Monday, March 29, 2010
Today the Bucs made a roster move by claiming right hander Hayden Penn off waivers from the Florida Marlins. Four years ago Penn was once a big time prospect in the Baltimore Orioles system, but has yet to live up to the early hype.
Penn made his mlb debut before his 21st birthday. He is 4-6 overall between stops with the O's and Marlins. He has a good arm and good stuff and throws three plus pitches for strikes.
Both Baseball America and Tim Dierkes say it's a good pickup by NH. Even if Penn never reaches his potental, it's worth taking a shot on him. It's the typical low risk-high reward type of signing that NH likes to make. Penn should most likely begin the season at AAA Indy.
To make room on the 40-man roster for Penn, the Bucs designated Brandon Moss for assignment (i can hear everyone celebrating). Moss hit only .236 last season and honestly, the at-bats just aren't their for him. He has been passed on the depth chart by Rule 5 guy John Raynor.
One intresting note is that NH said today that in hindsight that there was a better deal on the table for Jason Bay. Now that Moss and likely Craig Hansen won't pan out, the deal will be judged on by how Bryan Morris and Andy Laroche do as Pirates.
The team has ten days to release or trade Moss. He must clear waivers in order for the Bucs to send him to the minors.
John Russell has shown his new look lineup the past couple spring games and says it's likely to be the lineup for most of this season. Biggest things about it is that Aki Iwumara will leadoff while Andrew McCutchen will bat second. Also the pitcher will bat eighth this season.
Looking at it top to bottom
1. Iwumara 2b
2. McCutchen cf
3. Jones rf
4. Doumit c
5. Milledge lf
6. Clement 1b
7. Laroche 3b
9. Cedeno ss
First, do you like Cutch batting in the 2 hole? If you buy into the theory that the leadoff guy is really only guarenteed to lead off an inning once then I guess it makes sense. Aki is capable of doing the job in the leadoff spot. The idea of batting Cedeno 9th is to have have two leadoff hitters batting back to back to get men on base for Cutch and Jones. If that's the case bat Cutch third.
You know Cutch won't be sacraficing like many two hole hitters or hitting behind the runner and why should he when he is your best player. My fear is that there goes any fundamental team baseball the Bucs would play.
Batting the pitcher 8th? Does it really matter? Overall I'm not really a huge fan of the constructed lineup, but I don't hate it either. I think they will be solid 1-3. If Doumit, Milledge and Clement can have decent years then the Bucs could surprise some people and score some runs.
Look, things weren't working the traditional way so it can't hurt to try something new. Your thoughts?
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Let's start at the top. Very few teams in the majors have their weakest link as the opening day starter as the Pirates do with Zach Duke. While Duke may be a nice guy and apparantly being nice is more important than producing in Pittsburgh (Exhibit A- Jack Wilson), he just flat out doesn't get the job done. Never has and likely never will.
Take a look at the numbers, and when looking at the case of Duke's performance, his numbers tell the whole story. Take out Duke's brief stint as a rookie and 2009 was his best season as a pro, yet it wasn't a good one. While he did win 11 games, out of his 32 starts, his team only won the 11 that Duke got the W. Hands down the lowest percentage of team wins per start in the majors. Duke flat out doesn't give his team a chance to win most nights out.
Other alarming numbers. Duke led the league in hits given up (231)- AGAIN, also an outrageous 9.8 Hits/9ip the worst among mlb starters, only a 2.16 k/bb ratio and a below average 4.06 era and 1.315 whip.
I have run into plenty of Duke supporters (ran into one last night as a matter of fact) and the first thing they say is well he doesn't have a good defense. Really? Wasn't it the Pirates who led the league in fielding percentage for most of the season? Defense isn't the problem as Duke gave up only 5 unearned runs in 2009. Also don't give me that he made the all-star team last season. He did have a decent first half, but did anyone watch him pitch in the second half?
My problem with Duke is that he doesn't compete and often pitches gutless baseball. He is a left handed Kip Wells. How many bad two strike pitches can one guy throw? A former Pirate who will remain nameless, once told me off the air on a radio show that I did that they really don't expect to win most of the time Duke starts and if they do it's a bonus.
Having ripped Duke apart, I still have a little faith in him. He is a very important piece in a rotation that needs to take the next step. Does he have the pure stuff of a Charlie Morton, Brad Lincoln or even a Kevin Hart (if Hart could throw strikes)? No, not even close. However, in those eleven wins last season, Duke showed that he could pitch effectively at the major league level.
He had some decent numbers as well in 2009. His control was very good, only walking 49 batters at a 2.4bb/9ip clip. He also gave the team some good innings, eclipsing 200 ip for the second time in his career. Now this isn't about bashing Duke, it's to show that a guy in his sixth mlb season needs to be much more consistent every fifth day. He is capable of doing it and if he needs to become the leader of a staff that desperately needs one. Duke is having a very good spring so far, so we will see if he can carry that into the season.
Looking at the two and three spots in the rotation- Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf, both are in similar situations. Maholm needs to take a big step forward as well. He pitched hurt most of last season and now healthy, hopefully he can put things together as well. Maholm nearly gave up as many hits (222) as Duke last season. When healthy though, he tends to keep the ball down a bit more, so I have a little more faith in him. Maholm or Duke could be pitching to see who stays in Pittsburgh for the long haul. Logic would tell you one of them has to be dealt to make room for Brad Lincoln. Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton and Daniel McCutchen aren't going anywhere. My bet is that Duke is dealt at the trading deadline or sometime before the 2011 season.
Ohlendorf was a surprise last season. Unlike Duke (and I will include Maholm here as well so I'm not just bashing Duke), Ohlendorf gave the Pirates a chance to win in a good percentage of his starts. With a record over .500 and an era under four, he was the Pirates best starter last season. One thing I'd need to see from Ohlendorf is to be able to pitch deeper into games this season. He was often a six inning guy last season, but he did his job when he was on the hill.
By far the guy with the most talent in the rotation is Morton. He really holds the key to this staff. His stuff is flat out nasty. He is a guy that management would like to see take a huge step. If Morton can learn what it take to be a successful big league starter then honestly the sky's the limit for him. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done. One thing Morton needs to realize is that it's ok to get a guy out on one or two pitches. He needs to realize that pitching behind in the count will hurt him. Also he doesn't have to go to a full count on every single hitter.
The fifth spot was won by Daniel McCutchen. McCutchen has above average stuff and could surprise some people. I like his make up and he doesn't seem to be scared of big league hitters, as he showed in his September call-up in 2009. Unfortunately for him, the Bucs will only need to use a fifth starter once the first three and a half weeks of the season.
As you can see, many questions surrond the 2010 Pirates rotation. However, there is potential for many bright spots to occur as well. This needs to become Duke's staff and Morton needs to reach his potential for anything good to come of it. One bright spot should be sometime after June when Brad Lincoln should get the call.
Position grade Compared to the rest of the league- C - Could be a B if things go their way. They are going to have to perform well because I don't think they will score many runs for these guys.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
I love the bat, but which Garrett Jones will we see. Will we see the guy that pounded out 21 homers in 82 games? Can he possibly have a repeat of that? Did the Pirates actually catch lightning in a bottle with Jones? I sure hope so because they will surely need his power bat in the middle of the order.
What the Pirates can't asfford is for Jones to be a flash in the pan. I think he will turn out to be for real though. He is swinging the bat well in spring training also. A 30/100 type of season would be tremendous.
One thing "The Legend" does need to improve though is his inability to hit with runners in scoring position. he was actually pretty lousy in those situations last season. he got pitched tougher and didn't adjust well. If he can become a legitimate threat with men on base, then the Bucs may have something here.
In the event that Jones has to be the everyday first baseman, then one of a group of Ryan Church, Brandon Moss and Delwyn Young should get at bats in right field. I would look for them to find ways to get Church into the lineup anyways. Moss and Young should be strictly bench guys for the time being.
The big question is, what do the Bucs do when Jose Tabata is deemed ready? There will be some dealing and lineup shuffling, but it's a good problem to have. Jeff Clement really could hold the key to Tabata's arrival. If he struggles for two months, the by June, the Bucs may be willing to move Jones to first and call up Tabata.
Position Grade Compared to the Rest of the League- B- - Would be higher, but as much as I like Jones, he is still a bit unproven at the MLB level
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
That's exactly what cost Hart the job. After struggling at the end of last season, going 1-8 as a Pirate, Hart couldn't figure out the strike zone this spring either, with an alarming walk rate. While many in the organization still consider Hart to have the better stuff of the two, his inabilty to throw strikes led to him being one of eight cuts.
Some have said McCutchen doesn't have great stuff, but I disagree. His fastball may only top out at around 92, but he has pretty decent command of his two-seamer and breaking stuff and generally keeps the ball down in the zone.
While winning the fifth starter competition is big for McCutchen, it's not that big of a deal for the Pirates right off the bat. Up until April 24th, the Bucs will only need to use their fifth starter once, on April 11th.
In addition to Hart, the Bucs also cut Chris Jakubauskas and Neil Walker- all three will be sent to AAA. Brian Myrow, Hector Giminez, Brian Burress, Wil Ledezma and Jean Machi were all assigned to minor league camp.
-Zach Duke was named opening day starter. No surprise, but I didn't feel he was worthy off it. I feel Ross Ohlendorf or Paul Maholm would have been a better choice.
-Octavio Dotel has been throwing to batters and should be ready for opening day.
- Not that spring averages mean much, but several pencilled in regulars have not swung the bat well. All hitting under .200 for the spring are Aki Iwumara (.199), Jeff Clement (.194), Andy Laroche (.194) and Brandon Moss (a whopping .038)
-Former Bucco Nate McLouth is only 1 for 30 on the spring with 15 K's.
-Bucs got shelled by the Astros today 11-1.
The numbers should only go up this season and pretty much every season after that. This is already his team and I'd like to see him take on the leadership role that comes with that.
His is the most gifted Bucco since a young Barry Bonds roamed left field at Three Rivers Stadium. The only debate is weather Cutch should bat first or third in the order. I feel for the time being he should still be the leadoff guy, but if the team ever gets a guy capable of leading off, then batting third could suit him just fine.
This season should be a big one for young McCutchen. I'd like to see him run a lot more, but it will be a treat to watch him for an entire season.
Position Grade Compared to the Rest of the League- A - Thats right, finally a good grade. The guy is a stud.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
The attitude is no longer in question and the ability has never been questioned. If I have to pick one guy on the Pirates team to have a breakout season, the answer is easy- Lastings Milledge.
I feel he will have a solid season with the bat. I'm looking at a .290/25/90 type of season. I'm not worried about this guy at all. A good start out of the gate would be even better for him and Pirates fans would hopefully come around to the guy. He is a hit around all of his teammates. He has won the organization over in the locker room, now he has to win everyone else over by producing.
I really think he will. I liked this acquisition from the get go and I feel it will pan out well. One thing i need to see better out of Milledge is better base running. Not only does he need to steal some bags, he needs to eliminate some base running blunders he has made in spring games already.
Can he play left field? He's going to have to. It's a big left field to cover and he has to make the plays. Criticize the guy all you want, but in the end, he will be a productive player. I can see him batting fifth all season and producing.
In the event that Milledge blows his probable last shot, look for Brandon Moss (who's in a similar situation) and Ryan Church to see time in left field. If John Raynor makes the roster as a Rule 5 guy then he may see some rare time in left field.
Position Grade Compared to the Rest of the League- C - I wanted to go B or B+ here because I'm confident Milledge has a good season, but fact is up to this point he hasn't
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
His bat has been very good. That's more likely a sign that he will be a candidate for Mr. March instead of a good season though. After winning the 2004 American League Rookie of the Year, the 30-year old Crosby hasn't come close to a productive season since. He has only hit above .240 once since then and after his 22 homer rookie season, he has yet to return to double digits. Much of that has been due to injury, but maybe he's healthy and can be productive for the Bucs.
Crosby is the type of low risk- high reward signing that Neil Huntington has made during his first three years on the job. There's nothing wrong with that approach. If he pans out then great, if not then no big loss to the organization.
I'd still like to see what Cedeno can do playing everyday, but having Crosby around could turn into a good thing. Argenis Diaz has been sent to AAA, but there is a small chance he could get a look this season. His glove is very smooth, but his bat is severly lacking (sounds like a shortstop that was around for the last decade).
Position Grade Compared to the rest of the League- D- -Very unproven and looks to be light hitting. One of these guys needs to step up and put a stranglehold on the job and hopefully have a good season. Not much offensive help in the minors either, but what I want most from whoever gets the job is to simply catch the ball.
If you are keeping track. Here are the grades so far. Not too promising on paper.
First base- D-
Second Base- C+
Third Base- C+
Monday, March 15, 2010
At the plate, his bat shows some pop and he showed that he can handle the bat at times at the big league level. The first thing the Bucs need from him this season is consistency. He entertained some prolonged slumps last season, something a young hitter will experience. He needs to take the next step and put it all together.
He only wound up hitting .258 last season, but eliminate the slumps this season and we could see that number jump to around the .285 mark. As I said looking at the first basemen, the corner spots must produce runs. The power wasn't there for Andy last season, hitting only 12 dingers, but several of his team high 29 doubles hit the top of the wall, so they could easilly turn into homers this season. That's just wishful thinking on my part, but one would have to think Laroche has to turn in a .285/20/80 type season to remain the everyday man.
Yes Pedro Alvarez is looming and looks great this spring. He has no chance to come up before June 1, so it's imperitive for Laroche to get off to a sizzling start or the decision on Alvarez may become an easy one for Pirates management.
The job is Laroche's. Like all the other infield positions, Bobby Crosby could see a few starts. Ramon Vazquez (while he's still here) is also in the mix for a few spot starts throught the season. Neil Walker could also steal some playing time.
Position Grade Compared to the rest of the league- C+ - Laroche is serviceable and pretty much like every other position on the diamond, if he has a breakout season then it becomes a strength of the club. My guess is that he has an average type season and we see Pedro Alvarez sometime in late June- early July. If for anything, that the Pirates will desperately need his power bat. this would regulate Laroche to a utility man for the time being.
Optioned to AAA- Brad Lincoln (pictured), Donnie Veal, Argenis Diaz and Brandon Jones
Optioned to AA- Gorkys Hernandez, Ronald Uviedo and Ramon Aguero
Optioned to A- Bryan Morris,
Optioned to Minor League Camp- Tony Sanchez, Jeff Sues, Virgil Vasquez, Jeff Thomas and Brian Friday.
All of the youngsters have shown good things to management during camp and have been re-assigned to play everyday. This was going to happen anyways so there is nothing to read into it. Just the first of many roster cuts during the spring.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
This improves the position significantly. While not an all-star, Iwamura is a solid glove man and he can handle the bat. As long as he is healthy, Iwamura should do well batting in the 2-hole behind Andrew McCutchen.
Iwamura is a career .281 hitter, with little power. Coming off knee surgery, I also don't look for him to do much in the running game. What he can do though is have professional at bats. He will be good at hitting behind the runner and moving guys up. He should be a surprise to most Pirates fans that aren't used to seeing good fundamental baseball being played.
Aki will get most of the time this season and could be spelled by the likes of Bobby Crosby and Delwyn Young. Ramon Vazquez, coming off a lousy 2009 is still in camp, but is a good bet to be dealt before the season begins. Neil Walker is still in camp as well and has started taking ground balls at second.
One thing to keep an eye on is Pedro Alvarez. When he gets the call this season, will Andy Laroche start to play some second base? Easier said than done. Look for Aki to stay there for the long haul this season. he also could always be moved at the deadline if the team feels Laroche can play a solid second base
Position Grade compared to the rest of the league- C+ - A little above average. Headed in the right direction, but no help from down on the farm. Overall, a very thin position in the organization
Saturday, March 13, 2010
In 75 career games, Clemet has homered only seven times, but I expect a solid 25 dingers out of him if he holds onto the job. The Pirates desperatley need some power in the middle of the lineup.
Defensively, he looks good so far; so hopefully that won't be a problem. If Clement fails to win the job, Garrett Jones will shift from right field to first base, opening up a compettion for the starting job in right.
Throught the season, Bobby Crosby could also see some playing time at the position. Steve Pearce also has an outside shot of making the team. Management likes his versatility- he can also play right field (although not very well). Pearce still has an option left so let's hope he is destined for Indianapolis. He doesn't do anything for me. He had a long look and didn't impress.
Position Grade Compared to the rest of the league- D- - Well below average. You have to have run production from the corner infield spots and right now the Pirates just don't have it. As much as I like Clement getting the shot, he also has yet to prove he can be a legitimate run producer. If he does, the position could suddenly become a strength.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Matt Wieters should be the starter, but wait... Dave Littlefield passed on him. Ryan Doumit will start and hopefully, the team can finally get 140 games out of him and truly see what type of player he is. I know we've been down this road before, but hopefully Doumit's poor 2009 was due to injury.
If John Russell intends to bat Doumit in the middle of the order, he has to start swinging the bat. I know I'm very hard on Doumit at times, but it's make or break time for him. I have a feeling he will answer the call and perform well. (That was painful for me to say).
What's more important is for Doumit to handle the young pitching staff and become a leader of this young team. He has it in his personality to do so. If he starts putting up numbers offensively and the pitchers throw well, this could become his team. I look for big things from the soon to be 29 year old backstop. he won't be a big long ball guy, but could become a decent run producer.
Other catchers in camp are last years backup Jason Jaramillio and non-roster invitees: Luke Carlin, Hector Gimenez, Erik Kratz and 2009 first round pick Tony Sanchez. Carlin and Kratz have impressed at times so far. As for Sanchez, he is having a great camp, but don't expect him to come north opening day. What he is doing is showing Doumit that he has to produce, or Sanchez's time will be sooner, rather than later.
As for the backup, look for it to be Jaramillio; although he does have an option left.
Position Grade Compared to the rest of the league- C - Average at best production and I'm probably being kind here.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
As sad as it is to say, the answer is no. Now I love the WBC and watch pratically every game. I think the concept is great, but it won't reach an Olympic like level for two main reasons.
The first is leadership. I give Bud Selig the credit for the idea, but anything with his fingers on it is bound to end in controversy. I just don't think Selig has the ability to capitalize on something big. He's actually more likely to ruin the entire thing than push for it to reach higher levels.
Selig aside, the main reason the WBC just won't work is timing. There just isn't a good time to do this thing. Take a look at the current format- at the beginning of spring training. The obvious is that the players just aren't in top baseball shape. Look deeper and what MLB GM in their right mind want their players competing in the WBC? One tight hamstring or one sore elbow and the guys that should be there are pulled out. Can't blame the GM's. I wouldn't want my guys there either. Spring training is valuable to teams. Look at the pitchers who threw in the last years WBC. Most had early arm problems
So when is the best time to play the WBC? Answer is that there isn't one. I heard an after the World Series recomendation. No way. While you could eliminate the weather problem by playing in warm cities, 95% of the MLB is shut down by the World Series. You can't ask players to get it back in gear after a season that last March-October. Players are looking forward to thier time off, they wouldn't want to compete.
I've heard shut down the MLB for 2-3 weeks like hockey does. Wouldn't work. Can't play the World Series at the end of November, and what organization would want to send their pitchers to get 3 more weeks of work at the time teams are heading down the stretch.
As much as I love the WBC concept, there just isn't a right time to hold the tournament. I do feel that it could be on par with Olympic Hockey or the World Cup, but you would need the games top talent every time out. I will enjoy it next season as I always do, but it could be so much better. I wouldn't sacrafice one bit of the MLB season for it though
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
As I get ready to watch some live spring training baseball on MLB Network, anything can happen. Even the Pirates could (though not likely) catch lightning in a bottle. here are five things the Bucs will need to happen in order to compete in 2010.
5. Bullpen- The bullpen needs to be rock solid. The signing of Octavio Dotel, for a change a good Bucco signing, needs to work. Too many late leads blown the last couple of seasons. A team like the Bucs can't blow 15-20 games that should be in the win column.
They have the arms in the pen to be successfull. Dotel, Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek are all power right handed arms with tremendous stuff, they just have to do the job.
4. Break Out Season- One of the holdovers finally has to have a breakout season. I'm expecting Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones to get better, so who's it going to be? From a group of Andy Laroche, Brandon Moss, Lastings Milledge, Ryan Doumit and I will throw Jeff Clement's name in there for the hell of it- I'm looking at Milledge and/or Doumit.
Milledge has every tool and he's healthy and motivated. He's running out of time so he's going to be the guy. I like what he showed in his two month stint in Pittsburgh last season. As for Doumit, everyone know how strongly I am not a fan of his, but similar to Milledge, he's running out of chances.
Doumit needs to stay healthy and start swinging the bat. If one, or both have big seasons then suddenly the Bucs have a decent lineup throwing in Cutch and Jones.
3.Youth Be Served- Pedro Alvarez will likely get the call sometime between June and July and possibly be joine in Pittsburgh by the much anticipated debuts of Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln. For the Bucs to have any shot at competing, Alvarez needs to come up and hit the cover off the ball from day one and hit with power.
It has been done. Look at how Evan Longoria and Ryan Braun came up and made an immediate impact for the Rays and Brewers respectively. Alvarez will be carrying a ton of pressure to be that big middle of the order bat that the Bucs so desperately need. If Tabata and Lincoln could produce similar results then the Bucs would really have the ball rolling.
2. Starting pitching- The Bucs have a young rotation and it's usually that third year around that young arms take the next step. Paul Maholm should be the staff ace. It's his time to get it done. Charlie Morton will take big steps to becoming a legitimate big league guy. Ross Ohlendorf just needs to do exactly what he did last season.
Zach Duke flat out needs to be better. Now I hear you saying that he was an all-star and the Bucs best pitcher last season. He had an ok season and nothing better. A starters job is to give his team a chance to win everytime out and Duke doesn't do that. The Bucs won only 11 times that Duke started last season, all 11 times Duke got the W. He is either really good or really bad. He needs to start performing like an ace.
Suddenly if the starters put things together then you have four guys, maybe five if Lincoln can come up after the all-star break, that can get deep into a ball game and give the team a chance to win.
If all four of these things happen and that's highly unlikely, but for this instance let's just say that they do. Then the big thing that would have to happen in order for the Bucs to compete in 2010 is.............
1. Ownership Opens the Checkbook to Improve the Club- Say the Bucs are hanging around .500 at the all-star break and are chasing a wild card spot. What will Bob Nutting do? Will he open the checkbook and go get the big power bat the team needs? Will he add another big arm to the rotation?
Now Neil Huntington has said often that they have the resources to do exactly that. I have been a big supporter of NH's in the past but when it comes down to this scenerio, I'm tired of the empty promises. It's time to Show Me and quit telling me about what is going to happen.
When it comes down to it as good as the players could possibly perform, we all know that Nutting will drop the ball at the end of the day. Cross your fingers Pirates fans.