Friday, February 23, 2007

Cuban Linx

Today I'd like to take a more in-depth look at the two Cuban pitchers signed by the Pirates in the offseason, Yoslan Herrera, 26, and Serguey Linares, 23.

Littlefield and his crew decided to get involved in the international players market. The signing of Yoslan Herrera, Serguey Linares, and Masumi Kuwata(Japan), shows that the Pirates are willing to get into the foreign market, even if this is merely for show. I am hopeful that the signings of these two Cubans is a herald of good news for fans. The Pirates seriously lag behind other teams in scouting in Latin America and other parts of the world. If they are finally going to commit to signing some young Latinos, the Pirates will be able to replensish a depleted minor league system.

Lets look at Yoslan Herrera. Despite having not pitched for almost three years, Herrera is a very intriguing pitcher. He played in the 2004 Olympics and won a Gold Medal with the Cuban team. He is 6 foot 2, 200 pounds and throws a fastball(88-92), a plus split-finger, a changeup, a curveball, and a slider. Scouts say his velocity could jump to 90-94 once he gets into a consistent training and throwing program. Here are some quotes about Herrera.

"Herrera was nowhere near as hyped as Linares, but seemed to handle himself just fine in the tryout. His fastball was sitting between 90 and 92, and the DSL Devil Rays, who served as the whipping boys for this exhibition, were helpless against his breaking ball" - jhelfgott

"He throws strikes. That's the big thing. He has a lot of good pitches, but he knows how to locate them." Rene Gayo, scout who signed Herrera

Yoslan Herrera has the talent to play at the pro level, and will start the season, most likely, in AAA Indianapolis. He could be called up, however, if any starter or reliver goes down with an injury in the first part of the season. I expect him to be making an impact around August.

Next we will look at Serguey Linares. Linares, also a Cuban, is 23 and has been reported to throw his fastball from 97-98 miles per hour. He is six-foot-three 225 pounds, and also has sat out for sometime, a year, without pitching competitively. He will probably start the season at AA Altoona. Linares' numbers, 7-10 5.59 ERA in 37 games, with an 86/111 BB/K ratio in 162 2/3 innings. Not much else is know about this guy other than that he throws the ball very hard and very aggressively, and was the best and most highly touted Cuban pitcher at a workout in the Dominican Republic for Cuban defectors, also attended by Yoslan Herrera. Despite throwing bullets, he has little control of his pitches, unlike Herrera. However with a regular throwing schedule and Major League caliber coaches, he may be able to learn to harness his power and throw strikes.

To sum it all up, these two pitchers are low-risk, high-reward type players, and it is good to see the Pirates finally deposting money somewhere other than Nuttings bank account. I look forward to seeing how these guys progress, and I'm hopeful, to see them pitch in Pittsburgh sometime in the next few years. Linares is looked at with more reward since he is 3 years younger than Herrera, so look for him to break into the Majors in either 2008 or 2009. I would guess that Yoslan Herrera will start in AAA and could be up as soon as this season if he is successful and one of our starters goes down. But he will probably make his debut in either September, as a call-up, or in April of 2008.

3 Reasons to be Optimistic

I thought since we've had 14 years of negativity I would post my 3 reasons why we can be optimistic about this season. I will let you post the reasons to be pessimistic in the comments section.

1. The Pirates were over .500 in the second half of last season winning 35 games and losing 33. If they continue over from the end of last year, we should believe that they can play competitive baseball. The Pirates were also over .500 for the first time in the history of PNC Park. I don't mean to sound like .500 is the goal, however playing around .500 is good enough to fight to get into the playoffs as we've seen in the past few seasons. Making the playoffs is the goal, not playing .500.
2. The Pirates pitchers have progressed and Maholm, Duke, and Snell have all had a full season in the majors and learned what they need to do to be successful at the top level. Gorzelanny got some starts as well, and is a lock for a position in the rotation. If these pitchers all pitch the way we know they are capable of pitching, they could help lead the Pirates to a winning season.
3. The addition of Adam LaRoche to the lineup should provide some much needed pop to a flat offense. The Pirates were last in the league in runs scored per game last season and to be successful they must improve their offense. The addition of LaRoche, the continued development of our young players, and consistency from Bay and Sanchez should provide a boost to the offense.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Can we Win in These (or Anything for That Matter)?

I haven't wrote anything on the Rats since Bob and I have started this thing back up because I'm both obsessed with the Pens and Bob does quite a bit of writing on the Rats. Anyway I thought I should give my two cents on the state of the Pirates (and holy God look at those alternate jerseys I mean who could've possibly have come up with these. They are just as bad if not worse than the Braves alternates), now unquestionably the worst pro sports team in town!

Alright now let's get something straight right off the bat here, I by no means hate the Pirates. I call them the Rats, make fun of them constantly, and have little to no confidence in the team, but I still love them. I guess they are kind of like a girl that you really want to break up with but you just can't pull that trigger. I'm just fed up with the losing as everyone else is I'm sure, they are still however my favorite baseball team.

Ok let's check out the lineup Bob brought up a couple weeks back:

His Lineup
1.(L) Duffy CF
2.(R) Sanchez 2B
3.(R) Bay LF
4.(L) LaRoche 1B
5.(R) Nady RF
6.(R) Paulino C
7.(R) Bautista 3B
8.(R) Wilson SS

Tracy's Lineup
1.(L) Duffy CF
2.(R) Wilson SS
3.(R) Sanchez 3B
4.(L) LaRoche 1B
5.(R) Bay LF
6.(R) Nady RF
7.(R) Paulino C
8.(R) Castillo 2B

I'll be honest with you, I'm ready to hire Bob as the next Pirates skipper. I can't really understand Tracy's line-up. Jack Wilson just isn't a #2 hitter, Freddy Sanchez is. I have no clue why you wouldn't have our best hitter (Bay) in the 3 spot protected by our new power hitter (LaRoche) making teams afraid to walk Bay. Instead you have Nady behind him and frankly he's nothing an opposing manager is going to be afraid of. Overall the line-up does look better (despite the fucked order), although I think it really hinges on several things.

(1) Duffy has to be consistent and get his speed on the base paths. He is probably one of the faster major leaguers I've ever seen and that includes Jose Reyes.

(2) Jack Wilson has to find a happy medium between last years shit numbers and his all-star numbers from '05.

(3) Bay has to be protected and has to hit in the 3 or 4. To have the teams best hitter hitting in the 5 spot makes absolutely no sense (but let's face it Tracy is pretty goddamn good at making moves that make little sense).

(4) Castillo has to take a couple steps in the right direction. It looked like he was sleep walking through most of last year. I've heard the Manny Ramirez comparisons as far as personality goes with Jose and let's face it, he's no Man Ram so he sure as fuck doesn't get to act like the first Dominican space cadet . I'd pull the plug on him real early, if not in spring training if he doesn't
get off to a decent start. I have no problem seeing Bautista at 3B and Sanchez at 2B if Slow Poke Rodriguez can't cut it.

On to the rotation, where 4 out of the 5 spots are all but written in stone. Snell, Duke, Gorzelanny, and Maholm are our one through four starters. Frankly this is the only part of the team I'm Penguins level excited about. Seeing this staff mature and get better will be exciting to watch over the next several years (assuming they all stay...). Snell is looking the most promising in my opinion, towards the end of last season he seemed to have stuff no one could hit at times (I'm thinking of a game against the Mets but can't remember much else). As Bob commented a couple weeks ago Gorzelanny could mature into our ace this season, but I'm sticking with Snell (assuming he matures a bit more). Of course, we have to pray for rain on the fifth day with Armas bringing up the rear of the rotation.

The bullpen, despite the loss of our marquee closer Gonzo, is still in pretty good shape. Apparently the only thing the front office is really any good at is building a decent bullpen. Torres should be solid in the closer role (provided his arm doesn't fall off with all the innings he's been seeing the past couple seasons). Capps should be able to come in and be effective if Torres fails. We also signed notable head case Danny Kolb, who was lights out with the Brew Crew two years ago, but was about as good as the bird shit on my car last year with the Braves, so who knows about that guy.

And now to my favorite part of the team to rip on and the most frustrating by far. If you need any of my opinions on Jim "Dick" Tracy or
Littlefuck please check my posts from last summer. I hate both these guys. Bob and I could do a better job running the Pirates and the sick part is that I'm 100 % serial (you need to watch more South Park if you don't get the reference). They are both completely inept (save the Gonzo - LaRoche trade). Just compare the line-up Dick put out with the one that Bob and I both came up with immediately after the LaRoche trade without conferring with one another what so ever.

Anyway, my prediction for the upcoming year is 80 wins. Maybe we will get a winner next year?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Neil Walker moves to third base

Dave Littlefield announced yesterday that top Pirates prospect Neil Walker will be playing third base exclusively in the upcoming season. There has been much talk of this move the past few seasons, and it seems many people were waiting for it. The move, apparently, is because Paulino is seen as the catcher of the future, and the belief is that by moving him to third, his bat will get to Pittsburgh sooner.

This move says a lot to Pirates fans. First, Ronny Paulino is seen by management as the long-term catcher. Secondly, it seems management believes that Walker can possibly make his debut in September of this season. Many have been waiting for this move for a couple seasons, and it comes as no surprise, as the Pirates are in desperate need of added offense. I am hopeful Walker can get on track and progress a bit faster than he has been.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Baseball is back

Pirates opened spring training today as the pitchers and catchers were due to report. The PG had an interesting fluff piece on Masumi Kuwata, the almost-over-the-hill Japanese pitcher the Bucs signed in the offseason. I guess this guy will end up playing in AAA for a while then either being brought up or traded. I don't think he will have any kind of impact on this team, positive or negative.

In other baseball news, Bonds has finally signed with the Giants. Big contract just to see him break Aaron's record. Either way Bonds has finally dropped to page 2 news. I expect that to last until he hits his first dinger and the countdown starts in the media.

Vi ses!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Spring Training Approaches

Spring training is set to begin Thursday with pitchers and catchers reporting to Bradenton. The first workout is scheduled for Friday. With the season fast approaching there are still many questions to answer in the Buccos quest to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1992.

1. Which of the Joses, Bautista or Castillo, will be in the lineup on opening day? It appears that it is Castillo's job to lose. Bautista, who plays all positions but pitcher and catcher, will have the chance to steal the starting job at 3B which would switch Freddy to 2B. A few years back I was one of those who believed that Castillo and Wilson would make the next great double-play combo, yet with Castillo's disappointing progress as a pro has placed Bautista ahead on my depth chart. By the end of ST we shall see who will be starting. Prediction: Castillo at second.

2. Who will be the fifth starter? Since the Bucs signed Tony Armas, it would appear that he and Shawn Chacon will be the primary candidates for this job. Both have similar numbers, salaries, age, and stuff. Chacon pitched decently for the Pirates towards the end of the season, but nothing spectacular. Prediction: Armas will be the 5th starter, with Chacon hitting the bullpen for long relief duties. If Chacon performs well I would expect him to be traded by the deadline.

3. Will Freddy Sanchez stay consistent? I'm not looking for him to hit .344 again, but with his approach to the plate, his good plate discipline, and work ethic, hitting over .320 isn't a stretch. I would expect him to score at least 100 runs this season with Bay and LaRoche behind him. Prediction: .329avg 5hr 75rbis 108 runs.

4. Will Snell, Duke, Gorzelanny, and Maholm continue to show improvement? Snell had to have been the big surprise last season out of the starters, and looks like he has solidified himself as the opening day starter, unless Tracy has other ideas. Duke, Snell, and Maholm all had their first full season last year and it looks like they were all learning, not to just throw, but learning how to pitch. Still, Snell must learn how to get left handed hitters out and possibly get a better grip on his changeup. If Duke is able to cut down on first inning runs, he looks to improve his record from last season. Maholm showed poise in the second half and if he continues could win more than he loses. Gorzelanny has the most promise out of the four, but is also the youngest. If he shows the improvement that Snell has shown and the growth that Duke and Maholm have gone through, he may be our ace next in 2008. Prediction: Snell 15-8 4.50 ERA, Duke 12-8 3.95 ERA, Maholm 12-10 4.79 ERA, Gorzelanny 9-9 4.10 ERA.

Until next week when baseball will have begun....

Friday, February 02, 2007

Tony Armas Signed

The Pirates and right-handed starting pitcher Tony Armas have agreed to a deal which will pay the 28 year old $3 million this season with a mutual option of $5 million in 2008. Pirates GM Dave Littlefield promised earlier this week on the Junker and Crow Show to sign a RH starter before the beginning of spring training. This will add some competition in February and March to the rotation. Chacon and Armas will both be in contention for the fifth spot. Interestingly enough, Chacon's $3.8 million contract isn't guaranteed. If the Pirates' brass decide to go with Armas, they can buy Chacon out for $600,000. This isn't likely, as Littlefield has reiterated that they will use the left-over pitcher as a long reliever.
Armas has had some injury trouble in the past and missed almost two seasons before making a comeback last year. The Pirates are hopeful that Armas can finally come into his own in Pittsburgh and fight for a starting spot. He has never been a dominant pitcher, but he has eight years under his belt, and a nice sinking fastball which can be a plus pitch if he is able to throw it down in the zone with consistency. My take on this is that having more competition can only be a good thing. If there are four guys competing for a starting job, they will have to work harder and try just a little more to win that spot. And if Pirates management makes clear that their starting job is conditional and based on success, the pitchers will have to work. It's pure capitalism, the more competition, the better it is for the consumer.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Pirates Top Ten Prospects....Pirates sign Armas Jr?

Former first round pick Andrew McCutchen was selected by John Perroto as the Pittsburgh Pirates' #1 prospect. Perroto writes the report for Baseball America each season. This is good news for Pirates fans, as McCutchen, a center fielder, is likely to get his first cup of coffee with the big club in September. McCutchen is reported to be a plus in every category, save his throwing arm. He hits for average, power, drives in runs, steals bases, has Gold Golve potential in his fielding, and is a smart player. He is projected to start the season at AA Altoona, where he played the final few weeks last season. Chances are he will be playing in the Futures Game in July with a possible jump to AAA if he continues to be consistent and shows signs of development. People within the Pirates organization have stated he is further along in his development than they expected him to be when the drafted him.
Coming in at number two on the list is catcher Neil Walker. Walker has disappointed some with his slow progression through the minor leagues and will begin this season, like all of the Pirates decent prospects, in Altoona. Walker is intriguing, as he hits from both sides of the plate with enough power potential to belt 30+ home runs a year. His defensive progression has disappointed some, and there has been talk of moving him to the outfield or third base. This seems likely due to the durability and consistency of big league catcher Ronny Paulino.
Third on the list is the Pirates 2006 first round draft pick Brad Lincoln. At six foot tall Lincoln is considered short for a pitcher, however he has the leg strength to power the ball up to 97 mphs. He sits in the low ninties with a plus curve and plus 2 seam fastball. Lincoln started out with the GCL Pirates before being promoted to the low-A Hickorey team. He then proceeded to get hurt, which sounds an awful lot like many of the Pirates former "prospects". Lincoln, though, projects as a top of the rotation starter. He is projected to begin the season at High A ball but should be with the AA Altoona Curve shortly after the start of the season.
After the top three prospects we have Yoslan Herrera at four, Josh Sharpless at five, Steven Pearce at six followed by Brian Bixler, Brad Corley, Todd Redmond and Mike Felix. Read the report to find more information about the rest of these guys as some are old and some you've already read about.
This brings me to my point. All of our "prospects" this year will no doubt be playing together in AA for almost the entire season. Some of these fellows will be promoted to the major leagues together, and some have already played together. The main prospects I'm speaking of are McCutchen, Brad Lincoln, and Neil Walker. These three should all reach the big leagues around the same time, and they will have been playing together for at least a season before this. I hope to see McCutchen before the rest, but if Lincoln develops as he is projected, our rotation in 2009 could be Lincoln, Snell, Duke, Gorzelanny, Maholm. It is encouraging to know that Maholm will be a fifth starter, since he has all the capabilities to be a fourth starter, and everyone knows how hard it is to find a fifth starter.
In other news, is reporting the Pirates have signed Tony Armas Jr. to a contract, nothing has been specified as of yet.