Monday, August 31, 2009

Pick the 2010 Opening Day Third Baseman

It's kind of nice to have some options to talk about at different positions going into next season. I will let you decide this one. Who should be the opening day third baseman next season? Will it be this years starter Andy Laroche, local product Neil Walker or last seasons first round draft pick Pedro Alvarez. I will make a case for each and let you decide. I'm curious what everyone thinks.

First, Laroche. No doubt, he has made huge strides from a season ago at this time, when he looked truly awful. he has become a very good defensive third baseman and he has shown glimpses of having a good bat. Laroche's average is down to .248, after flirting in the .280 range for a large part of the season. The power really isn't there either. Only 7HR and 46RBI (leading the team by the way. very sad). He doesn't strike out much (65), but doesn't walk enough either (43). His on base percentage needs to get better (.326), which drawing more walks will help. His slugging percentage is a rather low .371. Too low for playing a position associated with run production. Overall, he handles the bat pretty well though. I'm sure the numbers will get to a consistent .285, 20/75 type of player.

Second, we will look at Walker. He is the popular choice, being the local boy. He is starting to tear the cover off the ball at AAA Indy and surely will get a call up in September sometime. I won't get too into the minor league numbers, but he has his average up to .270 and has 15 HR/69 RBI, despite missing a big portion of the season. The scouting report defensively is that he can handle playing third base at the major league level. I don't know how many at bats he will take from Laroche in September, but I would like to get a look at him and if he does well, he has to be included in the conversation.

Finally, the can't miss Pedro Alvarez. He is the big middle of the order bat this team desperately needs. I've heard he won't come up and hit right away, but I disagree. If he is that talented, he will perform fine. Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria didn't miss a beat when they got their call ups and I don't feel Alvarez will either. He is hitting .330 at Altoona, despite rarely getting pitches to hit. Combined between West Virginia and Altoona he has over 30Hr and 100RBI in his first season of pro ball. He has a little work to do defensively, but I hear he will be fine.

So who will it be? My choice is the unpopular one. I think Laroche starts out the season as the third baseman. Pirates management will stick with him for another season to justify the Bay trade. He has made strides and I think he continues to grow as a ball player. However, I feel the final result is that he will end up only slightly better than brother Adam. If the power comes, he could turn out to be a decent ball player. I think Walker may begin next season as a bench guy and gets a chance to stick around. With Alvarez, I think they won't rush him and will start him at AAA, but by mid-June 2010 he will be hitting cleanup in PNC Park

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Zach Duke Shelled in Milwaukee

Well remember how much I praised the pitching during the last home stand. How much I said the pitching was responsible for 7 win out of the last 9 games. Forget it. Just the opposite held true in the first game of the road trip at Miller Park last night.

Zach Duke got pounded. Giving up 7 runs and 11 hits in only 3 innings of work. he gave up 7 hits and 5 runs in the first alone. By far, his shortest outing of the season. I have been waiting all season for the 07-08 version of Duke to re-emerge, and it did last night. The 07-08 Duke in which the league batted over .300 against him. What went wrong for Duke? Horrible location on all of his pitches. The Brewers are a good hitting team, especially in their ball park and Duke made it easy for them early.

Still though, the young Bucs kept fighting back, but just didn't have enough in the tank. The losing streak at Miller Park extends to 19. The Bucs looked good early though. Runners on second and third with no outs in the first and somehow don't score. Of course the rally was killed by No-Mitt, bouncing weakly into a double play. A Prince Fielder monster shot moments later had the Bucs down 3-0, instead of possibly up 3-0.

Hard to blame Tony Beasley for not sending McCutchen on Young's first inning double, with no outs. Ryan Braun played the ball well, but I still feel Cutch scores easy. Kudos to Ken Macha for managing the game to win, even early. Walking Andy Laroche intentionally to get to Doumit proved to be the big play in the game. If Doumit comes through, the Bucs probably win the game. Just goes to show how big moments in a game aren't saved for the 8th and 9th innings all the time.

Even though Duke gives up 5 in the first, if he limits the damage in the second and third innings, after the Bucs score the previous inning, it may have been a different game.

- Doumit was pulled from the game. He isn't hurt and wasn't sick the Bucs say. One can only hope he was close to being dealt. However the likely scenario was that he was pulled because he flat out sucks.

-Great job by the Bucs bullpen. In particular, Bootcheck, Jackson, Hanrahan and Bautista. One hit allowed through 5 innings of work.

-Boy is Cutch something to watch or what. I'm starting to run out of things to say about him.

-Did you see Luis Cruz get hit in the head by a line drive in BP? Hard to believe he was in the lineup. He looked a step slow and had to have a headache. Would have been a good opportunity for JR to get Bixler a start. Bixler came through with a pinch hit double though.

-Thumbs down to FSN Pittsburgh. Why do they have to drop the Bucs game and show the meaningless Steelers preseason game? The Steelers game is already on KDKA. I see why the casual fan doesn't get interested in this team when the Steelers are shoved down peoples throats.

-September call ups will be coming soon. We know that Alvarez and Daniel McCutchen won't be coming. i expect Neil Walker, who is tearing the cover off the ball finally to get a look, but where? I don't want him taking many at bats away from Laroche. Clement will get a look as well. Erick Hacker will likely get a start or 2. Other than that, not too many youngsters will be up. I would like to see Brad Lincoln and Jose Tabata get a quick look. Some other arms will get the quick promotion as well. Nothing to get excited about though. probably a Virgil Vasquez type pitcher or 2.

-Here is where I want this rebuild to go. Did you see the Scott Kazmir deal to the Angels last night? The Rays unloaded Kazmir, who's velocity has been down & his 23 mil left on his deal, for 2 quality prospects and possibly a third. What do they do? They replace Kazmir with Wade Davis and aren't likely to miss a beat. The Rays keep loading up their system and keep filtering young studs through the major league club. That's where I want the Bucs to get to. Being able to deal a struggling star for a good return and have plenty of options to step in a do the job. Tampa is becoming a well oiled machine. Too bad they are in the AL East

- Gallardo (who we never hit) vs Hart tonight. Should be a great game since it's not on TV. Let's go Bucs

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bucs close out Homestand in Grand Fashion

After beginning the 9 game home stand 5-1, the Bucs welcomed the defending World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies into town. I for one was happy with the 5-1 start, but really wanted to see how the young Bucs would fare against a better team.
What I was treated to was 3 great games and 3 great finishes, 2 going our Bucco's way. What could possibly have been more exciting than Tuesday's finish. Matt Capps blows another. Andrew McCutchen's misplay in center. Three batters later it was all forgotten, after Cutch hit his first walk-off homer off Brad Lidge.

Wednesday, the Bucs bats were silenced by Cole Hamels through 8, but a Brandon Moss pinch hit 9th inning bomb sent the game to extras, only to see Ryan Howard launch one and spoil the Bucs comeback.

Finally, last night. Aside from Cutch's lead off homer, fellow rookie J.A. Happ silenced the Bucs bats once again. Only to see Ronny Cedeno go the other way with a pinch hit single, followed by Garrett Jones 2 out homer to center. Capps didn't blow this one and the crowd went crazy again. Three straight lively crowds. Many Phillies fans, but still, an exciting baseball environment. The Phillies and Pirates should be in the same division, but I will save that for a later post. No reason a cross state rival should come to town only once a season.

I really enjoy watching this bunch. They have an energy and enthusiasm about them that simply just hasn't been there in years. I love the emotion they have been showing. Part of the reason is they have been winning during this home stand, but another part is that they are realizing that it's now their team. They have started to realize that they are the Pirates of the future and are starting to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. It's been fun to watch and I hope it continues. A couple added pieces and they can start to be competitive. They still need a run producer in the middle of the order. Not only for now, but to pair with Pedro Alvarez in the near future.

Why have they been playing well lately? It's certainly not entirely due to the fact that they seem like a fun bunch out there. They still have to get it done between the lines as well. First let's look at the starting pitching the last 3 games. Ross Ohlendorf, 6.1 ip, 5 h 2er 6k 3 bb in a 6-4 win. Paul Maholm, 7ip, 5h, 1er, 4k, 2bb in a 4-1 loss and last night Charlie Morton 6ip, 5 h, 2er, 6k, 4bb in a 3-2 win.

The trend is that every guy has put the team in position to win each night. I'd like to see Ohlendorf and Morton pitch into the seventh, but all three were effective enough to get wins. Even when it looked like Morton was going to struggle last night, he kept pitching his way out of trouble. It's a sign of a young guy growing up in the big leagues.

The bullpen for the most part was effective as well. Take out the Capps ninth on Tuesday and the tenth on Wednesday and the Bucs young relievers got some big outs. That's what they need to do. Jessie Chavez striking out Jason Werth in a tough spot on Tuesday was huge, as was the performance by Denny Bautista last night. Even Joel Hanrahan impressed me getting out of a 0 out 2nd & 3rd jam on Wednesday. The thing I want to see from both the starters and the pen the rest of the season is simple- consistency.

The bats were quiet for the most part during the whole Phillies series, but they battled. That's what I have been wanting to see. The pitching kept them in the games and they were able to get some timely, late hits. I'd like to see the approach for the guys stay the same. Keep thinking opposite field.

Home stand is over, time to head to Milwaukee, where the Bucs have lost 18 in a row. Time to keep ridding the franchise of the losing culture an go up there and win. This young team must learn to win on the road and I can't think of a better place than Miller Park.

- The defense impressed all home stand. Give Luis Cruz some credit filling in for Cedeno. The team didn't miss a beat in the field.

-Great job by the bench, Moss in particular. Moss, Cedeno and Bixler did good things off the bench. It's not just the fact that Moss had two pinch hits, including the homer. Give him credit for being a pro. It could be easy for this guy to be down on himself, losing a lot of playing time, but he went to the plate and did good things for the team.

-Andy Laroche has been a bit snake bitten of late. He's been hitting the ball hard, but no results. Keep the same approach Andy. They will start falling in.

-No-Mitt (doumit) is still driving me crazy behind the plate.

-Steve Pearce is becoming a nice first baseman defensively. The bat is coming around a bit, but I still don't see him playing everyday.

-One thought about Wednesday's loss. I would like to see JR play the numbers more, Pitch to Howard, who granted has been struggling against the Bucs. When it was happening, I was shocked he wasn't being walked to load the bases for Werth. Werth before the at bat was 1-11 in the series and a double play candidate. Just a thought.

- I also have not been disappointed in the play of Lastings Milledge. The homers will come, as we saw 2 this home stand. That has something to so with him batting 6th. I just always thought he was faster, but he has slowly gotten better in the outfield.
-Only disappointing part of the last series was the performance with runners in scoring position. A feeble 1-24, with the only hit being McCutchen's walk-off, Tuesday night.
-For all of you payroll guys out there. How about the Mets have more than twice the salary on the DL today (88 mil) than the Pirates total payroll (35mil ish).

-Zach Duke vs Manny Parra tonight. Let's Go Bucs.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bucco Notebook 8-25- Great Homestand

After a miserable road trip, the young Bucs returned to PNC Park for a six game home stand and played great baseball. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go to any games because I had a long brutal home stand of my own to work, but I did get to watch the games for the most part and liked what I saw. It was a shame that Homer Bailey shut us down yesterday, but it was a very good home stand, showing exactly what this team could potentially do.

Good pitching, timely hitting, some power, some speed. Who were those masked guys pretending to be our Buccos? Instead of breaking down the baseball like I always do, I want to comment about the best part of the home stand. No, it wasn't the 5 straight wins, but instead it was the 1979 throwback uniforms worn Friday and Saturday.
Boy, did they look sharp or what. Brought back memories of the good old days (i was 4 in 79) of Pirates baseball. I would like to see them wear one of the throwbacks for every Friday game next season. It was also great seeing the cast from 1979 at PNC Park.
This is going to be short, so I will pose a question to you and let you discuss it. A friend of mine actually brought this up while we were watching the end of the game Saturday. But, how much pride do you think these young Bucco's had putting on that uniform? Being such a young team (very few if any were even born in 1979), do you think they finally said "We want to wear this uniform with pride."
Do you think it's possible that during this weekend that they finally realized it is now their team and they said "we aren't complete losers like the bunch before us." Do you think they felt that they could start a winning tradition, like the guys that originally wore that 1979 uniform? Or do you think it was just another day at the ball park with another gimmick for them.
I know it's a stretch, but maybe it takes something like that for young guys. This group of Pirates and the group to follow have their own Pirates tradition to start writing. The winning hopefully will begin soon. It's hard to tell because while the Bucs play looked inspired, they were playing the dreadful Reds, who are in a lot worse shape than the Bucs.
I don't know, I just figured I'd write something other than the x's and o's for a change. maybe one day in about 30 years, we can got to a 2012 or 2013 throwback uniform night, for the same reason as this last gathering of greats- A World Series Championship

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Evaluating Prospects

Very interesting list on Baseball America. Top Prospects of All-Time. Check it out

Next Check out who ranks 1 & 2 on the Baseball America Prospect Hot Sheet

First of all, I am big on rankings and evaluations of young players, but they must be taken with a grain of salt. Not all guys ranked high have gone on to become solid Major League Players, but more often than not, they do. I always say the biggest transition is from AA or AAA to the MLB. Some guys can handle it and some guys simply can not.

I have heard in the past that I have defended Neil Huntington too much. I am not necessarily a fan of his, but he has a job to do and he has stuck to the plan so far, which I commend. He had to blow this franchise up.

Why have we been losing for 17 seasons? It's a direct correlation to developing young talent. I will go all the way back to the last winning seasons in Pittsburgh. If you clicked on the first link above, you saw the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list for every season dating back to 1990. That season, the Bucs had 3 of the top 100. They dealt 2 of those (Moises Alou and Willie Greene) to acquire Zane Smith, which helped them win two Division titles.

Taking Alou and Greene off the list, it amazed me how truly sad we have been at drafting and developing young talent. I didn't even think we were this bad. If you didn't read the list:

90 Keith Richardson #73 (never pitched for Pirates)
91 Kurt Miller #24 (never Pitched for Pirates
Carlos Garcia # 62 (average major league 2B
Mike Zimmerman #90 (never amounted to anything)
92 Steve Cooke #52 (below average mlb pitcher)
Kevin Young #100 (average mlb player)
93 None
94 Midre Cummings #33 (career was a joke)
95 "Steamin" Trey Beamon #43 (don't think he had a career)
96 Jason Kendall #26 (has had a productive career)
Chad Hermanson #54 (The savior)
97 Kris Benson #8 (arm injuries derailed a potentially good career)
Jose Guillen #24 (never really met expectations, but a serviceable career)
Aramis Rameriz #26 (the best one we had that got away)
Abraham Nunez #65 (career utility player)
Jimmy Anderson #88 (2 time opening day starter. Boy did he suck)
98 Jeff Wallace #91 (no career)
99 Warren Morris #84 (one good year in the bigs)
00 JJ Davis #97 (BUM)
01 Bobby Bradley #20 (Arm Injuries, never made it)
JR House #21 (Left to play football)
02 John Van Benschoten #88 ( Could be the worst pitcher & draft pick ever)
03 None
04 Sean Burnett #64 (under achiever)
Jason Bay #74 (very good mlb ball player)
Bryan Bullington #97 (Could have had B.J. Upton. #1 Pick that never got a win for the Pirates)
05 Zach Duke #34 (becoming a solid MLB pitcher)
Neil Walker #81 ( finally starting to hit in the minors 4 years later. Probably no future)
06 Andrew McCutchen #50 (STUD)
Tom Gorzelanny #95 (average mlb pitcher at best)
07 Brad Lincoln #69 (future staff ace?)
08 Steve Pearce #89 (has no mlb future, bench role at best)

Now for purpose of this post, I only included the players for the first season they cracked the top 100. Some players have made the list multiple seasons. Do all guys pan out? Of course not. Do things happen along the way, like injuries? Of course they do. Do the rankings flat out miss on guys? Yes they do.

For this illustration however, take a look at the complete list and they tend to get it right most of the time. My list is primarily just to illustrate the pure lack of homegrown young talent in the Pirates system for the last 17 years. Folks, it's plain and simple why we can't win. We had to make the moves we did. We had to get talent in this system somehow.

We gave away Aramis Rameriz, but in 17 seasons, only Rameriz, Kendall, Duke, Bay and most recently McCutchen have had legit major league talent. That's 5 guys in 17 seasons and it's not acceptable. The two highest rated prospect on this list that the Bucs have ever had were Kris Benson in 1998 and McCutchen at #13 In 2007.

There is a correlation to winning with these list. Every team that has had many of these prospects have been legit winning organizations. Even look at the Tampa rays of 08, who in the 2 season prior had 24 names on that list. No reason the Bucs should have had 1 guy here and another one there. That's not doing your homework on young players and that's not how you win.

So Huntington had to blow up the team and in the last calender year, look at the potential talent he has added. On the 2008 top 100, there were 10 current Buccos represented. Only 4 were in the organization prior to Huntington's arrival: McCutchen, Lincoln, Pearce and Walker. The new 6 on the list include: Laroche, Tabata, Clement, Alderson, Hernandez and Milledge.

Now that list doesn't include guys who will be on the 2009 list like Alvarez, Sanchez, Owens, etc. Nor does it include any members of the last two drafts, in which the franchise has gone out and spent money on their future. that list will include another 10-15 young, future Pirates So it's almost impossible for me to argue that Huntington hasn't been taking the right approach to this organization.

Next click on the second link and read Baseball America's Prospect Hot Sheet, ranking the Mid-Season Prospects. Numbers 1 & 2 on the list are Tony Sanchez and Pedro Alvarez. Again, will all of the youngster become solid major leaguers? No, but it gives hope. Even if a third of them do, it's far more talent than we have had in 17 seasons, so it's impossible again to knock the approach.

Want a little more proof that Neil Huntington is doing the right thing? Would you rather watch Ross Ohlendorff, Charlie Morton and Kevin Hart pitch or last years solid rotation including Yoslan Herrara, John Van Benschoten, Matt Morris, etc. The facts are we are slowly getting better.

The final thing I am sick and tired of people telling me is that as soon as these guys get good, then Huntington will trade them. That's absurd to begin with. All of the guys dealt this year were unlikely to be back anyways. Huntington acquired guys with right he can control through 2015 and 2016 in most cases. Again, it shows that the guy seems to have a baseball head about him.

So if it sounds like I'm being a mark for Neil Huntington, so be it. The facts are that there is more talent in this organization than at any point in the last 17 seasons. Will the plan work? Only time will tell, but it's a good time to get excited about Pirates baseball. This thing could finally turn around in a couple of seasons.

- since I brought up Chad Hermansen, made me think of one of my favorite lines of all time. One scout said about Hermansen " Chad Hermansen can walk on water. He just can't hit."

- Steven Jackson been throwing well lately. Last 14 appearances, his era is under 2.00

-Matt Capps fastball had life to it on the home stand. Deal him now. While I'm at it, will anyone take Ryan Doumit

-Lastings Milledge is starting to play well once he got taken out of the 2 hole.

-I really like these group of guys, one challenge for Huntington is to find a power bat next season. I don't think Alvarez will be up and as much as I like Andy Laroche, I can't have him hitting cleanup next season. Although I think he has done fine there in his couple starts.

- Cedeno is nursing a hurt pinkie finger so I'd like to see Bixler play. He has no pressure on him now. Just see what he really is.

- Here is where young teams struggle. Consistent Offense production and winning on the road. We have seen both big time. We know about the struggles offensively, but look at the home and road splits. Home record is five games over .500 at 33-28. Road record is an atrocious 25 games under .500 at 18-43. Once they can learn to play near .500 away from PNC Park, they can start putting winning streaks together

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Where is the O?

During this rain delay I had time to do a lot of writing and thinking about this team. It's not a real good time for casual Pirates fans, but the real baseball fans need to just stick with it. I will be the first to admit that the last six games had me frustrated as hell watching the now feeble offense. Getting shut down by Gorzelanny yesterday was just as bad as the 17-2 beat down the day before. Leaving me with the question of, Where is the offense?

The answer is easy, it is mostly all at West Virginia and Altoona, but in the meantime, it would be nice to see these guys go out and at least battle. What happened to the patience and the solid approaches they had been taking at the plate all season? It's now become a collection of light hitting guys that are swinging for the fences and that approach simply never works. Remember that they are the youngest team in baseball and bad swings like this will happen. Better to happen now while they have nothing to play for. However, to me, these are the times when these guys can gain valuable experience and become major league hitters.

Let's take a look at the last 5 games. Tuesday started with a 7-3 win at Colorado and they had a good approach as a team. They had 11 hits, while drawing 9 walks. Seven of the hits went for extra bases and they stole 6 bases. They still struck out seven times, but on six of them the batters worked a full count. After that, you see the results drastically change, as did the teams approach at the plate. Wednesday's 8-0 loss to the Rockies saw the Bucs get only 4 hits and 5 bb's. No extra base hits, while fanning 8 times. Thursday the Rocks hammered the Bucs 10-1. The Bucs garnered only 3H and 3BB's. One extra base hit and 9k's.

Onto Chicago they went Friday and a 17-2 beating occurred. Offensively, they had 7 H and only 3bb's. Again only 1 extra base hit while 7 k's. Yesterday's 3-1 defeat, they showed even less patience, swinging at everything. Only 5 hits and 3bb's. One extra base hit and a whopping 13k's. You can see a theme and a pattern going on here. The Pirates are awful when they are a free swinging team. Including their win this week, they are batting .178 as a team. In the 4 straight losses, the have had a total of 21 hits and only drew 14 bb. Only 3 extra base hits, while striking out 37 times. They haven't stole a base in the 4 losses, after stealing 6 in the win. You can't be aggressive on the bases when guys aren't getting on base frequently.

I will address the power problem first. I have heard all the time lately that the guys brought over in deals aren't hitting for power. Mostly people are talking about Moss, Milledge and Laroche. I'm not worried about the home runs. Any hitting coachin the majors will tell you that the power will come. Young hitters have alot to do when they get to the majors. They basically have to learn how to hit. The biggest jump is between AAA and MLB. They have a lot to worry about at the plate. Picking out pitches to hit, picking out pitches to lay off, recognizing what the pitcher is doing to them, learning to go the other way, situational hitting, etc. Basically, learning how to have quality MLB at bats every time to the plate. Major league pitching can't be duplicated in the minors. Only the real special players can make a flawless transition to the majors. I'm confident the homers will come, especially from Laroche and possibly Milledge.

My problem is none of those 3 guys, or anyone else in the lineup is having consistent quality at bats right now. No one on the team is driving the ball, using the gaps. Everyone in the lineup has become pull happy. That's not a good approach for young hitters to take, ever. That's not the approach for veteran hitters either. I don't know if hitting coach Don Long isn't getting the message through, which I doubt, because when things are going good, everyone shows what they can do at the plate. I feel the pressure of losing is getting to these guys.

I also feel changes are needed although i wouldn't panic to make them since this team isn't going anywhere. Steve Pearce is not any everyday big league player. Bring up Clement and get him some at bats. He has nothing more to offer a AAA team and from what I hear, his defense hasn't been that bad. Keep Pearce up though, there are worse bench players around. Another option that could be considered is to bring Pedro Alvarez up. Get him some at bats at the MLB level. He has put it together at AA. He is hitting .350 at Altoona, hitting with power and drawing walks. I'd leave Young and Cedeno where they are. They are beginning to look solid up the middle. I'm also still a fan of Laroche at third.

In the outfield, I pretty much leave it the same. Milledge will be fine, but has to learn how to play left field. On a side note, Why do the Pirates continue to play defensively on the road like they are at PNC Park. I hate having the left fielder play well in the left center field gap all the time. They get killed on balls down the line. Milledge doesn't cover as much ground as Nyjer Morgan did, you would think they would adjust the outfield alignment. especially with the amount of ground McCutchen can cover in center. Suddenly we can't catch a cold in the outfield.

I would drop Milledge down to sixth in the order though. Put him in a spot where he can succeed and possibly some RBI spots. Cedeno would be a much better 2 hole hitter. He just handles the bat better. Not everyone can hit in the second spot of the order. Drop Milledge down now.

Starting today it would be nice to see the Bucs battle everyday at the plate. Go down fighting at least. Being aggressive doesn't mean swinging at everything. They have a much better team than they have shown this month. it would be nice to be able to go out and play spoiler for teams like the Cubs and Brewers. No more tanking it, it's getting painful to watch.

-Not to many since we haven't done anything of note lately, but you have to feel a little bad for Duke. He could easily have 15 wins this season. Every year though there is a guy who doesn't get run support and this year it's Zach.

- Have you noticed that Ohlendorff velocity has been back his last couple of starts. Having Joe Kerrigan around has been valuable to some of these guys. Tweaking the wind up and Ross's fastball has been backup to the 94-96mph range. He still has to find a way to be able to pitch the 3rd time through the order. He needs a second out pitch.

- I'm about tired of watching Moss come out of his shoes swinging for the fence. He is one guy that needs to simplify his approach.

- Not much good can come out of a 17-2 loss, but give Steven Jackson some credit for taking one for the team. He tossed 4.1 innings of scoreless relief, saving the bullpen.

-Give Pirates management credit for applying the resources they have in the right places. They have signed all top 10 of their draft picks and their aggressive approach has been noticed around baseball. They have drawn several compliments around baseball. It's a very good sign for the franchise's future.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Tale of Two Teams

I haven't had a chance to post in a week, but I have some time now and what I watched the last two nights wasn't close to the same team. On Tuesday, we saw a young, energetic, aggressive team that was fun to watch. Patient at the plate, aggressive on the base paths, taking advantage of opportunities, timely hitting and good defense. Good pitching, (even the bullpen) and an overall team performance that was fun to watch. The Bucs broke their losing streak and even manged to win a game on the road. I was happy going to bed on Tuesday.

Last night, however; my mood changed totally after watching the miserable performance the Bucs displayed. Pretty much the same line up, but a totally different team. Granted, Ubaldo Jimenez was very good, but the Bucs made it easy on him. Let's start offensively, where was the approach from the night before? The same team that worked the count all game was gone. The same team that had a good opposite field approach was gone. The same team that utilizes both gaps was gone. Yes, a mere 24 hours later, we saw a free swinging, swing for the fences type of team that hasn't been winning lately. When the Bucs offense struggles, they are a very boring team to watch.

It's truly nothing to panic about though. They are a young team. They are going to be very inconsistent. Unfortunately, that tends to show on the offensive end of things. The don't have much power so to score runs, they rely on several guys having to hit well in the same day. The important thing is that these guys that are going to be around keep getting their at bats and get a whole season under their belt.


- I thought Hart threw well last night, at least through 5. He has good enough stuff and the pitches he got beat on were actually good pitches. He seems to have the mental make up of a top of the rotation guy, which is always a good thing. I would like to see him get strike one more often though,

-Meek lands on 15 day DL. Probably a good thing. I like Meek's arm a lot, but suddenly with Meek, Chavez, Hanrahan, Capps, etc., the Bucs suddenly have too many of the same style of pitcher in their pen. Power arm, live fastball, suspect breaking stuff.

-With the Pirates, Lastings Milledge is hitting around .280, which is fine. I need some power and speed though. That seems to be a problem with many of the younger acquisitions of late. The power just hasn't come out. I will break down Milledge tomorrow in a new post.

- Why can't Jones seem to hit with guys on base? He tears the cover off the ball with the bases empty. His 12 Hr is a nice number, but I would like to see more than the 20 RBI's. I believe he has driven in only 4 runs that haven't come by the long ball and 9 of his 12Hr's have been solo shots. I like Jones a ton, but if he is going to be a middle of the order type hitter, he has to perform like it. Middle of the order guys drive in runs.

- Is anyone else tired of watching Ryan No-Mitt catch. I am. I hate how he calls a game. He doesn't block balls well and he has a below average arm. How many more times do I have to watch him call 3 straight fastballs in the same location then seeing the third one blistered. If that's not bad enough, where has that bat been. I have never been convinced that Doumit is an everyday player, especially behind the dish. he is a middle of the order rally killer and I would hope they consider dealing him in the off season. he has shown me nothing in the last 4 seasons to warrant sticking around.

- Piraes Fans have to love Cedeno at short. The right side of the infield in still excellent defensively. Cedeno and Laroche are fabulous with the glove and Young is looking more comfortable at second. I also like Pearce's glove at first.......BUT

- Let's end the Steve Pearce experiment. Keep him as a bench player though. Either make Jones the everyday first baseman or let's get a look at Clement, who is hitting very well at Indy.

-McCutchen is a flat out stud. I like what I saw on Tuesday. The only thing I have wanted to see more out of him is for Cutch to be more aggressive on the base paths. he picked his spots and stole 3 bases easily. He is improving in every aspect of his game every day. It just means he is becoming a complete ball player, one day at a time.

- What this team lacks is a leader. No disrespect to Ramon Vasquez or even No-Mitt, but they need a leader, or several; especially when things are going bad.

-Check back tomorrow for a story on Milledge and this weekend I will have my minor league report. Let's Go Bucs

Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Thoughts on the Neil Huntington Rebuild

Many have asked about my overall opinion of Neil Huntington's rebuild of the Pittsburgh Pirates or for my letter grade of it, so here we go. This may be long so bear with me. First of all we are going to look at this as a 2 year rebuild, not just at the current trades of this season.

First I want to look at the guys that we dealt, since opening day 2008. In no particular order, they were: John Grabow, Jose Bautista, Tom Gorzelanny, Freddy Sanchez, Ian Snell, Jack Wilson, Adam Laroche, Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett, Nate Mclouth, Jason Bay, Damaso Marte, Xavier Nady, Soloman Torres and Ronny Paulino. A total of 15 guys that had spent time on the big league club the last two seasons.

For the most part, everyone on this list was under 28 and contributed somewhat at the MLB level. I will argue that we really didn't part with much at all. Aside from Bay, who went into an ideal situation, with a stacked lineup, where he will see a ton of fastballs; what did we give up? Maybe you can argue about Mclouth, but I still view him as a very good player, not a superstar. I would rather have Andrew McCutchen in center field than Mclouth, and that is no knock on Nate.

The rest of the list are just simply average to above average major leaguers. Most were upcoming free agents who weren't going to be here anyway. We really didn't give up anything other than a collection of guys who simply were not getting the job done in Pittsburgh. Most of these guys really had no value here and that includes Sanchez and Wilson. A total rebuild was necessary and that's what Neil Huntington did different than his predecessors. You can't rebuild a franchise like the Pirates by dealing one or two guys. The farm system needed replenished. Aside from Bay, none of the guys will be impact players for their new clubs. We really didn't give up anything of value. I thought Huntington said it best when he said, "It's not like we broke up the '27 Yankees."

Now, I will agree that a rebuild like this, requires taking on some risk. It requires an excellent job from the scouting department all the way up to the GM. This time they can't miss with their decisions. Do we know what we got with all the acquisitions? Not at all, and don't expect all these guys to pan out. Out of the 30 guys brought in since opening day 2008, if 15 prove to be solid major leaguers, then it was a great job by Huntington.

Now realize one thing, when Huntington took over the team, the cupboard was bare. Entirely empty. At the minor league level, there was McCutchen and Neil Walker. That's sad. The Pirates farm system was drained completely, by years of mismanagement. In Huntington's two seasons, he has tried to completely give the farm system a make over. You don't think he's doing it? Take a look a the current list of top 10 prospects. Only Brad Lincoln remains on that list from the Littlefield era. Now after the job Huntington did, Walker isn't viewed as a top 15 prospect. I'd say the makeover of the system is working.

The 30 guys brought in, in no particular order: Robinson Diaz, Jeff Clement, Andy Laroche, Lastings Milledge, Gorkys Hernandez, Jose Tabata, Tim Alderson, Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, Jeff Locke, Argenis Diaz, Ross Ohlendorf, Delwyn Young, Nathan Adcock, Bryan Morris, Kevin Hart, Mariano Salas, Josh Harrison, Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Kevin Roberts, Jose Ascaino, Hunter Strickland, Ronny Cedeno, Tyler Yates, Charlie Morton, Joel Hanrahan and Jason Jaramillo (I hope I didn't leave anyone out). that list doesn't include finally having a couple of good drafts and even signing a guy like Garrett Jones. On paper, it looks like quite the haul in exchange for a bunch of guys who simply weren't in the plans.

It's entirely about value and how you value a certain player. All I hear is complaining that all we got was minor leaguers. Well, that's the point. The idea is to be able to compete for years to come, not just take a shot at .500 one season. While I see value in what we got in return, it is a hard thing to figure out how these guys will do at the MLB level. Could I be over valuing some of these guys? Sure. However, the Pirates fan base definitely is guilty of over valuing guys like Wilson, Sanchez Gorzo,etc. Like it or not, none of those guys brought anything to the table for the future. Take your blinders off and realize that we really didn't part with much during the last two years. Again, the goal is winning, not taking a run at.500.

Now from here on, everything is based on projections and how these guys do at the minor league level. I expect Clement, Milledge,Hernandez, Tabata and Alderson to be solid major leaguers with upside. That's five more than currently on the roster. Mostly everyone else projects into the next tier of guys that should get to the big leagues, especially the 3 arms acquired from Seattle. If a good portion of these guys succeed, then it was a good rebuild.

Now to the question on why we are just getting good prospects in return and not great ones. To start, I thought we did well with Alderson and Clement this week. First part of the answer is that top tier, home grown guys just aren't available anymore, especially arms. Secondly, we didn't have any talent to trade worthy enough of teams shelling out top prospects. We traded average guys with no upside. Which is why I was shocked the Giants parted with Alderson for Sanchez and that we got a guy like Clement in a deal for Wilson and Snell. I thought the whole process of Huntington worked. In each case he sold low and bought high. No longer did we trade trash for trash. We traded trash for upside and I am fine with it. I do feel it was important to rid itself of the losing culture that spreads throughout that locker room like a cancer.

Therefore, we really only brought in 2 big time prospects, but not by lack of trying. So as far as a letter grade, I give the whole process a solid B. Everyone brought in has some upside and something to offer this team in the future. Just look at the organization from March 2008 until today. We had zero power and now we have a few guys with major league power in the system, We had zero arms and now we have a ton of guys with not only potential, but serious arms strength. We are stacked at a few positions, most notably outfield and corner infielders.

I also feel it's important to create competition throughout the organization. We haven't had that in a long, long time. We have more talent all through the organization now, than at any point in the past. The guys currently on the MLB roster now get a chance to prove they belong. They can secure a job for years, by simply producing. If not, there are now guys behind them to push them for jobs. Healthy competition is always good.

Part two of the rebuild is soon to begin. I still expect Duke and Capps to be shipped out, either in August or in the off-season. Now the goal is to start filling in at the MLB level. Spring training will be fun to watch, as many of these guys will be given opportunities to win jobs. Some of the outfield prospects can now possibly be dealt to sure up other positions. So, Neil Huntington's work is no where near done.

Part 3 of the rebuild is on Bob Nutting and I don't know if that's a good thing. He absolutely has to start spending some money on the product on the field. In the next two seasons, we should be able to add quality on the free agent market (I say quality because I know superstars are out of the question). By 2011, there is no reason, a team like the Brewers, in a smaller market should have double the payroll as the Pirates. Fans got the worst news possible today, when Nutting announced that ownership will not change anytime in the near future.

However, this is it. I bought into the plan and have liked the results so far. The payroll is down to the $25-$30 mil range. It's time to start adding and most importantly, it's time to start winning. No more rebuilds. This is the group that the organization likes, well let's start producing and winning. The goal here is 2011 and 2012.

McCutchen Makes a Statement

Andrew McCutchen made a statement last night with his 4-5, 3Hr,6 RBI & 4 runs game last night in an 11-6 victory over the Nats. The statement pretty much says that even at the young age of 22, that after the latest round of trades, this is now his team. In just 51 games at the MLB level, Cutch is batting .293 with 6 HR and 31 RBI's out of the leadoff spot, and could be well on his way to a Rookie of the Year Award.

The reason I say it's his team now is simple.......He's a stud. Over the last decade, the Bucs have had several good players and a couple very good players (Bay, Ramerez,etc.), but they haven't had a stud. That's part of the reason we don't win. Cutch is capable of doing anything on the baseball diamond. He is blessed with enormous speed which makes him a great center fielder. Most of the times, opponents will have to hit it out of the park to get it over his head. He has an above average arm as well, but that is one part of his game that needs some work.

The thing I like the most about the young stud is his approach at the plate. He is a gap to gap guy, but as he showed last night, he can hit the ball out of the ballpark. I love the approach though. He is poised and seems like he can handle any situation. The one thing I don't want to see is Cutch start trying to hit the ball over the fence. Keep the approach the same. He is also a fantastic base runner. his speed showed last night when he scored on a double to left from first base. The only thing I would like to see more out of Andrew is for him to run more. He is currently 9 for 9 stealing bases, but I would like to see him be more aggressive.

McCutchen is the difference between the past Pirates and the present/future Pirates. He is the player, the rebuild is centered around, and he is the player to start leading to Pirates to success in the future. So, why wait ? Make this Cutch's team right now. Am I jumping the gun after just 51 games? I don't believe so. You can tell when a guy is a legit major leaguer and this guy flat out is.

Face it, we haven't had many blue chip athletes around here the last 16 years. It's time for the young McCutchen to take control of this team and show what he is and what he will become. That is simply the best Bucco since a guy named Bonds.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

New Look Buccos Debut with Success

Before I get into last night's game, I have to address the comments made by former Bucco Sean Burnett. He said, "We (Nyjer and him) saw this coming. They are the laughing stock of baseball." My initial reaction was "Who the F@#K are you."

Reality check to Mr. Burnett. YOU were part of the problem and the losing culture here as well. YOU were the guy that was a first round pick that never realized his potential. While not a huge part, you were still part of the problems which initiated all the moves to begin with. I will give credit when credit is due, you have become a decent lefty out of the pen, but you did nothing here except under achieve.

As far as the laughing stock comment, another reality check. Look at the name on YOUR jersey, that is if it is even spelled right. Yeah buddy, you play for the 30 win Nats and you have the balls to call out other franchises. Right now you are as low as you can be. At least the Bucs are taking the right steps to TRY and have a winning future. What have the Nats done, other than drafting Steven Strausberg, who they probably won't even sign. The future is alot brighter here then it is in Washington so you should probably keep your mouth shut.

By no means am I saying this franchise is in good shape. We will be a laughing stock until we start winning. However, for a guy like Burnett to criticize the Bucs, when he is in a far worse situation is ridiculous. He Sean, I will give you something to laugh at...........your career.

As far as the performance last night, I was excited. The lineup wasn't bad. it was no worse than it was before the deals, in fact I may like it better. Nice debut for Milledge and Cedeno. Also good for Pearce, starting to hit the ball with authority. maybe getting Clement lit a fire under him. A nice start by Ohlendorff as well. The only guy that was disappointing was Hanrahan. I think some of it was due to playing his former team.

The thing I noticed is that there was an extra step to these guys last night. A lot more energy out of the guys and they were having fun. They are definitely a more athletic team and will be fun to watch the rest of the season.


-Andy Laroche is quietly becoming an excellent defensive third baseman.

- Fine job by Evan meek and Jessie Chavez getting big outs in big spots.

-Funny that Garrett Jones is the team leader in homers with 10, despite only being up for a month. The RBI leader is Andy Laroche with 38.

-Newly acquired Jeff Clement homered in his first two AB's at Indy.

-Tim Alderson goes tonight for Altoona

-Virgil Vasquez goes tonight for the Bucs, but expect it to be the last time. Kevin Hart will pitch on Wed.

-If you noticed, Nyjer Morgan is still a lousy base runner, getting picked off AGAIN by a right handed pitcher