Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Busy day for Bucs- Eric Hinske Dealt Away

Today was a very busy day for Pirates GM Neil Huntington. Probably just one of plenty busy days this coming month. The Bucco roster started changing early today with the trade of Eric Hinske. Hinske was traded away to the New York Yankees for two prospects. The Bucs acquire pitcher Casey Erickson and catcher/outfielder Eric Fryer. The Pirates also pitch in 400k of Hinske's salary. Both guys will start out in Class A for the Pirates.

Hinske, while a true professional, shouldn't have brought much of a return but Huntington was able to grab two prospects for him. The Bucs actually placed Hinske on waivers last week and he went unclaimed. So it was somewhat puzzling to see the Yankees offer up two youngsters for him.

Erickson has pitched as a both a starter and a reliever this season, but the Bucs will use him primarily as a starter. He throws four pitches for strikes and has a reputation of throwing strikes and throwing inside. Both traits appeal to the Pirates. In 44 innings pitched this season, Erickson has struck out 37 with a 2.25 era. Every report I have found on him has been positive.

The Bucs actually tried to acquire Fryer last season when he was in the Brewers organization. he was primarily a catcher last season, but has been mostly playing left field this year. Huntington said Fryer will return to catching immediately. He has an ops around .700 and 11 steals this season.

The trade is a win for the Bucs. You get a couple more youngsters in the organization. These guys probably won't be stars, but anything you get for Hinske is a positive. They both turn 24 in August and neither is viewed as a big time prospect, but both are viewed as improving the depth in the organization.

Plus it may free some at bats for Steve Pearce and newly called up Garret Jones to get a better look at them.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bucs Notebook 6-29

I like what I have seen the last week from the Buccos. Getting ready to roll into July, the Bucs sit just five games out of both the division and the Wild Card races. Laugh all you want, but while being still four games under .500 still, the Bucs have caused some excitement. Tough loss on Sunday, but Grienke was dominant and they battled.

The pitching has been good enough to keep them in games and they have gotten just enough offense to win some games. Now as July comes, everyone will stop paying attention to the team as always, when Steelers camp begins, but Neil Huntington will have some difficult decisions to make. My advice to Neil is....... STICK TO THE PLAN. eighty percent of the young talent in the organization has been acquired within the last calender year, either by draft or trades.

I like to play GM from time to time and there is one move I would like to see the Bucs pursue. Although the Angels have been playing very well of late, here is a team that needs to make a few moves to seriously contend for the title. They're top four starters from last season have combined to make only 16 starts. They could use an arm, either a starter or bullpen arm and probably another bat.

I ship the Halos Matt Capps and Adam Laroche right now. In return, the Angeles have made known that shortstop Brandon Wood can be had. Two years ago, Wood was hands down the best prospect in the majors. The Angels just haven't found the room for Wood and Mike Scoscia just isn't gonna give a youngster major playing time on a team that's contending. Wood is a five tool talent that the Bucs should take a run at.

Include a young starter and maybe a first base prospect, the Angels have a wealth of both and this is a move the Bucs should try and pursue. The halos, might not want to take on a ton of salary, but it would make sense for both teams. Deal Capps while his value is high again and it's getting hot out, so that means so is Laroche. Adding Wood, gives the team more options to deal Jack Wilson as well.

- Speaking of trades, Nyjer Morgan's name has been out there in a deal with the Nats. Main components of the deal was Morgan for Lastings Milledge. The deal apparently fell apart when the Bucs also asked for pitching prospect Craig Stamen. As much fun as Morgan is to watch, he is a 29 year old outfielder with no power and also is not part of the Bucs future. I'm not a big Milledge fan, mostly due to his attitude, but if the opportunity is there to acquire a five tool guy like Milledge, it would be hard to pass up.

- Matt Wieters is hitting around .270 with a couple of bombs. Here is an interesting note on the should be Pirates catcher. Wieters reached the majors after only 150 games in the minors. That's 75 games quicker than any other catcher in major league history.

-Andrew McCutchen went 0-4 his last 2 games of the KC series. The scouting report is out now. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts. My feeling is he will be fine. Don't panic, he wasn't going to hit .370 for his whole career. He is young and will experience several 2-20 stretches. Now it is up to him to adjust.

-Speaking of scouting reports, Virgil Vasquez was very good in his Bucco debut. he threw strikes and got a win. Part of that was due to there not being a scouting report out on him as well. We will see how he is throwing after 5 starts. Guys who come up from the minors generally have success their first couple of starts. Even JVB went six strong innings his first call up start against the Braves a few years back.

-Ryan Doumit will be back soon. It will be interesting to see which catcher stays up, Jaramillo or Diaz. Both have their positives and negatives to look at. My guess is JJ stays.

-Brandon Moss has heated up again. hitting close to .600 the last 10 days. Boy is he streaky. JR is using him well though and putting him in situations to succeed. it looks like it has become a straight platoon, with Delwyn Young playing against lefties. Either way, Moss is up around .270 after a horrid start. Whoever plays, they are getting production out of right field.

- Speaking of Moss, we got to start seeing some power and run production out of both he and Andy Laroche.

-Charlie Morton's first home start went well. Key stat NO WALKS. he should have gotten a win, but not too many guys get wins against Grienke.

-Ian Snell walked the first batter in his first AAA start and proceeded to strike out the next 13 in a row. Seventeen overall. This guy makes we want to puke. All of the sudden he is "Having Fun". After checking it out further, I discovered that the team he faced, the Toledo MudHens lead all professional baseball in strikeouts by a large margin. Even Tom Gorzelanny struck out 12 Mudhens the night before. So I'm not quite impressed just yet. Or yet maybe it was all that negativity in Pittsburgh. Hey Ian, if you strike out 17 in a Pittsburgh uniform, there won't be any negativity left for you.

- Big series vs. the Cubs. That's the 2 games under .500 Cubs. Since they can't win on the road, it would be nice to take this series at home. Nice match up tonight in Duke vs. Harden.

-I'm doing my Bucco farm report now so that should be posted later in the week. Let's go Bucs.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dejaun Blair and Sam Young fall in NBA Draft

Well I watched the entire draft last night and I was as shocked as anyone when I saw Sam Young and Dejuan Blair fall entirely out of the first round.

Young was projected a late first rounder and will help the Memphis Grizzlies. He will likely backup Rudy Gay so he won't play major minutes. His defensive ability will get him on the floor though and he has a well rounded game, so i expect we will hear from Sam Young this season.

Blair falling was a major shock. He was projected as high as 9 to Toronto, but most figured between 12 and 15. When the season ended, Blair threw his name in early to the draft and said "I'm a guaranteed first rounded. I have nothing else to prove." I wonder if he still feels that way today.

Did he make a mistake leaving school? I'm always the guy that says a kid should stay 4 years, but in this case I will say no. I've always said unless you are a lottery pick, you should stay in school. However, what are the chances that Blair would have had the same type of season that he had last year at Pitt had he stayed? Probably slim. In the end, he may have slipped even more because teams are worried about his knees.

I also see several flaws in his game. Correctable flaws, but they are still there. Blair is a tough as they come and the Spurs got a steal getting him in the second round. Did you see how quick they turned the pick in when he fell to them. The Spurs got a work horse who can go get the ball off the boards and Blair goes to a great successful organization with a great coach who appreciates toughness.

In the end, while neither are getting first round money, both Blair and Young may see this as a blessing. They will both now be motivated to improve their games. both will turn out just fine in the NBA.

Who got hurt the most out of this was Jamie Dixon and the Pitt program. The one thing that Dixon hasn't been able to tell potential recruits is that Pitt produces first rounders. I guess it will be sometime before Dixon can break that line out.

Bucco Notebook 6-26

Coming off a series win vs the Tribe, the Bucs can creep closer to .500 and the division lead with a series win, or hopefully sweep vs the Royals. That wasn't meant to be a joke, the Bucs, while in last are only six games out of first. While they won't win it, fans should pay a little attention to this team. This past week brought about three moves that give Pirates fans a cause for excitement in the future.

The first move was the promotion of Brad Lincoln to AAA Indianapolis. After mowing down hitters at AA Altoona, Lincoln looked very sharp in his AAA debut. Lincoln's record doesn't show his dominance as he is only 2-5, but the 2.20 ERA in over 81 IP is very encouraging. As is the less than a hit per inning and the 8k/2bb per 9IP. People inside the organization say Lincoln is ready, so he may get the call this season. Probably after the July 31st trading deadline.

The second move was the promotion of Pedro Alvarez to Altoona. The average will come up, but Pedro can flat out hit. He didn't waste any time connecting on his first AA homer. In 3 games with the Curve, Pedro has hit two homers and driven in five. So far in the minors, Alvarez is hitting .246 with 16 homers and 66 RBI's. A September call-up looks realistic at the moment. When was the last time that two Minor League promotions created a buzz in the Pirates organization the way Lincoln and Alvarez have.

The third move was just as popular. That involved Ian Snell being demoted to AAA (Thank God). I actually didn't go to the game on Friday because I couldn't watch Snell pitch anymore and after that performance, I'm glad I didn't. I would rather see a pitcher with lesser stuff, but with the guts to go after hitters than watch Snell baby his way around the strike zone any longer. Pirate fans are tired of the excuses and tired of Snell placing the blame on everyone except himself. Don't expect a deal, because he has absolutely no trade value. I for one hope Ian can figure it out, but chances are he will never pitch in Pittsburgh again.

Other Notes
- Virgil Vasquez gets the first shot at replacing Snell, but expect Jeff Karstens to wind back up in the rotation or Tom Gorzelanny to get another look- at least until Lincoln is deemed ready.

-Good crowds for the 3 games series against the Tribe.

-Andrew McCutchen is on his way to winning rookie of the year, as I predicted before the season began. He will put up better numbers than the guys ahead of him at the moment. The Rockies Dexter Fowler and the Cardinals Colby Rasmus.

-Heads up play from Jack Wilson realizing the wheel play was on and taking third in the ninth last night. Heads up because it worked. If he gets gunned we are all ripping him right now. I like the aggressiveness though.

-Speaking of McCutchen, he looks like he has been here for years. Rookies don't have the poise at the plate and carry themselves the way that Cutch does. The at bat to draw the bases loaded, game tying walk last night was spectacular. Especially after starting 0-2 in the count.

-13 game hit streak for McCutchen and has hit in 18 of 20 career games. The 18 RBI's out of the leadoff spot is also very impressive. He is hands down the best player to come through the Pirates system since Bonds. I've been trying to think of others, but other than Aramis Rameriz, there just isn't much to choose from, which says a lot about how the Pirates have been run the last 15 years. they have had a couple of very good players: Rameriz, Kendall, Mclouth, etc., but none with the potential to be great.

- Love the move from Pirates management to DFA Craig Monroe. I especially love the timing, the day after dogging it in the field and not running out a ground ball. Especially with a young team, they don't need that in the clubhouse. Stick with the young guys for now.

-Steve Pearce got the call to take Monroe's place. He was having another good year in AAA but until he can adjust to a major league breaking ball, Pearce may be nothing more than a AAAA player. He made a huge blunder in right the other day, but he does have power and if he figures it out could be a nice bench player and a short term stop gap at first base when Adan Laroche gets dealt.

-Good to see John Russell get his money's worth last night when he got tossed. JR gets criticized for not showing emotion, but I think he has been good for the team. He picked his spot and it was a good, long argument and the team responded with a win.

-How awful is this team on the road? The 14-26 record doesn't even begin to sum it up. The 19-13 record at home is nice, as is the 13-7 mark against the NL East. Even worse than the road record though is the awful 10-21 mark against the NL Central. To eventually be a good team, you have to take care of business on the road and inside your own division.

-All star weekend could be worth paying attention to. Both Alvarez and Lincoln have been selected for the Futures game and Zach Duke and Freddy Sanchez are making cases for the MLB all star game. Likely only one gets the nod, but there is an outside chance both could go.

-No updates on the Sano situation. This is one I would really like the Bucs to win. Go head to head with he big boys and come out of it with the player you want. There have been questions on weather he is really 16 years old and I say Who cares? It looks like the Bucs, Yanks, Twins, Orioles and Cardinals are the top suitors. The race for the super prospect Sano is one the Bucs need to win.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bucco Notebook 6-14

This comes only days after the last notebook, but hopefully I will have the time to get back to a weekly report. With a 6-3 win over Detroit today, the Bucs completed a 17 day grind without a day off at 9-7 (with one rain out). That's not bad baseball folks.

At 30-33, the Pirates have played good baseball for the better part of the season. If you eliminate the only horrid stretch of the season, an eleven game span where they went 1-10, then this is a team that's over .500. I'm not one of these guys that sees .500 as a successful season, but this team just has a different feel to it.

This team can compete, night in and night out. They get good starting pitching on most night's (anyone not named Ian Snell will do) and they bullpen has bounced back and can be counted on most nights. The main reason why this team can compete though is their defense. These guys catch everything hit at them. They are currently third in the NL in fielding percentage. for as many runs that the Bucco offense leaves on base, the defense has saved just as many.

The infield is tremendous. After a rough first week, Andy Laroche has turned into a solid defensive third basemen. Jack Wilson is playing at a high level and while I don't really like Freddy Sanchez's range at second, he catches everything he gets to and the Bucs are very good up the middle. Adam Laroche is also a very underrated defensive first basemen.

The outfield has been just as good. Nyjer Morgan doesn't have much of an arm but has been a huge surprise in left. The addition of Andrew McCutchen gives the team two legit center fielders again and take away most shots in the gaps at PNC Park. He can cover a ton of ground in center and after 11 games, it seems as if he is already taking better routes to balls. McCutchen adds a rifle in center and in right Brandon Moss has figured it out defensively.

Add all that up and good pitching and good defense should win games. Hey, I like the offense as well, but this team is better off when they prevent runs as much as when they can score them (which isn't often). Remember that even he best offensive players are expected to fail 7 out of 10 times. Great defensive players are expected to succeed 10 out of 10 times.

Other Notes
- It's time to get Delwyn Young regular at bats at the expense of Brandon Moss. I know I am the guy that said stick with Moss no matter what, but in the last 30 days, Young is hitting .339. All he does is hit and John Russell should stick with the hot bat. In the same time frame, Moss is hitting .268 and that is only helped by a torrid 2 week stretch. Moss has all the tools to be good, but he has to start driving runs in soon.

-Could the Pirates have 2 all-stars? A case can be made for both Sanchez and Zach Duke. Sanchez is hitting a solid .315 and should make it at a weak second base position. Chase Utley is a lock as could be the case with Orlando Hudson. Right now I would probably give Sanchez the nod over Brandon Phillips.

I will make the case for Duke as well. He has 7 wins, and a great ERA at 3.10. He should have 9 wins already at this point. If he gets to 9 or 10 wins before the all-star game, he should also be picked.

-Give Huntington credit for some of the minor moves he has made in his 2 seasons. Ryan Doumit has missed 50 games now and the Jaramillo/Diaz combination has held it's own hitting .296 combined. Another guy that he took a shot on is Steven Jackson. he will get the ball more often as he gets ground balls in key spots. I always wondered why the Yankees never gave him a shot, especially with their pen. Jackson has good stuff.

-Speaking of the pen, Gorzo did a good job down there while he was up. i was just scanning the bullpen ERA's and they were impressive, other than Capps (Meek 3.48, Chavez 2.63, Burnett 2.93, Grabow 3.72). Those are encouraging numbers.

-Charlie Morton's second start has been pushed back a couple days until the team heads to Colorado. I still don't like young guys having to pitch there, but even though it was only 1 inning, I liked what i saw from Morton. The guy hits his spots. fastball was 93-95, pitched inside and his curve ball breaks a ton. let's see what he can do over the next month, but I think he has a good make up about him.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bucco Notebook

-I know everyone is still pissed at the McClouth deal, but Andrew McCutchen looks like a stud. Defense will improve, but the man can fly and is exciting to watch. He also doesn't seemed over matched at the plate. Wait about a month until the scouting report comes out and see how he adjusts. I think he will be fine.

-Charlie Morton may get the start tomorrow vs. Atlanta. I'd like to see him do well. An upgrade over Jeff Karstans would be nice. Morton had success in his first start with Indianapolis throwing 7 shutout innings.

-I thought the Bucs did well with their first round selection of Tony Sanchez. Scouts like him and say he is the closest thing to big league ready. I've seen him play and he can handle himself behind the plate, which scouts rave about his defense. seems like he will be more of a gap to gap line drive hitter. Hopefully Hunnington can hit on 2 drafts in a row. The Bucs will spend cash to sign picks, which they demonstrated last season

- Speaking of first round picks, Brad Lincoln looks to be headed to AAA. he is throwing the ball very well at the AA level. A small chance he sees Pittsburgh in August or September.

-Very tough way to lose to the Braves two nights in a row. Especially the extra inning game.

-Nyjer Morgan seems to have hit a bit of a snag. His average is down to .265. He needs to get back to drawing walks and getting on base. Having Morgan and McCutchen at the top of the order will be tough for teams to deal with if they can consistantly reach base.

-The lack of power on this team is very concerning. The regular starting outfield has a combined 1 hr. The waiting period is getting close to over with Moss. Gotta see the power emerge. It's not like they were a power hitting team with McClouth though.

-Odd stat of the week is that Jack Wilson has scored only 13 runs, despite playing nearly every day. Ramon Vasquez who doesn't play much has scored 10 and Eric Hinske has score 15. Very odd for a regular to have only crossed the plate 13 times.

-The Pirates have been praised by MLB Netwok and ESPN for their approach to the draft. While Sanchez may have been a reach at 4, the Bucs have been very aggressive in drafting guys most teams are staying away from because of the asking price. If the Pirates sign 8 of their top 10, most experts say they will have the best draft of any team. Very good news to hear.

My Notebook for the week

- I've been really into the NBA Playoffs again this year. Very odd because I don't watch as much in the regular season anymore (maybe because I'm a Knicks fan). Is there a better broadcast team in any sport than Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff van Gundy? Breen is the best play by play guy around. Jackson can analyze anything and Van Gundy can do the same but adds a lot of humor and one liners to the telecast. The three are tremendous together and really make the game entertaining to watch. I love Van Gundy. I hope he doesn't want to get back into coaching and stays where he is.

-I watched the MLB Draft today. How nice it is to have only 4 minutes between first round picks. You get all the information you need and it's on to the next pick.

-If the Nationals give Strausberg 50 mil, expect the MLB to push for slotting, similar to the NBA Draft. All sports should do that. How insane would it be for members of the Nationals to have this kid making more than any veteran on the team. Did i mention Scott Boras is his agent

-Out of the 4 major sports networks, MLB Network is hands down the best channel.

- I think it's odd to see Chad Johnson's name spelled Chad Ochocinco. Wouldn't it be great if he finally got his wish and got traded, but to a team with someone already wearing 85 and refused to give it up.

-Can't wait for the US Open. After Tiger's comeback last week. He could be ready for the Open. He won it last time it was at Bethpage.

-87 Homers hit at Yankee Stadium compared to 20 in San Francisco and 24 in Atlanta.

- How fitting that Tim Flyod turns down the Arizona job to return to USC and resigns from USC after allegedly being part of the Oj Mayo recruiting scandal. My theory has always been to assume all college football and basketball coaches are cheating until proven otherwise. The NCAA needs to take a stand with instances like this. USC could be put on probation, but Flyod will wind up coaching another team next season. It's time to drop the hammer on the coaches that get caught.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Breaking Down the Nate Mclouth Trade

On Thursday, the Pirates traded the face of their franchise, Nate McClouth to the Atlanta Braves. In the four days since, I have heard it all. "Same old Pirates," basically is what the public thinks. The casual baseball fan has never heard of Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernandez or Jeff Locke (the players the Bucs received). The casual baseball fan is very upset at the move, but I'm here to tell you why the move makes sense. Look, the facts are this. The Pirates are at least two years away, if that. No knock on Nate, but if McClouth is your best player then you have too many holes.

First, the timing of the move. While the announcement did come out of no where, it was a trade Neil Hunnington had to make and probably wouldn't have gotten a better offer had he held onto McClouth until the trading deadline. Looking back at trades teams have made over the last ten seasons, most teams tend to hold onto prospects as the deadline approaches. The public will say that we were only four games under .500 at the time. It's not Hunnington's job to get to .500, his job is to put together a team that can eventually compete year in and year out. If it takes two more years of stockpiling young talent, then i say keep sticking to the plan.

Secondly, being the best player on a bad team doesn't make you anything more than that. McClouth is a very good player, but not a full fledged superstar. On the season, he is hitting only .251 with 9 homers and 35 RBI. In addition, McClouth is only a .260 hitter for his career, hardly superstar like. He is a great guy and will be missed in Pittsburgh, but if you give me three young players who can possibly make an impact in Pittsburgh in the next couple seasons, then I have to pull the trigger on the deal. I give Hunnington credit on dealing while McClouth's value is high.

Next, is Andrew McCutchen had to get to Pittsburgh some way. When is the last time the Pirates made a deal, when they replaced the player they gave up with someone with equal or in this case, even more talent. McCutchen will go through some growing pains, but will be very fun to watch. The guy can hit, maybe not for the power of McClouth, but he can get on base and will utilize his speed. Defensively, while McClouth did win a gold glove, he just had sub par range. Between McCutchen and Nyjer Morgan, they will cover a ton of ground. The funny part is that the new outfield of Morgan, McCutchen and Brandon Moss has a combined one home run on the season. It's way to early to give up on Moss by the way, he has been playing very well after a slow start, so as it looks, this outfield should be productive.

It was a tough decision for Hunnington to part ways with McClouth, but good teams take those kind of risks and make them pay off. Fan reaction has been very negative towards Hunnington. I believe legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight once said "If you make decisions based on the fans reaction, pretty soon you will be sitting with the fans."

If Pirate fans have anyone to blame, it's Dave Littlefield. Look at the farm system when Hunnington took over. The cupboard was bare. The top prospects in the system were McCutchen and Neil Walker. That's it. With Hunnington's moves the last two seasons, not only through trades but actually drafting for talent instead of budget, Walker is now the 14th ranked prospect in the organization. The farm system was in dire need of repair and this is the way to do it. Now the list of prospects include: Brad Lincoln, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, Brian Friday, Hernandez, Locke, Morton, etc.. Now will all of them pan out? Not a chance, but if most do the light at the end of the tunnel may be in sight.

The positive thing is that this was truly a baseball trade. It was not finacially motivated. There was no Aramis Rameriz for Bobby Hill deal here. However with the excess cash saved, it would be nice to see the Bucs lock up Dominican shortstop Miguel Angel Sano.

Pirate fans probably are sick of hearing about a 3 year plan or a 5 year plan. So am I, but despite hearing that for the last 16 seasons, that hasn't happened. What the Pirates have had was 15 years of bad management, so I am willing to give Hunnington the benefit of the doubt for now. Tomorrow, if he has a strong draft, Hunnington would have done more for this franchise than anyone in the last 16 seasons. I say stick to the plan and watch it pay off. If that means dealing Sanchez, Adam Laroche and Wilson, so be it.

My only problem is the payroll. If they continue to draft quality youngsters, eventually the payroll will have to increase. Comparing market sizes, there is no reason the Brewers should have an 80 milion dollar payroll when the Pirates struggle to hover around 50 mil. Until the Nutting family decides to get in the 70-80mil range, the only way to build is through trades and the draft. No qualiy player in his right mind would want to come play here. That has to change.

Will this turn out to be a good trade? Time will tell, but I like what Hunnington has been able to do so far.

Potential Lineup Opening day 2011 (baring trades)
c Ryan Doumit
1b Pedro Alvarez
2b Shelby Ford
3b Andy Laroche
ss Brian Friday
LF Gorkys Hernadez
CF Andrew McCutchen
RF Jose Tabata
SP Brad Lincoln, Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Charlie Morton