Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pirates in 2010

I hope that all had a Merry Christmas and are looking forward to a great 2010. The question is for us Pirate fans, what kind of 2010 can we look for?

I think it is not out of the question to expect a winning season, but I think that what is assured is that we will see lots of new faces at Pittsburgh, some long awaited.

There is no doubt that Tabata, Lincoln, and Alvarez will make major league debutes this year, but right now it looks as if Pittsburgh will keep all of them underwraps until midseason. This means that some trades will have to be made to open up spots for these guys. Expect Zack Duke to get traded before the deadline. He is really the last decent piece we have, and that will open a spot for Brad Lincoln. I do not think they will trade Andy LaRoche, and it would probably only take a demotion of someone to the minors like a Ramon Vasquez to elevate Pedro Alvarez. Who they trade to make room for Tabata is anyone's guess. Maybe it will just be as simple as finally deciding to get rid of Stephen Pierce and put Jones at Firstbase for good. Anyway, seeing these three guys come up should make the end of 2010 a nice glimpse of the future of the Pirates.

As for what we can expect on the field, we will see the Pirates break camp in all probability with 5 outfielders, a giant hole at firstbase, and one of the better outfields in the game. The pitching rotation will be young, but talented, and the bullpen will be brand new and will take some time to see if it works out.

I do think the Pirates have an outside chance to win the division. The Cubs are a walking disaster, and the Cardinals look like they are going to lose out on Matt Holliday. They might pick up Jason Bay to replace him, but they still have a hole at third base, and a pitching staff that is good but likely to get injured (Chris Carpenter). The Astros do not have anything that much better than us and the Reds are also in the same boat. It will take a lot of things falling into place such as another good year from Ross Ohlendorf and an improved year from Paul Malholm, not to mention a bullpen that can close games, but the Pirates are good enough to do it, in what just might be the worst division in baseball.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Signings and Rumors

It appears the Pirates are looking for a closer on the free agent market. Rumor has the Pirates talking to Octavio Dotel. That would add some experience. We will see if this pans out. If not it seems like a good sign the Pirates are offering contracts. There are plenty of mid level closers out there.

Also the Pirates inked another lefty to a minor league deal to make sure they have some options. Jack Taschner from the Phillies is the newest signee.

Winter Ball Stats

Just a quick link to update everyone on Winter Ball stats thanks to Jennifer Langosh. I have to say that it is mostly bad news. With the exception of Starling Marte (.333 AVG) and Jean Machi (2-0, 12 saves, 5 ER over 33IP), it is not good news. Brian Bixler and Ronny Cedano are doing okay. Bixler is hitting .300 and Cedano is .292, but one might hope for slightly higher stats especially from Cedano. Bixler’s strike outs are too high. Ronald Uviedo is not doing all that bad either (2-0, 7 ER over 21.2 IP). But some of the others are just awful. Diaz, Kratz, and Gorky Hernandez are looking pitiful.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Bullpen overhaul begins

The Pirates had one of the worst bullpens in the majors last year, and they decide to completely dismantle it in the offseason. I mean tear it to pieces. They ended 09 without a lefty and they have decided to fix that problem by signing veteran Javier Lopez.

Last year's pen had seven slots filled by Matt Capps, Sean Burnett, Jeff Karstens, Jesse Chavez, Tyler Yates, and Donald Veal all of whom will not be on the opening day roster in all probability (Karstens has an outside shot). Burnett and Chavez have been traded and Capps and Yates are free agents.

The Pirates have been busy collecting a number of people who will compete for the positions, but all are questionable in their effectiveness. The Pirates claimed several players on waivers like Anthony Clagget and Chris Jakabauskas. Neither is a sure thing to make the team. Nor is Justin Thomas, a lefty, claimed on waivers, but then dropped. He still is in the system and has a shot to make the team.

The Pirates also have some internal prospects that might be ready to make the team. Namely Evan Meek, who looked good before injury, and Steven Jackson, who was called up late last year and was at least average. The Buccos have three Single A level pitchers on their 40-Man Roster right now in Bryan Morris, Ronald Uviedo, and Ramon Aguero. Don't expect them on the team.

Then there are the trades. Namely the trade with the Cubs. Jose Ascino has pitched out of the pen, and could easily do so again. The Pirates want him to be a starter, but with the starter lane getting clogged with McCutchen, Lincoln, and the emergence of Donald Veal, I would not be surprised to see Ascino moved to the pen permanently. The Pirates also have said that they may put Kevin Hart in the bullpen if he does not make the starting rotation. I doubt it, but they have said they might.

Right now only one spot is really locked down. Joel Hanrahan is on the team, and probably the default closer right now. Evan Meek and recently signed Javier Lopez are pretty solid bets. Thus, we have four spots for people who have little to no experience. I guess you would have to say that Jakabauskas has an inside track, although I am not sure how he is better at the long reliever spot starter than Karstens. Steven Jackson probably has a spot right now, or at least it is currently his to lose. That still leaves two spots open. Can Claggett claim one of those spots? Will these guys be any good?

It is worth noting that the Pirates currently have a space open on the 40-Man roster to fill. Thus, they have room to make another free agent signing. That might help clear up some of the confusion in the pen. At the very least Spring Training will be a real competition for major league spots.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Capps is Out!!!

Matt Capps and Phil Dumatrait were not offered contracts by the deadline, and are now officially free agents. The Pirates now have an open competition for the closer spot. The Pirates had been saying that Capps was still their man. But apparently that is not the case.

Zack Duke was offered a contract, and so now negotiations to avoid aribitration will begin. I believe that can go until January sometime.

I have to say that overall I don't mind this. It does put us in a little bit of a tight spot, but the bullpen last year was a mess and Capps was not very good and Dumatrait was awful and has been injury prone. The Pirates now officially have no lefty in the pen, but do have Justin Thomas in the minors. It opens up two more spots on the 40 man roster and hopefully the Pirates will be able to sign a bullpen guy. Right now I guess the bullpen has perhaps two spots sewn up. The other five are up in the air. Spring Training could be a lot of fun to watch.

The Cost of Modern Baseball

Ronny Cedano has signed and will not be arbitration eligible now. He will now make 1.125 million for next year. That is a raise from his just under 900,000 for last year, a year in which he hit a combined .208. How does hitting .208 get you a raise? And since when does a career .240 hitter with sub par fielding make a million bucks a year?

You want to know why small market teams have a hard time winning? Look no further than this deal for Cedano, which by the way is not considered unreasonable. It now costs over a million dollars to land a sub-par short stop. Bobby Crosby cost a cool million, and I have to say I think he is a better short stop than Cedano. Neither are world beaters and neither is the ticket to the World Series, but modern baseball is just that expensive. You want someone who will be very average? That will be 1 million dollars.

Anyway, Zack Duke and Matt Capps are still waiting for their contracts. Both had much better seasons than Cedano. I can't wait to see what they cost.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rule 5 Draft

The Pirates have selected John Raynor, an outfielder from the Marlins. They also picked up a player from Baltimore in the Triple A phase while losing no one.

The selection of Raynor is very interesting in that the bench is now rather crowded. There is no way camp breaks without Raynor on the team. This means there are going to be 5 outfielders on the team with McCutchen, Jones, Milledge, Young (who will not be a back up second baseman, but return to the outfield), and now Raynor. The bench then is full with the signing of Bobby Crosby becoming official and Ramon Vasquez and Jason Jarmillo already on the team. This seems to be what the Pirates are saying is the case, but I am hopeful that it points to moving Jones to firstbase.

There is no way Jeff Clement is going to be ready to play first base out of Spring Training. His defense needs work. And Pierce has shown now that he will be an offensive liability. If Jones is moved to first, then a spot is open on the bench and Raynor becomes the fourth outfield behind Young. Or Raynor stays the fifth as either Brandon Moss makes the team or Jose Tabata makes the team.

Either way you look at it the pick is bad news for Brandon Moss.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winter Meetings Day 3

All is quite on the Pirate front. And that is good news as the Pirates have not traded catcher Ryan Doumit nor pitchers Zack Duke and Paul Malholm. All are needed in Pittsburgh, and Zack's trade value will probably be higher at the trading deadline when people are looking for left handed pitching.

All that happened today is that the Pirates confirmed they will offer all three of their arbitration eligible players (Duke, Capps, and Cedano) contracts.

Tomorrow is the Rule 5 Draft. Expect news.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter Meetings - Bobby Crosby

It appears the Pirates have an agreement in principle with Bobby Crosby. They have been in serious negotiations with the Oakland Short Stop for some time. Adding Crosby would mean a possible starting position for him. It will be between Cedano and Crosby for the starting job. Both options are solid gloves and so-so bats. But overall it is good to have the depth.

It is however, bad news for Brian Bixler fans.

Winter Meetings Day 1

Day One is a positive sign for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not because they did very much, but because it looks like they will.

The Pirates did sign a right handed reliever to a minor league deal. Vinnie Chulk was signed as a minor league free agent. He played in the Indians organization and appeared 8 times with the Clevland Indians out of their bullpen. This did not take up any roster spots and gives them a shot at improving their pen. Competition is the name of the game for the Pirates.

The other good news is that Luis Cruz was claimed off of waivers by the Brewers. This is great news as it opens a spot on the 40 man roster. Cruz was awful for the Pirates and was not even the second shortstop on the roster. The Pirates actuall have two opennings now as Jeff Sues was waived and cleared waivers, so he is still in the organization, meaning he can compete for a roster spot as well.

The other bit of good news is that the Pirates appear to be interested in a short stop on the free agent market. It appears that they tried to sign Adam Everett, but he signed else where. Maybe the Pirates make a run at Bobby Crosby. These things can only be positives for the Pirates.

With two holes on the 40 man roster, I expect the Pirates to fill at least one of them in the Rule 5 Draft, in which they pick second.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

News and Notes

The Pirates have put up a report about the state of the Venezulena and Dominican Summer Leagues. The VSL team almost won a title, but fell short. It is hard to get too excited about some of these guys until they have seen action in America where the talent level of the competition is easier to evaluate, but some of these guys will be doing just that. The two that I had heard good things about prior to this report were Jonathon Barrios, who had a disappointing season statistically, and Jorge Bishop, who looks good. The Pirates are still really thin in the middle infield all throughout their organization. Thus, these leagues might produce a future middle infielder for the Pirates.

Also it appears that Jeff Karstens and Justin Thomas cleared waivers. Thus, one would think that they will be in Pittsburgh's system this upcoming year. This makes a bullpen lefty available for the Pirates in Thomas and keeps a promsing player like Karstens around.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More Top Prospects

The Fan Graphs web site has released its Top 10 Prospects for the Pirates. Not surprisingly it shows much the same as mine. Alvarez is no doubt number one and reversing the order of Lincoln and Tabata is no big deal. They are clearly the top trio in the organization. They have Alderson at 4, which is believable (I had him at 6).

They have Chase D’Anaud at 6 and Owens at 7 with Sterling Marte at 8. I had Ruby Owens at 4, D’Anaud at 5 and Marte at 7. Gorkys Hernandez sits at 9 for them, and is not on my list. They also had Quinton Miller at 10 and Jeff Locke at 5. Miller sits at 20 and Locke at 19 on my list. I did not even rank Gorky because he had such a bad season for the Pirates. I may have over reacted on that one, but I will stand by it for now.

Now, I think the Fan Graphs site is a little off on how low they put Ruby. His lack of velocity does not bother me all that much when you can still throw shut outs. But, over all I think the Fan Graphs list shows the same thing mine does: namely a real lack of hitting talent. Alvarez, Tabata, and D’Anaud are good, and I guess we can disagree on Gorkys. Marte looks hopeful, but in the end the top talent is pitching. Lincoln, Owens, Miller, Alderson, and Locke are just a small sampling of the talent. Remember that Fan Graphs did not rank any of this year’s draft choices, who were mostly pitchers. They also did not rank those who ended the year with the Pirate club, which scratches Daniel McCutchen (who I had ranked 9). Fan Graphs does mention at the beginning that you can expect to see Victor Black and Zack Van Rosenberg on the list next year. Both are top quality pitchers who were drafted this year.

More importantly the Fan Graphs list shows the utter failure of the Littlefield era. Of the top 10 prospects only Brad Lincoln and Ruby Owens are from the Littlefield era. And Owens did not really start pitching until Littlefield was long gone. Alvarez, Miller, and D’Anaud are draft choices by the new management. Marte is proof the new owner is serious about Latin American talent, and the rest are trades done by the Pirates this year or last in the case of Tabata. The Pirate system was broken before 2008. It is broken no more.

Friday, November 20, 2009

40 Man Roster: Remember that Lefty . . .

The Pirates have set their 40 Man Roster for the Winter Meetings. And to do so today they did a lot. Some expected, some unexpected.

The Pirates made sure Evan Meek and Jose Ascino were covered and did add Brad Lincoln and Gorky Hernandez. This filled up the current spots. But the Pirates then also went and made more room by cutting by cutting Robinson Diaz, Jeff Karstens, and Justin Thomas. These three new spots on the 40 Man Roster were then filled by adding Bryan Morris and Ramon Aguero from the farm system. They then claimed Chris Jakubauskas off of waivers from the Mariners.

I guess I am not too surprised by the Pirates opening up room for Bryan Morris. I really hoped they would not bother, as I think he is not going to live up to potential, but I understand. Robinson Diaz being removed to make that room, I can also understand. The Pirates had clearly decided to go in another direction at back-up catcher. Jason Jarmillo is their guy and Diaz had to be on the 25 man roster this year or they lost him. I was hoping a trade was in the works, but I guess this means nothing was available. I expect Diaz will be with another major league team next year at the big league level.

Jeff Karstens being cut, I guess I can see. Karstens was not going to be part of the rotation mix, and he is a natural starter. But, I still think he was a good addition to the Pirates. He was a decent long guy, and was impressive in his spot starts for the Pirates. Still, being allowed to go to another team is the best thing for Jeff's career where he can try to crack the rotation. I don't know much about Ramon Aguero. He played at multiple levels this past year showing some sign of hope for his future, I guess.

The one that I do not understand is the releasing of Justin Thomas. He is the only left handed bullpen guy on the team, and I do not see the Pirates adding another by free agency and with no free spots, I do not think they will get on in Rule 5, which is unreliable anyway. The Pirate pen is back to an all righty affair (unless Dumatrait moves to the pen for good), and adding this Jakubauskas guy is crazy. He has not shown major league stuff. Too few strike outs. This guy is already 30 and will give up homeruns left and right in Wrigley and just about every place the Pirates play.

One can only hope a left handed reliever will be signed and Jakubauskas gets reassigned off of the 40 Man Roster.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Littlefield's Trades

It is time to continue the examination of the Dave Littlefield era by looking at his trading record. This seems perfect after the recent Chavez for Iwamura deal made by the new management.

In short, this was what killed the Pirates. His inability to draft real talent destroyed the Pirates future, but his trades killed their present. He also failed to add in more stock to the Pirate farm system with his trades, which is just unforgivable. Littlefield had the benefit of pretending to help the team in Pittsburgh, so at least he was fairly up front about not stock piling players for the future, but really, he just saved lots of money and made Pittsburgh look bad.

The worst trade made is easily the Armaris Ramirez deal. That deal the power hitting third base man along with crafty centerfielder Kenny Lofton, who was having a good year, were traded to the Cubs for some money, Jose Hernandez (who was already old as dirt), Matt Burback the pitcher who was immediately dropped and lost on waivers, and Bobby Hill, who ineptly played second base for a year. This disastrous trade was nothing more than a joke. An attempt to dump money, but not even a good attempt to get anything in return. Hill played at second only because he was traded for and not because he deserved it further ruining the Pirates. This is doubly insulting because this was a division foe. More should be extorted from division rivals.

Not far behind this embarrassing deal is the trading away of Jason Schmidt. Schmidt proved to be a great pitcher with the Giants and he was good with the Pirates. He regularly won double digit games and usually had a winning record. For this young talent (and John Vander Wal) the Pirates received Ryan Vogelsong and Armondo Rios. Vogelsong did take up space in the bullpen, but was never anything approaching good. Rios pitched the next season for the Pirates in the pen before being released. His career was soon over. Schmidt of course went on to great things.

Another fan favorite sent packing by Littlefield for nothing was Jason Kendall. Jason did bring in two guys, both old and not worth much. Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes. Redman started but was never really good, and was way past his prime. Rhodes never really even made his presence felt with the Pirates. Both were over the hill. And while Kendall himself was no spring chicken, he could have brought something better than this.

Sean Casey needs to be mentioned in the group of the worst trades made by Littlefield as well. Casey was a native and thus extremely popular. He was a big name free agent signing and was producing. He hit a big .296 for the Pirates when Littlefield pulled the trigged and traded him to Detroit. Detroit gave in return Brian Rogers, who with his two partial years of appearing out of the Pirate bullpen just came in under an ERA of 10. When the Pirates released him, he re-signed with Detroit.

Those are just the trades of massively popular players. This does not even cover the horrible deals for lesser players like Raja Davis for Matt Morris, who had to retire he was so bad or Chris Young, a pitching prospect, for Matt Herges, relief pitcher who was traded for in December and then released by Spring Training. Herges has since pitched in the majors for the Rockies and Indians. You just can’t trade people away for nothing. You have to get prospects. Littlefield failed in that.

Even the trades that it is hard to blame Littlefield for are really failures. Mike Gonzales, Pirate closer and All-Star, was traded for Adam LaRoche and a prospect. The prospect bombed as did LaRoche. Gonzales is consistent still, but injury prone. On paper that looked good, so in fairness one cannot be upset. Also the Brian Giles for Jason Bay and Oliver Perez actually turned out good for both teams. Giles helped the Padres make a run and Bay was popular and successful in Pittsburgh and Perez was okay. However, in that deal Littlefield wanted Xavier Nady rather than Bay. Showing that Littlefield was not thinking about the future, and the deal would have been a bust with Nady.

Littlefield does deserve credit for bringing Freddy Sanchez for Jeff Suppan. That deal was a clear win from the very beginning for the Pirates.

In the end, Littlefield further destroyed the Pirates in three ways. One, he did not fill the system with talent from other ball clubs. He traded his top talent and got no talent in return. He basically helped other teams clear dead weight off of their 40 man rosters. Add this to the inability to make good drafts and it is a recipe for a long term slide with no easy fixes. Two, he killed any hopes of immediate success (ironically in the name of immediate success) by getting rid of young talent like Ramirez, Schmidt and others. This destroyed the teams hope of building around anyone in particular. Three, he probably hurt ticket sales by trading popular players for nothing. No hope was given to the Pirate faithful despite losing players like Ramirez. No hope was provided when they traded away Jason Schmidt, consistent 10 game winner. No hope was provided when they traded away Sean Casey, the local boy. The fans had no choice but to see this moves for what they were: dumping salary and sheer incompetence.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

2007 Draft Review

It is still too early to really judge the draft of 2007, but the verdict is already in. It is not so good. First, let me start by saying I am not all that down on Daniel Moskos. I think he will make the team as a bullpen pitcher probably sometime in 2011. He did give more hope to him being a starter one day this past year by adding a good sinker ball and showing his arm strength, even getting a complete game at the end of the season in Double A. However, Moskos will always be viewed as a mistake because of who the Pirates passed over to get Moskos. They passed over Matt Wieters, who is already in the major leagues playing for Baltimore and hitting .288. Now I know the Pirates are high on Ryan Doumit, but first round picks really ought to be about the best talent out there. And with the lack of bats in the Pirates system, the pick should have been a no-brainer. It is clear that Wieters was avoided because they did not want to pay his price tag.

The rest of the draft will really decide whether this draft is successful. Second round pitcher Duke Welker is really bad. He went 0-11 this year at Low A and was sent to the pen where his ERA got worse. He is now 4 – 14 with an ERA over 5.50 in two years. Not a good sign. Third round pick Brian Friday is doing well and is in the Arizona Fall League. His numbers are not stellar, but the weakness in the middle infield gives him a better than average chance of making the pros. Friday did make more errors than is allowable. Quincy Latimore played at Low A and hit .251, but he is still young at age 20. Andrew Walker (5th round) went down to Rookie league from 08 and actually hit worse. Matthew Foust (6th round) was only able to pitch in 3 games this year greatly hampering any ability to judge his potential. Juan Garcia (7th round) appears to be a washout. Two seasons at under .200 at Rookie league level is not a good sign for this young catcher. Tony Watson (9th round) missed a lot of the season, but had made the Double A team out of training. The Pirates are high enough on him that they sent him to the Arizona Fall League to get some more work since he missed so much of the season. Sean Giblin (10th round) has had shoulder problems and has not really pitched since 2007.

So this draft looks like it has some potential along with a few major busts. Friday might could make as could Watson. Guys deeper in the draft may also still turn out well. Eric Huber (12th round) hit .312 at Low A and was promoted to hit .262 at High A. Some other were included in trades, so the draft class has some value in that area as well.

I hope that the 2007 Draft turns out to be good, but I think it falls short of what it needed to be. Add in the obvious avoidance of spending money, and the Pirates had to fire Littlefield. He had competed his destruction their system.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Is 1 for 3 bad?

Well my predictions were off, but I got one right. The Pirates did get rid of Virgil Vazquez, Eric Hacker, and Stephen Lerud. Now I had predicted Virgil's departure, and I had also thought Luis Cruz would hit the road along with Steven Jackson.

Now I have to say that I am glad that Steven Jackson is sticking around. I think he has a chance to compete for a place on the roster out of Spring Training. I have no problem with Stephen Lerud being left unprotected. He is not a great prospect, and with our last number one pick being a catcher, his future was nil. I have to admit that I did not think Eric Hacker would be left off the roster. He did not do well in his very few appearances, but then again, I didn't think that he got much of a fair shot. I am also a little worried that Luis Cruz is going to be on the team next year. Even Bixler is an improvement over him.

Still it is much more important that we get Lincoln and Hernandez protected. The Pirates are ready to add them and it also looks like they will not be protecting Shelby Ford and Jim Negyrch.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Second base hole is now plugged

The Pirates have done it again and pulled off a miracle trade. Well, at the very least this should silence the critics that think that Pirates are never playing for this year.

Akinori Iwamura, a second baseman for the Tampa Rays, was acquired for Jesse Chavez, the right handed bullpen guy. While Iwamura is now the highest paid Pirate and Chavez would be under the Pirates control for a longer time, the trade is great. Chavez is a slightly above average middle relief guy. He was not a closer, and did not appear to be able to handle set up work. The Pirates have lots of guys who can do that. Even if it means a slight drop off in the bullpen the gaping hole at Secondbase was more pressing. Iwamura fills that hole. His careers .281 batting average is 20 points higher than Dwelven Young, who was also not a natural second baseman.

Interestingly Huntington said that this returned Dwelven to a bench role. That I guess rules out Young returning to the outfield where a corner position is still open if the move Jones to first base. This trade also gives the Pirates a few more trading options. One would think with Young on the roster along with Iwamura that Andy LaRoche’s possible move to second base is no more. That means by mid-season he will be a trading piece. Or Neil Walker could be a trading piece. Also it makes Brandon Moss a possible trade option as Young is a natural outfielder. The bench spot Young occupies just might be Moss’s 4th outfielder spot.

No matter how you look at this trade, the Pirates are fixing problems with their major league roster. They have already addressed the lefty in the pen, and now the hole at second not to mention upgraded a weak offense. And we have not even gotten to the winter meetings.

40 Man Roster

The Pirates have to prepare for the Winter Meetings and have the 40 man roster set by November 20th. They have some work to do because they have to add Brad Lincoln and Gorky Hernandez before that time.

The Pirates currently have 41 (2 on the 60 DL) men on their roster and need to make room for 2 more. So three spots are needed. That gives room for Lincoln and Hernandez. I think the Pirates will leave off Bryan Morris, Jim Negrych, and Shelby Ford.

So let’s see if I can predict who will be removed. I am betting Virgil Vasquez is released. As will be Luis Cruz, the short stop. That gives us two spots without any harm done to the team or really any hard decisions. The easiest thing would be for the Pirates to trade Robinson Diaz for a person who did not have to be put on the 40 man Roster. But, I am not sure Diaz can bring that and there is a time limit on this trade happening, so let us assume that Diaz stays on the roster, although I doubt he will be on it by Spring Training.

This makes the most likely candidates Phil Dumatrait and Steven Jackson. One of these two will probably be the one released. There is an outside shot that Ronald Uviedo would be released. So, I am going to go out on a limb and say that the Pirates are not yet ready to give up on Phil Dumatrait, and that Steven Jackson will be released. That frees up the necessary third spot.

So, in recap I believe that Vasquez and Cruz are going to be dropped in order to make room for Lincoln and Hernandez, and I think Jackson will dropped to make room for Meek (and Ascino will be on the roster as well). We will see how right I am by the 20th.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Lefty in the Pen!

The Pirates have addressed a need by claiming Justin Thomas off of waivers. Thomas pitched for the Mariners during this past season, and more importantly is a left handed pitcher.

One has to think that Thomas has an inside track to make the Pirate bullpen in 2010. Currently the seven spots are probably Matt Capps, Joel Hanrahan, Jesse Chavez, Jeff Karstens, Phil Dumatrait, and Evan Meek with one spot up for grabs. The addition of Thomas either rounds out the Pirate bullpen or puts Phil Dumatrait's slot in jeapordy. Dumatrait showed promise as a starter two seasons ago before injury ended it. He came back at the end of this season and was nothing short of awful out of the pen. Perhaps, the Pirates might want to put Dumatrait back to a starter, or perhaps they are done with him, or maybe they just want to give themselves a few options. Thomas would be a more natural bullpen pitcher who has major league bullpen experience.

Let us also not forget that the Pirates claimed Anthony Claggett at the very end of the season off of waivers from the Yankees. One would expect he might compete for a job as well, but he is a right handed pitcher. Eric Hacker, who was claimed at the beginning of 09, was brought up in the September call ups, and Steven Jackson pitched some out of the bullpen last year as well.

Thus, it is my guess that Dumatrait now has competition for his slot and one open spot in the pen remains.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Winter Meeting Preparation

The Pirates are getting ready for the Winter Meetings, December 7 – 10 in Indianapolis, and apparently making room for some Rule 5 draft picks. Bootecheck and Bautista were dropped from the 40 man roster. While some more moves will be needed, this is a clear sign that the Pirates are going to look for help outside of the organization. One would think especially in the bullpen since all of the moves were bullpen related.

The Pirates have shown that they are unafraid to use the Rule 5 Draft. They picked up Phil Dumatrait and Evan Meek in 08 and Donald Veal in 09. Veal was able to stay at the major league level, but was seldom used. Dumatrait was contributing and even starting, but was hurt early in the season. Veal was actually sent to the minors, but had been so bad at the majors the Diamondbacks told the Pirates to keep him. Meek now looks like a good prospect.

However, using the Rule 5 Draft is basically getting someone who is not quite major league ready and forcing him to play major league ball. It may have long term dividends, but short term it is usually a loss. I for one am afraid of the Rule 5, but when you are short on major league ready talent, it very well may be the best way to help out the ball club.

I guess the roster spots could be in preparation of signing a couple free agent bullpen arms, but I would not hold my breath.

Monday, October 26, 2009

2002 Draft Review

This was the first draft of Dave Littlefield. It was also the draft that sealed the long term fate of the Pirates. The top pick was Bryan Bullington. He never had ace potential and even Littlefield only claimed he would be a good number 3 guy. However, Bullington passed over BJ Upton, Prince Fielder, Scott Kazmir, Cole Hamels, and Jeff Francoeur. This is embarrassing beyond belief. Bullington never really made the majors and is no longer with the Pirates. Other notable draft picks in 2002 that never did anything with the Pirates include Brad Eldred (6th round, 1B), who had on hot spring training and made the team, but was soon sent down and waived the next year. David Davidson (10th round, pitcher) played some for the Triple A affiliate of the Florida Marlins.

While Brian Holliday (12th round, pitcher) seems to still be in the organization, Matt Capps (7th round, pitcher) is the only saving grace for this draft class. He is the closer on the Pirates, and he is at least average and maybe even above average. He did have one All-Star Game appearance, but had a shaky year. Still, he is on the major league team, and will probably be the closer again next season. Yet, Capps cannot save this draft class. He is not a dominate closer, and that is what is needed to make up for the lack of talent elsewhere in this draft.

But more importantly the decision to pick Bullington first is unforgiveable. Upton would have infused talent into the outfield. Hamels can carry a team. Fielder is not only carrying a team, but regularly sticking it to the Pirates in the division. Kazmir has made post season appearances. Francoeur may not be great, but at least he made it to the majors.

It gets worse when you compare the 2002 draft with the 2001, a draft not done by Hunington. 2001 made the fatal mistake of picking John Van Benschoten first, and eighth overall. Not really a bad choice since Van Benschoten led all of Division 1 in homeruns, but they took that power hitter who sometimes was a closer at Kent St. and turned him into a starter. But Van Benschoten did make the majors a couple of times with the Pirates as a starter, and is currently pitching with the Chicago Whitesox. Chris Duffy also spent time in the majors (8th round, CF). He too is no longer with the Pirates and in the Whitesox organization. Rajai Davis (38th round, CF) was selected that year as well. He now plays for the A’s, and was the center piece of the infamous deal to get Matt Morris from the Giants. Shane Youman (43rd round, pitcher) did play for the Pirates for one year as a bullpen pitcher. He was claimed by the Phillies when the Pirates let him go. He is not currently with any major league organization. The Pirates also selected Jerremy Guthrie (3rd round, pitcher) who did not sign. He went to college and was later drafted by the Indians. He is now a reliable starter for the Baltimore Orioles. But more importantly for the Pirates is the selection of Zack Duke in the 20th round. Duke alone makes the 2001 draft better than the 2002. But it shows what a normal draft year ought to look like. One settled major league who makes an impact for your team. A couple of guys who play for a few years, and a few others who bounce up and down between the majors and Triple A. That is missing from the 2002 group. They have the major leaguer who stays with the team a few years, but nothing else. The Pirates have to avoid draft years like 2002 where they clearly avoid trying to sign big talent who have the potential to change a team.

This was hands down the worst start a GM could ever have. And despite a few other disappointing and disastrous drafts. This one remains his worst.

What has been clear from this series of evaluations is that Hunington single handedly destroyed the Pirates. Not so much with his trades, some of which were really bad, but with his inability or unwillingness to draft major league talent. He was either too money conscious or he was inept at draft evaluations.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

2003 Draft Review

This class is the best class produced under the Littlefield era. It has produced major leaguers, but the Pirates have not gotten a lot of benefit. It falls short of what one should expect from a draft class that involves such early picks as the Pirates. Instead of producing one significant contributor, one major leaguer, and at least two or three guys that are borderline material, it fell short. It produced one significant contributor, and one borderline player. In other words this draft did not fill the Pirate system with major league talent.

The first round pick was Paul Malholm. He is the current ace although is probably not really ace quality. He is a decent major league pitcher and the Pirates have needed his solid consistency. The second round pick was Tom Gorzelanny. Gorzelanny did have one good year, but self-destructed since then. He was traded this year for a few people. So, he brought in benefit, but he has not shown himself to be a quality major leaguer. Third round pick, Steven Lerud (catcher) played for Double A Altoona and hit .240. He is on the 40 man roster. Craig Stansberry (5th round, 3B) is now with the Padres Triple A squad. Dustin Molleken (15th round, pitcher) is throwing out of the bullpen at Altoona, but he is not the future of the franchise.

The Pirates can point to Malholm, and claim the benefit of the trade that involved Gorzelanny. But, you have to get more than one major league player out of a draft. It cannot be so empty. This draft has two players on the 40-man roster, one of which is a major contributor. However, this draft cannot be classified as anything other than average.

It also needs to be noted at this point the penchant for pitching that that Pirates always drafted. Their everyday players (with the exception of McCutchen) never turned out. The same is true for this draft. One everyday player is on the 40 man roster, but his chances of making the big league team are slim to none. The Pirates continued to add some talent to the pitching pool, but nothing in the field.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2004 Draft Class

The 2004 year has to be considered a disappointment. Top pick Neil Walker finally made his debut with the team in the September call-ups. It was not a great debut. But then again, neither was his minor league season. Although Walker was drafted young, and therefore still has some time yet left to reach full potential. Bixler (2nd round) has been up and down with the major league team. Until this year he had been a complete disaster. However, this year he showed an improved glove and hit better, but still really bad. His potential appears to be no more than a back up at the major league level. Prasch (3rd round, IF) is at Double A Altoona. He did not play a full season, but had some good stats. He is currently 23, so some time left on him. Kyle Bloom (5th Round, pitcher) did okay for Double A Altoona. Hardly outstanding and he had a losing record. Derek Hankins (10th round, pitcher) completed a second season with Altoona. He has been moved to the bullpen for the most part. He is playing Winter League Ball in Venezuela.

This class has to be conisdered a major disappointment as it has not yet produced a major league player. Walker has not made a team out of Spring Training and with Alvarez already having better stats, he might never. Bixler has also not made a team out of spring training, and his spot appearances have been nothing short of deflating for his future hopes despite massive need at Short and Second.

This draft is nothing less than an outright disaster. The failure of this draft has hurt Pittsburgh to this day. The top of the 2005 draft made its major league debut before the top of 2004? Bixler was sorely needed to fill in for an injured Wilson last year and he was not up for the job. Those who have not already been cut are mired in AA. This draft failed miserably to infuse talent into the Pittsburgh system. Sadly this was not Littlefield's worst draft.

Friday, October 16, 2009

2005 Draft Review

The 2005 Draft Class is up all over the majors and is making contributions to the not only the Pirates but the majors in general. It is generally considered a very deep draft class.

Andrew McCutchen made his debut and it did not disappoint. He will be the starting centerfielder for years to come. What else can we expect from this draft class?

3rd Round pick, James Boone, was a bench player in the outfield for Double A Altoona. He hit below .200. The 4th round pick, Brent Lillibridge, is now in the White Sox organization at the Triple A level. 5th Rounder Jeffrey Sues is on the Pirates 40 man roster and pitched at Triple A this year, but did not get called up in September. Expect him back at Triple A. 8th Round selection, Steven Pearce has spent time in the majors, but his time there is not exactly sterling. However, he has a good chance to make the team in 2010 out of Spring Training. And that is it for the first 10 rounds. 12th rounder Jason Delaney hit .271 in Double A Altoona and will probably be in Triple A Indianapolis this next year. 16th Round pitcher Eric Krebs is in the Dodger organization. Jarred Bogany did not sign with the Pirates (15th Round) and was not drafted after college in 2008. He now plays in the Cardinal organization. A few others that refused to sign now play for other teams.

Again the Pirates went for college juniors and seniors giving a higher age to the minor league system. This draft class cannot be considered a bust with 3 of the first 10 rounders being on the 40 man roster and two of them on the Major League Team. But it is not exactly a stellar class either. Outside of McCutchen this class may never be more than bench players and bullpen guys. But they did get their impact player out of this draft, and at least one maybe two guys who can fill bench roles. It might be short one or two guys, but overall this was a good draft. It was easily the best draft of the Littlefield era. Although it should be tempered by the fact that this draft was considered very deep overall. The inability to sign high school prospects and younger talent hurt the Pirates depth in the minors.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Draft Review: 2006

I thought a review of Neal Huntington's tenure as Pirate GM was in order. He did the drafts from 2002-2007. It is a little early to see results from 07, but we will double back and get it.

It is about time to start thinking about seeing results from the draft class of 2006. This year saw first round pick of 2005 Andrew McCutchen turn up in the majors. Can next year start to see people from 2006?

The answer is Brad Lincoln. He probably will spend some time in the majors in 2010. But the rest of the draft class disappoints. Third round pick, Shelby Ford struggled in Triple A so bad that they sent him back down to Double A. He struggled there too with a .233 AVG. I expect him to start there again. Jim Negyrch, also a secondbase man, hit .272 at Double A Altoona, and he will probably move on up to Triple A next year. A diamond in the rough of the 2006 draft class is Miles Durham. Durham started out with Lychburg, but was promoted to Altoona where he hit .275. He has shown improvement every year so far. Where he ends up to start next year is an interesting question. Probably stay put in Altoona. But, he shows potential. He was drafted in the 22 round. Michael Crotta (17th round, pitcher) has progressed about as expected. He started 27 games with a 4.76 ERA, but with a decent strikeout to walk rate. He was 7-8.

Yet, where are the rest of them? The Pirates signed more than the normal load in 06, inking a total of 27. What happened to those guys? Michael Felix, the second round pick and a pitcher, did see some time at Lynchburg after the State College Season ended. He is a bullpen guy and ended his combined season with an ERA above 5. William Hughes, 4th round pick and a pitcher, was progressing about as expected until this year. He had been a starter until this year. He returned to Altoona (AA) as he ended 08 there. He appears to have had a rehab assignment for three games in Rookie league ball, as well. He was much more of a bullpen guy this year starting only seven games with the Altoona team. He finished four games, but his stats are not exactly overwhelming. He does not walk many nor does he give up many homeruns, but he does give up over a hit an inning. That is not just this year. He has done that now for a four year minor league career. Branden Holden (13th round, pitcher) is throwing relief for State College (Short Season A). He is only 21, and does not walk many, but his potential does not look very high. Austin McClune (7th round, OF) hit .256 for West Virginia Power (Low A). That was a rebound year, but he is far from being a top prospect in the Pirates crowded outfield. In fact, Alexander Presley (8th round, OF) is a higher prospect after hitting .257 for Lynchburg (High A).

Yet, Patrick Bresnehan (5th round, pitcher), Charles Benoit (10th round pitcher), Victor Alvarez (33rd round, SS/3B), Fransico Ortiz (18th round, pitcher), and Adam Simon (25th round, pitcher) were all released this year. It seems a little early to cut loose a 5th rounder. He was supposed to be the closer of the future. Not that he did not need to be cut, but it says something about that draft choice.

Look at it another way. So far the top ten picks are as follows. One is ready for the majors: Brad Lincoln. Two were starters who have already been transformed into bullpen guys. One had a complete collapse in Triple A. Two were cut before this season. One (Macfarland, 9th round) is already gone prior to this year (I cannot find any record of him at MiLB). Two more are languishing in Single A hitting around .250. This leaves only one who is still on schedule: Jim Negyrch. And Negyrch is not a top 25 prospect in my book, he might crack the top 30. His potential to make the majors is increased because of the Pirates need at middle infield.

It does not get a lot better if you keep going down the list. The 12th round pick played some as a DH, but hit under .200. Several more have been released, and the fact that Durham and Crotta look like they may still be possible prospects does not negate that overall the Pirates had a bad draft year.

One thing that does stand out is the age of the people drafted. The vast majority of people drafted were college seniors. Other than Holden, Austin McClune and the now released Fransico Oritz were the youngest players signed and they are now 22 going on 23. The later rounds are full of younger prospects, but they are the ones who did not sign. This means the vast majority of the 06 draft class will be 25 or older. Time is certainly ticking on them.

It should be noted before we condemn this draft class as a disappointment that Rudy Owens was drafted by the Pirates in the 28th round, but went unsigned. He was drafted last year by the Pirates again, and is now a top 5 prospect.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Focus still has to be on the minors

The Post Gazette has an article giving 10 ways to make the Pirates better in 2010. I have a fundamental disagreement with the writer, Dejan Kovacevic. I believe Dejan’s view is stuck in a previous era of baseball.

First, let me say what I agree with. I agree with 8 through 2. There is nothing to complain about with those points. They are good and with the exception of promoting Alvarez and Lincoln, not controversial. I agree with the sentiment of number 9, but not his thinking. The Pirates have to stick with Jones, and by all accounts they are going to do just that. Yet, I think he should believe the denials of the Pirates about the reasoning for their constant moving around of Jones from 1B to OF. They may have indeed wanted to see more of Moss and Pierce. Those guys will be competing next year for jobs. Jones will not. But also the platooning also gave the Pirates the best chance to win day in and day out. Moss hit about .240 against mostly righties. Can you imagine how bad he would have been if he had to face lefties? Pierce hit about .210. It would have been worse if he had been in there against lefties. It really was the best for the Pirates this year. Sad, I know, but probably true.

What I really disagree with is point number 1 and 10 which are linked. Focus on Pittsburgh and spend. This is not how great teams are built. It used to be. You went out and paid a handsome price and you were set as a contender for years. Not anymore. Let us just look at history to prove my point.

Let us just start with 1996. The Yankees ascension to dominance. Their first championship did include a lot of journeymen, but it was based upon Jeter and Williams along with Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. All were in house Yankees. Because it was so Free Agent built they did not return in 1997. That was the year the Florida Marlins bought the World Series with their Free Agents including Bonilla. The Marlins disbanded and that was that for them. It used to be Free Agents could get you a title, but something changed.
1998 saw the Yankees return to the top by adding Jorge Posada from their own organization. Hideki Irabu did help the pitching and should be considered an in house product since it is not really the same thing as Free Agency or trading. It was in 1999 that they added Roger Clemens. They won again, but their overall record plunged 16 games. In 2000 they bolstered by Free Agents again adding David Justice and Deany Neagle, and they won again. Their record also dropped another 11 games. In 2001 they added Mike Mussian, a major Free Agent. Their record did increase by 8 games, but they also added Alfonso Soriano from their own minor league system. They lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks who were led by two great pitchers neither of whom originated in Arizona. So 2001 saw the Diamondbacks pay for a title, but the epic collapse of that team shows that such victories are of a short duration. The Yankees continued to add free agents and they continued to fail. Jason Giambi and A-Rod are prime examples.
2002 had the Angles win led by almost all home grown guys. Troy Glaus, Darin Erstad, and Benjy Molina were all Angle prospects. 2003 was the Flordia Marlins that did get Free Agent Ivan Rodreguiz and much credit has been given to this because he did play well in the playoffs. But that Marlin team was homegrown. Luis Castillo, Juan Pierre, Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis, and Josh Beckett were home grown Marlins. Derrick Lee and Mike Lowell had each played less than 50 games with another team when they were aquired by the Marlins in various trades. Those trades for minor leaguers that Dejan seems to hate so much.
The Boston Red Sox of 2004 were powered by steroids. But also led by Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciparra who were homegrown (until Nomar was traded). They Ortiz who was probably the real power of the team was acquired in a team building trade that Dejan detests from Minnesota. Add in a few more homegrown guys like Youkilis, Papelbon, and Dice-K and the Red Sox win again in 07. The White Sox broke the curse next with pitching including Buehrle, Garland, and Contreras – all homegrown. As were Joe Crede and Juan Uribe. The next year they were favored to repeat because they went out and signed a big name Free Agent in Jim Thome. They finished third in their own division. 2006 saw the culmination of the St. Louis Cardinals rebuilding efforts which centered on Albert Pujols. The Cardinals had ridden that homegrown horse as well as Jason Marquis and Matt Morris to a World Series loss in 04. They had lost in the NLCS after adding homegrown Yadlir Molina to the mix. Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright helped push the Cardinals over the top. The Philies won last year with homegrown guys like Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmie Rollins. They signed big name free agents in the off season and traded for Cliff Lee mid season and it looks bad for them right now.

The point is this: you must build an organization before you can win the World Series.

The Pirates cannot afford to neglect their minor league system as it is still in bad shape. It is no longer humiliating, but that is no reason to abandon the effort now. The Pirates have great pitching prospects, but outside of Alvarez and Tabata there are no bats on the horizon. You have to go down to Single A to get hitting prospects. That is a bad thing. Long term success is the goal, not a one time trip and then a complete collapse. The Pirates did it in the 90s with a solid minor league system. That is the way back to the top.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Top 25 Prospects

A wonderful post by Charlie at Bucs Dugout ranking the top prospects in the Pirates system. It has inspired me to do the same. I will have some disagreement with Charlie’s rankings. One difference will be I will not rank players draft, but who have yet to play in the Pirate system. Zach Von Rosenburg’s one inning is not enough to get him ranked either. I will also avoid ranking those in the Foreign Rookie Leagues. Although it is worth mentioning Jonathan Barrios was invited to the Develomental League by the Pirates. I suppose that might make him the best prospect of the foreign rookie leagues.

1. Pedro Alvarez (3B). There is really no debate here. Alvarez had a wonderful first year by any standards. He got better as he moved up in competition. His OPS in AA was over 1. That is pretty good. He has continued to do well for Team USA showing great power. He needs to work on his glove and continued improvement in plate discipline.
2. Jose Tabata (OF). He is improving every year. He slumped at the end of this year, but he still pulled a GPA (Gross Production Average) of .262 (the scale is similar to that of regular .AVG). Not great, but not a disaster.
3. Brad Lincoln (P). Lincoln had a great year and a year without injury, which might be more important. A 1.196 WHIP for the year while getting over 7 strikeouts per 9 innings. Waling under 1 per 9 innings and giving up .7 homeruns every 9 innings. That is good stuff. I think it might be time to see what Brad does in the majors.
4. Rudy Owens (P). This guy had a year that is hard to believe. Owens had a WHIP of .944 for the year. That is amazing. He averaged 8.2 strikeouts per 9 innings and had a Strikeout to walk ratio of 6.65. He also performed well in the playoffs.
5. Chase D’Arnaud (SS). He had a .292 GPA and did not see a drop off when going up a level in the minors. His defense needs some more work, but he showed great promise this year even adding some power as the year went on.
6. Tim Alderson (P). There is something about Tim Alderson. It is hard to explain. His WHIP is 1.282 which is pretty good, but he does not strike out a lot of guys. Yet, he wins games. He wins games. You would like to see him give up less hits, but he wins. He wins at every level. He has three minor league season under his belt spaning from Rookie ball to AA. He has only lost 7 games in three years. You have to like that.
7. Starling Marte (OF). Marte is still raw, but the Pirates seem to really like this kid. He seemed to handle the promotions well. The Pirates have a general rule not to promote anyone more than once a season, but Marte was promoted twice. His .274 GPA is good for a first year kid and a .802 OPS is also good. I list him so high because he is only 20.
8. Robbie Grossman (OF). Grossman slumped in the second half of the year, and only finished with a GPA of .257. Add to this his 164 strikeouts and one might be worried, but that is to be expected from a 19 year old as is the second half slump. His fielding percentage is excellent, and he stole 35 bases not to mention his On Base Percentage of .373. He is a good looking prospect with some places to work. But the upside is there.
9. Daniel McCutchen (P). McCutchen is another guy who does not wow you with his stats, but competes game in and game out. He won 13 games for Indianapolis, and that in itself is saying something. His WHIP is 1.220, but he does not strike out enough batters. Still he pitched rather well in his short stint with the majors, and I am interested to see what that does for his confidence.
10. Tony Sanchez (C). Sanchez could be a major steal. His .318 GPA is outstanding. A .949 OPS is great for a catcher. All of that and his defense is his real strength. Still he did struggle a bit when he moved up to Lychburg (High A) at the end of the season, but 10 At-Bats is hardly a good sample. This 21 year old is a prize in the system. I might have him a little low, but one year should not cause us to go over the moon. Yet.
11. Brett Lorin (P). I think that this guy could have the goods to make the Jack Wilson deal worth it all by himself. He had a 1.049 WHIP for the year. That is great. A 2.20 ERA is also impressive. He gives up too many walks, but he is still young. We will see how he does as he moves up in competition, but I like him right now.
12. Jordy Mercer (SS). It is far too early to give up on Jordy Mercer. He did have a less than stellar year with a .713 OPS, but he was put at High A in his first year of professional baseball. That is an adjustment from college. His 10 homeruns and 83 RBIs give reason to hope that good things are still to come from this middle infielder.
13. Brooks Pounders (P). It is still early on this one too. He needs to watch his walks, but that is to be expected from a 18 year old. What is impressive is only one homerun over 23.2 innings and 99 batters. In a draft class full of great pitching he looks good.
14. Aaron Pribonic (P). He is still a bit wild, but a 1.115 WHIP is good. He did not give up many long balls either, which is encouraging. About .4 every 9 innings. He is 22 so he needs to continue to be good as he moves up, but I think he earned a spot on Lynchburg for this upcoming year. He is one to watch. He came over in the Jack Wilson deal.
15. Zachary Foster (P). I know that this one might be a stretch, but Foster had a 1.000 WHIP. That is good. But since he is not a starter nor is he being used as one than other criteria should be used. He allowed one homerun in 29 innings which is what you want in the bullpen. He struck out almost a person an inning, and walked a little over half that many. He only allowed four earned runs and five total. He did convert one save, which I think was his only opportunity. That is the beginning of a good bullpen resume.
16. Justin Wilson (P). Another draft pick put right into High A baseball at Lynchburg. He struggled greatly out of the gate just like Jordy Mercer. Yet, he finished well, and thus, I think Wilson will be fine. His over all line with a 1.491 WHIP is not that good, but the fact he got better as the year went on is a great sign.
17. Trent Stevenson (P). Only 15 innings, so this is another stretch. Still a .867 WHIP in your first 15 innings of professional baseball is nothing to sneeze at.
18. Victor Black (P). Black only pitched 31 innings, but he struck out 33. It is a little early to rank him too high with 1.309 WHIP. Still a lot of hope here.
19. Jeffrey Locke (P). This might be another stretch, but he a quality that is seldom seen. This guy gives up more hits than he has innings pitched. That is awful, but only 5 of those 145 hits were homeruns. A good sign. With that many hits a 4.50 ERA is lower than one would expect. He strikes out a lot of hitters which makes you think if he can learn to command the pitches and fool hitters with them, he might be great.
20. Quinton Miller (P). Miller was another player who improved over the year. His walks are way too high, but that is one thing that pitchers generally improve upon as they work. His are high enough that keeping an eye on the walks might be a good way to gauge his progress. Still this is a 19 year old arm, and it looks loaded with potential.
21. Brian Bixler (IF). This one will probably make some people mad, but Brian Bixler improved this year. A .264 GPA is not all that impressive, and his 26 years of age is high. He will never be the Short Stop of the future for the Pirates, but he can still be a bench player. He played not only short this year, but Secondbase as well as some Centerfield. Learning those positions makes him more valuable. He also was better than years past while playing at the major league level both at the plate and in the field.
22. Ronald Uviedo (P). A respectable 1.236 WHIP makes him an interesting prospect. He did get hurt in the middle of this year, but seemed to come back from it well. A good strikeout pitcher who suffers from the long ball.
23. Neil Walker (3B). A .254 GPA is not so good. His time in the majors was not impressive either. He is a chronic slow starter and should be doing better. However, he is only 23. There is still time, but his spot is going to go to Alvarez. A trade maybe the best thing for him.
24. Jeff Clement (1B/C/OF). His age is one thing that bothers me. 26 is pretty old. He did put up a .283 GPA, which is good, but his defense at first is not that good. He might ought to be higher.
25. Brock Holt (SS). This position was hard to pick. Holt just does beat out Evan Chambers. Chambers had a horrible batting average, but a higher on-base percentage. In the end, Holt’s .274 GPA beat Chambers’s .271. Plus, Holt had 114 total bases. He can learn to take a walk later. Only 31 strikeouts shows that Holt is going to put the bat on the ball when he goes to the plate.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Trades: Hope for now, talent for later

I want to get back to the Murray Chass article. He accuses the Pirates of trading in order to dump money rather than build the franchise. That is simple ridiculous. He deals mostly with the Morgan-Burnett deal, which I have already dealt with in another article. What Chass fails to see is the way these trades are operating. Almost every trade has two components to it: hope for the present and talent for the long term. In other words the Pirates would receive an almost ready for big leagues player who has some hope of being good, but far from a sure thing as well as a real talent in the lower minor leagues. Chass wants benefit for right now, but the Pirates are building an organization not just a major league team. The two exceptions to this rule are the aforementioned deal with the Nationals involving Morgan and the Freddy Sanchez deal to the Giants for Double A pitching prospect who even in conservative estimates will be a end of the rotation major league pitcher.

The others are easily seen. First take a look at the Nate McClouth deal. McClouth was sent to the Braves for Charlie Morton, a hope now, but then adding Gorky Hernandez, a talent for the future.

Eric Hinske was traded next for a talent for the future: Casey Erickson a pitcher and Eric Fryer a catcher/outfielder. Hinske had no place with the Pirates. Getting two players for him is a major coup even if the Pirates never play them in the big leagues.

Adam LaRoche was traded for Argenis Diaz is the hope for now, or close to now at least, and Hunter Strickland is the talent for the low minors. LaRoche is a low value so the overall value received may not be that high in this deal.

Ian Snell and Jack Wilson were traded to the Mariners for Ronny Cedeno (who is a place holder) and Jeff Clement is the hope for now. The real meat of the deal was the three minor league pitchers: Pribonic, Lorin, and Adcock. They are the talent for the future. Snell by the way had proved he was not going to make it with the Pirates.

Next was the Cubs deal where Gorzelanny and Grabow were traded for Kevin Hart the hope for now and Jose Ascino and Josh Harrison as the talent for the future. This deal did not draw ire from Chass even though it hurt the Pirates much more than the Milledge deal. Losing Grabow killed the bullpen. But the hope in Hart is higher than most.

The amount of talent the Pirates received this year is amazing. The Pirates really did build an organization this year. The organization is much stronger even if this round of trades weakened the major league Pirates for the rest of the year. Chass needs to admit that there is a clear cut method to the trading madness of the Pittsburgh Front Office.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Next Year's Outlook

I hate to disagree with Jennifer Langosh, but I do think the outlook for next year is not quite as good. Clearly we have more organizational depth, but the best of the depth is still in Single A. We have a lot of hope, but not all that much certainty for our major league team next year. If every plays like you hope, then we will be good. Realistically though it won’t happen. Jennifer also over sells the depth at starting pitching. The bullpen needs real help. Calling Meek, Hanrahan, and Chavez consistent right handers is justified, but saying they will have possibility of being late inning guys is exactly the problem. If Hanrahan lived up to potential we would have our 8th inning guy. Yet all of these guys have failed to be the late inning guy this year (Meek was hurt down the stretch so he has not really failed yet). Capps needs someone in front of him that is solid. This is where the free agent money ought to go.

I will do my own break down of positions, rotation, and bullpen later. But what is clear, even from Jennifer’s comments, is that the Pirates could be a lot better than they will be because they will keep real improvement in the minors. The Pirates could win the NL Central next year and be very competitive if they were to bring up Alvarez and Tabata. That would upgrade the current roster immeasurably. Alvarez would probably hit better than LaRoche who was just under .260 and be a legitimate power threat, which the Pirates need. Tabata would be an upgrade of about 60 points (assuming a rather low .260 average) over Pierce, who would the one actually replaced by Tabata. Jones at first would open the outfield spot for Tabata. That alone is a major upgrade from the Pirates offense. Add Brad Lincoln into the mix instead of Hart or Morton, both of whom were bad, and the Pirates have upgraded the pitching as well. A free agent lefty in the pen and a healthy Ryan Doumit upgrading his average and power would make a fine and competitive team.

Yet the odds are really high that Tabata, Alvarez, and Lincoln will all be in the minors next year and that rather than getting a good bullpen guy the Pirates will spend money on a needless corner outfielder like they did this year with Eric Heinske.

I still think the Pirates can win the division, but they will need some help now. I think over .500 is likely especially since I do think that you will see Alvarez and Tabata before the year is out. I also think Lincoln will be up once they lose their patience with Hart, Morton, or McCutchen.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ending on a Sour Note

The 2009 season is officially over for the Pirates. They lost and were shut out by the Reds. That makes the Pirates 62-99 with one game cancelled that that Pirates were winning. Still if you need bright spots, Andrew McCutchen ended the season with a .286 average and Garrett Jones ended with a .293 average. Two cornerstones for the future. The last game also saw Eric Hacker throw a scoreless inning, which was nice for him. Other than that the last game was a disaster like most of the season.

Now begins the off season of filling holes and trying to make next year as good as it can be while preparing for a 2012 title run.

I will continue blogging in the off season starting by answering the critics of the Pirates.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Congratulations are in order for Daniel McCutchen who just got his first career win. He pitched 6 1/3 innings of shut out baseball before giving up a solo homerun. He was then pulled and the bullpen preserved the 3-1 lead for the win. Yes, that means Matt Capps converted a save opportunity. McCutchen may have started shaky in the majors, but he has really shown that he belongs and can win at this level. Three straight quality starts is something that ought to give him confidence going into next year. I hope that McCutchen and Lincoln are up to fill spots four and five in the rotation next year.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Not So Fast

The Pirates last game versus the Cubs was cancelled on account of rain and will not be made up because the Pirates were winning. We would not want to inflate that record too much.

The Pirates did pull off an impressive double header sweep on Wed. It was the first on the road since 1996.

But before we get too excited we need to remember that Game 1 the Cubs played no one. No Derek Lee. No Amaris Rameriz. So we should not give too much credit to Charlie Morton. Even though this was probably his best outing, he was pitching to a lot of over eager minor leaguers. Morton excels at those guys. The people he cannot get out are the ones who are not swinging at the first pitch, and will wait for Morton to groove an off speed pitch. Also remember in this game that if Milledge does not make a hard slide to disrupt the double play that game is a zero-zero tie after 9. Pierce would have just grounded into an inning ending double play. Then after the Cubs lost their argument the Cubs pitcher was clearly shaken as Jarmillo doubled and Bixler singled to complete a four run innning. That was all the Pirates got.

Game 2 was a much better sign and perhaps Jeff Karstens re-introducing himself into the starter conversation. He won three games in starts this year, and started a fourth that the team won, but Karstens did not go enough innings to get the win. Game 2 was another example of McCutchen as the spark plug. Two hits and one walk equaled two runs. Garret Jones got one walk and he scored that run too. LaRoche got one hit inbetween the big two, and he scored a run as well. Those guys allowed Ryan Doumit to have a great game with four hits and four RBI's and 3 runs since he hit a solo homerun once. The top of the line up has great potential for the Pirates next year.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sano not a Pirate

Well, this is a bad sign. Miguel Sano signed with the Minnesota Twins. It is unclear yet if the Pirates offered anywhere near the money he got, but I would bet they did. It appears that Sano's agent never really negotiated with the Pirates and probably just took their two offers to the Twins to use as benchmarks.

Even though the Twins are my second favorite team, I really hope that this kid turns out to be a bust. Maybe if they suddenly prove he is 15 or better yet, 25. The Pirates are going to have to do a little more than offer money. They need to get some respect and then still offer the money.

Oh yeah, the Pirates got shut out on the road. No surprise there.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Series Victory

The Pirates just pulled off a big series win against the First Place LA Dodgers. The Pirates did this by winning the first, blowing the second game out right, and then winning in amazing come back fashion in game three. Then they absolutely put the boots the Dodgers in Game 4 with an 11 to 1 win pitched by Zack Duke. Game 4 saw Andy LaRoche open up a can with a 5 for 5 game with two homeruns, two doubles and a basehit. He had a great series and is starting to make me hope he makes a move to second base for the next season.

This series also proves my hypothesis that the Pirates depend on McCutchen to get anything going. He is the sparkplug that they have to have. He went three for four with a walk and scored three times in the 11 run slugfest. Helped in Game 3’s amazing four run last inning rally. And anyone who is between McCutchen and Jones is going to get pitches to hit, like Andy LaRoche. That is the place to stick a sub-par hitter and turn him into something worth having on the ball club. LaRoche is having an excellent end to this season.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Team USA

Just in case you are not following Team USA baseball there is great news for the Pirates and USA as a whole. Brad Lincoln just pitched 6.2/3 innings for a win thanks in part to a homerun by Pedro Alvarez. Team USA is undefeated in Round 3 and appears to be on its way to the Finals. The overall stats look good for those who think Lincoln and Alvarez should spend more time in Triple A. Alvarez is hitting .282 with five homeruns and Brad Lincoln has a 2-0 record after three starts where he has a 1.89 ERA.

These guys are ready. They both need to be on the team to start next season.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pirates lose to Padres

What else can be said after the Pirates dropped 3 of 4 at home to the hapless San Diego Padres? We are officially awful. This series can only yield a small handful of hopeful things.

1. Andrew McCutchen after a brief slump appears to be raising his average again. It was below .270 for a brief time, but is again up to .276 and climbing.
2. Delwyn Young and Garret Jones are back and injury free. After one game it appears that both maybe back to normal. Jones hit a homer, his 20th, but it was a solo shot again. And Young went 2 for 6 with a double.
3. The Pirates ought to get a real good draft pick. This series of losses ought to put San Diego behind us in the draft order for sure.

Other than that, this was a depressing and humiliating series.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Murray Chass spouts non-sense

Murray Chass is an idiot. I know he worked for the New York Times, but that may just prove my point. His article attacking the Pirates is ridiculous. It is ridiculous for several reasons.

I will be the first to admit that Morgan/Burnett deal to the Nationals for Milledge/Hanrahan is a deal where I think the Pirates may lose out in the end. But it needs to be judged fairly. Chass dismisses the age difference and notes that Morgan was a “rookie who showed he was ready to play in the majors.” True, but he had been up and down the year before never able to show he was ready. And a 29 year old rookie is pretty old. The years he should have been ready he was unable to beat out Chris Duffy for the center field spot. That is reason to worry that maybe the results this year are atypical.

The second problem I have is that he does not take notice of the two player deal. He gives it an off hand mention. Burnett was decent against lefties, but horrible against right handers. Burnett was never going to be a dominate bullpen pitcher. I still believe that Joel Hanrahan was the main player in the deal. The Pirates may have had to give up what they did to get the hard throwing bullpen guy who himself was a former closer. The Pirates pen needs that sort of help.

It was also unfair to evaluate the deal as if Morgan was being replaced by Milledge. Chass rightly notes that McCutchen was already in the majors with Morgan so there was no need to make room for him. But Chass fails to note that Milledge was on the DL and then rehabed in the minors for some time before joining the Pirates. Who then replaced Morgan? It was none other than Garrett Jones who is hitting about .300, just about the same as Nyjer Morgan with a notable difference. Garrett Jones hits homeruns. Maybe Chass should have at least interacted with the idea of making room for Garrett Jones. Jones is a completely different type of player than Morgan. Morgan is a speedster without power. Jones (who is fairly speedy himself) is power hitter something desperately needed by the Pirates. It appears Jones will led the Pirates in homeruns despite not playing the full season. Oh, and when Milledge did come the majors, they moved Dwelven Young to second to make room for Milledge.

The worst part of the article was the horrible attack on the Pirates as wasting money. The Pirates are paying their players post trades about 20 million and are going to get about 40 million in revenue sharing. Thus for Chass the money is wasted and not being spent. That ignores the fact that the Pirates are spending large amounts of money on draft picks. See what they did with Pedro Alvarez as proof. They spent about 10 million in signing their draft picks including inking all of their first 14 picks and 15 of their top 20. They used more than the slot suggestions to get good talented high school pitchers to skip college and come to the Pirates. This does not even cover their new facility in the Dominican and their efforts to sign a big name 16 year old down there, which takes money.

The Pirates are close to returning to prominence. It is popular to kick them now, but they are really taking the right steps. They will have no problem showing MLB where the money is going, and in a few years they will be a force on the field. I hope Chass issues an apology when they do. But more importantly, I hope he understands baseball a little better. Not every team can do what the Yankees do and just buy everything that moves.

I will be writing some follow up posts on some of the issues brought out by Mr. Chass and his sorry excuse for an article.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hillcats are the champs

The Lynchburg Hillcats have won the Mills Cup by sweeping the Boston Red Sox farm team in the High A level. The offense continued its power as the Hillcats clawed out a 8 to 6 victory. Jordy Mercer and Chase d’Arnaud each had RBI doubles (d’Arnaud’s was a two run double). But the hero of this final game was Jamie Romak. Romak was acquired when the Pirates got Adam LaRoche for Mike Gonzalez several years ago. Romak has been at the High A level for three years and frankly has to be conisdered a bust. However, for this night, he was a hero. He knocked in the three RBI’s and helped the Hillcats claim a championship.

So congratulations to the Lynchburg Hillcats. May this be a sign of good things and championships to come for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Oh and as another good sign of things to come Pedro Alvarez hit three homeruns in one game for Team USA. The other day Brad Lincoln pitched Team USA to a victory over Japan.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Pirates Bane and hope

Another series on the road and another sweep out of town. These past few games are exactly what is wrong about the Pirates and good example of why they could be very good next year.

Take for example, last night. Zack Duke pitches 7.1 innings of 2 run baseball. He gave the lead (3 to 2) to the bullpen, but they blew the save. In fact they blew two saves last night which takes some skill. Today Kevin Hart pitches six innings of two run ball, and leaves the game down 2 to 1. The bullpen gives up one more run and the Pirates lose 3 to 1. The game before that was by a call up, Daniel McCutchen. That was a 6 to 2 loss. Before that was Paul Malhom’s master piece where he blanked the Astros and Capps gave up a run, but still got the save for a 2 to 1 win. Ross Ohlendorf pitches okay, but under his usual in the Pirates 4 to 2 loss to the Astros. Ohlendorf has had a 2.74 ERA since the All Star break when they made a change in his windup. The night before that Charlie Morton actually got a quality start by giving up three run in six innings, but the Pirates lost that one too.

The point is the pitching, starting pitching has been solid. Morton is weak, but even his last outing was not awful. Daniel McCutchen is just starting. But, Malholm, Duke, and Ohlendorf have the ability to constantly keep you in a game and put up a lot of quality starts. Kevin Hart has the potential to join that group. That makes it all the more frustrating that the Pirates cannot score runs and the bullpen is garbage. Right now there is no real threat in the Pirates line up. Doumit is having an awful and injury plagued year. Andrew McCutchen is not a power threat and cannot do it by himself. Garret Jones is a power threat, but is not good enough with people on base.

But there in lies the hope for next season. McCutchen will get a little more power in his next few seasons. Jones hopefully will get better with people on base. Doumit cannot possibly be this bad again. Add in Pedro Alvarez who ought to be a legitimate power threat and good hitter to the line up and things start to change. If Clement is a wash, the Pirates can still be good by moving Jones to First Base and opening the outfield spot to someone like Tabata. If Clement is good then Tabata can spend some more time in Triple A while Jones plays the outfield. The starting pitching is there, and the hitting is on its way. The bullpen is what needs drastic attention.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Future Pirates Learning How to Win

The Hillcats continue to excite in High Single A. This time the 2008 draft class led the way to an opening game win in the finals. Chase d’Arnaud got two hits and three RBI’s to help the Hillcats offense explode for a 9-2 win.

It was not only d’Arnaud who made the 2008 draft class stand out. It was starting pitcher and fifth round pick in 08, Justin Wilson. Wilson 5.2 innings allowing only one earned and one unearned run. Wilson was able to pitch with a lead thanks to d’Arnaud and 9th round selection in 2008, Matt Hague. Hague has hit over .400 for the playoffs and flashed some power in the opening of the finals as hit a solo homerun going 2 for 3 overall on the night. Jordy Mercer, the other 2008 draft stand out, went 1 for 3 with an RBI as well.

The Hillcats did also get shut baseball from the bullpen including an inning from Harrison Bishop, the 17th round pick in 2007. It breaks the theme of the article, but worth noting nonetheless.

The Hillcats offense appears to be waking up after sleep walking through the first round. It took masterful pitching from Ruby Owens and others to get the Hillcats into the finals. The five run outburst in the deciding Game 5 was their high, but now the Hillcats have improved upon themselves with 9 runs to open the Finals. The Hillcats are waking up at just the right time. Here is hoping for a successful conclusion to something in the Pirates organization this year.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A win? You bet

After a two to one win the Pirates have halted a long and painful losing streak. And it was done by Paul Malholm. This is exactly what an ace ought to do. Throw seven scoreless innings to make sure your team gets a win. McCutchen scored the first run off a Garrett Jones single in the first inning and later Ryan Doumit landed one of his two hits over the wall for a solo homerun. Matt Capps gave up a run, but still earned the save.

During this massive slide Andrew McCutchen’s Batting average slipped from the .290’s to .270. Lastings Milledge dropped from about .300 to .280 and Dwelvn Young’s dropped even further. Only Garrett Jones and I guess Ryan Doumit stayed normal. Jones is still hitting over .300 and Doumit is sticking at about .235.

In my opinion this is the reason for the slide. The Pirates have had some good pitching performances by Ohlendorf and others, but still ended up in losses. The Pirates offense right now is completely based around Andrew McCutchen. If he is on and hitting then Jones has someone to drive in as does Milledge. When McCutchen is off the whole team suffers. McCutchen is hitting .360 with runners in scoring position just to show that his bat creates runs one way or another. He may be getting tired or trying too hard. Jones and Doumit might hit a few long balls, but it is not enough. Even LaRoche has hit a few homers, but almost always in a futile way. Unless McCutchen finds the swing again, expect more losses.

However, there is more good news. The Lynchburg Hillcats have won their best of five game series and are in the finals. They had to win both game 4 and 5 to do so and that is exactly what they did. Game four had First Round Pick Sanchez hit a two run homerun to win it. D’Arnaud hit a solo shot to seal it. Game five saw great pitching from Bryan Morris, who was aquired in the Jason Bay trade last year. It also saw Third baseman, Josh Harrison, acquired in the John Grabow deal this year, get his first two hits of the series. Those hits produced four RBI’s.

I am looking forward to the Hillcats taking a shot at the title.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Another dismal day

While the Pirates are getting beat around at the major league level including another humiliating loss in Houston, Pirate fans are having to look elsewhere for hope. The place to look is the Single A Playoffs and the Lynchburg Hillcats.

Hillcats won the first half of the season to qualify for the playoffs, but had a rough go in the second half without their two big bats. Yet, now they are fortified with the call-ups from the West Virginia Power (Low A), and they are ready to make a go for it.

The opening game was a tough loss. Justin Wilson gave up one earned run in five innings, but could not pitch around two errors in the second inning and the Hillcats lost 7-1. Jordy Mercer hit a homerun for the only Hillcat run.

The second of the best of five had a better outcome thanks to Ruby Owens, one of those late season call-ups from the Power. Owens out dueled Danny Duffy for Willimington in a 1-0 win. The Hillcats got their run on an RBI ground out by Matt Hague. Three hitless innings of relief helped the Hillcats hold on to even the series.

Last night was another loss for the Hillcats by a score of 2-0 as Willimington hit a walkoff homerun in the bottom of the 12th inning. The Hillcats had lots of opportunities to score including a bases loaded one out situation in the 4th and a leadoff triple in the 9th, but they failed. They also had a man thrown out a home plate in the 12th. Still one has to be impressed with the pitching.

The stats are encouraging for some. Mercer looks decent with his average remembering he also has a homerun. And Matt Hague’s .417 average is exciting. D’Arnaud and Sanchez are below hopes, but Sanchez is actually raising his average after not getting a hit at all in game one.

Don’t forget to follow Team USA. Pedro Alvarez is 2 for 13 with an RBI, and Brad Lincoln is on the team as well.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Target 2012

Even though the Pirates organization will not say it publicly, I think that they are targeting 2012 as their date to return to the playoffs and serious competition. Let us take a look at why.

2012 will have this possible starting line up.
C – Jorge Sanchez
1B – Miles Durham
2B – Jordy Mercer
SS – Chase d’Arnaud
3B – Pedro Alvarez
LF – Jose Tabata
CF – Andrew McCutchen
RF – Robbie Grossman

The starting rotation will look like this.
1 – Brad Lincoln
2 – Ross Ohlendorf
3 – Tim Alderson
4 – Ruby Owens
5 – Aaron Pribonic

Now that Pirate team looks like it could actually be a threat. Alvarez would be a real power threat, something the Pirates have not had in years. McCutchen and Alvarez would be All Star contenders every year. Jose Tabata looks to be an above average ball player himself. D’Arnaud and Mercer would probably be rookies, but may have had experience from the previous year’s September call ups. Tabata and Alvarez would be in their second or third years. Durham would also be a two year vet. Even if Durham turns out to be a mediocre players, he only needs to hit .250 with a hint of power to be an improvement on the current team. The pitching staff is a little harder to project, but Lincoln and Alderson look to be locks at this point, and would be back for at least their second year in 2012. Ohlendorf showed real progress at the major league level this year, and Owens looks real good in the minors. The fifth spot could be a number of other players. Pribonic was picked more or less because he was traded for. But, the Triple A level would probably be full of pitching prospects like Victor Black and Brooks Pounders. Yoslan Herrera could also be a possibility.

The bullpen is impossible to call at this point, and would be the easiest to fill with free agents. Although you will notice that I do not have Daniel Moskos in the starting line up. He would be in the bullpen by 2012, if he is not in the rotation.

Now this line up may not have the pop or pitching depth to win a World Series, but it has enough to contend for a spot in the playoffs. The outfield has the potential to be the best in the majors and Gorky Hernandez would be the bench player from the outfield, or used to trade and fill holes for the playoff run.

It is easy to see the Pirates as the Central Division winners in 2012. The Cubs are locked into a lot of bad deals that will keep sinking them. The Brewers mortgaged their future last year, and by 2012 they may have even failed to resign Prince Fielder. The Cardinals will be holding on with Pujols, but by 2012 he probably will no longer be the dominate force that keeps the Cards afloat. Which leaves the Astros and the Reds. The Reds admittedly, could be competitive by that time. But the Astros appear to be doing strange things that does not give them the hopeful future that the Pirates have. Plus, the Pirates are consistently drafting higher than the Astros, theoretically at least, giving them better talent.

Thus I believe the 2012 is the target date when the good drafting pays off for the current Pirate ownership. From that point on, you should see a very competitive and deep Pittsburgh team.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Minor League Breakdown

The minor league season is over. That means it is time to get excited about next season, and it provides a good deal of hope for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirate organization is much stronger than it used to be. The minor leagues show this quite well, despite ESPN’s analysis. The top of the minors is still a bit thin, but the bottom is strong and will be the hope of the Pirate future. It is time to take a look at the Pirate Minor League system and put out some names to keep an eye on.

AAA – Indianapolis Indians
The Indians finished with an awful record and are clearly the worst of the Pirate minor leagues. They are still suffering from the pre-Coonellly (Pirate President) years. They finished 9th out of 14 teams in the International League with a 70-73 record. Their best players all were promoted to the majors for one reason or another. McCutchen only played 49 games, Garrett Jones 72, Steven Pearce 77 and Robinson Diaz played only 44. All saw time at the major league level. That left Neil Walker who had a disappointing year. He rallied at the end to raise his average to .264. Brian Bixler hit .275, but has never been any good when given chances at the big leagues.
The Good – The good news is that several players played well at the major league level including McCutchen, Jones, and Diaz. Jose Tabata showed up late in the season to hit .276 over 32 games. And Daniel McCutchen showed his big league promise with a 13-6 record. Chris Bootcheck had 20 saves, but has been shelled at the big league level. Brad Lincoln went 6-2 in his 12 starts after being promoted from Double A. Tim Alderson went 9-2 over all this year at Double A, and proved he was worth a trade.
The Bad – Some players did not perform up to expectations after their arrivals through trades. Jeff Clement hit only .224 through 24 games, although an injury may have had something to do with that. Argenis Diaz hit .233 through 43 games. Pitcher Ty Taubenheim went under expectations with a 7-9 record. He walked 37 over 106 innings while only striking out 63.
The Ugly – Several prospects played way below expectations. Neil Walker has already been mentioned, but he was not the worst. Shelby Ford, who the club has high hopes for at second base, had to be demoted to Double A after going .188 in 86 games. His ten errors were not good either.

AA – Altoona Curve
Altoona finished 11th out of 12 teams in the Eastern League. They were 62-80. But, they had some great things happen. They had a tail spin at the end of the season. They probably would have finished 9th or 10th if they had not fallen apart. Alvarez was out for that tail spin.
The Good – The stars on this team were great. Jose Tabata spent the first 61 games in Altoona this season and he hit a blistering .303 with only one fielding error. Pedro Alvarez was promoted to Double A and he hit an even more impressive .333 with 12 homeruns over 60 games. Brad Lincoln earned a promoting with his 2.28 ERA and 65 to 18 strike out to walk numbers. Daniel Moskos did manage 11 wins and so did Yoslan Herrera, who was 11 and 1. Several prospects began to emerge like Miles Durham (1B), hitting .275, Jason Delaney, hitting .271, and Jim Negrych, hitting .272.
The Bad – Some people did not do as well as people would have hoped. Gorkey Hernadez, who came over in the McClouth trade, did not do the organization any favors after going only .262 with 76 strike outs. Brian Friday could have done better than his .265 especially with the Short Stop position being open at the Big League level. Jamie Romak, who came over from the Braves back in the original LaRoche deal, still struggles.
The Ugly – This team’s record could not have been worse. That speaks poorly of the pitching over all. Shelby Ford arrived here to help his swing and confidence, and he only continued to stink up the place. A .233 average at Double A does not make his future look any brighter.

High A – Lynchburg Hillcats
The Hillcats are where the talent starts to really show through. Here the effects of Frank Coonelly drafting can be seen and the real future of the Pirates can be seen. Lynchburg won the first half of the season, but faded in the second half. The promotions of Miles Durham and Pedro Alvarez had something to do with that.
The Good – Chase d’Arnaud hit .295 over 54 games. He was the fourth round draft pick last year, and he is showing why. His glove needs a lot of work. Matt Hague, the ninth round selection last year, hit an impressive .293. Then of course Alvarez and Miles Durham were so good promoted. Jeff Locke struck out 99 batters in 127 innings. And Matt McSwain went 11-8. R.J. Rodreguiz managed 27 saves.
The Bad – Third round draft choice last year, Jordy Mercer, underachieved. His .255 batting average was not as disappointing as his 21 errors, although some of that was not in his natural short stop position, but rather at second. This is not ugly because he did lead the team in RBI’s.
The Ugly – This team collapsed at the end of the year. Admittedly they lost Alvarez, who still finished second on the team in RBIs despite playing only half a season, and Durham who was also in the top ten in RBI’s as well as Ray Chang, who was 11th on the team in RBI’s after only 36 games, and had the highest average on the team. But a stronger finish would have been nice. You could see some of the players get tired.

Low A – West Virginia Power
This team was in an actual hunt for the playoffs. They finished four games out. The team is proof that the Pirates are getting better.
The Good – Tony Sanchez, this year’s first round pick, hit a nice .316 with a .976 OPS. Eric Huber, a 2007 pick, hit even better at .318. Starling Marte, a Dominican player, hit .312, Kyle Morgan hit .296 with an OPS over .900, and d’Arnaud hit .291 before getting the promotion. You cannot talk about good unless you mention Rudy Owens. Owens, drafted in the 28th round in 2006, struck out 91 in 100 innings and went 10-1 with a 1.72 ERA. Aaron Pribonic, aquired in the Jack Wilson trade, went 4-2 with a 2.15 ERA.
The Bad – Robbie Grossman faded at the end of the year. The 18 year old 6th round pick from last year, ended up hitting .266. He hit .295 pre-All Star game, and then fell off the truck. This is not really bad, but more of what you might expect from a kid out of high school playing his first long season. He only made 5 error in center field all year. He has a good future. This was about all you could come up with for a bad.
The Ugly – There was nothing really ugly about the Power season.

Short Season A – State College Spikes
State College had a .500 season in the NY-Penn League. It is a little hard to read too much into this league, but it is worth a shot. Since these kids are so young and it is too early for them all there will be no ugly for Short Season or Rookie League ball.
The Good – Victor Black looked good. He was the 49th overall pick this year. He struck out 33 guys in 31 innings. Brock Holt the 9th round selection this year, hit .299 with six homers and three triples.
The Bad – Evan Chambers, the 3rd round selection, hit only .245. He did manage 4 homeruns.

Rookie League – The Gulf Coast League Pirates
A 29-31 record, which was only four games out is not too shabby.
The Good – Ramon Cabera, a Venezula born player, hit .291. He plays catcher and can give some competition to Sanchez in the future maybe. He is just 20 years old. The Pirates had long neglected the Latin America market, and Cabera is one of the faces that shows the Pirates are ready to compete in that area. Brooks Pounders, second round selection this year, struck out 20 in 23 innings and had a 3.04 ERA. Zack Dodson and Zack Von Rosenburg (4th round and 6th round this year) each pitched one hitless inning where they struck out one a piece.
The Bad – a losing season is still a losing season. The Pirates have had enough of those lately. The other bad thing is that it is too hard to tell what is really going on with these guys. Next year will be the year for a lot of these guys.