Friday, March 25, 2005

Bucs win

Sure it was only Tampa Bay. It's about time to start kicking ass on a daily basis. The Bucs really need a fast start for 2005. No bumbling out of the gate as they did last year.

Littlefield Q & A

Ed Eagle interviews the GM. Nothing controversial or surprising in there.

If you've been living in a cave, well, ... I hope it's a dry one.

Roster update

It's all here in Dejan's notebook.

Castillo to right

Dejan Kovacevic anticipates a big year from Jose Castillo.

Management appears to want to keep Castillo from getting too comfortable.

He was assigned to Caracas of the Venezuelan winter league with specific instruction to hit more to right field, the opposite way for him and the way the Pirates believe would be best to fulfill his power potential. Again, he exceeded expectations by hitting .364 with 10 home runs in 54 games. His average ranked second in the league, as did his .598 slugging percentage.

On top of that, he fulfilled the Pirates' order to hit to right.

"It felt like everything I was hitting in winter ball was going to right field, even the home runs," Castillo said. "It felt easy."

Had they kept Castillo in the minors last year, he'd be a much-ballyhooed Top Prospect this year. That's my guess.

Steelers on juice

More evidence Jim Haslett in one of the worst coaches ever.

This steroids thing is driving me nuts. I try to ignore it, but it won't go away. For example, the latest issue of Sports Illustrated is wall-to-wall self-righteous indignation.

Anyone with a smattering of knowledge about the history of drugs knows that their effects are as Constructed as they are Real. And anyone who is seriously concerned about drug use and abuse knows this, too: our contemporary, irrational excitement about the Power of Drugs significantly promotes experimentation with them. Especially among the youth.

Here is what happened. A couple of politicians, in their bid to distract the country from the horrors of war, hold their breath until they turn red in the face. Then they point at San Francisco, a much-loathed city throughout much of the country, and say, "Look! A Black man on Drugs! Ruining Baseball!" The mainstream television networks, also eager to avoid addressing the horrors of war, cover the event like a Tsunami has claimed California. And chuckleheads like Rick Reilly seize the opportunity to present themselves as champions of Old-Fashioned Respect for Honesty and the Truth.

This is not about Cheating. If it was, Gaylord Perry would have been dragged from Cooperstown years ago.

This is not about Drugs. If it was, amphetamine use and alcohol abuse would be subjects that guys like Rick Reilly also take seriously.

You can draw your own conclusions. But those are mine.

Baseball and golf

Jim Brockman of the Bradenton Herald considers whether or not golf is good for your baseball.

What I want to know is, do any of the Bucs play disc golf?

Dave Parker

Picture found by Joey G.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Coaches meeting

According to Ed Eagle in this report, the coaches are meeting right now to make decisions they won't announce (or finalize, I guess) until early next week.

Joe Rutter also reports on what might be happening as we speak read.

Duffy still here, pt. 2

Ed Eagle reports.

Albie leaves

Loser. See you later, big guy. I'd be all about going to the minors if I had a good chance to pitch for Pittsburgh later in the season. I shit you not.

His curveball is a real hammer pitch

John Perrotto writes about the boy wonder.

The scouts who watched that game [against the Phillies last Friday] walked away raving about Duke.

"There is no doubt in my mind that kid can pitch in the major leagues now," said a scout from a National League organization. "He has the stuff to get big-league guys out and his curveball is a real hammer pitch. He has the poise. He has the mound presence. I really don't know what more he could learn in the minor leagues."

Duke's fastball reaches 92 mph but the curve and changeup are his best pitches. And it is that poise and mound presence that has impressed his teammates this spring.

Make no promises now and give him the job a few weeks later. Dave Williams, AAA. Ryan Vogelsong, grab a mop. Odds are that both those guys will get their turn.

Let's win some games. Let's sell some tickets. Put the guy with the real hammer pitch on the mound.

Bay better

Kovacevic reports.

First manager fired

Ken Rosenthal looks foolish.

The Ladies Man

Dejan Kovacevic brings the Q & A.

Sub-par power and poor on-base skills

We're asking about Juan Encarnacion? Why? In 3339 career ABs, Juan E. went .265/.311/.439, while drawing 199 BBs and striking out 620 times! For a corner OF, that's putrid. He's been even worse in PNC, puking up 51 ABs of .196/.226/.353. As if those stats weren't damning enough, listen to what the experts have to say:

2005 BP: "The Marlins made a good decision to let him go in the fall of '03, waching as Dan Evans signed him to a silly two-year deal. ... Encarnacion looks good in a uniform, plays right field well, and occasionally hits a mistake a long way. He's also one of the worst regular right fielders in baseball."

2004 BP: "Already a problem at a corner outfield spot with sub-par power and poor on-base skills, a nagging shoulder injury he kept under wraps further hurt Encarnacions's production ... If that's what passes for a a Dodger offensive upgrade- at two years, $8 million, no less - expect more punchless flailing at Chavez Ravine."

2000: "Prior to last year, 17 players in major-league history had turned the ugly trick of having no more than 20 walks and at least 100 strikeouts. Five of them were 24 or younger: John Bateman (1963), David Green (1984), Cory Snyder (1986), Benito Santiago (1987) and Craig Paquette (1993)...Encarnacion was also a disappointment defensively, and his once-limitless ceiling now appears as low as Pat Buchanan's presidential hopes."

I agree with these guys. Juan stinks. Like Derek Bell. What is DL thinking? Please don't do it, DL.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Will Carroll Health Report

Will Carroll, who is not a doctor but sometimes sounds like one, reviews the state of the Pirates' health for Baseball Prospectus. It's premium so you won't see it if you don't subscribe. No real surprises there, but I'd forgotten how much Dave Williams (the only red light) has struggled with injury.

In other Prospectus news, I see they repaired their team depth chart today. Bobby Hill is no longer presented as in line to receive most of the playing time at second base. They still have Rob Mackowiak only managing 165 plate appearances, however, which is just wrong. They have Mesa with a 5+ ERA, a 1.57 WHIP, and 36 saves. I doubt that's possible but respect their attempt to hedge. He had like a 3.25 ERA last year and sports a career WHIP in the 1.4s. Mesa with nearly a 1.6 WHIP is not going to save 36 games, no matter how many opps he's given.

Dejan returns

Two good pieces from Kovacevic today. In the jobs open essay, he runs down the jobs that are, uh, open. Pretty self-explanatory I think. Note this:

First baseman Graham Koonce, the top power-hitter in Class AAA two years ago while in the Oakland system, is hitting .385 with two home runs in 13 at-bats. His best chance of making the Pirates is for management to buck recent tradition and go with an 11-man pitching staff to keep 14 position players. That has not been ruled out and might even be the preferred path.
I'm all in favor of going with an eleven-man staff. We have some rubber-armed relievers and no one that needs babying -- except maybe the old man Mesa. I don't like seeing him on back-to-back days. With all the off days in April, I'd rather carry an extra bat and Mac can go crazy shuffle boogie on the Brewers and Cubs. If he substitutes enough, we can destroy their pitching staffs.

The other fine offering from Dejan Kovacevic was his notebook. He tells us how the pitch Ryan greased down the middle for a Gabe Gross home run, was a split-finger fastball, the same one he's working to develop this spring and, if I remember right, was throwing also in winter ball.

What I want to know is, does Ryan have a rubber arm? Can he be an eleventh-pitcher innings-eater? If so, that would be pretty valuable.

No Andy Capp

Brian O'Neill: mid-season form.

He's right. That's all good.

I thought last year was a pretty good year. I pretty much blanked out on the end of the season - the Steelers can do that to you - but I thought it was pretty good overall. Lots of highs and lows, plenty of drama, though maybe too much farce. 2005 will be better.

'79 Series Trophy for sale

No shit. What would you, as a fan, rather have -- the Bucs spend $1 mil to get Juan Encarnacion to play here for one year, or the Bucs spend $1 mil (or less) to purchase the stinking trophy?

I vote trophy.

Duffy still here

John Perrotto writes up the strong spring of Chris Duffy.

While Duffy has hit .298 and stolen 117 bases in four pro seasons, he has really made his mark in the field. Baseball America picked him as the best defensive outfielder in the Eastern League last summer.

"We haven't had many players like him (in the organization) the last few years," Pirates scouting director Ed Creech said. "He can really go get the ball in center field. He's an outstanding defensive player, the type of guy who could win a Gold Glove at the big-league level some day.

"He also has a chance to be a good top-of-the-order hitter with his speed, especially if he continues to improve as a hitter."

Plate discipline remains his glaring flaw. This is a familiar story.

On a related subject, I wonder how Matt Lawton's arm has looked out there. Is he giving up a ton of doubles and triples, as the Indians predicted after he was dealt? My guess is that offense is probably twice as important as defense. If Duffy's fielding is worlds better than any other centerfield candidates, he still has to hit nearly as well as the other candidates.

Last year the Bucs promoted Jose Castillo a bit ahead of schedule and stuck it out with him. Before that, they did the same with Jack Wilson. If you don't expect to contend this year, maybe you consider investing a year in Chris Duffy. Let him hit eighth and expect about nothing from his bat for the first half of the season? It could be an investment that pays dividends in 2006.

Then what do we do with Tike? Trade him to the Astros?

Duffy is to Redman as Duke is to Vogelsong. A cost of promoting a young guy is giving up on one of your old guys. Vogelsong can go to the pen and pitch long relief, so perhaps the analogy is not perfect. If Duffy joins Lawton, Bay, Wilson, and Mackowiak, Redman would be something like a fifth outfielder, unless Ward fails to make the team, we're planning on starting Mackowiak often in the infield, or someone looks to start the year on the disasbled list.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Battling his mechanical thing

Ed Eagle reports on today's game. Vogelsong pitched well again.

Vogelsong, who is one of three pitchers vying for the final opening in the Pittsburgh starting rotation, credits his improved command to an adjustment to his windup that keeps his left shoulder more in line with the catcher during the delivery.

"I'm still battling with my mechanical thing," said Vogelsong. "When I stay with the change, I throw the ball where I want to."

Go Ryan. Time is not up for him.

Tigers tomorrow.

Conine watch

I don't know what the Bucs might see in Juan Encarnacion. Maybe the D'Rays will offer B.J. Upton for Rob Mackowiak and Littlefield feels desperate for corner outfield depth. With Duffy looking good, and Redman looking better, why do we need an Encarnacion? I thought we had learned our lesson about proven veterans of this low (but average, and therefore, not bad) quality. Does Ward look that bad at first? Will there be no time for Craig Wilson in the outfield?

A Mack-a-whack trade would shock me since he's the definition of flexibility. And that's the cornerstone of the current approach.

Anyway, for what it is worth, two reports out of Florida suggest that Marlins fans should keep an eye on Jeff Conine's shoulder. If he's good to go, it appears, then the Marlins return Littlefield's call about Encarnacion.

Principal Torres

John Perrotto on Salomon Torres's Dominican academy. We've seen that news before, I forget where. I'm too lazy to search the archives right now.

Still, I'd much rather read about this than learn what Jason Kendall thinks of the Pirates' chances in 2005. I mean, whatever.

I'm not mainly a fan of the players. I'm mainly a fan of the team. And it's easy to be that way when you have zero interaction with the players. Judging from all the Kendall stories I've seen in the papers over the last few weeks, I'd guess that the beat writers miss Kendall. I don't, and I'm willing to bet that most Pirate fans don't miss him, either. It's not like he slid into home to score the winning run in some NLCS or hit four home runs in a World Series for us.

Don't get me wrong--the players are great. We're lucky to have the ones that we do. I'm sure I'd be all about drinking beer with any one of them should we meet in some bar. But baseball is a team sport. I don't wish Jason Kendall anything but the best. Same goes for J.J. Davis, Jose Guillen, Bronson Arroyo, and so forth. All the players are great. But it's the progress of the team that holds my attention.

Burnett and Van Benschoten

John Perrotto on these guys.

"Obviously, it's not the best thing in the world to lose a year," Van Benschoten said. "You've got other talented pitchers coming up through the farm system. The competition is only going to get stronger for major-league jobs in this organization. Hopefully, I won't get passed by."
No worries, JVB. Be the best pitcher you can be and there will be no getting passed by.

Dull quotes

One thousand words on Craig Wilson's hair, by John Perrotto.

Snell responds

John Perrotto's story on the cuts contains a number of interesting bits.

Even if you doubt Snell can make it as a starter, keep him in the rotation. Our disrespect for the short guy is gathering notoriety. This makes him more attractive in trade, since it provides a rationale for opposing teams to see him as underrated and neglected by our coaches. Let them print "Save Ian Snell!" t-shirts.

Plus. knock on wood, but for grace of God we need him to make starts for us.

100 on opening day

Thank you John Perrotto, for reading my mind and answering that question I had about how the Bucs are getting the starters ready.

Perez threw 60 pitches Sunday and the Pirates hope to stretch him out to 75 on Friday when they play Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg. Perez would then have a pitch count of 90 in his final spring start, March 30 against Minnesota in Bradenton, putting him on pace to raise the limit to 100 on opening day.

This from his version of the Ollie-will-start-on-Opening-Day story.

Some injury updates

Joe Rutter has them.

More Duke

In Joe Rutter's report for the Tribune-Review, he explains the pros and cons of breaking camp with Zach Duke.

Duke has been the most impressive pitcher in camp recently, giving up one run in his past eight innings. Weighing against him is his status as a non-roster player. Duke doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until November, so the Pirates won't have to waste his first of three options by sending him to Class AAA Indianapolis.

If Duke makes the team and it is later decided he needs to return to the minors, he would exhaust that first option.

In addition, the clock would begin on Duke's major-league service time, which would be a factor in a few years when he is eligible for arbitration.

Williams has one minor-league option remaining, and Vogelsong none.

I forgot about that not being on the 40-man roster. Either way, if he sticks, we want him to stick.

As for keeping him down so we can save money three years from now, I can't believe that should amount to much of a consideration. There will be a new CBA three years from now, for one. For two, it's silly to count chickens so far in advance. Those chickens are not even yet glimmers in the eyes of a rooster, because that rooster himself is not yet a glimmer in the eye of another rooster.

More than anything, the Bucs need to win now. If they want to sell tickets in May, they should do everything they can to win in April.

If Duke is ready to go, every day that they keep him in the minors is lost money. And probably more lost money than they would need to shell out when he gets to arbitration--if he gets to arbitration. 2008 is a loooong time from now in baseball years.

Duffy sticks around

He didn't go down in the last round of cuts. Joe Rutter's report on the same here.

Nice AP photo of Mr. Duffy here.