstock?" Create a professional atmosphere that treats the people in the locker room like family instead of chattel, and it shouldn't happen again.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

News Day

-- The "super-two" arbitration cutoff this season was at two years, 141 days, of MLB time. Guys with three years plus of service time are eligible for arbitration, along with the top sixth (17%) of the second-year player class. That's why teams are cautious about bringing up pups before June or so, as the Pirates did with Andrew McCutchen.

This year's lucky Bucco winner is Jeff Karstens, who with his two years, 144 days of service, becomes arbitration eligible for four years instead of the standard three.

-- RHP Chris Bootcheck has opted for free agency after being outrighted to Indy. RHPs Denny Bautista and Craig Hansen were also sent down, but elected to stay with the organization for now.

The housecleaning begins. The Bucs have to protect some guys on the 40-man roster in November, notably Brad Lincoln, Gorkys Hernandez, and Byran Morris.

The 40-man is now at 38, with three players on the 60-day DL: Jose Ascanio, Evan Meek, and Tyler Yates. Meek and Ascanio will surely end up on it, but we doubt that Yates, who had TJ surgery, makes the cut.

-- One of GW's work buds said he heard a radio report that claimed the Bucs are talking with Florida about a Dan Uggla for Paul Maholm/Gorkys Hernandez deal. Uggla is in his second arb year, and is supposedly fishing for $8M next season.

Maholm is in the second year of a three year contract, and due to make $4.5M in 2010, while Hernandez still hasn't accrued any big league time. We haven't seen this on any print sites, so it may have just been pure speculation. Any thoughts?

-- Jen Langosch has all the Buccos playing winter ball rostered on her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch.

-- Rick Peterson, the old Oakland and Yankee pitching coach, has signed on with the Brewers. You may recall that he was reportedly on the Pirates' short list before they reeled in Joe Kerrigan.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pirates by Position: Rotation

OK, let's face it - the reason the suits blew up the team was because of the abysmal starting pitching in 2008. They kept Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, and turned the rest of the staff over.

Now the question is whether the arms they collected can keep the team in some games, as they did in spurts this season. Ross Ohlendorf, 27, rode a strong second half to the role of Bucco ace in 2009.

He went 11-10 with a 3.92 ERA, and worked 176-2/3 frames while collecting 109 Ks. His 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio was fine; Ollies' biggest problem was the long ball. He gave up 25 last year, and would like to cut down on that number.

But he and Duke (11-16, 4.06 ERA) proved to be a pretty consistent 1-2 punch for the otherwise punchless Pirates. Duke, 26, pretty much pitched to his potential; we don't see much more upside in his performance. Ohlendorf has a chance to became a pretty good MLB pitcher, though.

In his last two months of work, covering eight starts (they shut him down early), he compiled a 2.74 ERA, and improved his K/9 innings from around 5 to 8. His performance will be one of the major story lines of 2010.

Paul Maholm, 27, is the last of the three amigos that's set in stone to start next year. He cobbled together an 8-9 record with a 4.44 ERA. He pitched through an achy knee that he injured on opening day, and still pitched 194-2/3 innings through the pain. But like Duke, we don't think he has a lot of growth left, and he's settled into a dependable, though not top-of-the-line, pitcher.

The party line is that Charlie Morton, 26, Daniel McCutchen, 27, and Kevin Hart, 26, will stage a three-man cage match for the final two spots in the rotation. But unless something unexpected happens, we think Morton is a lock for the fourth spot.

He finished with a 4-6 slate and 5.42 ERA, certainly not numbers that guarantee anything. But except for a terrible August, fueled by that 10-run Cubby outburst, he threw fairly well, if not deep, in most of his games - his June ERA was 4.09, July's was 3.58, and September's was 3.71.

With just 33 MLB starts under his belt, there will be some mental and physical growing pains yet. But he showed better game management as the season went on, and could join Ohlie at the top of the rotation after the All-Star break.

That leaves McCutchen (1-2, 4.21 ERA) and Hart 4-9, 5.44 ERA). If it came down to pure stuff, Hart would win hands down. But performance is what counts, and McCutchen showed that he can eat some innings and keep the club in games. We think that will give him the edge for that fifth slot in 2010, with Hart hovering in the bullpen.

The two items they'll have to work on: McCutchen gives up way too many long balls, an occupational hazard of a control pitcher, while Hart has to find the command to harness his repertoire.

After that, it's pretty hazy. Remember the problems trying to go to a six-man rotation last year?

Jose Ascanio, 24, (0-2, 4.00) just had a scope for a torn labrum and will out until June at the earliest, Virgil Vasquez, 27, (2-5, 5.84) and Eric Hacker, 26, (0-0, 6.00) will work at Indy, and Jeff Karstens, 27, (4-6, 5.42) will be available if they need to plug the dike. Phil Dumatrait, 28, (0-2, 6.92) will have all he can handle to just make the team, much less start.

The higher-level arms are far and few between. Brad Lincoln, 24, (7-7, 3.37 at Altoona and Indy) may pop up at PNC Park in 2010, but will start out at Indy for some seasoning. Tim Alderson, 21, (10-3, 3.93 at AA/AAA) will join Lincoln with the Tribe. Donnie Veal, 25, (1-0, 7.16) will start earning a paycheck there in 2010, too, as he returns to a starting role.

Beats the old gang of John Van Benschoten, Bryan Bullington, and Jimmy Barthmeier, we admit, but still a pretty thin group. The good news is that the Lynchburg and Altoona pipelines are filling up, thanks mainly to some wheelin' and dealin'.

Bryan Morris, 22, (4-9, 5.57) has to put together an injury free season to reestablish himself. Rudy Owens, 21, (11-2, 2.10, Lynchburg and West Virginia) the Pirates' Minor League Pitcher of the Year, has to prove 2009 wasn't a fluke. Jeff Locke, 21, (4-4, 4.08) had a strong second half for the Hillcats, as did 2008 draft pick Justin Wilson, 22, (4-8, 4.50) and Nathan Adcock, 21, (8-5, 5.29).

West Virginia's Aaron Pribanic, 23, (4-2, 2.15), Brett Lorin, 22, (8-5, 2.20), Hunter Strickland, 22, (4-2, 3.77), and Quinton Miller, 19 (2-4, 4.41) showed promise, too. State College's Nelson Pereira, 20, (4-5, 4.35) flashed a power arm.

Are any sure shots to make the show? Well, maybe not, although Miller, Wilson, Locke, and perhaps Morris are all fairly high end prospects. But compared to the pitching talent the Huntington era inherited, they have turned it around. The one thing all these guys have in common is that they are age-appropriate to their class, and they all improved as the season went on.

Beneath them, the future is pretty bright, if distant. The draft has brought in Zach Van Rosenburg, Colton Cain, Trent Stevenson, Brooks Pounder, and Victor Black, and those five may end up among the Pirates' top thirty prospects in 2010.

So the pitching is shallow at the top and at Indy; a couple of injuries could unravel the whole ball of wax. But young guys are bubbling up, and some should be in Altoona this season. It may be four years before the system is properly stocked in arms from top to bottom, but this is the one area that the suits have had an impact addressing.

CONTRACTUAL ISSUES: Maholm is in the middle of a three year contract. Duke is in his second arbitration year, and we expect the Pirates to sign him to a contract. Karstens may become a "Super Two" arbitration player; if not, he'll reach arbitration in 2011. Dumatrait is in his last arbitration year. None of the others become arbitration eligible until 2012-13.

Ascanio, Dumatrait, and Vasquez are out of minor league options, further muddied by the fact that neither Ascanio or Dumatrait will be physically able to pitch at the start of the season.

Lincoln and Morris have to added to the 40-man roster this year or become Rule 5 eligible.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pirates by Position: Bullpen

For all the ups and downs of the Pirates bullpen in 2009, we think that it's pretty well put together for 2010, barring injury and with the addition of a viable lefty.

The $64,000 question, of course, is what Matt Capps reports to camp. If it's the 2009 version, with the 5.80 ERA, .324 opponent batting average, and the command of a little league pitcher, his three-year run as Bucco closer will come to an end.

He always depended on a relatively flat 93 MPH fastball that caught corners; last year, it caught the plate. Capps, 26, publicly blamed his control issues on overusing his secondary pitches; we'll see. This will be a make-or-break camp for him, if he gets to it - there's been less than subtle indications that he's on the market, and he has a $4M contract that will only jump in arbitration.

But if the Capps era comes to a close, the Pirates believe that 2008 Rule 5 pick-up Evan Meek, 26, has the stuff to replace him. Meek was 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA, and except for a rough July, pitched fairly consistently. He still has to cut down on walks, but made great strides in that direction this season.

Plan B is Joel Hanrahan, 28, who was lights out for the Bucs, compiling a 1.72 ERA. The Washington acquisition also has to find the plate more often, walking two guys every three innings. Another red flag; as a closer last season, he only converted 5-of-10 save opportunities. Capps, even with his inflated stats, saved 27-of-32 chances.

Jesse Chavez, 26, was 1-4 with a 4.01 ERA. In his first full season, he was called on a team-high 73 times. Chavez faded at the end, but we think overuse caught up to him. His control was usually fine; he walked a batter every three innings and had better than a 2:1 K to W ratio, and seems mentally suited to be an effective set-up arm. Chavez has to cut down some on long balls; he gave up 11 in 67-1/3 innings.

The addition of Meek, Hanrahan, and Chavez met one of the original goals of the new bosses; they all brought the heat, hitting 95 with regularity and reaching back for a couple more feet when needed.

Steven Jackson, 27, claimed off waivers from the Yankees, was more of a surprise than Chavez. In 40 games, he posted a 3.14 ERA. Unlike the other guys, his stuff isn't going to miss many bats, but when his change up was on, he proved to be a dependable bridge pitcher.

Jeff Karstens, 27, had a yo-yo of a year. Knocked out of the starting rotation, he thrived in the pen as a long man, and generally threw nicely as a limited-inning spot starter. But his grandmother's illness and death, followed by a cranky back, led to a late-season meltdown.

He finished 4-6 with a 5.42 ERA, and has to be considered a bubble player to come north after camp. There should be quite a crowd for that last spot, and options remaining could play a role in determining who's left standing.

Jose Ascanio, 24, part of the John Grabow deal with the Cubs, was his chief rival for the long role out of the pen. But a late-September scope to repair a labrum tear took him out of the competition until at least June. He finished the year 1-3 with a 4.99 ERA.

Old dependable Denny Bautista, 29, got another call to the big club, and per his MO, started off on fire and then rapidly faded. He ended up 1-1 with a 5.27 ERA.

Chris Bootcheck, 30, was signed as a veteran insurance policy, but it didn't quite work out that way for him in 2009. The six-year player posted his third double-digit ERA in the past four years, putting up an 11.05 ERA in Pittsburgh.

Tyler Yates, 32, had Tommy John surgery in August, and Craig Hansen, 25, has Personage-Turner Syndrome, a nerve problem, and no one knows when he'll be back. Those injuries could mark the end of their stints in Pittsburgh, though the suits could non-tender the pair and sign them to minimum-wage deals just to stockpile them in the system.

Anthony Claggett, 25, was claimed from the Yankees - a pity their payroll doesn't rub off the the Pirates, too - and got a cup of coffee in Pittsburgh. In 2006, Claggett was named by as the Class A reliever of the year, so there may be something worth mining in his arm.

The sole returning lefty in the pen is Phil Dumatrait, 28, who came back from shoulder surgery in August, and strung together a lackluster 0-2 record with a 6.92 ERA, giving up 4 homers in 13 innings.

He had a brief shining moment as a starter in 2008, taking the place of Matty Mo, but looks like a long shot to stay with the Pirates next season. He's still a year away from arbitration, but is out of options and will likely be one of the odd men out for the long role out of the pen.

The only lefty in the system worth looking at for the pen is Danny Moskos, 23, the 2007 #1 pick from Clemson. Yah, yah, he's not Matt Weiters, but he may sneak into a Pirate uniform next year as a lefty set-up guy. Moskos was 11-10 with a 3.74 ERA at Altoona, had a pretty good split against lefties, and gets ground balls. And he was a closer for the Tigers.

It's a big jump, and he's better suited to set up than face late innings. Still, he has a shot in the southpaw challenged Bucco system.

There are a few right handers in the pipeline, although none are MLB ready yet.

Jeff Sues, 26, had a rough season at Altoona, with a 2-6-2 record and 4.46 ERA. His performance wasn't as bad as his line; his peripheries were OK, but his command was off until the last two months of the season. He'll probably get a shot at Indy next year; his current position on the 40-man roster is tenuous.

Ron Uviedo, 23, spent the year alternating between starting and closing at Lynchburg, where he went 3-3-5 with a 3.36 ERA. He was limited in his work last season, suffering a bout of elbow tendinitis, and may return full-time to relieving in 2010. We expect him to move to Altoona in 2010.

Diego Moreno, 23, closing at West Virginia, finished 1-3-5 with a 2.60 ERA. He features a mid-90s fast ball and struck out 57 in 45 innings. He should move to Lynchburg next season.

Mike Dubee, 23, came to Pittsburgh from the White Sox for Andy Phillips, and had a 2-0-6 record and 1.05 ERA as part of Lynchburg's closer-by-committee, and was 3-0-1 at Altoona with a 2.91 ERA in the second half of the season, and should start 2010 there.

Tom Boleska, 23, finished the year pitching for Great Britain in the World Cup; he put together a 2.13 ERA in 12-2/3 innings, striking out 14. Before that, he had a 1-1 slate at Lynchburg with a 1.60 ERA, although his season didn't really start until July because of an oblique strain.

This, of course, is the short list. Ramon Augero and RJ Rodriguez were left off because they're 25 and still in A ball. Also, the Pirates like to work their best guys as starters, no matter what the MLB projection may be, so tomorrow's list of rotation prospects will no doubt have a couple of future bull pen candidates included.

And we'd be flabbergasted if the Bucs didn't find one or two lefties to bring in. JR's mouth may have said it makes no difference, but his actions sure spoke loudly every time he had to bring Donnie Veal and Phil Dumatrait in to match up during the latter part of the season.

CONTRACTUAL ISSUES: Tyler Yates enters his free agency year. Matt Capps is in his final arbitration year; Denny Bautista and Chris Bootcheck, their second. Jeff Karstens may qualify for arbitration as a "Super Two" player. Joel Hanrahan will become eligible in 2011.

But a lot of guys are out of minor league options - Jose Ascanio, Bautista, Bootcheck, Phil Dumatrait, Hanrahan, and Craig Hansen. There are also injury issues - Ascanio, Hansen, and Yates will not be ready for season.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pirates by Position: Outfield

Ya know, from all the yada you hear about the Buc outfield and the guys in the pipeline, this position may not be nearly as loaded as touted, at least not yet.

The classic outfield has a center fielder that can go get it and a couple of hammerin' corners. In 1960, that crew was Bob Skinner, Bill Virdon, and Roberto Clemente. In 1971, it was Willie Stargell, young Al Oliver, and the Great One. In 1979, it was Bill Robinson/Mike Easler, Omar Moreno, and Dave Parker. In 1990, the pasture patrol was Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke, and Bobby Bonilla.

Rest assured that except for Andrew McCutchen, who seems like an easy fit into any of those outfields if his 2009 start is any indicator, next season's Bucs will not be mistaken for any of those championship trios under any configuration.

Of course, if you're gonna begin from scratch, which is what Pittsburgh opted to do when they unloaded Jay Bay, Xavier Nady, Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan within a year's time, McCutchen isn't a bad place to start the process.

In 108 games, the 22 year-old hit .286/.365/.471 with 12 HR, 54 RBI, 74 runs, and 54 walks drawn to 83 Ks. And he was McClutch; he swatted the ball for a .324 average and a 1.075 OPS with runners in scoring position.

Some noise has been made about dropping him into the three hole to take advantage of his production at the plate. We think he's just fine as a disruptive force at the top of the order, although the team's lack of options may eventually find him in the middle of the line up.

As a fielder, he covers acres of ground, and his reads and routes became cleaner as the season went on, though still not there yet. McCutchen's biggest flaw is his arm; it's good enough, but scattershot. Still, not much to carp on about his leather.

Ah, but who to surround him with? Lasting Milledge, 24, hit .291/4/20 in 220 Pirate at-bats, and laid to rest his bad-boy reputation. But he needs a lot of work to cement a spot in left field. Milledge's Pirate RISP was just .231, although it's .260 for his career, even with 2009 added in to the total.

His 15-20 HR potential didn't translate in the Steel City. Milledge is a free swinger, and though his strikeout rate isn't worrisome, his plate discipline is. Better selection, better results.

His fielding was a pleasant surprise. It improved steadily, though like McCutchen, his reads, routes, and arm all need work. But he's fast enough, seems willing to plug away at it, and his Pirate UZR of 5.4 is certainly acceptable for a work in progress.

Still, to earn an everyday spot in left, his bat will have to produce some runs at a much stronger rate than it did in 2009. And he could do it. His potential is well documented, and he sports lots of upside yet. It's amazing how underdeveloped and raw his skills were for a guy that was spending his fourth season in the show.

Garrett Jones, for the time being, is the right fielder. It's not a bad spot for him; he's got enough speed and arm to cover his little Clemente Corner; his -2.6 UZR more than meets reasonable expectations of a first baseman playing in the outfield.

They surely can use his bat; his .293/.372/.567 line came out of the blue. He added 21 long balls, 44 RBI, and even 10 stolen bases to the Pirate attack.

We're not overly concerned with his post-July drop off, when he fell from Herculean numbers to merely strong. Jones still hit at a 30 homer level for August and September, and never had a worse monthly average than .274 or drilled fewer than five bombs.

But like Milledge, he needs a much better approach with runners on. Almost half of his RBIs were rung up by him crossing the plate after a yard ball; his .152 RISP average is terrible for a middle-of-the-order guy; heck, it's bad for a pitcher.

Jones, 28, leaves us with more questions than answers at this point. The two biggest: Can he not only repeat his success, but improve on it from a production standpoint? And where will he ultimately end up when Pedro Alvarez comes to town?

That leaves the MLB roster with one other OFer, the streaky Brandon Moss, 26. For a guy that puts on spectacular batting practice power displays, his .236/.304/.364 line with 7 bombs and 41 RBI was one of the season's major disappointments.

He has fourth outfielder written all over him unless he makes a 180 turn at the plate. Still, it wouldn't surprise us to see him and Steve Pearce platoon as they did last season, at least until the expected mid-season shake up.

For all the talent the Pirates were said to be amassing, the only outfielder on the near horizon is Jose Tabata, 21. He combined to hit .293/5/35 at Altoona and Indy, has some speed, and is a good glove guy. Like Milledge, he was another alleged head case that's been a model citizen for the Pirates, even if his wife has not.

Widely considered to be a shoo-in for a summer call to the show, we're not so sure. We think it depends on how well the MLB outfielders are doing, and how well JT does in his first full season at Indy. He won't be 22 until August, so it only makes sense to bring him up like McCutchen, when there's an everyday window open for him.

But he'll be knocking on the door shortly, whether in 2010 or 2011. The only question regarding Tabata is if he'll ever mature into a power hitter.

After Tabata, the future is, well, in the future. Gorkys Hernandez, 22, is a pop-gun hitter and pure speed guy who covers lots of grass, but only steals bases at a 50% rate.

He hit .262/3/31 in 374 at-bats for Altoona, and it's difficult to project a place for him in the Pirate outfield with McC ensconced in center. Our take is that he's the most likely prospect to be packaged in a Huntington deal, although his supporters see another Nyjer Morgan in the making.

Beyond Hernandez, the Pirate outfield pretty much resided at the A level in 2009. Starling Marte, 21, boosted his name on the prospect board after being named the Dominican Summer League MVP in 2008, batting .296 with nine home runs in 65 games.

Marte followed by hitting .312/3/34 at West Virginia. He's got a ton of speed and some power, but needs polishing, especially regarding plate discipline and in the field, where he depends more on natural ability than technique. The Bucs are moving him along on a fast track, so expect him at Lynchburg next season.

Robbie Grossman, 20, a sixth-round high school pick of 2008, hit .266/5/42 for West Virginia this year while striking out 164 times. The scouts were all over the board regarding him playing in center, and he likely projects as a corner outfielder for the Bucs. He, like Marte, was aggressively promoted, and could end up in Lynchburg, although he has to be considered very much a work in progress.

Rogelio Noris, 20, played solidly in the Mexican League and spent 2009 in the GCL where he flashed some power, hitting .250/6/24, although he struck out too often and walked not enough. He's purely a corner outfielder, and will probably end up in West Virginia this year.

Quincy Latimore, 20, was at West Virginia last season, and hit .251/11/70. He's raw, but has some power and OK speed. He's a liability in the outfield, although he does make up for minimal range with a strong arm. Latimore, like the others, has poor plate discipline, but his ability to launch a baseball intrigues the Pirates, who will likely ship him to Lynchburg with the rest of the West Virginia outfield.

The outfield is not a terribly deep position for the Pirates. There's little power on the 40-man roster, especially if Jones moves to first base full-time, and no help above the A level of the minors.

And for all the speed guys the Pirates picked up, there's no one ready to step in if Andrew McCutchen misses any major chunk of time; right now, Milledge would be his back-up.

If the Pirates do dive into the free-agent market, they have plenty enough holes in the outfield with little immediate muscle on the way to bring in a hired gun. That's why Ricky Ankiel is such a popular hot-stove item; he's a guy with a little pop that can play center, killing two birds with one stroke of the pen.

CONTRACTUAL ISSUES: Milledge doesn't have any options left, and becomes arbitration eligible in 2011. Moss and Jones are out of options. McCutchen doesn't reach arbitration status until 2013. Hernandez has to added to the 40-man roster this year or will become Ruke 5 eligible.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Nah, the hot stove league hasn't started yet, but changes in the Bucco staff have.

The top news is that Perry Hill, 57, decided that he'd rather spend next summer in Lantana, Texas with wife Olivia and his kids, Alexis, and Perry Jr. That's not a totally unexpected, though disappointing, decision.

So the Pirates are on a search for an infield guru. Guess we'll soon find out what a coach is worth to a team.

Also, Ray Searage, 54, will join the big league staff and work closely with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, who made the hiring of an assistant part of his deal to return. Searage has spent the past seven seasons coaching in the Pittsburgh system, at Williamsport, Hickory, Altoona, and the past two as the pitching coach at Indy.

Pirates by Position: Third Base

The hot corner should be beaucoup interesting come June. Andy LaRoche, 26, who has flashed some brilliant leather but less-than-inspiring lumber, is the easy choice to start 2010 at third.

His red-hot September - he hit .340/3/12 with a .660 slugging percentage and 1.012 OPS in the last four weeks of the season - washed away some of the bad taste of a pedestrian .258/12/64 2009 season at the dish.

His turnaround coincided with a move to the second spot in the order. LaRoche's boffo finish may be due to the hidden vigorish, or it may be that the move up the lineup shortened up his swing when he switched from the free-swinging six hole to a plate setting role.

His main challenger of last year, Pine-Richland's first rounder of 2004, Neil Walker, didn't get his call to the show until September, and produced little (.194/0/8 in 17 games) in the few opportunities that he was given.

Walker, 24, shouldn't be written off just yet, although he may end up a super utility guy rather than an everyday third baseman. He's been limited by inconsistency at the dish in the minors and the suits' desire to stick with LaRoche, the only producing piece of the Jay Bay deal, through thick and thin.

And hey, if Ryan Doumit packs his bags this winter, it wouldn't surprise us to see Walker return to his original spot behind the plate. Remember Doumit's career path?

The wild card is the future Franchise, 22 year-old Pedro Alvarez, the Pirate's Minor League Hitter of the Year. The big guy showed that he was worth the aggravation of dealing with Scott Boras when he hit .288/27/95 between Lynchburg and Altoona, and added another handful of bombs while a member of the US World Cup championship squad.

At 6-3, 235 pounds, Alvarez reported to the Pirates in 2008 as the clone of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. He's shaped up some since, but grace in action is not his calling card. Still, we expect to see him play 2010 at the hot corner; whether his bulk and footwork will keep him there or move him across the infield is a question we think will be addressed in 2011.

It's a given that he'll show up, Andrew McCutchen-like, sometime after a call to the show won't prematurely start his service clock, and no one can have any qualms about that.

And that will cause some shake up. When he arrives, El Toro will play. The chain reaction will bump LaRoche, probably to second if Delwyn Young can't master the spot. And we'll have another regular-season training camp situation. Dang, and no Perry Hill; good luck to his successor.

Ramon Vazquez will remain as the MLB back-up; the vet started nine games and appeared in 14 at third in 2009. Behind him, there's nada on the horizon.

Bobby Spain, 24, broke his wrist and missed half the season, and he's more of a Delwyn Young - Jimmy Negrych guy at best, a good hitter without a lot of pop or enough glove to claim a spot. He's another potential utility guy, with a ticking clock.

Jeremy Farrell, 22, was drafted 8th out of Virginia in 2008, but a .248 average and just five homers at West Virginia has dimmed his star. He's also leather-challenged; the Pirates are considering moving him to first base.

The top gun may be prime shortstop prospect Jordy Mercer, 23. He hit 10 homers and drove in 83 runs for Lynchburg, and saw some time at third base as he's on the same track as Chase d'Arnaud, a better-fielding SS prospect from the same class.

Jarek Cunningham, 19, was drafted out of high school in 2008, and batted .328 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in 148 at-bats at Bradenton.

But he had ACL surgery, and lost the 2009 season. He played quite a bit at third for the baby Bucs because of the knee in 2008, and it's tough to project where he'll end up until his knee is tested. They've penciled him in at second for the winter league.

Mercer and Cunningham are like many of the Pirate infield prospects. The suits are moving them around to see where they fit in the future scheme; they place a much higher value on versatility than the old regime did.

A youngster entering the system in 2010 that has shown some promise is 19 year-old Dominican prospect Eric Avila. He was signed at 16, and spent the last three years in the DSL. He hit .315/9/50 last year, and should pop up with Bradenton or State College this coming season.

CONTRACTUAL ISSUES: Vazquez is signed for 2010. Andy LaRoche is out of options and becomes arbitration-eligible in 2011. The rest are comfortably under team control.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pirates by Position: Shortstop

OK, whether you loved Jack Splat or are glad that he's gone, his era is done. The question is, does it belong to Ronny Cedeno?

He hit .258 for the Bucs, with a .309 OBP, five homers, and 21 RBI in 155 at-bats, very Wilson-esque numbers. Cedeno's fielding was not in Wilson's league, though - his UZF was slightly below average, his range factor slightly above - and the eye confirms the data. He also missed the final three weeks of the season, thanks to some sore hammies.

GW finds him to be a very average player - oh, where are you, Cesar Izturis? -and it's possible they may plug him in as a stop-gap in the hopes that Brian Friday can make the leap to the show in 2011.

Friday, 23, Altoona's shortstop, is the closest player to being MLB ready in the Pirate system. He was a third round pick of the 2007 draft from Rice, hit .265/7/46 with a .361 OBP for the Curve, and his glove is considered above-average.

The good news is that he's working on his craft in the winter league, unlike some of those lay-abouts that the Pirate suits harumphed. The bad news is that Scottsdale has eight infielders on its roster, and six are shortstops.

One, in fact, is Chase d'Arnaud, 22, the fourth round selection in the 2008 draft from Pepperdine. He rocked in Lynchburg, hitting for a .295/.402/.481 line with four homers in 210 at-bats as the Hillcats' plate setter, stealing a combined 31 sacks for the Hillcats and West Virginia in 2009.

The 6-1 d'Arnaud was voted the best defensive shortstop in the Carolina League, and was the league's #13 prospect, according to Baseball America.

He split his time between second and short almost evenly at Lynchburg, though, as he's on the same track as 2008's third round pick, SS Jordy Mercer, 23, from Oklahoma State. Mercer is a big guy for the position, 6-3, 195 pounds, and hit .255/10/83 for Lynchburg. He got the lion's share of work at short, but also played 27 games at third base.

Where either of these guys ends up in the field is yet to be determined, but they both have a decent shot at landing in Pittsburgh by 2012-13.

The Pirates also have a couple of youngsters that could challenge in time, Jarek Cunningham and Brock Holt. Cunningham, 19, was drafted out of high school in 2008, and batted .328 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in 148 at-bats at Bradenton.

But he had ACL surgery, and lost this season. He played quite a bit at third for the baby Bucs because of the knee, and it's tough to project where he'll line up on the field until the results of his visit to the chop shop become known.

Holt, 22, this year's 9th round pick from Rice, hit .299/.361/.449 for Low A State College, with six homers, 33 RBI, and nine stolen sacks. He played 18 games at second base and 48 at shortstop, and is a good glove guy.

So the lower levels of short look OK, the caveat being that except for Friday, all the others are playing musical chairs in the infield until the suits slot them. That leaves us with the here and now.

As with second, the depth behind Cedeno is Ramon Vazquez, Brian Bixler, and Luis Cruz. Short-term inconvenience, hey?

You can add Argenis Diaz, 22, obtained in the Adam LaRoche deal, to that list. He's on the 40-man roster and is a great glove man. His problem is he can't hit a lick. At Indy, Diaz hit .233 with a slugging percentage of .240, your classic banjo hitter. But he could push Bix or Cruz out as Vasquez's pine partner.

The other option is to go outside the system and get a body that can play short until the wave of young 'uns splashes over PNC. There are a couple of guys available - J.J. Hardy, maybe Stephen Drew and Reid Brignac/Jason Bartlett could find new teams, if the price is right.

So the Pirates are faced with either plugging in Ronny Cedeno or going outside the organization to patch the shortstop hole until the minor league cavalry arrives.

CONTRACTUAL ISSUES: Ronny Cedeno and Luis Cruz are out of options; Cedeno is arbitration-eligible. Ramon Vazquez is under contract for 2010. The others are under team control.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Does Anybody Care...?

--Attendance Nosedives: The Pirate attendance was at its lowest level since the 1998 season, when the "Freak Show" of 1997 was followed by a last place finish.

-- Best Sports City: Last week, The Sporting News ranked the best sports cities, and as USA Today noted, "despite the Pirates, Pittsburgh comes in at No. 1."

-- FSN Ratings: The Nielsen rating for the Pirates on FSN Pittsburgh was 3.25. That was higher than those of 11 other teams, including the Dodgers, Mets, and Angels.

What that means is completely in the air without age breakdowns. But the Bucs do have more of a local following than their record deserves, which we suppose proves that Pittsburghers follow Pittsburgh teams. That gold "P" is a decent brand even when the product isn't so hot.

-- Billy Maz Home Run: Several hundred people were outside the old red brick wall in Oakland yesterday to celebrate October 13th, 1960, just as they've been since 1985, when Saul Finkelstein sat down and played a tape of Game #7 of the 1960 World Series on his beat-up boom box.

A few players always show up; this year it was Roy Face and Bob Friend. The last time I was able to weasel out of work and join the party, Friend, Bobby Del Greco, and Nellie King were there, along with Sangy and Steve Blass.

And at 3:36 PM, the Game Seven Gang's CD played the call of Maz's drive over Yogi Berra's head and the most improbable World Series win ever. The crowd cheered; when I was there, it evoked my dad getting mom and my brothers in the wagon and adding to the Oakland gridlock, the joyful mob, the ripped newspapers flying through the air, and even walking home from St. Wendelin's with the transistor radio stuck to my ear.

And judging by the age of the couple of hundred fans gathered for the 49th anniversary, they must have similar memories. The only guys under 50 are college kids wandering aimlessly, wondering why there's an AARP meeting on campus.

Do these few disparate threads weave into a coherent cloth? Well, maybe.

Except for the 30,000+ that spun the turnstiles on gameday during the PNC inaugural season of 2001, the Bucs haven't drawn over 25,000 since 1990. That's a 24% drop in warm fannies, pretty steep, but considering the streak and payroll dump, probably not all that bad.

The Sporting News, FSN, and The Game Seven Gang all show that the Pirate brand still has its loyalists.

But - you knew there had to be a "but," right? - that support, to the naked eye, is in a demographic that Pittsburgh is a world leader in - golden agers, like me. Take away Skyblasts, concerts, and weekend bobbleheads, and the thing you see at Heinz Field and the Civic Arena, twenty and thirty somethings backing their teams with their wallets and hearts, is sorely lacking at PNC.

And that's the problem the new suits are going to have to solve. While the Steelers and Penguins have been winning Super Bowls and Stanley Cups, the Pirates have been losing at a rate that would embarrass the French military.

They're working on a second generation of Steel City sports fans that don't know Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente as anything but bronze statues and TV specials. Oh, the old bones are loyal, probably to a fault, but they were raised on Forbes Field and Bob Prince, not PNC Park and Greg Brown.

The Pirates are very near the point of utter irrelevance. If McCutch, Pedro, and whoever can't turn it around, the franchise may never recover; they've lost too much ground to the other local squads.

It can be done. The Black and Gold were loveable losers for decades, and the Pens had a Pirate-like streak between Mario and the Kid. Both play in front of sold out houses now.

And that's why the Pirate suits had better bring their A game to the table now. The other teams, to be sure, used the draft to bring in their stars, much like the current Buccos. But then they spent a buck or two and brought in a couple of guys from outside the organization to make the team competitive, and then championship, quality. The transition from terrible to titlist happened quickly.

Yah, yah, both are in salary-cap leagues. But the point is that they spent their money to the limit, not only bringing guys in but securing their stars, the players the fans identified with, for the long run. Would the Steelers trade Big Ben or the Pens deal Sidney for a handful of prospects?

The Pirates haven't dealt anyone of that magnitude, but admit it, there's still a disquieting little voice in the back of your mind wondering where Andrew McCutchen will be playing after he reaches arbitration.

The old suits tried to prop the team with free-agent signings and trades; the new guys are going the draft and trade for prospects route. It should be obvious by now that the answer lies in the middle.

The Bucs are at the point where they have to build some trust, both among their fans and their players. Keep bringing in young talent. Sign guys and hold on to them. Patch some holes with market players. Quit talking about tomorrow and start working on today. Try to feel the urgency that the fans feel.

Because if Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez can't lead the team to the promised land and the suits go back to the drawing board for yet another rebuilding phase, baseball in Pittsburgh will be dead.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pirates by Position: Second Base

Hey, this is an easy one: Delwyn Young. After the Freddy Sanchez trade, the Pirates committed all their faith and a handful of Perry Hill pixie dust to Young being able to make the transition. The results are mixed.

Young, 27, worked like the proverbial dog after the Sanchez deal. His hours showed; his range and release both improved dramatically. But he's very much a work in progress in the field; Young still misses plays that should be instinctive, and his DP turn is an accident waiting to happen.

Worst of all, his batting, the one sure thing about DY, took a dive steeper than an BASE jumper who's lost his harness. His overtime shifts learning the second base tango from Hill took a mental toll. His average dipped from .300+ to a season-ending .266-7/43 in 354 at-bats.

But he finished the year with a .301 RISP average, one of the few clutch Bucs, and we're not concerned with his bat; a few weeks off to clear his head of non-stop footwork drills should set that straight. The question is whether or not his mitt will get to the point that he can play everyday.

Still, unless the suits go outside the Pirate system, Young is da man, at least for the opening bell of 2010.

All the depth behind him is prime pine material - Ramon Vazquez, 33, (.230, 1/16), Brian Bixler, 26, (.227, 0/3), and Luis Cruz, 25 (.214, 0/2). No real competition there.

The minors aren't exactly brimming with guys after Young's job. Shelby Ford, 24, the heir apparent, took a big hit on his career with an abysmal few months at Indy, hitting .188-4/27. He didn't shine at Altoona, either, batting .233-2/17.

But Ford was highly regarded, runs well, fields OK, and has some gap power. He sprained his wrist in spring camp, and that particular injury sometimes saps a player's strength, never completely healing until it's rested in the off-season.

So it's a make or break season for Ford; if his wrist and not his ability was the problem, he can get back on the prospect track. But it certainly won't be in 2010.

Pitt's Jim Negrych, 24, is another player that could rise; he's the Pirates' Delwyn Young lite. Leather-challenged though he may be (and he is), Negrych hit .354 between A and AA in 2008. But abdominal surgery last year cost him a good chunk of the year at Altoona, and he hit .262-3/29 with a decent .360 OBP in 2009.

His bat makes him intriguing; his glove makes him a candidate for super-sub status; and his penchant for missing games while injured is the major bugaboo of his career. Negrych needs a healthy, break-out year to establish himself.

Josh Harrison, 22, came from the Cubs and is a utility-type player that the Pirates are trying to mold into a second baseman at Lynchburg. He's got adequate speed (he can steal you a base or two), OK glove, fairly decent plate discipline and a little gap power. He hit .276-2/22 in 211 High Class A at-bats.

Unfortunately, that eye deserted him when he switched allegiances; he struck out 19 times and walked but once as a Hillcat. We'll chalk that up to trying too hard to impress his new bosses. Harrison needs a lot of work, and we'd guess he's going to get another year at Lynchburg to try to establish himself.

There's also talk of trying out SS Chase d'Arnaud (.293, 7/57 split between West Virginia and Lynchburg) and injured Jarek Cunningham (ACL surgery), a 2008 high-school draftee, as second basemen, although d'Arnaud is still considered a prime candidate to play short.

We won't discount the rumor that with Pedro on the way and two being a crowd, Andy LaRoche may get an invite to move to second. But we expect that move down the road, maybe in 2011, if it does happen; there's no guarantee that Alvarez will remain on the hot corner.

So unless the suits go hunting, look for Young to man second again, backed by Vazquez. There just aren't any other bodies within hailing distance right now.

Contractual Issues: Ramon Vazquez is signed for 2010. Delwyn Young becomes arbitration eligible in 2011, and no one is out of minor league options except Young.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pirates by Position: First Base

Ah, now here's an interesting position. The Bucs most legitimate major league home run hitter is a first baseman by trade, but is stashed in the outfield. The Bucs most proficient long ball threat in the minors mans the hot corner, but may be shifted to first.

Logjam? Well, probably not immediately, but eventually, something's going to have to give.

By all standard reasoning, Garrett Jones, 28, should be the Pirates' full-time first baseman come April. All he did in a few weeks of showtime was hit .293, club 21 dingers, and plate 44 runs.

True, he seems to have trouble when the bases are teeming with runners - a .152 RISP is pretty poor, even for Mario Mendoza - but with a full 2010 season to counter the adjustments he's seeing and find a comfort zone, that number should come around.

One more troublesome number is his righty-lefty split. He rakes against righthanders, with a .333 batting average and 1.046 slugging percentage. His line against portsiders, though, is .208/.698, quite a swing.

He's fairly mobile with a decent arm, so a 1B/RF split hasn't presented any major problems in the field, although spending full-time at one or the other can only improve his defense.

There doesn't appear to be much behind him. After a two-month audition, Steve Pearce, 26, showed he could handle the position between the lines, but came up short with the bat. He hit .206 with 4 yard balls, 16 RBI, and a .370 slugging percentage in 165 at-bats, not nearly the production that a corner infielder needs to provide.

But he does qualify as a potential platoon player; he hit .268 with a .519 slugging percentage against lefties this season, and .306 with a .591 slugging % during his big-league career.

Jeff Clement, 26, is a former first-round pick and has a reputation for launching long balls. His MLB production has been so-so, with a .237 average, 7 HR, 26 RBI, and a .390 slugging percentage in 219 at-bats, but he's a 20 homer guy in the minors.

He's also, by all reports, a designated hitter waiting to happen. Clement was a catcher in Seattle's system, but in 2008, the M's had him don the tools of ignorance for 292 innings. He allowed 5 passed balls and 18 wild pitches in that time, and threw out just 10% of the base stealers - 2 of 20 - that challenged him. To boot, he has a pair of cranky knees.

Needless to say, the Pirates are trying to convert him to first base. Clement had nine assists in 38 minor league games; for comparative purposes, Pearce had 30 in 42 MLB games.

However, Clement has some things to offset Pearce's mitt. He has hit .447 as a pinch-hitter for Seattle; Pearce has hit just .143 for Pittsburgh during their careers. And he is a lefty with some pop and Clemente Wall staring him in the face.

Either way, 400 at-bats between the pair aren't very many to judge a potential career by. But both are of the age that they should be challenging for time, and both have major holes to mend.

The wild card, of course, is 22 year-old Pedro Alvarez. The first rounder of 2008 hit .288 with 27 HR and 95 RBI between Lynchburg and Altoona, and added a few more as a member of the USA World Cup championship team that dethroned Cuba. He's a big dude, and somewhat range-challenged at the hot corner. A spot across the diamond is almost certainly in his future; the question is when.

Unless he hits the wall at Indy in 2010, he's ticketed for a mid-summer call to PNC Park. Our guess is that it will be as a third baseman; we wouldn't expect the Pirates to switch him without some winter league work. Perry Hill has enough gray hair, if he's still here.

The Pirates have decisions here; does Jones start at first or in the OF, and which corner does Pedro go to? Also coming into play, at least in the early weeks, is whether or not the Pirates decide to give Pearce or Brandon Moss some at-bats, which affects Jones' position.

The minor leagues are empty until the A level. Lynchburg's Matt Hague, 24, (.293 8/50), and West Virginia's Calvin Anderson, 22, (.274 12/64) are the best of the lot; neither is a sure thing. Jamie Romak, 24, has unhitched from his rising star; he hit .213 14/52 at Lynchburg, with a .325 slugging percentage.

Contractual issues: None of the players are approaching arbitration; Jones, Clement, and Pearce won't qualify until 2012 at the earliest. All have at least one minor league option remaining.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pirates by Position: Catching

After comparing the projections against the reality, it's time to take a look at the actual performances of the Pirates in 2009. We'll start our checklist with the catchers:

Ryan Doumit, 28, (.250 10/38) was the alpha dog. He's stayed remarkably consistent with his career power numbers, hitting a long ball every 30 at-bats and pushing a run across every 8 or 9 times at the dish. Over 450 at-bats, that translates into 15 homers and 55 or so RBI, OK production for a backstop.

Ah, but can he get those 450 at-bats? His health has always been fragile, and catching is a high-risk profession; he was concussed a couple of times last season. You can solve that concern one of three ways.

Option one is to limit his catching duties by giving him the get-away day off, a break before an off day, and some outfield time and/or DH at-bats against the AL.

Or they could break him into the OF and transition the job to Jason Jaramillo or Robby Diaz in the long run. Or finally, just trade him, and let his health become someone else's concern.

The two-headed B team, Jason Jaramillo, 27, (.252, 3/26) and Robby Diaz, 26, (.279, 1/19), did a nice job of picking up the slack when Doumit was on the DL. Together, they had 335 at-bats and hit .262 - 4/45. Fewer homers, perhaps, but certainly equivalent RBI production, and from lower in the lineup.

The fielding? Well, the much maligned Doumit threw out 31% of would be stealers and allowed just two passed balls; Jaramillo's line was 28% and 4 PB, while Diaz threw out just 25% and let seven balls get through him.

But the tale of pitching stats tilts the other way when it comes to handling a staff. With Diaz behind the plate, Bucco hurlers allowed opposite hitters to bat .265 with 4.03 runs per game; Jaramillo, .274 and 4.81, and Doumit .282 and 4.67. So surprisingly, Diaz seems, with an admittedly small sample to massage, to call the best game; Doumit and Jaramillo had equally ragged results.

So the Pirates have options at the position. They can protect Doumit some, and hope he develops into a middle-of-the-order hitter. They can move him, and get roughly equivalent production from Jaramillo and Diaz.

The Pirate system isn't all that deep in catchers, but Indy's Erik Kratz, 29, hit .273/11/43 for the Tribe, played solidly behind the plate, was an All-Star, and provides at least as much insurance for the big club as Raul Chavez did in 2008.

Top 2009 draft pick Tony Sanchez, 21, had a great debut (.309, 7/48), but he's several levels and years away from showing up in Pittsburgh. The Bradenton Pirates 19 year-old Ramon Cabrera (.291 1/16) from Venezuela showed gap power and a rifle arm, throwing out 29% of the base-stealers who double-dared him in the GCL.

But the bloom is wearing off of Steve Lerud, 25, who was protected on the 40-man last year but hit just .240/4/26 for the Curve this season, although a sturdy defensive backstop.

Contractual issues: Doumit is under contractual control during 2010-11, and the club has an option for 2012-13. Jaramillo has one minor-league option left, and Diaz is out of options. Kratz needs to be signed again for 2010, and Lerud has to remain on the forty-man roster or be exposed to the Rule 5 draft.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

ZiPS and Chones: The Rotation

In our final look at how players performed according to their pre-season projections, today we check out the revamped starters. The suits' eye seems pretty sharp with this collection, as only one guy fell noticeably below expectations.


Zach Duke (11-16, 4.06) ZiPS (7-11, 5.27) Chones (8-10, 4.66)
His finish to the season was bumpy; Duke, more than most starters, missed the D up the middle.

Ross Ohlendorf
(11-10, 3.92) ZiPS (4-9, 5.60) Chones (4-3, 4.08)
ZiPS had him getting beat up as a starter; Chones had him doing OK as a spot starter. His strong kick after the All-Star break makes the Xavier Nady deal look like a stroke of genius.

Daniel McCutchen (1-2, 4.21) ZiPS (6-11, 5.65) Chones (6-8, 4.80)
Projected as bottom of the rotation guy, the other McCutchen did a good job of getting deep and keeping the club in his games.


Paul Maholm (8-9, 4.44) ZiPS (9-11, 4.53) Chones (9-10, 4.32)
Hindered by a bad knee and worse mechanics, Maholm is another guy who is hurt by soft defense.

Charlie Morton (5-9, 4.55) ZiPS (6-9, 5.28) Chones (4-3, 3.84)
Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, Morton showed promise as his innings piled up. He has the potential to be closer to his Chones' ERA rather than his ZiPS if he can avoid the killer inning.

Virgil Vasquez (2-5, 5.84) ZiPS (6-13, 5.81) Chones (7-10, 4.86)
He is what he is, which is a poor man's version of Jeff Karstens with less velocity.

Eric Hacker (0-0, 6.00) ZiPS (8-8, 4.81) Chones (6-6, 5.07)
Hacker was pitching as well as McCutchen at Indy until a late-season meltdown reduced his call-up time to a cup of coffee. Not likely to challenge for a spot on the MLB club, but worth stashing at Indy.


Kevin Hart (PIT 1-8, 6.92 COM 4-9, 5.44) ZiPS (5-8, 5.29) Chones (4-3, 3.93)
He's gonna be a project, but has the stuff to succeed if he ever learns to harness his pitches and throw strikes.

The Pirates pretty much got as much as could be expected from the staff this year, given its inexperience and the immobile middle infield. A couple of guys still have some upside, and putting innings under their belt is the doctor's order.

Duke and Maholm may be caught in the suits' drawing board scheme. The front office seem to emphasize OF defense more than IF leather, which fits in with their philosophy of power arm, fly-ball pitchers.

The biggest problem isn't ability, but rather that it's an incredibly shallow group, as shown after they shut down Ohlendorf. The only short-term possibility to challenge the starting five this year is Brad Lincoln, with Tim Alderson and maybe Donnie Veal on target for 2011 and Jeff Karstens as the fall-back. And Lincoln will almost assuredly start the year at Indy.

The bulk of the minor-league whiz kids are in A ball and still seasons away, and that's why we're mystified that the Pirates wouldn't at least look for an upper-end arm to help solidify an on-the-way, but not deep, rotation. Right now, they're one blown elbow or shoulder away from a nice young staff becoming a black hole.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

ZiPS and Chones: The Bullpen

Here's the 2009 pre-season projections for the bullpen, shown as (W-L-S, ERA):


Evan Meek (1-1-0, 3.45) ZiPS (2-3, 5.03) Chones (0-3, 4.33)
The Rule 5 pick paid dividends for the Pirates and is the logical challenger for Matt Capp's closer spot.

Steve Jackson (2-3-0, 3.14) ZiPS (5-7, 5.32) Chones (3-3, 4.58)
Yo-yo'ed back and forth, and is a good bridge pitcher when he can get his change up over the plate.


Jesse Chavez (1-4-0, 4.01) ZiPS (3-5, 4.96) Chones (4-4, 4.24)
Faded at the end, probably due to mental exhaustion with Grabow and Burnett gone and Meek and Hanrahan hurt. A tough projection because he had no MLB time, Chones nailed his performance while ZiPS missed pretty badly.

Joel Hanrahan (PIT 0-1-0, 1.72; COM 1-4-5, 4.78) ZiPS (5-4, 3.92) Chones (4-4, 3.93)
Different pitcher in Pittsburgh, maybe because he was removed from the closing pressure cooker and settled into a set-up role.


Jeff Karstens
(4-6-0, 5.42) ZiPS (5-9, 5.18) Chones (6-6, 4.25)
Showed promise as a long man/spot starter in the pen; his stats suffered badly after his personal leave, followed closely by a back sprain.

Matt Capps (4-8-27, 5.80) ZiPS (5-3, 3.27) Chones (4-3, 3.48)
Still has the velocity, but lacking in command. Says he's going back to being a flame thrower instead of using so much off-speed stuff. A huge question mark going into 2010, and probably on the block if someone will overpay for him.

Under 20 innings: Jose Ascanio (PIT 0-1, 6.75; COM 0-2, 4.00; ZiPS 2-2 4.91; Chones 3-3, 4.58), Donnie Veal (1-0-0, 7.16; ZiPS 5-10, 5.95; Chones 5-9, 5.73), Chris Bootcheck (0-0-0, 11.05; ZiPS 1-3, 5.98; Chones 3-3, 4.14), Denny Baustista (1-1-0, 5.27; ZiPS 3-4 4.62; Chones 4-4, 4.23), Phil Dumatrait (0-2-0, 6.92; ZiPS 4-10, 5.88; Chones 3-4, 4.89), Tyler Yates (0-2-0, 7.50; ZiPS 3-4, 4.79; Chones 4-3, 4.08), Chris Hansen (0-0-0, 5.68; ZiPS 3-5, 4.82; Chones 4-3, 3.95), Eric Hacker (0-0-0, 6.00; COM 0-1 7.88; ZiPS 8-8 4.81; Chones 6-6, 5.07), and Anthony Claggett (0-0-0, 9.00 COM 0-0 27.00; ZiPS 5-5 5.10; Chones 2-3, 5.20)

Of this group, Ascanio, Yates and Hansen will start 2010 on the DL, Dumatrait has to show he's recovered his stuff after surgery, and Veal with join Indy's rotation. There's not a lot left to sort through after them.

The Pirates had a pretty good eye in putting this gang together. They need a preferably veteran lefty, and may be looking for a closer that doesn't bring the drama of Capps to the ninth inning. One word of warning; Hanrahan is the only guy with closer experience, and he was only 5-of-10 for the Nats. The rest of the staff went 0-for-8 in save chances in 2009.

Friday, October 9, 2009

ZiPS and Chones: The Hitters

OK, this year was all about evaluation. We'll even buy that, as a short-term premise. In fact, we thought we'd do a little evaluation ourselves, and check out the 2009 ZiPS and Chones projections against what happened in real life.

Today we're gonna compare position players; tomorrow and Sunday, the pitchers, just to see if the players performed as expected.

The players are listed by at-bats, and the stats are (AB, AVG HR/RBI)


Andrew McCutchen (433 AB, .286, 12/54) ZiPS (556 AB, .261 9/43) Chones (499 AB, .261 9/52)
Came along a little later than expected, and did considerably better than his Minor League numbers would indicate. He da bomb.

Garrett Jones
(314 AB, .293 21/44) ZiPS (480 AB, .254 17/64) Chones (506 AB, .259 20/83)
Hit more, showed much better than expected power, but was a little light on RBIs. He needs to get those RISP at-bats to pay off.

Jason Jaramillo (206 AB, .252 3/26) ZiPS (408 AB, .240, 6/33) Chones (429 AB, .256 7/49)
Outplayed his ZiPS projections and was equal to his Chones projection.

Robby Diaz (129 AB, .279 1/19) ZiPS (333 AB, .267 2/26) Chones (401 AB, .279 3/48)
Easily exceeded his ZiPS projections and showed much more production than assumed by Chones; he and Jaramillo may wear out Doumit's welcome.


Andy LaRoche (524 AB, .258/12/64) ZiPS (427 AB, .232/12/50) Chones (403 AB, .256 13/59)
Better average, little less power than ZiPS, less power and production than Chones projection, but pretty much in the ballpark according to both. His numbers shot up thanks to big push at the end. Maybe the two hole is his natural slot.

Delwyn Young (354 AB, .266 7/43) ZiPS (385 AB, .249 9/45) Chones (427 AB, .262 13/60)
Fairly equivalent production. Probably worn down by never-ending infield practice; could be a work in progress or may end up best suited as super-sub.

Lastings Milledge (PIT - 220 AB, .291 4/20; COM - 244 AB, .279, 4/21) ZiPS (471 AB, .280, 18/60) Chones (455 AB, .279 13/57)
Average on target, but his production was nowhere near projections, which weren't overwhelming to begin with. Milledge has to pump up the power and production. Maybe the lost months to the finger injury cost him; he did show some power in September, though he still wasn't all that clutch (.231 RISP).

Ramon Vazquez (204 AB, .230 1/16) ZiPS (268 AB, .250 4/22) Chones (339 AB, .251 6/35)
He played as advertised, with a little less pop than expected.

Ronny Cedeno (PIT - 155 AB, .258 5/21; COM - 341 AB, .208 10/38) ZiPS (340 AB, .265 7/41) Chones (360 AB, .267 6/36)
Pretty spot on with Cedeno, at least in Pittsburgh after being hitless in in Seattle.


Brandon Moss
(385 AB, .236, 7/41) ZiPS (471 AB, .251 12/57) Chones (476 AB, .267 13/68)
Less productive in every category, especially the long ball.

Ryan Doumit (280 AB, .250 10/38) ZiPS (363 AB, .287 12/55) Chones (384 AB, .281 14/60)
Neither system has him playing much, yet he still managed to miss more time than they projected. Down in all indicators except homers, although a wrist injury is said to sap a hitter for a season. Good September might find him to be a tradeable item during the winter months.

Steve Pearce
(165 AB, .206, 4/16) ZiPS (474 AB, .245 15/67) Chones (481 AB, .266 17/79)
Given a few weeks to audition, he still fell short and well below his projections. Never came close to the muscle expected of him.

Players under 100 ABs: Luis Cruz (.214; ZiPS .232, Chones .247); Brian Bixler (.227; ZiPS .247, Chones .245); and Neil Walker (.191; ZiPS .235, Chones .247). Not much expected, and less produced.

The point? The point is that the Pirate evaluators pumped the upside of these guys, and as young as they are, there may be better days ahead for them.

But according to ZiPS and Chones, cold-blooded projection systems with no dogs in the race, as many starters overachieved - McCutchen and Jones - as underachieved - Moss and Doumit. So the Pirates got what could be reasonably expected from this bunch.

So if this is the team they plan to take into 2010, expect the same attack, at least until Pedro and maybe Jose join up in the summer.

(Disclaimer: Guys with little prior major league time will be subject to bigger swings in their projections - computers are only human - and that may be the saving grace for these pups.)

Altoona Studs

Some good news for the Bucco farm hands - in Baseball America's Eastern league rankings, the Curve placed three players among the top fifteen prospects, including the top gun, Pedro Alvarez (Brian Matusz would have ranked first, but he fell an inning short of qualifying).

The players are #1 - Pedro Alvarez, #10 - Brad Lincoln, and #15 - Jose Tabata. Kyle Drabek, a Phil's prospect and son of Doug Drabek, ranked third.