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.