Monday, August 30, 2010

Is Jose Tabata the MVP of the Pirates?

In the midst of another miserable season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, it's often tough to find real bright spots to talk about, but the Pirates have one in outfielder Jose Tabata.

Neil Walker gets the press being the hometown kid and he's deserved it. Walker is having a tremendous rookie campaign and has cemented himself as part of the future core of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Pedro Alvarez also gets a ton of attention paid to him. Coming up as "The Savior" of the Pirates hasn't been easy for Alvarez, but he's handled it well and has shown at times what type of major league player he has the potential to become in the upcoming seasons.

Having said all of that, is it possible that Jose Tabata is the best of the three future Pirates stars?

Since his June 9th call up, Tabata has been nothing short of outstanding for the last place Pirates. He's definitely been the most consistent.

Tabata has settled in very nicely in the 2-hole in the Pirates lineup. What seperates him from the others is his approach at the plate, which is the best on the team. Tabata is the one guy on the team that simply hits the ball where it's pitched. He's a very good situational hitter as well.

He's even shown some pop. The power will come. He's shown he has it. he's never going to be a 30+ homer type guy, but with time he has the ability to hit 15-20 a season.

Add to that outstanding speed and solid defense and Tabata could be a future all-star.

His 2010 numbers are very good. In 70 games, Tabata is hitting .312. His four homers and 21 RBI are modest numbers, but Tabata has shown he can hit well at the MLB level.

He's also stolen 14 bases. He's been caught seven times, but that percentage is likely to go up as he learns the pitchers around the league.

Other impressive numbers for Tabata,

. His .312 batting average ranks second among all rookies with at least 300 at bats, behind only the Giants Buster Posey.

. He reaches base consistently, reaching base safely in 58 of his 70 starts.

. He has 59 hits since the All-Star break, ranking him second to only the Cubs Starlin Castro.

. Tabata's 87 hits since his call up ranks him second in baseball behind only Albert Puljos (88). That's great company to be in.

That's quite the early resume for Tabata. He will only get better with experience. He deserves some votes for Rookie of the Year. While he has no chance to win the award, he should be recognized along with some of the other great young players in the game.

While he won't win the Rookie of the Year, Tabata should win another award and that's the team MVP. He's definitely the Pirates MVP at the moment. No one else has stood out to make a strong case this year

Maybe it could go to relievers Joel Hanrahan or Evan Meek who have both had outstanding seasons out of the Pirates bullpen. However, if you are giving the award to the guy that's had the best season, then Tabata has to be considered the Pirates Most Valuable Player.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Charlie Morton's Last Stand

The Pittsburgh Pirates will do some tinkering to the starting rotation this week. Jeff Karstens is being shelved for the time being with a tired arm. Daniel McCutchen will assume Karstens spot in the rotation tonight against the Cardinals.

They will also need a starter for Sunday, as Ross Ohlendorf won't be taking his scheduled start. The guy to keep an eye on is Charlie Morton. Morton needs this opportunity. Pirates fans need it as well.

Morton deserves at least a five-start look at the end of the season. The Pirates have to find out which guy they have. Is it the Charlie Morton that showed towards the end of 2009 that he can be a capable major league pitcher? Or, do they have the Charlie Morton that simply couldn't get major league hitters out consistently in 2010?

The Pirates should believe in Morton still. He has all the tools. He has a great arm with a fastball that can top 95 mph and can back that up with above average breaking stuff.

I vowed to never use the term "great stuff," after hearing it over a thousand times this year during Pirates telecasts, but Morton has it.

Morton has to show better command this time around. He has to locate better or he will get crushed. He has to pitch off his fastball more. It's a weapon and he needs to use it to get people out.

He also has to be much tougher mentally as well. He's too talented to fold and start giving into hitters. The scouting reports on Morton, dating back to his days in the Atlanta system, have always questioned his head. With the "stuff" a guy like Morton has, he has to have a bulldog-like mentality.

Throwing to Chris Snyder instead of Ryan Doumit should help out as well. In his short time in Pittsburgh, Snyder has shown that he will call the game to the pitchers strengths instead of working to their weaknesses, which Doumit is very fond of doing.

Morton is a much better pitcher than his 1-9 record and 9.35 ERA indicate. If the opportunity is given to him, he must take advantage of it.

This could be a second chance served up to him on a silver platter. He must approach it with that attitude or risk not being part of a future Pittsburgh Pirates rotation. He needs to succeed. The Pirates need him to succeed. The fans need him to succeed.

This could be Charlie Morton's last stand as a Pittsburgh Pirate. He needs to come out fighting.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ranking the Top 10 Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects

For all of the doubters, take a look at where the Pirates overall organizational depth is right now, compared to where it was at this point three seasons ago.

While it doesn't currently show at the major league level, Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington and staff has done a tremendous job of loading up the organization with young talent.

For a change, the Pirates have "real" prospects in the organization and that's a positive sign that things will eventually turn around. Now that another successful draft is over for the Pirates, I thought I'd take a look at the Top 10 Prospects currently in the organization.

This list was harder to cut down to ten than I originally thought, so enjoy and feel free to comment with your top 10.

10. SS Chase D'Arnaud- D'Arnaud isn't having one of his best seasons, currently batting .246, 3 HR, 40 RBI at Altoona. He's still one of the best athletes in the system though.

He's a slick fielder who has shown the ability to hit at other stops. It should only be a matter of a year or two before D'Arnaud is starting in PNC Park.

9. LHP- Rudy Owens- Owens is a lefty who opened every one's eyes a season ago with a 10-1 season at West Virginia. He doesn't have over powering stuff, but throws strikes and has great command.

At Altoona, Owens currently is 10-6 with a 2.67 era and has an impressive 118 strikeouts to only 22 walks.

8. RHP Bryan Morris- Morris was acquired from the Dodgers in the Jason Bay trade and after dealing with injuries, has shown everyone what the big deal about him is all about.

He started the season in Bradenton and quickly was promoted to Altoona. He's hit a wall as of late and will likely be shut down to his innings count, but has an outside shot at a big league rotation spot next season.

Morris features a fastball in the low 90's and has good command of his pitches; including a very good curve ball.

7. LHP-Jeff Locke- Locke was acquired as the big piece of the Nate McLouth trade and has done a lot this season to open up some eyes. Locke started the season at Bradenton where he went 9-3 with a 3.54 era.

Locke has a solid four pitches and throws strikes. He since was promoted to Altoona where he's gone 2-1 with a 3.07 era. Combined at the two stops, Locke has struck out 123 batters in 127.1 innings pitched and only allowed 22 walks.

6. OF- Andrew Lambo- Lambo was acquired from the Dodgers along with James McDonald at this seasons trade deadline in exchange for Octavio Dotel. This will go down as the best trade Huntington has made yet as Pirates GM.

Lambo was the Dodgers number one prospect a season ago, but was suspended for 50 games for PED's and fell out of favor in Los Angeles.

Lambo is a five tool player that has potential stud written all over him. In 14 games since being acquired, Lambo is hitting .340 with 2 HR and 7 RBI. Scouts have raved about the young outfielders all around talent.

5. OF- Starling Marte- Marte is another five tool talent that is part of a future Pirates outfield. Marte was slowed this season by a broken bone in his hand, but after an early season promotion to Bradenton, the 22-year old is hitting .320 with 25 RBI and 17 steals.

Marte might be the most gifted all around talent in the entire organization.

4. RHP- Luis Heredia- The Pirates made waves by recently signing the 16-year old Mexican prodigy, which could wind up being one of the Pirates best international signings ever.

Heredia projects to be around 6"6, around 200 lbs. and already throws in the mid-90's. He won't be rushed, but on potential talent alone, he ranks very high on the list.

3. C- Tony Sanchez- Sanchez ranks a little higher on the list because he likely will reach the major's by 2012. The 2009 first round pick is said to be big league ready defensively and his bat has been a pleasant surprise, hitting .312 with modest power this far in his young career.

Sanchez took a pitch to the face which cost him some time, otherwise he likely would be in AA by now. Chances are he opens the season in Altoona next year and with a solid showing could force the Pirates hands on a quick call up.

2. RHP- Stetson Allie- An organization desperate for pitching, nabs the two best arms in the 2010 draft. I've seen all these guys pitch, including Allie and the kid has a lightning bolt for an arm.

The one thing the organization was lacking is starters with ace potential and Allie is now one of two that fit the bill. He has some things to learn, including some command issues, but you can teach command. You can't teach 100mph.

1. RHP Jameson Taillon- The Pirates made the pick they had to make in Jameson Taillon and they gave him a record $6.5 mil. Taillon is a guy that can get it up to 98 mph and has four out pitches and can throw them for strikes in any count.

Taillon has the tools to be Josh Beckett like, something the Pirates have been missing for far too long. If he and Allie become a solid 1-2 punch within 2-3 years, the Pirates will be well on their way to being competitive once again.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Future of the Pirates Could Ride on the Signings of Taillon and Allie

Decision time nears for Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington and the rest of the front office staff. First and second round picks, right handers Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie must be signed by tonight’s midnight deadline.

This becomes the toughest decision Huntington has ever had to make as General Manager of the Pirates. It’s even tougher then the Pedro Alvarez negotiations that nearly turned into an embarrassing mess for the Pirates.

The facts are that if the Pirates didn’t come to terms with Alvarez, there would have been some uproar, but in the end, the situation would have been viewed as “Same Old Pirates,” and been forgotten. In the end, the decision becomes easy for the Pirates. Just pay the kids.
This case is different. The Pirates absolutely have to sign both of these kids. What would happen if they don’t?
First of all, the Pirates would alienate the fan base they do have. They would lose trust and would have little chance of gaining new Pirates fans in the future, something they desperately need.
Owner Bob Nutting would be the one and only target of the backlash. We’ve heard time and time again the past year about how the Pirates are no longer in a position where money matters. He’s stated time and time again that the club will pay for talent. Now is the time to quit telling the fans and start showing them that you are serious.
If they don’t sign both, what exactly is the point of the rebuild? It makes little sense to start to rebuild the organization with young talent to just quit and give up on it half way through. If they fail to lock up both, the terms “rebuilding,” and “future of the Pirates,” can never be used again. Fans just won’t be able to take the front office seriously.
The final and most important reason that the Pirates need to sign these guys is the on-field performance of the pitching staff. The Pirates need quality arms in the system. One thing they are lacking is arms that have staff ace potential. These two kids fit the bill. You can teach kids whatever you want about pitching, but one thing you can’t teach them is how to throw 100mph.
After the deadline passes on Taillon and Allie, Huntington must turn his attention to signing highly touted 16-year old pitching prospect Luis Heredia out of Mexico. Heredia recently said he wanted to play for the Pirates. When is the last time you heard anyone say that?
Huntington has a busy couple weeks ahead of him. He can get off to a good start tonight by simply getting a couple signatures on a couple of contracts. The decision is an easy one. Give them whatever they want. Show them the money. Fans have watched this franchise count nickles and dimes for far too long. The decision is simple. Do what it takes to get the kids signed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Say What You Want, but Pedro Alvarez is a Stud

With all the prospects the Pittsburgh Pirates have attempted to accumulate over the years, none have had the pedigree of Pedro Alvarez. With the attempt made to focus on the draft the last three seasons, no pick has generated the buzz around Pittsburgh that Alvarez did. Alvarez tore through minor league pitching and in a little over a year after making his professional debut, got the call to the big leagues.

While many (me included), felt it was way to early to summon Alvarez to PNC Park, he got the call anyways. Despite Pirates General Manager Neil Huntington proclaiming just hours earlier that "Alvarez isn't ready," the Pirates front office caved in to fan backlash and called up Alvarez anyways.

What did they get in return? They got a kid that looked lost and over matched at the big league level. Pedro Cerrano had a better chance of hitting a breaking ball without the help of his trusted fried Jobu then Alvarez had a chance of making contact in any particular at bat. Pirates fans started to boo the young Alvarez and basically said "Here we go again."

Alvarez, or better know as "The Savior," got of to a whopping 9 for 57 start with 29 strikeouts. That's hitting at a .158 clip if your scoring at home. That includes riding a five-game hit streak into July 3rd as well or the numbers would be much worse.

Then on July 3rd, Alvarez connected with his first major league homer, a solo shot off of the Phillies Kyle Kendrick. Since that time, we've seen a different Alvarez. We've seen more of the player we expected to see all along and it's a great sign for the Pirates.

Take out Alvarez's horrible start and we see a different player. Since connecting with his first dinger, Pedro is hitting at a .282 clip with 6 doubles, 10 homers and 25 RBI's. That's a 30 game span and I will take those results. Project that out for an entire season and you are looking at a guy that will put up some serious numbers.

Has he looked like a rookie at times? Absolutely, and he will continue to do so. Has he looked like a stud at times as well? Absolutely, and he will have more days like this then he will bad days.

It was a special moment Saturday night when Alvarez hit his 3-run walkoff in the 10th inning against the Colorado Rockies. Pirates fans should get used to that feeling, as Alvarez will continue to put up big numbers in Pittsburgh for a long time.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pirates Fire Two on Coaching Staff

The Pirates relieved a couple members of their coaching staff of their duties this morning. Relax, unfortunately it wasn’t manager John Russell. Instead, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and bench coach Gary Varsho were informed their services would no longer be needed by the franchise.

While Russell and hitting coach Don Long also need to go, this is a start for the Pirates to hopefully get a quality coaching staff around their young talent for next season.

Kerrigan came to the Pirates two seasons ago and talked a great deal about what his pitchers would do, but we never saw it executed on the field. We’ve heard a ton about pitching inside and throwing first pitch strikes. Pirates pitchers have no clue what the inside of the plate looks like and more often than not begin the count behind 2-0 on every hitter.

The Pirates staff as a whole has an eye popping 5.07 era on the season, which just can’t happen. Not one starting pitcher has seen improvement on Kerrigan’s watch. In fact, most have regressed so bad, that you have to wonder if they ever will recover. That’s a long list of names that include: Charlie Morton, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Brad Lincoln and Paul Maholm.

Kerrigan will be replaced on an interim basis by Roy Searage, who served as the assistant pitching coach under Kerrigan.

Varsho will be replaced as bench coach by Minor League Field Coordinator Jeff Bannister, also on an interim basis. Varsho’s duties included setting a Pirates defense that plays in the exact same spot, every pitch to every batter. Maybe Bannister will take a look at a scouting report or two and adjust accordingly.

As the Pirates begin plans for 2011, two down and two to go when it comes to the Pirates coaching staff.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Who Should be the Closer Heading into Next Season?

Not that it matters much for the rest of the season, but the last two months could go a long way to determine jobs for next season.  One job being auditioned for is next year's closer, between Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek.

Both have had outstanding seasons in set-up roles.  Meek made the All-Star team and Hanrahan leads the entire team in strikeouts, despite throwing only 48.1 innings on the season.

You can make a strong case for both, but I will make my case for Hanrahan. 

Everyone knows that getting the final three outs is much more difficult than getting the prior 24 outs in the game.  It takes a special mental make-up, something I feel both guys have.

Hanrahan offers a little more experience closing games, but that shouldn't have much of an impact in John Russell's decision.

However, the one real weapon that Hanrahan offers a little more than Meek is the strikeout.  He has the ability to pitch himself out of trouble a little more often.  His fastball can hit 98mph on the radar gun and if he is throwing his slider down in the zone, it's nearly unhittable. Both guys have shown that they can get outs late in games, but when the tying run is on third with only one out, I have more confidence in Hanrahan to get out of that jam.

Either guy would do a fine job in the role,  but I feel Meek would be more suited for an 8th inning role for a season, before becoming the closer. 

Let both guys get the opportunity for the rest of the season.  It will be good for both of them to have the experience and gain the confidence.  It's a good situation for the Pirates to have with two power arms at the back end of the bullpen.  Hopefully both guys continue to pitch well and it won't matter who gets the ball at the end of the game.

Friday, August 6, 2010

McDonald Dazzles in Pirates Debut

Before I write this.  I will keep trying to write fresh stuff, but I've been posting most of my Pirates work on both Bleacher Report and Sports Haze, where I make money for writing.  I will at least keep the blog going and if I can get some help, then Operation Shutdown can get back to being fresh and entertaining.  I've also been posting at Clemente at the Bat so check that out as well.

Now for today's topic.

How many times have we seen it. The Pirates trade away a veteran and get a highly thought of prospect or a young player with “potential” in a deal; only to watch these guys fall flat on their face and struggle. When the Pirates shipped closer Octavio Dotel to the Dodgers for right handed starter James McDonald, who I’ve always been very high on, and top outfield prospect Andrew Lambo, I felt that it was a steal for Pirates General manager Neil Huntington.

My next thought became “How soon is McDonald going to develop arm problems in Pittsburgh.”

McDonald was thrown right into the Pirates rotation and for a change, a Pirates acquisition delivered immediate results in a Pirates uniform. The 26-year old right hander dazzled in his Pirates debut, throwing six shutout innings, allowing only four hits and striking out eight. More importantly is that he threw strikes, walking only one, earning the victory in a 5-1 Pirates win over the Colorado Rockies.

McDonald has a very good arm. His fastball will hit 96mph and has better than above average breaking stuff. I don’t want to make too much out of just one start, but he looked great. The results were far better than what Pirates fans are accustomed to.

If ever a team needed a young pitcher to step up and be effective it’s the Pirates. Hopefully McDonald can continue upward and become a guy that can take the ball every fifth day and turn in a quality outing. There sure isn’t anyone else on the staff currently capable of doing that.

Now the Pirates also have the worst luck with young pitchers developing arm problems, a problem I point the finger at the Pirates organization. Hopefully they’ve smartened up over the years and protect the guy.

One start or not, it’s a positive sign on a team with not too many positives lately.