"The biggest mistake any team can make is to base decisions on what they see in spring training."
"The most meaningless month of the year in baseball is March."
These quotes sum up what can be learned from watching some spring training games. I couldn't agree more, however I just returned from Bradenton and thought I'd write up a report on the boys of summer.
My main focus during the trip was to check out McCutcheon and some of the young pitchers. I attended three Pirates games and went to Pirate City to watch some workouts every morning.
Sunday I arrived at Pirate City and viewed McCutcheon taking batting practice on one of the fields while the Pirates played a B game against the Reds. The team had McCutcheon in a hitting group that included Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, and Ronny Paulino. I view this as the team trying to get McCutcheon as much experience with the big guys as possible. So he sees the example that Bay and Wilson and Sanchez can provide as to what it takes to succeed in the major league. He sprayed balls acorss the field displaying his ability to go with a pitch or drive one depending on the situation. In the games McCutcheon looked fairly comfortable at the plate, displaying his good eye and speed in the field as he stole a few bases. He does not seem to be ready for the big leagues yet, but he is only 20 and one more season in the minor leagues can't hurt.
I watched Sean Burnett throw a bullpen session at Pirate City and then was brought into the game to pitch. I was standing behind some scouts with radar guns and Burnett rarely topped 88-89 on his fastball, but was solid with his changeup, which registered at 79-80. Burnett also looked shakey in the game, but got out of his inning with minimal damage. I don't think Burnett will be up with the team this year unless he can prove that he can stay consistent in spotting his fastball and proves he won't be flustered on the mound. I think he still has work to do until he breaks spring with the team.Yoslan Herrera also pitched for the Pirates in one game, and I was very excited to watch him throw. It is obvious that he hasn't pitched in a while, as his delivery was inconsistent, his delivery point kept changing, and he bounced a few pitches in front of the mound. I definitely think Herrera can help the Pirates in the future, but he definitely needs some time in the minors to become more consistent with his velocity and his control. His breaking pitch looked nasty and got a couple people to swing right through it. It was good to see what he has to offer and I hope we see him towards the end of this season or at the begining of the 2008 season.
LaRoche didn't show me much, but like I said earlier, it's only March. Duke and Snell both looked solid in the starts they made, with Snell striking out 7 in three innings, and Duke pitching a perfect 2 innings before giving up a few runs in Toronto. His fastball was popping the mitt, and was getting people on his curveball they he did in 2005. I look for Duke to have a rebound year and post 12-15 wins, 7-9 losses, with an ERA in the low 4's. I think his main focus should be getting out of the first inning this year without giving up runs. If Duke can do this he has a shot to be the leading pitcher on this team.
A scary event occured when Sanchez was rolled into by Rod Barajas of the Phillies. We heard he tore his ACL, but later was corrected to be a sprained knee. This raised the question as to whether or not Sanchez's legs could withstand playing second base. A top Pirates official was sitting next to me and seemed visibly angry that Sanchez was playing second due to the nature of the position and the possiblity of injury. However, today the Post-Gazette reported that the Pirates will not use Sanchez's injury to sway their decision of who our starting infield will be.
Overall I had a great time in sunny Florida, and hope to return next year. The Buccos still have lots of work to do and there still some spots open for players to make the team. Michael Ryan and Don Kelly were a big surprise as both started and got at least 2-3 at bats in all the games I went to. If the team is taking an extended look at them it will be a surprise, as Eldred and others are vying for a final roster spot. Until next time!