Monday, February 28, 2011

Kissing Your Sister

The Bucs split their two games today, beating Tampa Bay 6-5 and losing to Baltimore 6-4.

Against the Rays, the Pirates fell behind 4-0, but keyed by a 3-run blast by Garrett Atkins, who's off to a flying start, the Bucs rallied for the win. Bryan Morris gave up a run in his two frames when he wild-pitched a runner home and Fernando Nieve was rocked for three runs in an inning of work. Rudy Owens gave up a run in two innings, and Sean Gallagher got the final six outs for the win.

In the Baltimore loss, Paul Maholm was nicked (he gave up two runs in two frames, limiting himself to heaters and sinkers in his first outing) and Justin Wilson bombed (three runs in the eighth) on the hill. Lyle Overbay and Miles Durham went long for the Pirates and Josh Fields collected an RBI.

James McDonald will take the mound for Pittsburgh against Phil Hughes and the NY Yankees tomorrow at McKechnie Field. Several of the starting players will get the day off; Atkins, Andy Marte and Josh Rodriguez are expected to be in the starting lineup.

Four Bucs In Baseball Prospectus Top 101

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus released his Top 101 Prospects today. Pirates included are:

#8 - Jameson Taillon
#39 - Stetson Allie
#81 - Luis Heredia
#93 - Tony Sanchez

Also, Baseball America released guys that fell under their their Top 100 but still received notice. For the Bucs, the players were Starling Marte, Bryan Morris and Luis Heredia.

Monday, Monday

-- As Cub great Ernie Banks used to say, "Let's play two!"

And the Bucs are today, having split squad games against Baltimore at McKechnie Field and sending another squad against Tampa Bay at Port Charlotte.

Against the O's, the pitchers are scheduled to be Paul Maholm and Jeff Karstens for two innings, and a frame apiece by Tyler Yates, Jeff Locke, Michael Crotta, Justin Wilson and Cesar Valdez. Brad Bergesen will start for Baltimore.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Josh Rodriguez SS, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Lyle Overbay 1B, Garrett Jones 1B, Ryan Doumit DH, Chase d’Arnaud 2B and Jason Jaramillo C.

At Tampa, the rotation will be two innings from Bryan Morris, Fernando Nieve, Sean Gallagher and Aaron Thompson with a frame from Kyle McPherson. Jeff Niemann will start for Tampa Bay.

The lineup: Gorkys Hernandez CF, Ronny Cedeno SS, Neil Walker 2B, Matt Diaz RF, Josh Fields 3B, Garrett Atkins 1B, Alex Presley LF, Chris Snyder DH and Dusty Brown C.

-- Also, on the injury front: Scott Olsen will throw again today and then be evaluated for a sore hammy while Joe Biemel has minor elbow soreness and is day-to-day. No reports on Evan Meek, who has tightness in his calf.

-- Chet West of ESPN reports on the upgrades in pitching in the NL Central. Well, with one exception. He says "...every team in the division upgraded with exception (of) the Pittsburgh Pirates."

-- OF Jody Gerut, who came to the Pirates in 2005 from the Cubs for Matt Lawton, retired after a six-year MLB career cut short by a string of injuries.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bucs Sting Rays

The Pirates treated their 6,367 Bradenton fans to an easy 10-3 Grapefruit League romp in the home opener. McCutch and Garrett Jones led the attack with three knocks apiece.

McCutchen had a homer, double, stolen base, 3 runs scored and 2 RBI; Jones doubled and had a run and RBI. Andy Marte drove in a pair and Jason Jaramillo chipped in with a long ball as the Bucs pounded out 13 hits.

Kevin Correia and Chris Leroux were shaky at the start and finish of the game, but Ryan Beckman (who pitched at State College in 2010), winner Brian Burres, Joel Hanrahan, Jose Veras and Tony Watson shut Tampa Bay down in between.

The Pirates stole three bases - even Ryan Doumit had one - and turned a pair of DPs as they shook off the rust that showed in yesterday's game.

The squad will play two on Monday, with part of the club staying at McKechnie Field to face the Orioles and the rest traveling to Port Charlotte for a third straight game against the Rays.

Paul Maholm will start against the O's and Bryan Morris versus the Rays.

Camp Basics

OK, we know that the Bucs have a couple of competitions in camp - fifth starter, bullpen, and bench. They're all around the periphery of the team, and will be well documented as the weeks go on.

More importantly, can Clint Hurdle and company change the baseball culture of the Pirates? That's an ongoing process, but here's what they're emphasizing so far:

Flip the count: Both Ray Searage and Gregg Ritchie have noted that the Pirates spend a lot of time on the wrong end of the pitch count. The pitchers are behind and the batters are in the hole way too often. Both are making it a point to stress aggression early.

Good idea. Searage may have a better shot at it than Ritchie; he works with the pitcher's strengths while Joe Kerrigan preferred to attack a batter's weaknesses, which may or may not match a hurler's stuff. If that system works, we'll see guys get a handle on their pitch counts and maybe get deeper into games.

Ritchie wants his guys to take fewer watermelons early in their at-bats. That's a good idea, too, but one that Don Long preached without success. He does have a couple more professional batters with Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz, so maybe they can show the way. After all, it's a heck of a lot easier to look for a 2-1 pitch than flailing away at a 1-2 slider.

Stretch the bases: It would seem scoring from second on a single and going from first to third are givens, but not in Pittsburgh. The staff may improve that marginally, but good luck at creating a go-go Bucs squad.

They team, in fact, has gotten slower this year. Overbay doesn't run as well as Garrett Jones, Diaz and Jones don't motor as well as Milledge (tho hopefully with a little more intelligence), Chris Snyder is slower afoot that Ryan Doumit (or about anyone else in a big league uni) and Pedro is pretty much a station-to-station guy.

That leaves McCutch with world-class speed, Jose Tabata with good speed, and Ronny Cedeno and Neil Walker with average wheels. Not much to build on; just ask Tony Beasley how hard it was to get most of the guys going.

But he is working hard on McCutch and Tabata's base-stealing, which JR never really developed, and Jones, Walker and Cedeno could swipe an occasional sack. Still, if they can get runners on first to third on a single to right, that alone will be a plus.

The bench may or may not help a bit, depending on its eventual composition. Corey Wimberly has plus speed, and Alex Presley has good wheels. But neither is a lock to go north with the team.

Tweak the Lineup: Hurdle has shown that he's open to moving McCutch to the third spot and Tabata to the top of the order with Walker between them. Jones is sitting in the six hole, which is probably where he belongs.

The staff has to not just set up but also protect Pedro, who will bat clean-up. Diaz will bat fifth against lefties, which we like, but there's no true lefty banger on the team to help him against righties. In the early going, Hurdle batted Lyle Overbay fifth; there are really no good options in camp right now beyond him.

Otherwise, it's another back-to-basics boot camp; pick-off moves, bunting, situational hitting, yada, yada. Hey, little things help win games, but not as much as a few guys with talent.

What may pay dividends down the road is that at first blush, the new staff is trying to replace a tentative, almost defensive, mental set on the team with a more aggressive, don't be afraid to try, ethos. And with a young team, that could help, especially down the road.

Sunday Lineup

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Neil Walker 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Lyle Overbay 1B, Garrett Jones RF, Josh Fields DH, Ryan Doumit C and Ronny Cedeno SS.

The pitching rotation: Kevin Correia (2 innings), Brian Burres (2 innings), Joel Hanrahan, Joe Beimel, Jose Veras, Tony Watson and Chris Leroux.

The Rays will start James Shields.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

It Takes Three...

The Bucs had the third out blues late today, and it cost them big time as they went down 9-5 to the Tampa Bay Rays.

With the game tied 2-2, Daniel McCutchen had the bases juiced and two outs in the seventh. He went up 0-2 on Robinson Chirinos and instead of wasting a pitch, he stayed around the dish and saw his ball ripped into a bases-clearing double.

In the eighth with Justin Thomas on the hill, Josh Fields' two-out boot of a routine roller to third gave the Rays an extra out, and four runs ended up scoring in the frame.

Welcome to Bucco baseball, Clint Hurdle.

Charlie Morton and Brad Lincoln did OK in two inning stints. Morton got a pair of DP balls and Lincoln gave up a run on a dinger. Ronny Cedeno, Jose Tabata, Garrett Atkins and Ryan Doumit had RBIs in the loss.

They'll tackle the Rays again at McKechnie Field tomorrow.

Pirate Camp Bits

Injury Updates:

-- Scott Olsen (sore left hamstring) is scheduled to throw today, and will be evaluated after another bullpen session on Monday; he also threw Thursday. Evan Meek (tight right calf) is still long tossing; no timetable for his return. Both injuries are considered minor and being treated cautiously by the staff, as all February tweaks should be handled.

A couple of new profiles:

-- James McDonald (Evan Drellich,

-- Chris Snyder (Rob Biertempfel, Tribune-Review)

-- Chase d'Arnaud (John Lembo,

-- Gregg Ritchie (Colin Dunlap, Post-Gazette)


-- A Twitter directory of the Pirates, from players to team accounts to the minors to the blogosphere is available here, compiled by Brian at Raise The Jolly Roger.

Today's Lineup:

Today's lineup against David Price and the Tampa Bay Rays:

Jose Tabata LF, Neil Walker 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Matt Diaz RF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Ryan Doumit DH, Chris Snyder C and Ronny Cedeno SS. Looks like the A-Team is getting its first workout; they're schedule for 5 innings/2 at-bats.

You'll notice a new look to the lineup. The Pittsburgh Kid is batting second, McCutch is third and Diaz is protecting Pedro. We'll see how it works out.

Pitching order: Charlie Morton (2 innings), Brad Lincoln (2 innings), Chris Resop, Danny Moskos, Daniel McCutchen, Cesar Valdez and Justin Thomas.

The Pirates' flagship radio station, FM NewsTalk 104.7, will carry today's opener at 1 PM.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bucs Romp Against Manatee

How often do the Bucs have a laugher? Well, about as often as they play a community college. Pittsburgh rolled to a 21-1 victory this afternoon against State College of Manatee.

Steve Pearce doubled twice, walked, and collected four RBIs. Gorkys Hernandez drove in three runs with two singles. Garrett Atkins hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning and Brian Friday added a solo shot in the sixth.

Aaron Thompson and Michael Crotta each struck out the side; Buc pitchers limited the college gang to four hits.

Clint Hurdle cleared the bench after three frames when the score reached 10-1 in the seven inning charity exhibition. The Bucs won last year 6-1.

The sledding gets a little tougher tomorrow in the Grapefruit League opener against Tampa Bay when the Bucs take on David Price and the Rays.

Springtime TV

FSN Pittsburgh will air four Pirates spring training games:

• Sunday, March 6th v Toronto Blue Jays @ 1 PM

• Thursday, March 10th v Baltimore Orioles @ 7 PM

• Saturday, March 19th v Boston Red Sox @ 1 PM

• Saturday, March 26th v New York Yankees @ 1 PM

Play Ball

Today's lineup against the State College of Florida Manatees for the Bucs' kick-off game at Bradenton:

2B Corey Wimberly, SS Chase d’Arnaud, 1B Steve Pearce, LF John Bowker, DH Josh Fields, 3B Andy Marte, RF Andrew Lambo, CF Gorkys Hernandez, and C Wyatt Toregas.

Aaron Thompson, Tyler Yates, Jeff Locke, Michael Crotta, Justin Wilson, Kyle McPherson, and Rudy Owens will pitch for an inning each, in that order.

This Week's Foot In The Mouth Moment

A couple of days ago, Kevin Creagh of Pirates Prospects interviewed Frank Coonelly.

The prez stepped in it when he said "...we will be able to support that payroll ($70-80M) very soon if our fans believe that we now have a group of players in Pittsburgh and on its way here in the near future that is competitive. We need to take a meaningful step forward in terms of attendance to reach that payroll number... I am convinced that the attendance will move quickly once we convince our fans that we are on the right track."

He sure makes it sound like the fans' lack of faith is the team's biggest problem, which is certainly not the message he should trumpeting.

It's not the first time that the FO has suggested the payroll is dependent on the attendance. Maybe Coonelly thinks that the Pittsburgh fans will come out to see a show that quite frankly is pretty poor. That "chicken or the egg" argument doesn't really fly.

He may be looking at the Steelers, Penguins, and Pitt hoops as examples of standing room only, get in line support as typical City fan bases. But if he were a little better student of local sports history, he'd understand that none of the above put an appreciable number of warm fannies in their seats until they started to win. Treat the 'Burghers to a competitor in every sense of the word, and they'll stick with you.

Heck, even with the historically poor performance of the big league product, the Pirates have never dipped under 19,000 per game at PNC Park. Nor have they seen a payroll north of $50M plus since 2003. Job should have been so patient.

We're hoping that Coonelly's statement is just another in a long line of PR faux pas that the team has committed in front the media and the fans. If it's not, then we better start to worry; the only thing it can mean is that the franchise either isn't willing to invest in a team that can't draw fans without fireworks and bobbleheads, or worse, can't afford to.

Neither is a good thing. Let's give Coonelly the benefit of the doubt and assume that he just misstated his position and meant to say that he anticipates that as the team's performance improves, so will attendance and payroll. That makes perfect sense.

(EDIT - Bob Nutting realized the collateral damage from Coonelly's statement and quickly told Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review that "payroll increases will not hinge on increased attendance. He added that he expects more fans will show up as the team improves, which will require a higher payroll." So it's wait and see.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Camp Notes and Profiles

Hey, nothin' much happening at camp:

-- Evan Meek sprained his calf; it's another nagging, day-to-day injury.

-- The Wall Street Journal team of Scott Cacciola and Jared Diamond wrote that the Pirates were in the Top Ten of teams bettering themselves during the offseason by improving by a WAR of 1.8, the same as Boston. Of course, the Pirate blurb ended with "too little, too late."

-- Jim Callis of Baseball America tweeted his view of Bucco OF prospect Starling Marte's potential: "Ceiling is high average hitter, average power, quality CF. Ways to go."

-- The Bucs will break camp today, going from Pirate City to McKechnie Field. Basically, it means the players get a half day at the office, spending the AM on the field and the afternoon on the golf course or out fishing. Boot camp it ain't!

-- Bad news for the Cards. Beside having their lowball offer nixed by The Franchise, Albert Pujols (Ryan Howard's deal was much better), today they learned that Adam Wainwright will have TJ surgery. When it rains...

The writers are cranking out their player stories to help fill the camp hours until something resembling hard news happens. This weeks' work so far:

-- Alex Presley (Colin Dunlap, Post-Gazette)

-- Charlie Morton (Rob Biertempfel, Tribune-Review)

-- Kevin Correia (Jen Langosch,

-- Scott Olsen (Alan Dell,

-- Lastings Milledge (Mark Gonzales, Chicago Tribune)

Names and Notes

-- Tomorrow's lineup against the Manatee College nine for the Bucs' traditional spring kick-off exhibition at Bradenton: 2B Corey Wimberly, SS Chase d’Arnaud, 1B Steve Pearce, LF John Bowker, DH Josh Fields, 3B Andy Marte, RF Andrew Lambo, CF Gorkys Hernandez, and C Wyatt Toregas.

-- Saturday's pitchers for the Grapefruit League opener: Charlie Morton and Brad Lincoln will get two innings apiece, then Chris Resop, Daniel Moskos, Daniel McCutchen, Justin Thomas and Cesar Valdez will each work a frame.

-- Steve Pearce continues to reinvent himself, ala Neil Walker. He's taken some balls in the outfield, and yesterday he played some third base, a position he last played in college.

-- Baseball America rated Pittsburgh's draft class of 1997 as the eleventh best since BA has started picking Top 100 Prospects back in 1989, led by Kris Benson, Jose Guillen and Aramis Ramirez.

-- JJ Cooper and Jim Callis had a Top 100 Prospect chat on BA. They defended Jameson Taillon's high selection (#11), consider Stetson Allie a starter until proven otherwise, and say that a hard slotting system in the draft works against the small-revenue KC's and Pittsburgh's of the baseball world by taking away the one marketplace they can compete in.

-- Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated tweeted that the Pirates offered Carl Pavano 2 years and $13M; the Yankees offered him 1 year at $9.75M. He later re-signed with the Twins for two years/$16.5M and has already been named the Twins' Opening Day starter.

Minnesota felt like they got a bargain; they thought he'd get 2-3 years at $10-11M per pop. It does kinda make one wonder about the Pirates' determination of "value."

-- Matt Stairs, who played for Pittsburgh in 2003, is tied for the most franchises played for (with Mike Morgan and Ron Villone), suiting up for eleven different teams in 18 seasons. He's got a minor league deal with the Nats this year; if he wins a bench spot with them, he'll become the new leader with an even dozen clubs.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects

Baseball America released its 2011 Top 100 Prospects List. The Bucs have three guys on it:

#11 - RHP Jameson Taillon (ETA: 2013)
#46 - C Tony Sanchez (ETA: 2012)
#79 - RHP Stetson Allie (ETA: 2013)

It's nice to see Allie included, 'tho we're wondering if the Bucs have oversold LHP Rudy Owens or if the national media have short-changed him for lack of pedigree. And we're really impressed by the ETA's; next year for Sanchez, two years for Taillon and Allie. Can Luis Heredia be far behind?

We are assuming, of course, that those fast-tracked dates are because of the young pitchers' talent, not because of the current state of the rotation.

Another Day In Camp

-- Pedro was back in camp yesterday; his sore neck back to normal. But you can add Jose Ascanio to the walking wounded list; he has a tight right elbow. The Bucs will shut him down down for a couple of days, although it's not thought to be anything serious.

Ascanio, part of the return from the Cubs in the Grabow/Gorzo deal, is in the mix for a bullpen spot in camp. The elbow pain is unrelated to his 2010 injuries, which started with shoulder surgery and ended with a bruised hand. Both are OK; he pitched some winter league ball.

-- The Pirates did announce some pitching assignments. For their exhibition against Manatee College on Friday, Clint Hurdle will send out Aaron Thompson, Tyler Yates, Jeff Locke, Michael Crotta, Justin Wilson, Kyle McPherson, and Rudy Owens for an inning each, in that sequence.

-- Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review revisits Charlie Morton's nightmare year and his quest for redemption in 2011.

-- Jen Langosch of has a piece on Tony Sanchez.

-- Young pups get some love, too: John Drecker of Pirates Prospects interviewed C Joey Schoenfeld, a 2009 draft pick, and Kristy Robinson of Hands Off My Pirates Booty talked to 2010 pick RHP Logan Pevny. Both were selected directly out of high school.

-- For early draft followers, Jim Callis of Baseball America tweeted that he thinks Anthony Rendon, front runner for the #1 selection by Pittsburgh in this year's draft, would be among the Top Five Prospects in the minors right now in ability.

-- In that vein, Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors has an interview posted with Vandy RHP Sonny Gray, one of the college pitchers who could go in the top spot of the draft.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pirate Profiles

One thing that spring camp generates, besides wishes that the snow shovels and salt can be safely stowed in the garage for another year, are player profiles. Recently featured guys are:

-- Corey Wimberly (Colin Dunlap, Post-Gazette)

-- Andrew Lambo (Jen Langosch,

-- Evan Meek (Alan Dell,

-- Joe Beimel (Colin Dunlap, Post-Gazette)

-- Steve Pearce (Jen Langosh,

-- Kevin Correia (Alan Dell,

Tuesday Tidbits

OK, now we know. Clint Hurdle says the Bucs have to be "all in." Frank Coonelly says this is a "doing league." Bob Nutting says that the organization is committed to building a championship team; at least that's what he expects.

We don't see much that the FO did to improve this team enough to meet any of those stated goals except to shore up RF a bit. They needed a short-term first baseman, long term shortstop and top end starter, and got none of the above.

Their on-field players should be better, with lots of ifs. Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Jose Tabata will play their first full season; they could adapt well, ala Andrew McCutchen, or battle with the adjustments they'll see, like Garrett Jones. Ronny Cedeno could settle down or continue his yo-yo play, and Lyle Overbay can bounce back or keep rolling down the ol' hill.

Their performance will go a long way to determining the kind of year the Pirates have in 2011; it sure doesn't appear that the pitching got noticeably better.

-- Nutting told the beat guys yesterday that financial considerations will not affect the Pirates draft choice this year. They hold the #1 spot, and money has become a popular question as Scott Boras is Anthony Rendon's advisor.

-- Pedro Alvarez sat out of the team's workout on Monday due to a muscle spasm in his neck. The soreness is expected to be a minor issue, and he's listed as day-to-day. For those who enjoy reading tea leaves, Garrett Atkins took his place at third base yesterday.

-- Scott Olsen and Kevin Hart are throwing, but off a flat mound.

-- The Cubs already announced that Ryan Dempster will get the call on Opening Day against the Buccos at Wrigley on April 1st. The Pirates? Still TBA, and likely to be for awhile. Clint Hurdle hasn't announced who's starting the Grapefruit League opener this weekend, much less Opening Day.

-- Former Pirates shortstop Dick Groat is one of seven athletes and coaches who will be inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame on July 3rd. Not only was he a linchpin for Pirate and Cardinal championships, but one heck of a college guard at Duke.

Also to be inducted is Terry Francona of New Brighton HS, who coached the Red Sox and Phils after a ten-year MLB career.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Quiet Monday

-- Pirate president Frank Coonelly was quoted by Tim Potvak writing for the Post Gazette as saying "Trying hard is not good enough...This is a doing league, and it's time for us to start doing."

Now if he can just live up to an old Ben Franklin saw: "Well done is better than well said."

-- All the Bucs are in camp now, including spring coaches Billy Maz, Teke, Manny Sanguillen and Bill Virdon, covering the last three championship teams. Bob Nutting is there too. He'll address the team this morning.

-- Jen Langosch of has articles on Steve Pearce and Tyler Yates posted during the weekend.

-- Dejan Kovacevik of the Post Gazette has a feature on potential #1 draft pick Anthony Rendon. DK adds that there is no consensus top pick; Rendon has been dogged by injuries throughout college and as he's being "advised" by agent Scott Boras, the odds of signing him in time to hit the minors in 2011 are slim. It's a good year for college players, and there are a handful that could catch the Pirates' eye.

-- Cameron Zick of Sports Illustrated has a piece called "Former Top Prospects Who Went Bust..." and one of his profiles is on Andy LaRoche, now in Oakland with a minor league contract.

I'm worried about my own expectations," LaRoche said. "I fell short of those expectations tremendously the last few years. It's been frustrating. I've been trying to do too much, instead of just staying relaxed and playing the way I have all throughout the minor leagues."

LaRoche was a class act in Pittsburgh; we hope he finds his mojo on the left coast.

-- Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review did a piece on JR and life going on with no regrets in the show.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Yesterday's story from Bradenton was the old "vote of confidence" interview with Prez Frank Coonelly over the future of GM Neal Huntington, whose contract is up at the end of the year.

Coonelly said all the right things about his GM, as to be expected. But the bottom line, no matter what is said in the spring, is that another 100 loss season is quite likely to usher Huntington out the door. He needs the team to show progress and his draft picks to start showing up at PNC.

His trade record for prospects has been hit-and-miss. That's probably to be expected; Huntington era deals stress upside in the return. Instead of getting guys who are projected as steady, mid-level players, he rolled the dice on talented but underperforming players, hoping to hit the jackpot.

It worked for Jose Tabata, Joel Hanrahan and James McDonald; not so for Lastings Milledge and Jeff Clement. Minor league talent evaluations are admittedly a crapshoot, but guys the FO counted on as being big leaguers and cornerstones, like Andy LaRoche and Brandon Moss, didn't pan out.

That's to be expected; after all, the baseball scenery is littered with guys who couldn't take that last step. But for a rebuilding team, the results have delayed the original timetable for fielding a competitive squad in a city impatient for some baseball success.

His history of bringing in free agents is equally spotty. Huntington didn't want to block his young players, nor did he have the financial resources ala Washington to overpay and bring in big ticket performers.

Throw in the undeniable fact that players tend to gravitate toward teams that can at least sniff the playoffs, and his signings are what they are. Still, he 's had some success, like Octavio Dotel and Javier Lopez who he flipped into young talent; we'd toss Rule 5 keeper Evan Meek into that mix, too.

Last year, Huntington made his first effort at bringing in an undisputed starter from outside the organization with Aki Iwamura. That fizzled, and time will tell if Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz will help hold the fort until the minor league troops ride into Pittsburgh any better than Eric Hinske or Bobby Crosby did.

The minors is where he shines. For the first time, Indy will be stocked with mostly his players. Huntington's brought in a handful of potential difference-makers, like Pedro Alvarez, Jameson Taillon and Luis Heredia. There's no denying that the organizational pitching is as strong and deep as its ever been. And he's loosened the leash on Rene Gayo in Latin America.

But building through the minors is a painfully slow process. So the question is whether he'll have time to see the process through. Remember, Branch Rickey's teams were the worst in Pirate history, but Joe Brown rode his roster and some wheelin' and dealin' to a World Series championship.

What has yet to be seen is if Huntington can construct a contending MLB team from the toolkit once enough pieces are in place, just like Brown did.

There's no question that Huntington has rebuilt the Pirate system to at least respectability. How, and more importantly, when, that translates into a successful major league product is the key to his future in Pittsburgh.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Notebook

-- NBC Sports' Tony DeMarco has the Pirates spring camp preview. His prediction? A 62-100 record, good for last place in the Central.

-- Over 150 players filed for arbitration this year; only three went as far as a hearing. Ross Ohlendorf and Hunter Pence won, while Jared Weaver lost.

-- Marc Hulet of Fangraphs posted his Top Ten Pirate Prospects list yesterday; there are no surprises in his rankings.

-- RHP Joe Martinez, who the Pirates shipped to the Indians in a waiver deal, was outrighted off the Tribe's roster according to Jordan Bastian of Martinez came to Pittsburgh with John Bowker at the deadline last season as part of the Javier Lopez deal.

He's still in camp as a non-roster invitee and "in the mix" for a long man spot in the Cleveland pen.

-- RHP Chris Bootcheck compiled a 55-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio and ranked third in the International League with 20 saves for Indy as its closer in 2009, but it didn't translate in the show, where he ran up an 11.05 ERA in 13 appearances for Pittsburgh.

He went to Japan last year, with not very good results. But he showed enough that he was signed by Tampa Bay recently, where along with old Bucco Jonah Bayliss, he'll try to land a spot in the pen, as reported by Matt Eddy of Baseball America.

-- It was sort of a mystery why the Pirates let talented reliever Ron Belisario go to the Dodgers in 2009 as a free agent, where he put together a 2.04 ERA as the set-up man in their pen.

The FO's thinking is becoming clearer. The 28 year old Venezuelan is late for camp for the third straight year, after compiling a DUI and two trips to the reserved list in 2010.

Now Mark Polishuk of MLB Trade Rumors reports that he not only is going to be late, but may miss the entire season because of visa issues. Belasario says he lost his passport; his agent says that he may not be issued one.

Sometimes addition by subtraction is a valid concept.

-- How responsible is a team for its fans? A judge will decide that question soon in response to a lawsuit filed by a Pirate supporter.

A Pittsburgh man is suing the Atlanta Braves after he was beaten in a 2008 game at Turner Field, losing 11 teeth and breaking his jaw after a thrashing delivered by a half-dozen supposedly drunk Atlanta rooters, allegedly upset because he sported a Bucco cap. The man had complained to stadium personnel twice over the gang, who finally cornered him outside a restroom, as reported by Rhonda Cook of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Hey, maybe the guy ran across the New York Islanders. Still, beer and baseball sometimes mix poorly, and the teams have a responsibility to the fans to make sure that the combination doesn't turn ugly. We hope the judge sends a strong message against hooliganism in the stands.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Daily News

Another quiet day on the ranch...guess that's good news, hey? The beat guys report:

-- Scott Olsen was diagnosed with a slightly strained hammy; he'll be off a week before the docs check him out again. If he just misses a week, it shouldn't hurt him in his battle with Charlie Morton for the fifth rotation spot, but if it lingers, he could be in trouble before he even gets out of the gate - and give new life to darkhorses like Brad Lincoln, Brian Burres or even Rudy Owens.

-- Everybody is in camp as of today and ready to go; we believe that Jeff Clement, Kevin Hart and Donnie Veal are the only guys that aren't ready to go full-tilt.

-- Looks like this year's player-under-the-microscope will be Pedro Alvarez and his beefy bod. Hey, he's a big kid, and conditioning doesn't seem to be his favorite way to spend the winter. The Pirates could keep a better eye on him in the off-season, but the faster he eats his way to first base, the better off the team is in the long run.

-- Steve Pearce got some balls in the outfield; Pedro took some throws at first base.

-- Tom Krasovic of Fanhouse tweets that "UCLA hoss Cole being scouted today by Pirates, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Padres, others. If drafted No. 1, West Coast Bias not stunned."

That "hoss" would be UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole, a flame-throwing strikeout artist and potential top pick in the 2011 draft.

-- The Blue Jays agreed to a $64M, 5-year extension with ex-Bucco Jose Bautista. He'll earn $8M in 2011 and $14M/season from 2012-15 with a team $14M option for 2016. Funny what 54 bombs will do for your bank account.

-- Sean Casey keeps on keepin' on. He's working on a new area Field of Dreams, this one in Upper St. Clair. It will cost an estimated $1M to build; he's already raised half the money. Colin Dunlap of the Post-Gazette has the story.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bullpen Spots Filling Up

With the announcement that Joel Hanrahan will close, the Bucco bullpen looks to be set through the last three innings; only a pair of long spots remain open.

Hanny will pitch the ninth. Evan Meek and Joe Beimel will set up. It's very likely that Chris Resop and Jose Veras will be the bridge arms. And those last two open spots have a lot of story lines.

If Charlie Morton can't whip Scott Olsen for the fifth starter spot, the FO is between a rock and a hard place; Morton out of options. The question is whether or not the Bucs are out of patience with him.

If Olsen loses, he has options, and we think he and the team would be better served stretching him out at Indy. But he is a lefty, and the Pirates have precious few of those. Brian Burres is another option, and he's on a minor league deal, so he's no harm, no foul if he starts out in AAA either.

Of course, Jeff Karstens has served the role of long guy/spot starter admirably, and has proven he can give you five good innings most nights. Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio were both injured last season and are out of options, to boot. Do the Pirates want to give them a season to show if they can help the team? Hart can probably be slid onto the DL for awhile; Ascanio is thought to be ready to go.

Sean Gallagher, Tyler Yates, Chris Leroux and Fernando Nieve all have MLB experience. They can also all be sent to Indy safely; we'd expect them to be insurance policies; Gallagher and probably Nieve will get some rotation time there.

They are limited as to how many guys they ship to Indy; Danny Moskos, Mike Crotta and Tony Watson need some upper level work, too.

So determining the last couple of spots will make for interesting decisions. It's a good sign that the Pirates are in a position where they have to make hard choices for a change, even if it is just around the fringes of the club. It sure beats the usual dumpster diving of the past.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hanny Da Hammer

The biggest mystery of spring training is over already. Clint Hurdle named Joel Hanrahan as his closer, with Evan Meek his set-up guy.

We're assuming that leaves Chris Resop and Joe Beimel as the seventh inning bridge arms and three spots up for grabs. If you get excited watching a free-for-all over the long (OK, mop-up) pitchers' position, boy, is this is your year!

Hanrahan, 29, was 4-1-6 with a 3.62 ERA and struck out 100 batters in 69-2/3 frames. He saved 14 games in 2008-09 with the Nationals, which makes him the wily veteran of the pair (Hanrahan has 4 years and 269 innings under his belt compared to Meek's three campaigns and 140 innings.)

Meek, 27, was 5-4-4 with a 2.14 ERA and had 70 K in 80 IP. His WHIP was an impressive 1.050 in 2010, but our guess is a little prior experience and the huge whiff rate won the day for Hanny.

Now to find that fifth starter...

Pirate Bullpen

Unlike the starting rotation, there's lots of mix-and-match possibilities in the 2011 bullpen, especially among the long guys.

Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek, Chris Resop and Joe Beimel are locks (Beimel can opt out of his contract if he's not on the 25-man roster and is the only veteran lefty), so that leaves three spots.

Jeff Karstens and Jose Veras are both strong candidates to win a job...except that Jose Ascanio and Kevin Hart are both out of options, and the loser of the great #5 starter shootout between Charlie Morton (also out of options)and Scott Olsen could end up stashed in the pen, too.

Olsen, who has options, can be sent down to Indy if he loses out to Morton. But as a lefty, there may be some sentiment to keep him available. Other lefties available are Brian Burres, a southpaw Karstens clone, and Justin Thomas. Both are more likely to start out the year in AAA, as may Daniel Moskos and Tony Watson, the future of the bullpen from the port side.

Donnie Veal is out of the equation this year, though he should resume pitching for keeps later in the season.

The possible options from the right side are more numerous and proven: Chris Leroux, Daniel McCutchen, Sean Gallagher, Tyler Yates, Cesar Valdez, and Fernando Nieve, along with youngsters Michael Crotta and Ramon Aguero.

Of the second group, none are in eminent danger of being lost; the 40-man roster guys have options; the others are signed to minor-league deals.

That alone puts them in second-class citizen status, at least so far as breaking camp with the team, although a lot can happen in six weeks to muddy the picture. But if everyone stays healthy and the Pirates resist picking up any late cuts, the main questions will be:

-- Is Hanrahan or Meek gonna close? Meal Huntington has all but said they've made their decision; GW agrees with most of the blogosphere in expecting Hanny to get the nod; prior experience, better K rate, and two years of team control, making him an easily movable piece if he pitches well.

-- What do they think of Morton, Hart, and Ascanio? All either stick or go through waivers (although Hart may get a brief reprieve on the DL). Are the Pirates in love enough with their potential to have them hang around another year or just them them move along and hope the young guns are ready to move up?

-- If Olsen loses out, do they keep him as a second lefty or ship him down to get his innings at Indy?

-- Will everyone perform as expected in camp? Remember, Morton and Hart were virtually guaranteed spots last year until they both blew up in Bradenton. The possibility remains that although spring training results are the most useless evaluation aids imaginable, a slotted arm or two could underperform its way off of the 25-man roster.

-- Injuries and waiver wire players have been the calling cards of the current FO's rosters, so they may have an effect in March.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stan the Man, Manny, and oh yah, Camp...

-- Stan the Man Musial from Donora, for you young 'uns, is the greatest ballplayer that Western Pennsylvania has ever produced, or at least one side of a coin with Honus Wagner.

He was an outfielder/first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1941-63, played on three World Series champions, was MVP three times, had a career BA of .331 and was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1969. The Man was also one of the best humans to ever play the game, right up there with Chuck Tanner.

The 90 year-old added the crowning touch to his trophy case today as he was one of 16 people to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award bestowed by our grand nation. Other winners were George Herbert Bush, Maya Angelou, Bill Russell, Yo-Yo Ma, Warren Buffet...well, you get the idea. It's a big deal.

Bob Cohn of the Tribune-Review has his bio. If you're not aware of Musial's accomplishments on and off the field, give it a read. He's one of the unsung giants of the game.

-- This weekend, Manny Sanguillen was inducted into the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame along with Edgar Martinez, Luis Tiant, Andres Galarraga, Rico Carty, Dennis Martinez and Fernando Valenzuela, reports Jen Langosch of on her blog.

In 13 seasons (1967-1980), twelve with the Pirates, he put together a .296/65/585 slash, was an All-Star three times and played on a pair of World Series-winning clubs.

-- Sifting through the tweets and reports from camp, here's today's news: Tyler Yates and Mike Crotta were throwing well, the Bucs will announce their closer sooner rather than later (maybe this week) and James McDonald got engaged. Hey, what did you expect for day 2?

Pirate Starters 2011

Make no mistake - while there are holes to fill among the position players, improvement in the Bucco product will rest squarely on the shoulders of the starting rotation. They bombed last year, winning just 34 games and cobbling together a 5.27 ERA.

The Pirates have gathered a small posse of pitchers in camp to try to stabilize things until a wave of good young arms rises to the top. By and large, we expect them to hold back their young pitchers for another season for developmental reasons.

After Brad Lincoln, Charlie Morton, Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen were spanked in 2010, the suits may have decided that fast-tracking guys is not the way to go.

The tea leaves say that J-Mac, Ohlie, Paul Maholm and Kevin Correia are in, and there's a wide-open competition for the fifth spot, which looks a lot like a shoot-out between Charlie Morton and Scott Olsen, with Brad Lincoln as a dark horse.

McDonald, 26, arrived at the deadline and went 4-5/3.52 in 11 starts in August and September. He has to work past his reliever's mentality of striking out every batter he faces and manage his pitch counts better, but he may end up the best deal of the Huntington era after the Yankee swap that netted Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens.

Ohlendorf, 28, and Correia, 30, hope to have bounce-back years. Both had strong 2009 seasons and hope that 2010 was an anomaly when they combined for 11 wins. Maholm, 28, is the Pirates war horse and highest paid pitcher, but hasn't hit double-digit wins since 2007. And those are the guys that are locks.

Morton, 27, and Lincoln, 25, are looking for redemption after miserable 2010 performances, and Olsen, 26, was added to provide some veteran competition for that final spot.

Jeff Karstens, 28, and Brian Burres, 29, both stuck their fingers in the leaking dike last year with reasonable results, but appear to be on the outside looking in. They may compete for a long spot in the pen, or start the year as veteran insurance at Indy.

To add to the equation, Morton, Hart and Karstens are all out of options and have to get through waivers if left off the 25-man roster, although Hart may start the season on the DL. Lincoln still has an option remaining.

Rudy Owens and Bryan Morris are projected to move up to Indy. The betting line is that they'll be joined in the rotation by Lincoln, Sean Gallagher, and maybe Olsen, who is signed but still has two options remaining, or Burres, or Fernando Nieve or Cesar Valdez. Lots of choices on the menu.

Mike Crotta, Kyle McPherson and Tony Watson, all protected on the 40-man roster, have to get some innings in, too, as does Donnie Veal. They too should be in Indy this coming season, but may land in the bullpen.

That leaves Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Aaron Thompson, Aaron Pribanic, Brian Leach, Brett Lorin and Tim Alderson battling for innings in Altoona. All have some aspect of their game to work on; spending a little more time in the slow lane might be a blessing in disguise. But they all have their eyes aimed at Indy and beyond, with Wilson closest to taking the step.

They have to keep moving; Jameson Taillon, Luis Heredia, Stetson Allie, Colton Cain and Zach Von Rosenberg lead a strong crew of young arms in the lower levels waiting to climb the organizational ladder.

The Pirates are starting to build some depth in their pitching. With the sheer numbers and guys that will have to be added to the 40-man roster, we'd be surprised if the FO didn't begin packaging some arms and dealing them for organizational needs, just like every strong organization in baseball.

Until then, it's quite a crowd this year, unlike most seasons. We're hoping the Pirate evaluators can make the numbers game a good problem to have.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Taillon Makes Another Top 50 List

Jim Bowden of Fox Sports picked his Top 50 Prospects. The Pirate rep was, natch, Jameson Taillon at #16.

Bowden wrote "Bulldog and work horse with a huge frame that reminds you of Josh Beckett. Fastball in the 94-97 range with a hard, late-breaking slider that gets as high as 86-87 with downward plane action. His change-up needs work as his arm speed slows down. Has the stuff, size and potential to be an ace with an arsenal that will miss bats."

Also, John Parker of has posted an interview with Taillon.

Off Season Review by MLB Trade Rumors

Tim Dierkes of Major League Trade Rumors has his off season review of the Pirates today.

He says "The Pirates have yet to top 67 wins in a season during Huntington's tenure, and have an active streak of 18 consecutive losing seasons...Pirates fans are probably in for two or three more years of stopgap veterans, though position player talent is on the rise with Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, and Neil Walker. If Huntington is to last to see Taillon's big league debut, he'll need the second wave of starting pitching to break through to some extent in 2011."

Bloggers on the Move

Matt Bandi and Randy Linville's The Pittsburgh Lumber Company and Wilbur Miller's Pirate Player Profiles are both going dark and joining up with Tim Williams' Pirates Prospect site. Green Weenie surfed the three of them religiously, and is looking forward to seeing them all in one place.

It's a lot of good stuff packed into one site, so adjust your bookmarks. Good luck and keep up the great coverage, guys.

Pitchers, Catchers Take The Field

The pitchers and catchers took the field this afternoon, dressed in their new yellow practice jerseys (think Big Bird.) No missing them in that outfit.

MIA is RHP Jose Ascanio, who expects to be tied up a day or two getting out of Venezuela, and the guys with workout limits are LHP Donnie Veal and RHP Kevin Hart. Hart is out of options and may start the year on the DL.

The pitchers (34): Ramon Aguero, Jose Ascanio, Joe Beimel*, Brian Burres*, Kevin Correia, Michael Crotta, Sean Gallagher*, Joel Hanrahan, Kevin Hart, Jeff Karstens, Chris Leroux, Brad Lincoln, Jeff Locke, Paul Maholm, Daniel McCutchen, James McDonald, Kyle McPherson, Evan Meek, Bryan Morris, Charlie Morton, Daniel Moskos, Fernando Nieve*, Ross Ohlendorf, Scott Olsen, Rudy Owens*, Chris Resop, Justin Thomas*, Cesar Valdez*, Donnie Veal*, Jose Veras*, Aaron Thompson, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson* and Tyler Yates*.

The catchers (7): Dusty Brown*, Ryan Doumit, Eric Fryer*, Jason Jaramillo, Tony Sanchez*, Chris Snyder and Wyatt Toregas*.

* Non-Roster Invitee; the other players are on the 40-man roster.

Gino Cimoli

Gino Cimoli, Pirate outfielder for the 1960 world champions, died this weekend of kidney and heart complications, John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday. He was 81 years old.

The outfielder played ten seasons in the show from 1956-65, spending all of 1960 and a bit of 1961 with the Buccos. He also wore the uniform of the Brooklyn and LA Dodgers, St. Louis Cards, Milwaukee Braves, Kansas City A's, Baltimore O's and California Angels.

His MLB career slash was .265/44/321 in 969 games and 3,054 at-bats.

Cimoli was an only child born on December 18, 1929 in San Francisco to an Italian immigrant father and an Italian-American mother. He went to Galileo High School in San Francisco where basketball was his main claim to fame; he didn't play baseball until his senior year.

But he was good enough to be a prep All-Star, and at 6'2" didn't believe that he was tall enough to go much further in hoops. Howie Haak of the Dodgers signed him for $15K in 1949 as a free agent, beating out the Yankees for his services.

Before reaching the majors, he played for the Nashua Dodgers, Montreal Royals, Fort Worth Cats, St. Paul Saints and then back to Montreal in the minors. Cimoli had a career .292 average on the farm and a rep that he was a hot head and chronic complainer who didn't put enough sweat into mastering the game.

That changed in 1955 when Cimoli’s wife and two young daughters, driving from San Francisco to Montreal to join him for the season, wrecked in Wyoming. All three recovered completely, and Cimoli matured quickly after that reality check.

He would make his MLB debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 19th, 1956 at the age of 26. As a defensive replacement for Walter Alston's club, Cimoli appeared in 73 games and had 36 at-bats, hitting .111. He appeared once in the World Series, as a sub for Sandy Amoros during Don Larsen's perfect game, but didn't get an at-bat.

In 1957, he became the regular center fielder, stationed between Duke Snider and Carl Furillo. In the season's opener against the Phillies, he smacked the game-winning homer off future Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts in the 12th inning. Cimoli hit .293 with 10 home runs and scored 88 times. He was named to the All-Star team for the first and only time in his career.

The Dodgers moved to la-la land in 1958, and Cimoli was the leadoff hitter on opening day against the San Francisco Giants at Seals Stadium in his home town. Alston gave Cimoli the nod because of his North Beach roots and high school legend status.

He became not only the first LA Dodger to ever bat, but the first ever batter in a West Coast big league game. For the record, he was struck out by pitcher Ruben Gomez, adding to his list of firsts that day. (Cimoli was also the last Dodger to score a run at Ebbet's Field.)

His baseball card became a collector's item, too. Cimoli's Topps card #286 of 1958 has the background was painted out, a common practice in the pre-Photo Shop era. It shows him swinging a bat in the foreground, without the bat, which was also accidentally painted out.

That summer, he hit just .246. But the fans didn't care; Cimoli was one of the first big-leaguers to have a bleacher fan club, started in Brooklyn. In his case, his movie star looks enchanted the female fans of Flatbush and they showed up at Ebbet’s Field to root for their hero.

The Dodgers, however, did care and after the season Cimoli was sent packing to the St. Louis Cardinals for Wally Moon. He was a starting outfielder for the Redbirds, and hit .279, with 40 doubles and 7 triples, both in the top ten in the league.

The Cardinals were rebuilding after their seventh place finish, and had traded for the 20 year-old Curt Flood to roam center field. So Cimoli found himself in a Pirates uniform in 1960, traded for pitcher Ronnie Kline. It helped that the scout who originally signed him, Howie Haak, was then with Pittsburgh.

Joe Brown got Cimoli to play as a fourth outfielder behind Roberto Clemente, Bob Skinner, and Bill Virdon. The hope was that he would push Virdon, and he did share considerable time with him during the season, getting 77 starts, mainly in center. Cimoli hit .267 with 28 RBI in 307 at-bats.

Though a regular season part-timer, he played in all seven games of the World Series against the Yankees, thanks primarily to a thumb injury suffered by Skinner. Cimoli batted a pedestrian .250 with one RBI in 20 at-bats. But he came up big when it counted.

Skinner was back in the starting lineup for game seven, and Cimoli came off the bench in the eighth inning to pinch-hit for Elroy Face with the Pirates down 7-4. His Texas-League single off Bobby Shantz started a rally that was capped by Hal Smith's three-run homer that put the Pirates ahead, 9-7. We know how that one finished, hey?

Cimoli had the quote of the Series after the game when he told the plaid clad Gunner, Bob Prince, on live national television, that "They (the Yankees) broke all the records, and we won the game."

Fame is fleeting and fickle, though. Cimoli only appeared in 21 games for the Pirates in 1961, batting .299, when he was dealt to the Milwaukee Braves in June for Johnny Logan. He was the first player from the 1960 World Series team to be traded.

The Braves were set in the outfield with Hank Aaron, Lee Maye, and the former Pirate Frank Thomas, so Cimoli found himself a third wheel again. Used as a defensive sub, he hit just .197 in 37 games, and was headed out of another town.

The Kansas City Athletics drafted him as a Rule 5 player, and he was a regular for the club in both 1962 and 1963. During the first campaign, he hit .275 with 10 home runs and a league-leading 15 triples. The following season, he hit .263 with 11 triples, which was fourth in the league. But he faded quickly after those two solid years.

The A's released Cimoli early in the 1964 season, and he caught on with the Baltimore Orioles. The next year was his last, spent with with the California Angels. He played sparingly those two years and appeared in his final game on May 7th, 1965.

After retiring from baseball, Cimoli worked as a driver for United Parcel Service. In 1990, the company honored him for 21 years of service without an accident, calling him "The Lou Gehrig of UPS." After hearing his new title, he told the people at his presentation that "If I could hit like Gehrig, I wouldn't be here now."

He spent his off hours as a North Beach regular, playing cards at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club and telling old war stories while chewing on a stogie. And he had a lot of tales to share; stories of his exploits were even included in Carl Erksine and Jim Brosnan books

Gino Cimoli was never a star, and only one team, the Dodgers, even rostered him for as long as three full campaigns. But he was a key part of the Pirates iconic 1960 World Series team during both the season and championship run, and he'll always be remembered for the part he played in bringing the title to Pittsburgh.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Opening Bell Rings...

Thirty-eight of the club's forty-one pitchers and catcher required to report to Pirate City by the end of the day are signed in. Still missing as of early afternoon were pitchers Jose Veras, Jose Ascanio and Cesar Valdez. What makes us think visa problems, lol? (Although showing up fashionably late may also be the reason; we'll see soon.) EDIT - Veras and Valdez were fashionably late; Venezuelan Ascanio has visa problems and is expected in camp Tuesday or Wednesday.

Not much drama this year. The lineup is set, and the battles are for a fifth starter, closer, bridge bullpen arms, and a couple of bench spots. Here's the link to the official list of non-roster invitees.

Kristy Robinson of Hands Off My Pirates Booty blog tweeted the only hard news so far: "Jeff Clement has been removed from the list of non-roster invitees -- he's still recovering from surgery and will report to Minor League camp."

Pirates: Middle Infield

Ah, if there was one spot the Littlefield gang left stocked for the new FO, it was the middle of the diamond. Jack Wilson was manning shortstop while Freddy Sanchez took over second in 2007 at the big league level; both had been All-Stars.

The upper minors were solid, too, even when shortstop Brent Lillibridge (4th round 2005 draft) was sent to the Braves in 2007 for Adam LaRoche. SS Brian Bixler (2nd round 2004 draft) and 2B Shelby Ford (3rd round 2006 draft) were just a short step away from the show.

Funny thing about projections, hey? Wilson and Sanchez were injury prone and didn't fit into the new bosses' makeover. They were dealt away in 2009. Bixler turned out to be a AAAA guy now with the Nats, and Ford is a utility man at the mid-level of the farm system, both having long lost the patina of a prospect. It's back to the drawing board.

The baseball gods did smile a bit on the Buccos last season. After the 2009 Delwyn Young project fizzled, the Pirates went out and got overpaid and overfed Aki Iwamura to play second base. He was demoted after 40 games and replaced by Bobby Crosby, who in turn was spelled by 25 year old jack-of-all-trades Neil Walker.

The Pittsburgh Kid grabbed the bull by the horns and made several All-Rookie teams at the position, even though he was considered nothing more than a utility player when he was called up; so much for the FO's player evaluation skills, hey? Walker put together a line of .296/12/66, quite solid for a middle infielder who didn't get the call until late May.

He did as well as could be expected in the field, acrobatic on balls in the air, klutzy on balls on the ground and still working on his footwork and pivot techniques. His UZR/150 of -17.1 quantifies how much work is ahead of him.

But the Pirates have resisted several calls to move him to third, where he was a minor league All-Defensive pick, and Pedro Alvarez to first. If they're going to take Anthony Rendon in the draft this year, it does make long-term sense and tells us that they see Walker as a full-time fit at second.

Ronny Cedeno's footing at short isn't nearly as solid as Walker's is at second. A pet project of JR, Cedeno, 27, played throughout September while Argenis Diaz, 23, and Pedro Ciriaco, 25, collected splinters, all the while booting balls at frightening pace. His UZR/150 was -4.1. He did show an occasional burst with the bat, but his 2010 line was .256/8/42, not especially stellar but acceptable if he lives up to his fielding potential.

The Bucs FO realize that SS needed an upgrade, but couldn't or wouldn't pull the trigger on deals for JJ Hardy or Jason Bartlett. So at the PNC level, it looks like Cedeno-Walker will man the middle for the big club virtually by default, and there will be a spirited competition for the bench spot.

Why JR didn't get Diaz or Ciriaco any innings in 2010 is a mystery. In Diaz's case, well, he's gone now, so we suppose that answers that question.

The former D-back farmhand Ciriaco has some tools in his kit, mainly in the speed and leather departments, and will be back. He's on the 40-man roster, protected from the Rule 5 draft, and has one option remaining. His biggest concern is patience at the dish; his OBP's in the minors barely crack .300 (.302 lifetime, to be exact).

But this Pedro will be in a battle. The Bucs brought in Rule 5 pick Josh Rodriguez from Cleveland and Corey Wimberly from Oakland to challenge.

Rodriguez, 26, has played several positions and was a highly rated Indian prospect that the Bucs took as the #1 Rule 5 pick. He has the minor league resume, but has played sparingly at the AAA level and has had a history of nagging injuries. But his bat and eye should play in MLB (.356 OBP); some think that he's got the ability to be an everyday 2B in the show and an adequate back-up SS.

Wimberly, 27, is the epitome of a utility guy. He played 89 games in the OF, 31 at SS, 17 at the hot corner, and eleven at his original position, second base, last year. He's a burner with a career .376 OBP. He's intriguing because although he offers no pop whatsoever at the dish, he can fly and play everywhere. His career has likewise been sidetracked by injuries.

It should be a fierce competition; Ciriaco is the best glove, J-Rod has MLB potential as a starter (and has to be returned to Cleveland if he doesn't make the roster) and Wimberly offers great bench flexibility for Clint Hurdle. Ciriaco has the added onus of having an option left, which isn't particularly helpful in his MLB quest.

The organization has several solid, but not spectacular, prospects in the pipeline; the Bixler-Ford-Lillibridge misses created a minor league gap that's just now beginning to fill.

Brian Friday, 24, stepped into the breach at Indy, but the oft-injured infielder was left off of the 40 man roster and was available for Rule 5. He also projects as a utility guy, not very toolsy but a hard-nosed overachiever type of player.

Jim Negrych, 25, keeps on hitting and may earn a bench spot someday; they play him at 2B, 3B, and even left, a gritty minor league version of Delwyn Young. He also slid through Rule 5 for the second year.

Jordy Mercer, 24, and Chase d'Arnaud, 23, have been joined at the hip since they were selected 3-4 in the 2008 draft. They've advanced through the ranks, and have a pair of minor league championships under their belts. And this year, they should be starting at Indy.

d'Arnaud, despite a bad year with the bat at Altoona (.246/6/48), is still the numero uno internally to replace Cedeno long-term. Mercer played every infield position for the Curve, primarily at second and third, with a line of.282/3/65. It appears they're grooming him for a utility role. Last season was far and away his best with the stick; his OBP in the minors is just .317.

Josh Harrison, 23, acquired from the Cubs, hit .300 for the Curve. His problem is that he plays primarily third, and his bat just doesn't cut it there power-wise. But he's also seen considerable time at second, which was quite the juggling act for manager Matt Walbeck, considering d'Arnaud and Mercer needed innings too. He also projects as a utility-type player unless he can improve his glovework at second base.

If you're counting, that's a lot of guys looking for innings at Indy, especially when you add the Ciriaco-Rodriguez-Wimberly runner-up(s) to the fold. So it's possible that a couple of players will go via deal or release, or a couple may start at AA. Hey, better to have too many guys on hand than too few; it's the kind of problem the Pirates should have more often. And there are players coming up behind them.

At High Class A Bradenton, SS Brock Holt, 22, a ninth round draft pick from Rice in 2009, was slapping the cover off the ball (.351 BA) until a knee injury in late June cost him the season.

Class A West Virginia have a pair of up-and-coming guys in the middle, Jarek Cunningham and Benji Gonzalez, both 20. 2B Cunningham is a high school overdraft coming off knee surgery; he has some pop but still strikes out too much. Gonzalez is a golden glove man who needs to improve his hitting.

At short-season State College, SS Drew Maggi, 21, a fifteenth round draft pick out of Arizona State, had a rude introduction to pro ball, hitting just .156 and committing eight errors, but how he adapts next season will be a better indicator of his potential. He profiles as a good glove, high energy speed guy.

Kelson Brown, 23, a late draft pick from Linfield State, played third and middle infield. He's got a good arm, good range, and a decent bat, and projects, like many Bucco system infielders, as a utility-type guy in the organization.

So the Bucs are OK at middle infield at the farm level, even if a season or more away from any organizational players making an impact. The guys at the show? Well, Walker and Cedeno are not a very steady pair with the glove, but both have the potential to take it up a step. Cedeno has great upside if he can focus, and Walker is hoped to become the equivalent of Sanchez in the field over time.

Walker will get some time to show if he can adjust to second; we think a new coaching staff will look hard at the talented but inconsistent Cedeno. He dodged the bullet so far this off season, but if he doesn't show more consistency, his days of starting won't last into 2012.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Chuck Tanner Links

-- "Former Pirates Manager Chuck Tanner Dies At 82" (and player reactions) Rob Biertempfel, Tribune-Review

-- "Obituary: Chuck Tanner" Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette

-- "Tanner, Managed '79 Champion Bucs, Dies" David Briggs,

-- "Former World Series Winning Manager Chuck Tanner Dies" Associated Press

-- "Chuck Tanner RIP" Rob Biertempfel, Tribune-Review

-- "Chuck Tanner, Popular Pirates Manager, Dies At 82" Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette

-- "Tigers Manager Jim Leyland Remembers Chuck Tanner As A Special Friend" Jason Beck,

-- "Garner Remembers Chuck Tanner" Brian McTaggart, Tag Lines ( Astros' blog)

-- "Former White Sox Recall Chuck Tanner" Scott Merkin,

-- "Ex Pirates Remember Chuck Tanner As A Father Figure" Jerry DiPaola, Tribune-Review

-- "Fam-a-lee Blessed With Tanner" Ron Cook, Post-Gazette

-- "Chuck Tanner Was Baseball's Happy Warrior" Marty Noble,

-- "Analysis: Tanner's Way Was Caring, Yet Stern" Rob Biertempfel, Tribune-Review

-- "Tanner Got Everything Out Of The Game He Loved" Anthony Castrovince,

-- Chuck Tanner - Wikipedia

-- Chuck Tanner Quotes - Brainy Quote

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sunshine Superman RIP

Sunshine Superman has flown away. Chuck Tanner died today in a New Castle hospice after a long illness at the age of 82. He was on the short list of good guys to be part of the game, and you can bet that St. Peter has a long line of old baseball folks lined up behind him and Babs to welcome Tanner to his reward.

Charles "Chuck" William Tanner was born on July 4, 1928 in New Castle, and he is a true Pittsburgh bred Yankee Doodle Dandy if ever there was one.

A lefty, Tanner played eight seasons (1955 - 1962) for four different teams - the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Milwaukee Braves and Cleveland Indians after a star-studded high school career, in which he won ten letters in baseball, basketball and football. Shenango High's ball field is named after him.

In 1955, he broke in with the Braves and captured the club's top rookie award. Tanner became the third pinch hitter in history to homer on the first major league pitch he saw, tagging the Reds' Gerry Staley. He played in 396 games during his injury-dogged career and batted .261 with 21 home runs.

In 1963 he began managing in the Angels' minor league system. After eight years in the bushes and a AAA championship, he received his first major league managing job in 1970 with the Chicago White Sox. Tanner turned knuckleballing reliever Wilbur Wood into a winning and inning eating starter and Rich "Goose" Gossage into one of the primo closers of the era.

His most successful season with the Sox came in 1972, when he they were runner ups in the AL West to the eventual World Series champion Oakland Athletics. Tanner managed the Sox until 1975, when he was axed and replaced by Paul Richards.

In 1976, Charley O. Finley hired Tanner to manage the Oakland A's. With burners like Bert "Campy" Campaneris, Bill North, and Don Baylor, Tanner made the Athletics into a running team, stealing a major league record 341 bases. Heck, his "designated runner" Larry Lintz, who had one at-bat all season, stole 31 sacks. The A's, however, lost out in the division race to the Kansas City Royals. It went downhill from there.

Before the 1977 season, the A's began dismantling their core of stars from the great team that won three straight World Series championships from 1972-74. Part of that salary dump was the trading of Tanner to the Pirates for an over the hill Manny Sanguillen and $100,000. Technically, this is the only instance in MLB history where a manager has been part of a baseball trade. (Two other deals involved player-managers, Joe Gordon and Lou Pinella.)

He reached the pinnacle of his managerial career in 1979 as the skipper of the World Champion "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates. Tanner was famous for always looking for the silver lining, and it rubbed off on his teams. The Pirates won in 1979 after falling behind three games to one in the World Series and despite the death of Tanner's greatest supporter, his mom.

He told The Baseball Digest that after talking to his dad, he decided to remain in the dugout. "My dad said, 'You're going to stay and manage. That's what your mom would have wanted.'" Tanner recounted.

There was a lot of emotion flowing through the Pirate skipper's veins. "Mom had promised me she would be there for every game," said Tanner.

"Now Dave Parker was her favorite player and I remember saying to myself 'If you're so hot, let Parker hit one over that Cardinals' sign," Tanner recalled. The Cobra promptly mashed an RBI double in the seventh inning, right at the spot where the St. Louis logo was painted on the outfield wall at Three Rivers Stadium.

Tanner then began to feel that a special force was at work. "I got goose-bumps all over my body after that one," he confessed. And the goose bumps would remain as his Buc's roared back to stun the Orioles. It was obvious Mama Tanner was still in the house.

He took them to the promised land, but Pops and Dave Parker were on the wrong side of the hill and Bert Blyleven was traded. The results showed, as did Tanner's laissez faire attitude towards his players' personal lives, culminating in the low mark of Pittsburgh baseball, the drug trials of 1985.

His baby-sitting skills can be questioned, but he came up with an innovation that's still en vogue. Tanner came up with the "bridge" relievers, bringing in guys as early as the sixth inning to keep the lead, a new tactic at the time. In fact, in 1979 Grant Jackson pitched in 72 games, Enrique Romo in 84 and Kent Tekulve in a league-leading 94. They had the three highest appearance totals in the NL.

Tanner left Pittsburgh after nine years at the helm in 1985. He was canned after the horrid PR of the drug trials, and famously said "I would have fired myself."

He finished his managing days with the Atlanta Braves where he spent three unforgettable years with an old, creaking roster. They were terrible, and he was done coaching in 1988.

Tanner ended his field boss career with a 1,352 - 1,381 record. His only pennant winner was the '79 Bucs. He finished as one of 18 managers to work nineteen or more consecutive seasons, joining old Bucco skippers Fred Clarke and Bill McKechnie.

"I don't think a manager should be judged by whether he wins the pennant, but by whether he gets the most out of the twenty-five men he's been given," he says. And Tanner did get to work for a pair of baseball's more colorful owners, Charley Finley and Ted Turner.

He surely never used the same book that other managers swear by. Tanner was never afraid to use unorthodox moves to shake things up, like pinch-hitting left-handed hitting John Milner (for righty Steve Nicosia) against southpaw screwballer Tug McGraw. He hit a grand slam. He let Ed Ott hit against him, too. Same result.

After spending eleven years with Milwaukee Brewers' baseball operations
and five seasons as a special assistant of the Cleveland Indians, Tanner, then 78 years young, was named a senior adviser to Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington in the autumn of 2007. It was a great move by the Pirates, dipping into their tradition and coming out with a great guy to work with the troops. Tanner saw the best and worst of times and knew how to deal with them.

Tanner was invited to be a coach in Pittsburgh's 2006 All Star game by NL manager Phil Garner, who played for the Pirates during Tanner's tenure. It was a classy and appreciated move by Scrap Iron. The icing on the cake was when Tanner got the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

Tanner lost his wife of 56 years, Barbara, known by all as Babs, in 2006 after she fought a decade-long battle with a variety of health issues. Their house on E. Maitland Lane, where Tanner had lived since 1959, became a combination Babs/baseball shrine. They're back together again.

He was the father of former major league pitcher and coach at Pittsburgh and Detroit Bruce Tanner (he's a scout with Detroit now.)

"I've had the greatest life in the world," he told the Post Gazette. "How many guys can say they won a World Series in their back yard? How can that happen to a kid from Shenango?" But that's as it should be. Chuck Tanner has always been a star in Pittsburgh's book.

Visitation will be held from 4-9 p.m. Tuesday at Cunningham Funeral Home, 2429 Wilmington Road, New Castle. The funeral service will be private. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, a contribution be made to the “We Are Family” Fund in care of Pirates Charities, 115 Federal St., Pittsburgh PA 15212.

And in Tanner’s honor, MLB Network will show “Baseball’s Seasons: 1979″ at 6 PM Saturday.

"The greatest thing in the world is winning a major league game. The second greatest thing in the world is to lose a major league game." - Chuck Tanner

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pirate: Third Base

Third base was a problem area for the Pirates when Frank Coonelly and company took over after the 2007 season. Jose Bautista was highly touted, but had cobbled together years of .235, .254, and .242 in 2006-08 with marginal power for a corner infielder in Pittsburgh.

So when they swung their mega deal with Jay Bay before the 2008 trade deadline, they made sure to grab a third sacker; he was even more highly touted prospect Andy LaRoche. Off went Bautista to Toronto, where he astounded the baseball world by clobbering home runs ala the Bambino.

They also snagged a power-hitting corner player with the second pick of the 2008 draft from Vandy, Pedro Alvarez. The FO also had a left-over #1 draft pick from 2004, Pine-Richland's Neil Walker, riding an up-and-down career at Indy and in the second season of transition from catching to third base.

Well, it took a bit to sort out, but in 2011, they do have a guy on the corner whose bat plays the position in Pedro. And after a game of musical chairs that Mother Goose would be proud to call her own, they also got a guy whose bat plays at second with The Pittsburgh Kid.

As for the third wheel, LaRoche, well, he's trying to reestablish himself, now as an infield utility guy in Oakland.

Alvarez looks like he'll hold the fort at third for the time being; it's easier to find a big bopper first baseman. But he'll move to first, probably sooner rather than later.

His arm is first rate, and Alvarez is beginning to show some range to his left. But too many balls up the line, bouncers off his mitt and his bulky body make his long-term employment at the position problematic. 17 errors, a .938 FA and -8.6 UZR/150 are not numbers that a ground-ball heavy staff can long survive behind them.

And while a switch by the Kid to third would shore up the Pirates in the short run, the FO feels that Walker is better suited to play second in the longer view. Certainly his bat is solid middle infield material, and considering that 2010 was OJT for him at the position, it's possible that he'll show a jump in field performance in 2011.

The Pirates have three non-roster corner infielders, Andy Marte, Josh Fields and Garrett Atkins, who will duke it out for the backup role and a spot on the 40-man roster.

Both Marte and Fields are former top prospects that have never lived up to their clippings. Atkins was released by Baltimore halfway through a 2010 season that was a disaster at the dish (see Pirate; First Base post for more.)

Forget the minors. When Pedro and the Kid got their calls to the show, Indy had to scuffle to find players for third; Jimmy Negrych, Aki Iwamura and whoever raised their hand manned the position. Hitting machine Josh Harrison handled the spot at Altoona, but his bat profiles as a middle infielder, not a corner guy.

Right now, 20 year old Dominican Eric Avila, who hit 7 GCL homers in 2010, is the best prospect at the position. 21 year old Venezuelan Elevys Gonzalez showed some promise at West Virginia, but his bat profiles for the middle infield, which he has played quite often. Both he and Harrison have the look of MLB utility guys.

Jeremy Farrell is also a borderline candidate; he had a .298/9/43 slash at Bradenton, but at 24 is old for the league and doesn't flash the power that a third sacker should exhibit.

Help may come from the upcoming draft. The Bucs have the numero uno pick, and it's thought that the alpha dog is 20 year old third baseman Anthony Rendon of Rice. There are a couple of tempting college pitchers floating near the top, too, but the Pirates seem well stocked in young arms; they need a couple of everyday players now.

So in 2011, the Pirates have third base covered in Pittsburgh and are bare in the upper levels. If Pedro plays fewer than 150 games for any reason, the Bucs are going to scuffle to fill the hole.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ohlie Starts 2011 With A Win

Ross Ohlendorf won his arbitration case today and will earn $2.025M in 2011, with three arb seasons remaining.

Yah, a lot for one win in 2010, but the thing that pitchers have the least control over is their victory total. His ERA and WAR made him worth the salary he got in the judges' eyes.

He could get expensive if he puts together a couple of injury free seasons and stays around the 4.00 ERA level. But the Pirates did, at least to us, low-ball him. It's a situation the FO is going to have to learn to cope with. When guys perform, they'll have to be paid.

(Paul Swydan of Fangraphs lays out some comparisons and the likely arguments presented to the panel and why he thinks Ohlie won.)

Bucs & A Little Latin Lupe Lu...

Baseball America's Ben Badler reported that the Pirates signed 20 year old Cuban RHP Cesar Lopez in September for $600K. The delay in completing the deal is the wait for his visa, which often requires quite a bit of hoop-jumping for Cuban nationals.

He's said to have a low-nineties heater with two other pitches, a change and slider. And for the money they're offering, the FO must believe he knows how to throw those three pitches. If he ends up a bookend to Luis Heredia, it's been a very good year for Latino signings.

The last Cuban that the Pirates signed was RHP Yoslan Herrera in 2007 for $750K. He spent last year pitching AAA ball for the Twins, and none too well, may we add, so the Cuban pedigree isn't always all that.

We should find out soon enough. At his age, Lopez should start pitching in the US at one of the A level teams as soon as his visa problems are ironed out.

(Badler's article is behind a subscription wall; we found out about the signing from Tim Williams of Pirate Prospects.)

Also in Latino news, Anthony Castrovince of reports that "The Pirates have reportedly signed right-hander Leandro Rodriguez out of the Dominican Prospect League, according to the DPL website.

The site describes the 17-year-old Rodriguez as having a "loose" arm and said the Pirates signed him for $80,000. The club has not announced the signing."

Pirate First Base

Hey, Adam LaRoche was an island of stability for the Bucs during his stay in Pittsburgh, preceded by Randall Simon, Brad Eldred, Daryle Ward, Sean Casey, Xavier Nady and followed by Garrett Jones, Ryan Doumit, Jeff Clement, Steve Pearce and gang.

The Bucco FO hopes that free agent Lyle Overbay, 34, will provide the same kind of stability for the Pirate infield this year. He's a good gloveman with a 2010 slash of .243/20/67; his average was down, his power up, but he looks like he's on the downside of his career.

In fact, it's a fair question to ask why the Pirates signed him, given his age and the glut of candidates on the roster already. The short answer is that he's probably no more than a one-year stopgap; that's how long his $5M contract runs. It would also seem to be an indicator that the brass don't think they have an in-house candidate ready.

The Pirates could have cobbled together a platoon team to keep the base warm until Pedro Alvarez moves across the diamond with Steve Pearce and Jeff Clement/John Bowker.

Pearce, 27, is a nifty gloveman who drove the ball in the minors, and in a very small sample put together a .276/.395/.414 line while raking LHP.

Clement, 27, wasn't ready for prime time, as his .201/.237/.368 line showed, but he did bop seven homers in 144 ABs and fielded the position better than expected, considering his quick switch from catching.

Pearce had ankle and knee injuries that finished his season, and Clement went to Indy and had knee surgery of his own, necessitating Jones to jog in from right in May and hold the fort at first base. Clement and Pearce are expected to be ready for camp after their visits to the chop shop.

Lefty John Bowker, 27, also got a couple of games in toward the end of the season. The Pirates also brought in a cattle call of corner infielders to compete for the back up job behind Overbay.

Clement and Bowker are out of options and Pearce was granted one more because of his injuries last season by MLB, probably to his chagrin. It makes it easy for the FO to stockpile him in Indy one more season.

And hey, just in case they dislike those options, they brought in a boatload of guys to challenge for the spot behind Overbay: Josh Fields, Andy Marte and Garrett Atkins.

The Pirates signed Fields, 28, to a split minor league deal for 2011 worth $750K if he makes the club and $350K if he doesn't. They got a guy that's had 796 at-bats in the bigs with a ho-hum line of .234/.303/.421, but with 34 dingers and 107 RBI.

Of all the reserve candidates, he has far and away the best pop of the bunch. The Oklahoma native, who plays third, first and the OF (and none very well, judging by his UZRs), also rakes against lefties, making him the ideal platoon guy. His biggest problem has been his health, and he's supposed to be 100% this season for the first time since 2008.

Marte, 27, has a .218/.277/.358 batting line in the big leagues with 20 HR and 96 RBI in 838 at-bats. He's has never hit more than 235 times nor played over 80 games during a season. The Dominican plays first and third, and signed a minor league contract.

Atkins, 31, hasn't played since June when he was DFA'ed by the O's. he hit just .214 with one homer and nine RBIs in 44 games for Baltimore. He's had back-to-back poor seasons at the dish. The corner infielder did play for Clint Hurdle when he was all that, and that familiarity could come into play for him. The vet came to the Pirates on a minor league deal.

Pearce, Fields and Marte all have great numbers against southpaws; Atkins hits both equally well. Clements and Bowker hit from the wrong side to back up Overbay; JC is probably on the outside looking in while Bowker has to earn his spot as an extra OF'er.

Not only do the Pirates have to hash out who to shoehorn on the roster, but they'll do it knowing that there is no immediate help on the horizon from the farm.

The Pirates were empty at the position except for Pearce in the minors before the new bosses took over. The FO recognized that and drafted first basemen Matt Hague (#9 - 2008), Calvin Anderson (#12 - 2008), Aaron Baker (#11 - 2009), Matt Curry (#16 - 2010) and Jared Lakind (#23 - 2010) in last three lotteries. All but Lakind were college players; the FO hoped to fast-track them through the organization.

Hague, 25, is the best of the crop and should start out in Indy in 2011. He's got a good eye, putting the ball in play and drawing some walks (career .300 BA, 12% K rate, 9% BB rate), but is more a gap hitter than power stick, although he has some pop. Hague's also an excellent guy with the leather.

The Oklahoma State grad had 15 HR and 81 RBI for the Curve last season, and has to keep up his offensive numbers to rate a look at the show. He projects as a Steve Pearce type player, though without gaping righty-lefty splits. His major question is his power potential.

TCU's Matt Curry, 22, is a 6'2", 235 pound LH hitter and College World Series hero who got off to a strong start at State College last season, hitting .299/.421/.477 with 7 HR and 29 RBI, walking a lot (16%) and K'ing some (20%). He showed pretty good range, too. But the sample is awfully small; Curry will have to keep on at West Virginia/Bradenton next year to prove 2010 was for real.

Baker, 23, hit 18 HR at West Virginia with 73 RBI, but average (.253) and K's (115) are a problem, as is his defense. The lefty will have to step up his game to get on the radar. He'll have to work to hold off Curry.

Anderson, 23, is young and raw. He was drafted out of Southern University, and has moved a step at a time through the minors. Anderson shows a little pop, but the big guy (6'7", 240 pounds) struggles with the glove and with K's. He may repeat at Bradenton in 2011, as his .259/.328/.352 line and 11 HR don't suggest that he's ready for AA ball.

Lakind, 18, is a Texas high school kid who signed this year for $400K. He signed late and got a little action in the GCL; he could be in State College next season. Lakind is projected to be a 1B/RF corner type with 20+ HR potential.

The Pirate minors don't have a guy ready to step in and play, and in fact have a little problem with Baker, Anderson, and Curry being the same age and creating a logjam at the mid-level minors, always problematic when the suits are trying to evaluate talent.

They need power out of their infield corners more than most teams because of how they've chosen to defend PNC Park, using what amounts to a two-CF alignment and so removing a power bat from the LF corner.

In the long term, Pedro Alvarez will likely end up the Bucco first baseman, and if the FO drafts Rice 3B Anthony Rendon as expected, that will speed up accelerate the transition. The future of this position for the short term may depend on whether management prefers Rendon or an arm in the upcoming draft.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ohlie Has His Hearing

The beat guys are reporting that the Pirates and Ross Ohlendorf had their salary arbitration hearing today in Arizona, the first hearing for a player from the club since Jack Splat in 2004 and the first during the Coonelly/Huntington era.

Ohlie is looking for $2.025M this season and the Pirates countered with an offer of $1.4M. The panel must decide on one of those two salaries; they can't come up with a third figure.

The brainy righty was 1-11 with a 4.07 ERA in 108-1/3 innings last year, and landed on the DL twice. He's also had a WAR of 1.1 and 0.9 the past two seasons, which gives him an estimated value of just over $2M per year, so his figures look to be in line with his performance.

Ohlendorf is in his first arbitration year. As a "Super Two," he has three more arb seasons left after 2011. So from a purely business viewpoint, it behooves him to have a plump salary for future arb years, while the FO would like to keep his wages closer to a third-year player's pay scale.

We know the Bucs keep their pencils sharp, but we wouldn't bet against Ohlie. After all, his Princeton thesis used sabermetrics to demonstrate the return on investment from the MLB draft, so he should be able to figure out an arb value without breaking a sweat.

The decision is expected sometime tomorrow if the pair don't agree beforehand.

Pirate Catching

GW ran a series in the off-season looking over the Pirate squad position-by-position. Now that they've made their moves, we're going to revisit the series and see what they look like heading into Bradenton.

The off season plan was for Ryan Doumit to be moved, Chris Snyder to man the fort for a season or two, and then Tony Sanchez would slide in. It may yet play out that way, but a Snyder/Doumit platoon is looking more and more likely in 2011, with Snyder getting the majority of the work.

Dewey and Snyder put together are the package the Pirates want, given their organizational depth at the spot. Individually, they're both lacking, but they're adequate in tandem for a second division club.

Snyder is as advertised: low average, decent OBP, good power (.207/15/48), and capable defensively (except for the maddening inability to catch throws to the plate.) Doumit actually looked good as a twice-a-week catcher, though his bat (.251/13/45) was disappointing, too.

The team has a lot of bucks tied up in these two guys: Dewey will make $5.1M and Snyder $5.75M in 2011, with hefty options for both in 2012 (Doumit - $7.25M; Snyder $6.75M), assuring that at least one, if not both, will be gone in 2012.

The Pirates can afford to carry both of them in 2011, even if their preference is to move Dewey. So far they haven't, although the word is that he's still being shopped. But most teams are set at the position.

So they'll try to rebuild his value and keep him in his hybrid role - backup catcher, very occasional right fielder (Garrett Jones move to RF should preclude Dewey seeing time there), and switch-hitting pinch hitter for the short term. Then the FO hopes to find a taker through injury or at the deadline.

If Doumit remains on the roster, management has the option to use Neil Walker as an emergency catcher; he has the pedigree although the Pirates haven't worked him out at all behind the dish to our knowledge. If not, there are a couple of internal options.

There is a chance that the Pirates could carry three catchers on their 25-man roster if Clint Hurdle uses Doumit as his top pinch-hitter. The third wheel would be Jason Jaramillo, who has the glove to stick in the show, but his 2010 BA of .149 isn't going to cut it. He still has an option remaining, so he's likely to start out at Indy in 2011.

Tony Sanchez, 22, the 2009 first rounder, was ticketed to start in High A last year, go to Altoona, and be at Indy in 2011. But a beaning and broken jaw put him at least a half-season behind in those plans. It was a tough year anyway; he had shoulder problems early on, so a break may have been in his best long-term interest.

The BC product didn't have a very strong effort in the Arizona Fall League (.206/4/9 in 68 at-bats with 21 Ks); maybe it was rust, or maybe he was swinging for the fences. Either way, he ended up with recent LASIK surgery to improve his eyes and hopefully, his performance.

But his arrival in Pittsburgh is now pushed back to 2012 at the earliest; if he has any more injury problems or hits a roadblock at the upper levels, the Pirates' catching plans in 2012 are problematic. He's probably going to start in Altoona, with the hopes that he gets to Indy during the season, the sooner the better.

And putting all the eggs in one basket does carry a risk: Ronny Paulino was the catcher of the future in 2006, then Ryan Doumit in 2008...

There are a couple of other interesting players in the system, led by Eric Fryer. Fryer, 25, was part of the return for Eric Hinske, and had a good, if shortened (he was hit in the face with a pitch in 2010, losing considerable playing time) season at Bradenton (.300/8/48).

He's a little old for his level, but athletic (they plan to work him in the OF at camp) with a good arm, and may have a future in Pittsburgh. Fryer will probably open at Altoona with Sanchez, depending on where Jaramillo starts the season.

Kris Watts, 26, may play into the Pirate plans. The 2006 draft pick is a lefty with a little pop, so-so defensive skills, and a great eye; he's got a .360 OBP and generally walks as often as he whiffs. His level in 2011 will depend on where Sanchez and Fryer land; he should be an upper level back-up.

Erik Kratz and Hector Gimenez, last year's minor-league cavalry, are both gone. Kratz went to the Phils and Gimenez to the Dodgers in the off season. They'll be replaced by Dusty Brown, 28, and Wyatt Toregas, also 28. Both are good defensive guys who have had a taste of MLB life.

The plan seems to be to use Brown/Toregas as insurance policies at Indy and Sanchez/Fryer at Altoona with Watts as a floater. Ryan Doumit being on the roster sure complicates those plans, especially if Jaramillo drops to Indy, so it will be wait-and-see to figure out where the backstops will land to start the season.

Given the logjam behind the plate, Fryer may be given an opportunity to become a full-time corner OF'er, relieving some of the pressure.

The other guys on the farm are young: Ramon Cabrera (20), Dylan Child (19), Elias Diaz (19), Jairo Marquez (22), Miguel Mendez (23), Joey Schoenfeld (19), and Matt Skirving (20). None are ready to become prime time players yet and should be A level catchers in the system.

Overall, this isn't a position of organizational strength; Tony Sanchez is the only high profile prospect. But, like the bullpen, it's a spot that can be bolstered through the market; every year seems to have a glut of good glove, so-so bat receivers to serve as insurance policies.