I don't know how much of the WBC everyone's been watching, but I just finished up watching the USA beat up on Venezuela and now Australia is giving Mexico a run for their money and I've got to say I'm pretty entertained. Anyways, I thought I'd do a quick rundown of the players the Bucs have in the WBC and how they're doing and whether or not it's actually relevant to anything.
Ray Chang- As noted here, Chang had a big hand in China's first international victory, going 3-4 with a homer in their win over Taiwan. Chang's not really a prospect; he's bounced all over the place and was demoted from AAA last year. He'll be 25 and playing for Altoona or Indianapolis next year.
Dave Davidson- The most cruelly named of the Pirates' prospects pitched one scoreless inning against the US, but he did give up two baserunners in the outing.
John Grabow- Made a quick cameo for the US against Venezuela tonight, getting Marco Scutaro to fly out on the only pitch he's throw in the tournament so far.
Paul Mildren- Gave up a run in two innings against Mexico for Australia tonight. He's been pretty bad in both KC and Florida's systems recently and isn't much of a prospect.
Eliecer Navarro- Panamanian with great Dominican Summer League numbers (at a bit of an advanced age). He pitched an inning and a third against Puerto Rico in Panama's opener and didn't look great, though a reader did write in to tell me he saw him pitch and thought his stuff looked pretty good.
And sadly, that's all we've got right now. I think Ian Snell will be Puerto Rico's next starter against the Netherlands, but I'm not positive about that. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for his next start.
WHYGAVS: If we assume there are four bench spots for position players (that's thirteen position players total on the roster, eight of which are starters and one of which is a backup catcher, which we can get to in a bit), two are certainly locked down in Eric Hinske and Ramon Vazquez. One of them will probably go to Craig Monroe or Jeff Salazar, which shouldn't be much of a choice given the circumstances. We can get to that a little later, too, but if it seems like I'm fast-forwarding the conversation, it's because I am to talk about the last roster spot. It's probably coming down to Bixler (who beats out Cruz with Cruz's injury) and Pearce and given Wednesday's piece about Pearce in the Post-Gazette (I'm guessing Pearce is headed back down to AAA.
Do you get what the Pirates are doing with Pearce at all? Last year Huntington hinted he wanted him down in Indy to work on his outfield defense, but this year it's his first base defense. We're all perfectly willing to accept that Brandon Moss, who's probably not a full-time corner outfielder in the Majors, can start full-time in right until he proves he can't, so why isn't Pearce afforded that opportunity in left? I mean, I fully understand that the best role for Pearce in the long run might be a platoon with Brandon Moss, but I don't understand what Huntington thinks a 26-year-old is going to do in his third stint in AAA. Is there some kind of attitude problem that Huntington doesn't like in Pearce? I guess it sort of seems that way, but I just don't know.
BUCS DUGOUT: I think Bixler is the best bet for that last spot. Anyway, the quote about Pearce needing to spend more time at first base was both maddening and bizarre. The Pirates might have gotten him that time last year, but he played 69 AAA games in the outfield instead.
Later in the article, Neal Huntington is quoted as saying that Pearce has a shot to win the first base job next year, which I find extremely hard to believe. It's not as if the Pirates don't have a golden opportunity for Pearce to start this year in the outfield, and I also can't believe his corner outfield defense is so bad that that's the reason he isn't starting.
I know Pearce has issues with breaking balls, and if the management were consistent in saying that's why he won't be promoted, I probably wouldn't agree with it, but I could at least understand it. But they haven't been. They're just making up reasons as they go along. Which makes me think there's something deeper going on here.
Either way, I agree with Huntington about one thing: I don't really want Pearce to be used in a big-league bench role. He'd be well suited for it, in a sense, because he can play a couple of positions and he's right-handed, but I'd rather he be treated like a prospect.
So, as for that open outfield spot, the most likely options are probably Monroe, Phillips and Salazar. (The Post-Gazette didn't mention Phillips in its last report, but he probably is in the running.) Salazar is the best and youngest of the three, but he's a lefty, so he isn't really an ideal fit on a team stacked with lefties. Still, I'll take talent over handedness any day.
Monroe is toast--his batting averages the last five years have gone .293, .277, .255, .219, .202. That's a sure sign of a player who's lost bat speed, and he's not getting that back, so I see very little upside there. Phillips probably isn't much better as a hitter, but at least he's versatile--he played first, second, third and left last year. Monroe has a lot more experience in the outfield, but that's all he plays, and he spent most of his time last year DHing. (Why do so many AL teams let players like Monroe DH for them?) So Phillips would be a more useful guy, tactically.
My order of preference is Salazar, Phillips, Monroe. Unfortunately, and judging especially from the fact that Salazar batted seventh the other day in what was essentially a minor league game against the Dutch national team, I think the Pirates probably have it in the opposite order.
I'd prefer an alignment in which both Salazar and Phillips make the team, Bixler gets the boot, and the Pirates have only Vazquez backing up the middle infield. It might lead to the occasional odd situation in which Phillips has to be used at second in a blowout, but I could live with that. Surely that's no more incongruous than Bixler pinch-hitting with the game on the line. What do you think?
WHYGAVS: You're right about Phillips, I think. I sort of forgot about him when thinking about the last bench spot. I can't see what use there would be in keeping Bixler on the bench because his bat isn't helpful as a pinch hitter and he's not good enough defensively to be a replacement for Wilson or Sanchez. The only thing the Pirates need him to be is a long-term backup for the two middle infield spots and he can do that without taking up a roster spot.
Maybe the question we need to be asking is what happens to these guys if they don't make the team? I assume Monroe will turn down an assignment to AAA, but Phillips and Salazar might not. Keeping Monroe for any reason at all seems like an extraordinarily bad idea to me, but with him hitting the ball pretty well I'm afraid that it might not be that simple.
When it comes down to it, Salazar is just a lot more interesting than the typical run of the mill sort of guys we usually see (guys like ... CRAIG MONROE!) competing for the last outfield spot since I do agree that Pearce needs at-bats, even though Huntington's handling of him is infuriating, there's not really any reason he shouldn't make the team. If we then take the last spot as Phillips vs. Bixler, well, Phillips is a whole lot more useful to a big league club off the bench than Bixler is.
As an aside, Hinske, Vazquez, Salazar, and Phillips would actually make a disproportionately awesome bench. When does a 67-win team ever put together a bench like that? Unfortunately, I get a sense that we're probably closer to Hinske, Vazquez, Monroe, and Bixler, which is much less awesome.
When it comes to the backup catcher, is there any doubt Jaramillo's getting that spot? It seems like he's stronger defensively, we know Russell likes him because of their prior connection and I don't think Huntington would've traded for him after already acquiring Diaz unless he was pretty high on his ability. The two seem pretty interchangable to me, so I guess I don't really have a preference for how it plays out.
BUCS DUGOUT: Regarding the potential of a Hinske/Vazquez/Salazar/Phillips/catcher bench, that would be a much better bench than we're used to seeing. A couple of points here, though (and yeah, I know you were just making an aside):
1. We're used to some really bad benches. Andy Phillips is nothing to get excited about; he only seems exciting when you're expecting Luis Rivas and get him instead.
2. In the recent past, when the Pirates have had very good bench players, it's usually been because they were better than the starting players. I'm thinking particularly of Randall Simon starting ahead of Matt Stairs and Craig Wilson in 2003, Simon ahead of Wilson and Chris Stynes ahead of Rob Mackowiak in 2004, Jeromy Burnitz ahead of Wilson and Joe Randa ahead of Freddy Sanchez in 2006, Ronny Paulino ahead of Ryan Doumit and Chris Duffy ahead of Nate McLouth in 2007, and so on. I could do this all day.
My point is that while it's true that the Pirates have the potential for a better bench than usual, it only looks good because they're probably not going to start the right players. Hinske and Salazar, at least, are markedly better than Nyjer Morgan, at least as corner outfielders. Put Hinske or Salazar in the lineup and Morgan on the bench, and suddenly it doesn't look so good.
As for the backup catcher spot, yes, I'd be surprised if Jaramillo didn't win it. He and Diaz are an interesting pair of players--they're very similar young defense-first types who came over in trades for players the Pirates didn't want anymore. Jaramillo seems a bit better at both defense and hitting, and he was the one acquired most recently, so he'll probably get the job.
WHYGAVS: And THEN you had to go and remind me the Pirates are going to start a left fielder with a career .365 slugging percentage in the minor leagues.
So, since we've started this discussion the Post-Gazette has published an article in which Neal Huntington makes it sound like Craig Monroe is the very clear favorite over Salazar for the backup outfield spot, mostly because Monroe is right-handed. Of course, so is Hinske, Phillips/Bixler/whoever, as well as Jaramillo/Diaz. If Monroe makes the club, that leaves only Vazquez as a left-handed bat on the bench. (Ed. Of course, this statement is moot because Hinske is left-handed. But I'm keeping the last part of the statement because it holds true anyways, keeping a crappy player instead of a potentially non-crappy one because one is right-handed is stupid) I like Huntington and I mostly like what he's done so far, but some of his rationale this off-season is driving me a little insane.
John Perrotto also had a story Thursday that makes it sound like Phillips has a good chance of making the club and in his morning link-dump, Dejan Kovacevic (who never wastes words) sounds like he agrees. So if I had to predict the Opening Day bench right now, I guess it seems like we're looking at Vazquez, Monroe, Phillips, Hinske, and Jaramillo.
The Pirates have played more than a week's worth of spring training games and now the loss of WBC players obscures the meanings of the results even more, but there's at least a few things that we can say with relative confidence.
- Donnie Veal's control has looked pretty good so far. I think he's getting a roster spot, so it's nice to see he's pitching well.
- Andy LaRoche is 4-for-8. Honestly, after last year, I'd be happy if he were 4-for-8 against a pitching machine.
- Pedro Alvarez has caught up after missing time and being out of shape in mini-camp.
The funny part about the spring is when a team like the Pirates starts out 6-1, everyone says, "I know it doesn't mean anything, but I'd rather they be 6-1 than 1-6." I've always thought that statement was kind of funny, because it's not really true. I mean, sure, it's nice to feel like they're not embarrassing themselves in spring training games, but these games really don't mean anything. They're 6-1 now, but will that fact keep people from being more upset when they start the real season out 1-6?
That said, I was totally serious about the "Grapefruit League Champs" shirts if the Pirates stay in first until the season starts. And I'm sorry for the low volume of posts this week, but my brother is in town and as you might have noticed, I've done a ton of WBC stuff for FanHouse this week.
I suppose I should've mentioned this earlier, but if any WHYGAVS readers are in Bradenton at any point this spring and have pictures, stories, etc. that you want to share, I'd love for you to either post them in the forum (I'd actually prefer this, register for the forum here), or send them along to me. I can't be in Bradenton this spring and I know a lot of fans are in the same boat, so I'd be happy to be an outlet for first hand stories from camp.
I got an e-mail from reader Jeff Bobek yesterday who took in the 2-1 win over the Reds a few days ago and he had a few interesting observations:
First of all, nothing was more interesting that watching Kerrigan get Zack Duke warmed up. Kerrigan stood by the plate with a bat in his hand, calling out pitch counts to Duke and moving a 4-inch wide stripe to different parts of the plate as a target. Every single out-ball-strike count had a strategy and a placement. Duke was clearly a model pupil - when the game began, he was terrific through three and was hitting the spots that Kerrigan had him working on before the game.
The other pitcher who impressed was Evan Meek. While he was taking his warmup tosses, my wife turned to me and said "who's that guy, he has the easiest motion ever." He had great control and was sharp in getting the save.
While it didn't show up in the box score, the one pitcher who looked overmatched was Dan McCutchen. Every ball put in play on him went more than 300 feet (including a homer, a double off the wall, and all three outs). Seriously, he gave up about 1800 feet on five pitches, all of which easily could have been home runs.
McLouth and the other McCutcheon made two insane plays in the outfield, McLouth stretching out for a catch and A-Cutch gunning down a runner at the plate with a one-hop perfect throw. Having watched McCutcheon play a few games for Altoona, I still have yet to see him put a ball in play with any authority, but this was the best Pirate throw I have ever seen in person. in 40 years of attending games. (Sorry, I didn't see Clemente's throw in person in '71.) And Jason Jaramillo gunned down two runners, he appears to have the quickest home to 2nd time of any recent catcher.He also gave me two great pictures to share. One is of Pedro Alvarez, which Jeff gave to me with this caption, "Pedro was greatly accomodating with the fans after the game; he has a million-watt smile and my guess is the fans will soon forget the post-draft debacle."
And the other is a nice shot of three Pirate legends, Bill Mazeroski, Kent Tekulve, and Bill Virdon.
A big thanks to Jeff for sharing the report and pictures!
Today's headline that I never expected to see
Take THAT, vaguely placed European country that my terrible American sense of geography always confuses with Denmark!
Can we put a pennant up that says "Grapefruit League Champs" if we keep this up? I at least want a t-shirt.
There's an interesting piece about Neil Walker at Pirates.com today that examines the weird place that the organization has put him in this spring with Andy LaRoche ahead of him and Pedro Alvarez behind him. I know that we've talked about this before, but this sentence jumps out at me:
He spent the 2008 season in Triple-A, marking his full season at the highest Minor League level. And, although his batting average suffered from some early season adjustments, Walker said he felt that by the end of the season he matched up with the experienced players at the level.
Yet a season that began with Walker hitting just .200 during the season's first month was seen by him as an overall significant step forward. Why? Because by the end of it, Walker felt he had proven to himself that he matched up with the high Minor League talent that he faced.
It's nice that Walker feels that he settled in by the end of the year with Indy last year, but here are his monthly splits:
- April: .200/.263/.376
- May: .245/.264/.453
- June: .248/.280/.515
- July: .230/.257/.330
- August: .275/.331/.394
And his power completely dried up, with three of his sixteen homers coming in July and August. That's "matched up with the experienced players at the level?" Really? Walker was overwhelmed at AAA last year and the only part of his game that didn't suffer was his power. That's not really a great profile for a hitter.
So what's the solution? I'm not really surprised to hear that his glove can handle third base, I saw him a couple times in 2007 when he moved there and it was obvious he had the raw tools to handle the position. So do now that he's comfortable, do you move him again to second? I know Cory's suggested it and it's crossed my mind in the past as well. His bat would certainly play better there, but the team loves Shelby Ford at second and he's honestly not that far behind Walker as a prospect at this point.It's still too early to write Walker off completely, but just barely. He could adapt to AAA this year and Andy LaRoche could tank again and we really wouldn't have a problem. Still, even right now it's easy to see where he's going to slip between the cracks if he doesn't improve pretty dramatically this year.
DK's reporting some unexpected news today: John Grabow's been selected to replace Brian Fuentes on the US WBC roster for as long as Fuentes is out with "family issues." That's likely the first round, so after the US advances Grabow will be back with the Pirates.
Immediately, two thoughts come to mind when I read this news. The first is that I'm happy for Grabow, who's come a long way from back when he was John Grablow in 2004 and 2005. He's a solid reliever that's toiled in relative obscurity for his whole career and he deserves a chance to pitch on a bigger stage. This immediately leads me to my second thought which was, "a bigger stage for Grabow is a showcase for a trade." It sounds like Grabow gave Huntington a chance to sign off on this move and he did, and I'm guessing he did that with this in mind.
Of course that's all speculation on my part, but it is cool to see a Pirate selected to the American team.
I wanted to have a longer post up today, but the power's been out in my apartment for about 12 hours. That means no internet, which means no WHYGAVS.
There's a few interesting discussion points about the future of baseball and internet media that I've seen the last couple days. With the news that the Rocky Mountain News is closing up its print operation, Dave Cameron wrote a piece for FanGraphs about how the move towards more open and free media is good for baseball fans:
Much like the open source movement in software, there’s been a revolution in the baseball community. The best content available isn’t being written in books or newspapers, or even behind subscription walls that require payments to access - the best knowledge available is free to everyone who wants it.
It's an interesting point so long as you don't misinterpret it "Bloggers > Beat Writers." I certainly don't think that WHYGAVS could ever replace the service that Dejan gives to Pirate fans and since Dave is an excellent team blogger at USS Mariner, I assume he feels the same way. But one point (and it's not entirely my own, though I can't for the life of me remember where I read it to give the original author credit) that needs to be made is that the internet as a medium is in its infancy. Think about television: it existed relatively unchanged from the late 1930s when it was concieved until the 1980s when cable changed it forever. Now consider that the internet has only really been used as a form of communication for about ten years and blogs have had an impact for less than that. Nothing good ever stays free.
The Bucs are rolling at 4-1 in the spring right now. It's meaningless, but somehow it's also better than 1-4.
I'm going to be running WBC previews at FanHouse all week and they should start popping up in the sidebar soon. And the MLB Video Previews also start up tomorrow at FanHouse, so keep an eye out for that.
Despite my narrow loss in the Elite Eight, I will continue to link to Sean's Ramblings for the Final Four of the Pittsburgh Blog Tournament. Four good blogs left, including two fellow Bloguins (Bloguinites? Bloguinians?)
Bucsburgh has a question for everyone in the forum, which you should all sign up for and use.
That's all I have for links (for now), but if the weather breaks (it's cold and actually snowing) I'm hoping to get to a UNC baseball game sometime soon to see potential future Bucco Dustin Ackley in action on campus here.