Until proven otherwise, I am going to assume that the Pirates are never going to ever win another baseball game. Charlie Morton and Adam Wainwright at 7:05 tonight in what's certain to be a maddening affair.
Didn't see last night's game and don't feel the need to offer up anything on another loss, but I did see that the Pirates announced Zack Dodson's signing along with Colton Cain's last night, and that's worth mentioning. The reports say that Cain signed for $1.15 million (that sound you hear is Bud Selig groaning over a seven figure bonus for an eighth round pick) and Dodson is signing for somewhere between Cain's number and Trent Stephenson's $350,000.
This means the Pirates have signed three of the four high school arms they nabbed in the top ten rounds that had fallen because they were expected to be hard signs. That leaves Zach von Rosenberg, thought to be the best of the four. Looking at the money given to Cain, I'm guessing that if the Pirates don't sign him, money won't be the reason. Von Rosenberg is from Louisiana and committed to LSU, probably the most storied college baseball program in America. It's entirely possible he'll want to play there no matter what the Pirates offer him, especially with the Pirates being the Pirates. Even if Von Rosenberg doesn't sign, getting three out of four of these guys is impressive for Huntington, I think.
Whatever happens with Von Rosenberg, the Pirates are still maintaining that they plan to match their draft spendings from last year. They've got a ways to go to do so, but there are still several guys out there picked later in the draft that should come with a hefty price tag (especially college juniors coming off of bad seasons like Inman and den Dekker). There were also some high school pitchers picked much later (Matt Dermody comes to mind) that seemed to be fallbacks if Cain, Stevenson, Dodson, and Von Rosenberg didn't sign. We might see some of their names pop up as well as August 17th approaches.
Five game losing streak, King Albert the Pirate Killer, Chris Carpenter, and the Cardinals in general just doesn't give me much of a positive outlook for the evening.
I'd wanted to make a longer post today, but I think that's going to wait until Monday. Luckily there's enough links out there for me make some kind of post this morning.
Think it's important to re-post this, in case it got lost in last night's recap. Eighth round pick Colton Cain signed last night. He was one of the Bucs' big targets. You can read WTM's write-up on him here.
Also, a good story from SI about Gift Ngoepe. He's currently got one of the craziest triple-slash lines I can recall seeing; he's hitting .261/.375/.295 with Bradenton right now. That on-base percentage is pretty encouraging for a kid who I assume hasn't played at a very high level of competition to this point in his life. Still, damn, I can't recall ever recall seeing someone with a slugging percentage that's eighty points below his OBP.
If we start at the beginning, I liked what I saw from Kevin Hart tonight. He flashed a nice fastball that sat around 93 or 94 (and topped out at 96) and seemed to spot his slider very well. He seemed to mostly use those two pitches, but I think he has a two-seamer that he was mixing in with the four-seamer and that was helping keep hitters off balance. I thought he caught a bad break in the fifth when he threw a very good two-strike slider to Alex Romero, only to see Romero dig it out and single through the infield to drive in a run. If that run doesn't score, I think his line for the night ends up looking pretty good. He needs to work on his changeup, but it was an encouraging start.
The rest of the game ... was not so encouraging. I mean, I guess you could take it as a good sign that we made it to the 12th inning with our bullpen, but I suppose I'm just not that optimistic. Matt Capps was very good tonight, but no one else really was. Steven Jackson pitched himself back to Indianapolis after allowing five runs in the 12th, but a poor showing by Jeff Karstens and a mediocre one by Jesse Chavez were the reasons we were in the 12th inning to start with. These sorts of things don't actually matter to the Pirates in the long-run, which is the only thing that does matter at the moment, but they do tend to make for a baseball team that's difficult to watch.
On the brighter side of things, Colton Cain signed with the team sometime yesterday, which means they've nailed down two of the three highly-touted high school arms they drafted in June, with Zach von Rosenberg the remaining one and guys like Jeff Inman, Matt den Dekker, and Zack Dodson forming a second tier of players the Pirates would probably like to have signed in the next 10 days.
I'm excited for Kevin Hart's Pirate debut tonight for several reasons:
- He's probably better than Virgil Vasquez.
- He might actually be a decent pitcher.
- Because of his last name, a large percentage of this site's readership will make wrestling jokes about Kevin "the Hitman" Hart. We've been missing this since Jason "HBK" Michaels left.
After Jesse Chavez got the first out in the eighth inning, but before John Russell overmanaged him out of the game in favor of Joel Hanrahan, I saw the following message come through my Twitter stream from the FanGraphs account that tweets real-time win probability updates during Pirate games (which is exceptionally cool and something I would recommend to everyone with a Twitter account):
2-1, 80 % to Win, Top 8, 1 Outs, ___, Miguel Montero ground out off pitcher Jesse Chavez.
I saw that and immediately thought, "80%? Huh. That's bulls--t. If we don't score again, we're losing this game." This is the second time in three days that I "knew" the Pirates would lose a game when it would be incredibly improbable for them to do so, and I'm probably not the only Pirate fan that feels this way.
This is not an indictment of win probability; it's an indictment of the Pirates. It's not just that they're routinely losing games that 80+% of baseball teams in history would win; they're losing these games with an ease and predictability that's almost disturbing. I'm standing by my assertion that this team won't lose 100 games in 2009, but nights like tonight make me worry that they might make it interesting.
On the bright side, Andy LaRoche homered tonight and you're all going to be subjected to a rant about how people have no idea how to value the Jason Bay trade in the very near future. So as bad as the baseball is, there's always that to look forward to.
Since the trade deadline, I've had a bunch of thoughts bouncing around in my head about the Pirates. They kind of vaguely relate to each other, and so I'm going to use this one post to round all of them up.
There's been a lot of talk today about Jim Callis' post-deadline re-ranking of the Pirates' top ten prospects. Callis was pretty blunt in his assessment of the system and I think some people took that as a condemnation of Huntington's work:
There are no obvious cornerstones to build around other than Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, and amassing depth in complementary players isn't going to lead the Pirates to their first winning season since 1992.
We ranked Pittsburgh 18th among the 30 farm systems coming into 2009, and that evaluation doesn't figure to change dramatically when we evaluate organization talent again this offseason.
Stemming from this (and from several other places) is a general consensus that the Pirates got a lot more quantity than quality at this year's trade deadline. They certainly did, but I wish people wouldn't say that with such disdain. Most of the quantity the Pirates acquired this year was of the pitching variety. Most of the guys probably won't amount to much, but it seemed to me that Huntington focused pretty strongly on power arms (Ascanio, Hart, Lorin, Adcock, Morton, and Locke) that could break out or sinkerballers (Pribanic and Strickland) who could be underrated because of low strikeout rates that mean less to their style of pitcher.
Those guys are all guys that could end up as relievers or worse, organizational depth, but there seems to be a pretty clear method in acquiring the "quantity." Not one of those players were acquired to boost the Pirates' Baseball America ranking, they were all acquired because for one reason or another, Huntington thinks they have a chance to break out. If just one or two of these guys do, the trades become a success. With the most MLB teams operate, it's incredibly difficult to pry away a top prospect. The three best prospects the Pirates received in the trades they made this year are Jeff Locke, Gorkys Hernandez, and Tim Alderson. It shouldn't be any surpise that those players were acquired in the trades for Nate McLouth and Freddy Sanchez; the two best players the Pirates traded, and two players the acquiring teams will have for more than one year.
The other thing to keep in mind here is that some of the more interesting pieces Huntington picked up are no longer prospects. Neither Lastings Milledge nor Jeff Clement qualifies any longer, but they're both very talented players Huntington was able to snag in buy-low situations. And it's also worth noting that when Callis ranked the Pirates' system 18th last year, that was done with Andrew McCutchen still considered a "prospect." They lose him from the minor league system when next year's rankings come out, so if they rank similarly to last year it's a sign that they're bringing talent into the system.
Both the "quantity over quality" increase in organization depth and the acquisition of buy-low guys like Milledge and Clement were done to supplement the upper levels of the system while Huntington tries to establish the lower levels through the draft and international signings. It may be true that only two guys on Callis's list were acquired by Huntington through trades in 2009, but of the ten guys listed, only Brad Lincoln is more strongly associated with the Dave Littlefield era. Huntington traded for Tabata, drafted Alvarez, Sanchez, Grossman (who I think Callis sells way short), and von Rosenberg (if he signs). Of the two guys left, Rene Gayo (who's quite obviously still a huge part of the club's international operation) signed Starling Marte during the Littlefield era and while DL drafted Rudy Owens, it's the current developmental staff that's worked with him the past two seasons.
Maybe the team's Baseball America ranking hasn't improved, but that doesn't mean Huntington did a bad job at the deadline.