Pirates Notes

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What are fans to make of Jung-Ho Kang? Does anyone really know what his value will be in 2019? There are so many questions. The Pirates boosted his perceived value by promoting him for the final regular-season weekend in Cincinnati. When he singled to left field in his first game back, it was as if he’d hit another tape-measure home run. The instant Twitter feedback was unmistakable. Sign him! Pick up his $5.5 million option! The funny thing is that the incumbent third baseman, Colin Moran (who only platooned during the team’s second-half hot stretch), started hitting for extra-base power in September. But that’s another story.

For all of the past history and hype surrounding Kang, he’s never played nearly a full season. He seems to be injury-prone. He hit 15 homers in 126 games as a rookie in 2015 and 21 homers in 103 games in 2016. Those numbers, extrapolated, would look pretty good for a full year. But it’s not reasonable to expect a full season from Kang, now that he’ll be 32 on April 5.

He doesn’t gave the range to play shortstop — the team has already stated he won’t play there, further limiting his versatility. Second base is still possible, but it’s be asking a lot from a player whose seen plenty of welcomed and unwelcomed adjustments over the last few years.

But Kang’s still got what the Pirates most covet.

Power.

The Pirates totaled 157 home runs in 2018. By comparison, the Los Angeles Dodgers led the National League with 235 homers, followed by Milwaukee (218) and Colorado (210).

Only two NL teams hit fewer dingers, including Miami (128) and San Francisco (133). We won’t get into park effects, but it’s evident the Bucs need more Lumber in their Company.

Which brings us back to the thrice-DUI driven Kang.

Does it matter whether he can stay healthy for a full season? Does it matter that he’s had a more-than-checkered past?

For $5.5 million, he seems like an extremely reasonable gamble. Other organizations might view him strictly as a backup and a bat off the bench and pay him that much or more.

As far as his past indiscretions, that ship already sailed once the team promoted him back to the big leagues.

The Pirates are playing Russian Roulette by allowing him to become a free agent. All it takes is one organization to take a chance on the power-hitting third baseman. Ideally, he comes back to the only North American franchise he’s ever known on an incentive-laden deal, but this is last money grab. Don’t be surprised if he sheds the Black & Gold.

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So David Freese re-upped with the Dodgers. Good for him. But don’t forget that the Pirates pulled him off the scrap heap when nobody else wanted him during spring training of 2016. Let’s not make him out to be peak Brooks Robinson or Travis Fryman. Perhaps his availability in spring training was a little contrived by MLB ownership changing its M.O., but Freese wasn’t great shakes with the Angels in 2015 (or 2014, for that matter). From different reports, he turned his life around off the field. Good for him. But it wasn’t professional for him to rip the Pirates after the team traded him to the Dodgers when the only team willing to pay him in 2016 was Pittsburgh. Even if what he said was correct.

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Say what you want about Neal Huntington, but I still think he has good instincts. The Pirates were reportedly very interested in Red Sox pitcher, Rick Porcello, when he threw for Detroit. This isn’t one of those cases where the Pirates are in on every player and don’t get him. I have a feeling they were actually close to acquiring Porcello.

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Drafting and developing players remains a weakness, however. Pirates postgame analyst (and former MLB GM, Jack Zdurencik) said that an organization’s scouting director was it’s second most important position. He noted that a team must have talent, something along the lines of the saying “you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken poop” or something like that.

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Corey Dickerson has as much chance of beating out Christian Yelich for the Gold Glove in left field as Richie Zisk. Dickerson exceeded expectations playing in PNC Park’s spacious left field, but Yelich is likely the NL’s Most Valuable Player.

It’s good to have a Pirates player making positive news on defense.

Incidentally, the last Pirate infielder to win a Gold Glove was shortstop Jay Bell in 1993. The same Jay Bell who made 59 errors as a minor leaguer for the Minnesota and Cleveland organizations as a 19-year-old in 1985.

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The Pirates finished tied for 19th (with Washington), getting plunked by 59 pitches. What makes this interesting is that the team finished first or second in the major league HBPs ever season from 2013 to 2017. What changed?

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The Bucs ranked second in the majors with 52 sacrifice fly balls. The Yankees led with 59. What are the Yankees doing hitting sac flies when they play in that band box? Colin Moran and Gregory Polanco each hit seven sacrifice flies to lead the team.

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Pittsburgh hurlers threw 16 shutouts, third-most in the majors. Unfortunately, the team was also shut out 17 times.

Pirates pitchers led MLB with 95 wild pitches, one more than the Chicago White Sox. The New York Mets threw the fewest number of wild pitches (26). Reliever Richard Rodriguez threw a team-high 11 wild pitches in 69.1 innings despite delivering a remarkable rookie season and respectable 1.07 WHIP & 88:19 K:BB. Remarkably, Jameson Taillon was tagged with just two wild pitches in 191 innings and Trevor Williams had only two in 170.2 innings.

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Chad Kuhl tied Trevor Williams for the team lead in sacrifice hits (6) despite missing July, August and September.

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Pittsburgh pitchers picked off two baserunners, the fewest of any MLB team.

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Have a good day!
John

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The 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates: “Non prospects” best prospects

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Looking over an Altoona Curve game-day program from 2010, it’s easy to see why WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) doesn’t always hold true in baseball.

According to Baseball America, the Pittsburgh Pirates top 10 prospects as of July 4, 2010 were (from No. 1 to No. 10):

1. Pedro Alvarez
2. Jose Tabata
3. Tony Sanchez
4. Brad Lincoln
5. Chase d’Arnaud
6. Starling Marte
7. Tim Alderson
8. Zack von Rosenberg
9. Rudy Owens
10. Gorkys Hernandez

Alvarez tied for a home run championship in 2013 but struggled mightily in 2014, Tabata has fallen off after his rookie season and was DFA’d Saturday, Sanchez has difficulty throwing the ball, Lincoln might’ve been better off as an everyday player with his hitting ability, d’Arnaud is a pinch-runner, Marte is the gem amongst the rubble, Alderson threw 86 mph in his first game with the Curve and went downhill from there, von Rosenberg has never sniffed Triple-A, Owens was useful as part of the Wandy Rodriguez deal and Hernandez was traded as part of the Gaby Sanchez swap.

Remember, these were the top 10 prospects in the entire organization, not just Double-A. The group turned out to be suspect, at best.

Turning the Curve program book to the player profile pages, there are more players helping Pittsburgh at the major league level than the one’s listed by Baseball America.

Josh Harrison: “Another fresh face in the Pirates system.”

Jared Hughes: Hughes was originally drafted out of high school by the “Tampa Rays” in 2003 but did not sign.

Jordy Mercer: Drove in 22 runs in his last 24 games for Lynchburg in 2009 to lead the Hillcats into the playoffs.

Bryan Morris: Morris saw more time in a Pirates uniform than most of the top 10 list.

Tony Watson: Watson started only five games in 2009 because of left elbow tendinitis. Explains why he flew under the radar.

Justin Wilson: Wilson was the winning pitcher in Fresno State’s College World Series-clinching win over Georgia in 2009.

The moral of the story?

Prospects lists aren’t the end-all, be-all they’re cracked up to be.

The Bucs found their starting third baseman, shortstop and four bullpen arms in 2014 from players not listed by Baseball America.

Pittsburgh’s 2010 draft class still looks somewhat promising – Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Brandon Cumpton and Casey Sadler, but as we know, nothing is guaranteed.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@PiratesTalk

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Let’s dance! Pittsburgh’s Polka with Gregory Polanco

Photos by John Toperzer Sr. and Jr.

IMG_4199Yes, the first shot I took of Gregory Polanco back in 2010 spring training. Let it rain! That saliva will be selling for $100 an ounce on eBay.

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IMG_4202Polanco was a rail when he first signed

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P1000890No. 82, head & shoulders above everybody else

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P1120555I don’t think the Pirates will bat Polanco eighth in the bigs

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This is one tall dude

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IMG_1999Take a bow, Gregory

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Doff the cap!

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IMG_0493-001The white sunglasses are a thing with Polanco and others like Alen Hanson

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IMG_0504Should I take $25 million?

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IMG_0512Polanco’s like ‘Did you see that?’

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IMG_0522-001The frame is filling out

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IMG_15651st spring training knock ever in 2013 (Sarasota)

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IMG_1575And his first lead off of first base

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IMG_1599Got in a little CF action in his 1st spring game

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IMG_1145-001Polanco connecting in ’14

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IMG_9689The guy’s ready to run as soon as he hits the ball

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IMG_9691That’s why he beats out so many infield grounders

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P1530095Polanco would be seven-foot tall if his torso matched the long legs

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IMG_0064Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera chirped something to Polanco after a ground out

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P1530282Pack your bags, Gregory, you’re coming to PNC Park

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P1530728Super scout, Latin confidant, Rene Gayo. Thank you sir!

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IMG_9178Time to join the big boys, Gregory

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Links ‘n At

Pirates call up prized prospect Polanco”, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Prized rookie Polanco called up, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

The five tools of Gregory Polanco, by John Dreker of Pirates Prospects.

Pirates to promote Gregory Polanco, Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout reports.

Gregory Polanco’s statistics via Fan Graphs.

Gregory Polanco’s statistics via Baseball Reference.

Gregory Polanco baseball cards for sale on eBay. Got an extra $2299.00 for a Polanco card? Put your money where your mouth is! Click here.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Pirate Notes: Bucs beat Dodgers, 6-3, as Gerrit Cole leads the way

Real-time Pirates-Dodgers notes from Thursday’s 6-3 Pittsburgh win

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Neil Walker tries stealing 2nd base with two outs and a 1-2 count on Ike Davis. Not even close.

Andre Ethier triples down the first base line.

Yasiel Puig drives in Ethier with the wimpiest, shortest double one will ever see, as RF Josh Harrison was playing deep and Walker was shifting toward shortstop on the sawed-off bloop to shallow right field.

Gerrit Cole can’t believe the ball wasn’t caught. Wonder if he’ll learn to channel his feelings as he matures? Don’t want to show any teammates up.

Former Dodgers catcher, Russell Martin, makes a great catch of a Cole curve thrown inside off the plate despite Martin setting up outside. Martin has the wherewithal to ask for a swing appeal on Adrian Gonzalez, but the third plate umpire says A-Gon did not go. Looks like he did.

Matt Kemp, the $21 million/year outfielder who has ridden the bench lately, grounds out to third. LA coach Don Mattingly recently said Kemp doesn’t have a burst on defense. Kemp even stated he needs to work more on his defense.

Pedro Alvarez looks confident in his at-bat then crushes towering homer down the right field line – first homer to that part of the park in 2014, according to Fan Graphs.

Clint Barmes singles just past pitcher Dan Haren’s glove and 2B Dee Gordon’s. Nice to see baserunner, Starling Marte, go from first to third on play. Even nicer to see him not slide into third when he doesn’t have to. Why risk aggravating back spasms, or injuring knee? Wish Alvarez wouldn’t slide into home plate when he scores on a no-throw, but he does.

Andrew McCutchen with nice diving attempt on Justin Turner single to shallow center. Not sure why he doesn’t get ball back in to the infield faster, however. He gathers ball and looks to see if runner’s going to second base. If he is, then it’s too late to get the guy.

Dodgers bunt runner to second with no outs and pitcher coming to the plate. ROOT’s John Wehner asks “What is going on?” almost as if he’s watching game by himself and not broadcasting to thousands of listeners on TV.

Announcers talking about Dee Gordon’s dad, pitcher Tom Gordon. He had the longest arms for a short guy. Huge curve ball.

Barmes over-dives (if that’s a word) on Gordon’s hard hit single up the middle on a full count. Ball goes under Barmes glove, McCutchen has no chance to throw runner out at home (not that he ever does) and LA takes 2-1 lead.

Gordon steals both second and third bases. Almost feels like AJ Burnett should be on the mound for this.

Cole whiffs Ethier swinging on a changeup, a pitch that Cole really needs to offset everything else hard that he throws. Changeup at 86 mph, just two miles per-hour slower than some of Bartolo Colon’s fastballs.

McCutchen beats a 2-1, 85-mph breaking ball into ground to shortstop Hanley Ramirez. He complained about not getting pitches to hits, opponents working around him, but that was a truly hittable pitch in a hittable count.

Cole pounding his glove, clapping after getting A-Gon to pop out to shallow center field. Barmes with a fine catch on a tougher-it-looked pop up.

What does one mph wind feel like? Yahoo! boxscore says that’s how hard the wind is blowing at Chavez Ravine.

Gordon makes leaping grab of Martin shot, throws to first base, doubling off Ike Davis. I remember in Australia against Arizona, Gordon’s defense looked questionable. Not so much now. Gordon is in the majors, 32 steals to his credit, and second base competitor, Alex Guerrero, is in the minors recovering from a bitten ear (courtesy of Miguel Olivo) on the DL.

Cole’s retired seven straight, has two quick innings. The question is whether the Bucs’ offense can take advantage.

Cole comes up at bat with a runner on first, lays down a perfect sac bunt with one out. Almost wish he would have swung away. He’s a threat at the plate. Best hitting Pirate pitchers – Ken Brett, Donny Robinson, Rick Rhoden, who am I missing?

Josh Harrison drives home Barmes with a hard single to right. Puig throws home, allowing Harrison to advance to second base.

Cole’s grandma is interviewed in fifth inning. “Very exciting” is her response to just about every question. What a sweet lady.

Cole sets Dodger Blue down in order for third straight inning. He’s thrown just 58 pitches through five frames, including 41 for strikes.

The more I hear about Ike Davis’s background, the more I want to root for him. Just wish he was faster than a snail.

Martin gives Bucs a 3-2 lead with a long homer to left field, halfway up bleacher seats. Hits dinger on 1-1 pitch, 81 mph fastball, Martin’s 28th homer at Dodger Stadium, according to Tim Neverett.

Puig flips bat of epic proportions on double off base of right-center field wall. Cole comes back with four straight fastballs – 98, 96, 98, 97 mph – after Puig double. Would’ve been nice to show Hanley Ramirez different speeds. These are major league hitters, can adjust to the same speed of hard stuff, as Ramirez does. He lines a game-tying RBI single to right.

Marte hits screamer to short, throw off-line by Ramirez. Marte almost gets thrown out after making turn toward second base but gets back to first safely. Then tries to steal second, initially called safe. LA manager Mattingly challenges play, Marte out – caught stealing for fourth time in 2014.

A Barmes single, Cole sacrifice, and Harrison single give Pittsburgh a 4-3 lead. Fundamentals. Walker singles and Harrison scores, 5-3.

Paul Maholm comes in to face Davis after the well-paid Brandon League walks Cutch on four pitches. This should be fun.

Gaby Sanchez knocks a single to left, runs scores, 6-3. Maholm issues intentional walk to Martin.

The 2005 season seems like so long ago, when Zach Duke and then Maholm made their big league debuts. GM Neal Huntington likes the hard throwing righties with the downward plane over crafty lefties and it’s hard to argue with the results – it’s just taken a while.

Tony Watson comes in to get Gordon to ground into double play, ending threat. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Watson has been the Bucs’ best bullpen arm in 2014. Lots of folks I talk to feel he should be the closer and I can’t say I disagree.

Puig runs into right field foul line, takes a beating but catches sno-cone up against the wall, robs Barmes of another shot at the plate. Barmes finishes 3-for-4.

Melancon comes in with a 6-3 lead, bottom of the eighth.

Food for thought on Cole: After throwing 41 of 58 pitches for strikes through five innings, he threw just 16 of 30 before getting taken out of the game thereafter.

Back to Melancon, first time he moves back into set-up role with Jason Grilli on tap for ninth (barring a Dodgers’ rally here).

Martin with a great play on an Andre Ethier nuber (is that how it’s spelled?) in front of the plate. Martin throws Ethier out for an all-important first out with Puig and company coming up next. Hate to say this, but catcher Tony Sanchez would’ve had a 50/50 shot at throwing the ball into the right field corner. Sanchez helped to seal Wandy Rodriguez’s fate when he failed to take charge on a ball in front of the plate with the bases loaded in Rodriguez’s last game for the Bucs. Sanchez yielded to Wandy, who threw the ball off-line and allowed a run to score. Martin would’ve thrown the runner out at first.

Melancon strikes out Puig with a 92-mph fastball up in the zone. Puig does not flip his bat, just shakes his head and grimaces. Melancon then whiffs Ramirez looking. Bucs up 6-3 heading into the ninth.

McCutchen just misses connecting for the 200th home run allowed by Dodgers pitcher, Jamey Wright. Wright was the Rockies’ 1st round pick way back in 1993. His career has been long but not distinguished. Then again, anybody who pitches in the majors for nearly 20 years, let alone one, is pretty impressive.

Grilli comes in for the ninth.

Matt Kemp doesn’t run to first base after strikeout. The Pirates cut Craig Monroe for the same thing.

Grilli gives up a double right down the right field line before getting Scott Van Slyke to fly out to right field for the final out of the game.

Grilli threw his slider between 82-84 mph and his fastball between 91-93 mph.

Pirates entered Thursday with an 11-38 record in Los Angeles since 1999. They haven’t won a series at Dodgers Stadium since June 15 to 17, 1999.

Raise the Jolly Roger!

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Pirate Notes: Looking at Polanco, Pedro & Liriano

By John Toperzer

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It makes perfect sense that the Pirates to want to keep Gregory Polanco in the minors until the Super 2 arbitration date passes sometime in mid-June. Delaying his debut could save the Bucs $15 million or so down the road – Pirates fans certainly hope it comes to that someday.

In the meantime, Pittsburgh spent $5 million for Edinson Volquez and $2 million for Clint Barmes as unrestricted free agents. Half of the other 30 MLB teams spent at least $40 million as of late January (Click here).
What if the Bucs simply considered Polanco as an unrestricted free agent. His $15 million saving may or may not come true. That’s six years down the road. Even if it does, the value of money will be six years less than the present value it is today. Combining the theoretical $15 million on Polanco with the $7 million spent over the winter on unrestricted free agents still amounts to less than what more than two-thirds of all MLB teams spent last offseason.

Polanco is still at least six weeks away from making his big-league debut. Would his presence help the Pirates win enough games to justify a promotion right now?

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If now isn’t the time to talk contract extension with Pedro Alvarez, when is? He couldn’t be in a bigger slump, Scott Boras’s negotiating power won’t be lower than it is right now.

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Second hand information says Gerrit Cole and Carlos Gomez had to be separated in the outfield at PNC Park on the Thursday before their confrontation and ensuing fines and/or suspensions.

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Last year there was no path to Bryan Morris closing out games for the Pirates. This year, Jason Grilli has question marks and is in the last year of his two-year contract. Mark Melancon is the obvious choice, but if something happens to him or the ineffectiveness which haunted him late in 2013 re-emerges, then it’s easy to see Morris or Tony Watson get the save chances.

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Russell Martin plays too hard for his own health.

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Tyler Glasnow threw five shutout innings for High-A Bradenton on Friday. So long as his back holds up, he could become the most talked-about pitching prospect within the organization. Nick Kingham has had a so-so start at Double-A Altoona. It was interesting to see Kingham taking in a game at PNC Park and being interviewed by ROOT Sports’ Robbie Incmikoski.

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Altoona’s Alen Hanson could be a Bucs’ sleeper call-up if he finds consistency at shortstop with the glove. The offense is certainly there, something that can’t be said for current shortstops, Jordy Mercer and Clint Barmes.

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Starling Marte got drilled by a 97-mph Carlos Martinez fastball to the shin Friday night. I’d love to see him post a picture of it on Twitter.

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Russell Martin’s latest ailments illustrate why it’s so hard to pay a catcher big bucks for more than a couple years. The taxing wear and tear nature of the catching position forces catchers to miss playing time nearly every year, even with guys like Martin, who is as tough a backstop as I’ve ever seen.

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Francisco Liriano holds a record of 5-17 with a 5.77 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in the month of April, by far the worst numbers of his big-league career.

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Pedro Alvarez’s career batting average of balls in play (BABIP) sits at .291. Heading into Sunday, the slugger held a .153 BABIP in 103 plate appearances thus far in 2014. Pirates fans have to hope Alvarez gets rewarded for his willingness to hit to the opposite field before he reverts back to his yank-everything-to-the-right-side ways. It’s been refreshing to see him not roll over the top of the ball, inducing weak grounders to second base, but he’s got to be super frustrated with his lack of results.

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If the Bucs don’t give Justin Wilson another shot at starting now, they probably never will. The former starting pitcher turns 27 in August. His velocity is reportedly several mph higher as a reliever, but it might be worth stretching him out, given the team’s injury situation. GM Neal Huntington believes in keeping starters as starters until they prove they can’t hack it.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@PiratesTalk

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The Cloud Is Lifting On Barry Bonds

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I knew this day was bound to happen. I knew that someday it would be tough to hold a grudge against Barry Lamar Bonds (you always know the middle names of the great ones, don’t you).

There are so many reasons to dislike Bonds. I point to his three dismal postseason performances in Pittsburgh. Lots of Pirates played poorly in those playoff matchups, but there was only one regular-season MVP – and that was Bonds.

Pittsburgh likes its links to famous people, whether it’s Andy Warhola or Michael Keaton or Arnold Palmer. Bonds is one example, but at what price? It would be easier to dislike him if he still acted like the person who played for Pittsburgh from 1986 to 1992, but he had nothing but nice things to say about the city Opening Day. I kept waiting for a jab, a punch line.

“It’s great to come back where it all started,” Bonds told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Great to be back with [former Pirates manager] Jim Leyland. I mean, it almost brings tears to my eyes. We were a last-place team, put it together, but we just didn’t get over the top though.”

And he even had some good things to say about the fans.

“We had some good times here,” Bonds said in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I would expect a cheerful (response). We were baseball players here and tried to win championships. Unfortunately, we came up short. That’s all we did. We loved the fans here, and we loved playing here in this organization. We did the best we could and we hope they appreciate it.”

If you were a die-hard Pirates fan during Bonds’s playing tenure, it’s quite possible your eyes popped out of your head reading the above quote.

Not surprisingly, some in the media questioned Bonds’s intentions Monday, subtlety or otherwise.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Columnist Dejan Kovacevic noted how Bonds didn’t stay for more than a couple innings of Monday’s game.

“Rewind to the pregame festivities and, as I’d expected all along, it wasn’t about Barry Bonds. None of this was, no matter how much he might have hoped for that as part of this sudden push to get back in baseball’s good graces. (Getting only 36.2 percent of the needed 75 percent for Hall of Fame induction will do that.) Some booed him. Others cheered. No big deal either way.

In the end, he bolted the ballpark — after a couple of innings at most, per people accompanying him — for a flight out of town a few hours after landing.

“I love the city,” came the explanation from Bonds’ visibly smaller head when asked why he returned. “It’s a great place, and it’s an honor to be back.”

Hey, thanks for stoppin.’

Having an opinion on Bonds is part of being a Pirates fan. I can’t say I talked to one person at the park Monday who didn’t have something to say – good or bad – about him.

A lot of people like being associated with history. Once it’s okay to be a fan of Bonds – and that day is coming — his popularity in Western Pennsylvania will grow.

Why is that likely to happen?

First, the people who saw him play (and act) are getting old. A new generation looks at both of his pre-and-post steroid numbers and just says “wow.”

Second, the people who attended Monday’s game seemed inclined to move on from booing Barry. A great majority of the fans I spoke with Opening Day said they’d cheer for Bonds, or at the very worst, stay silent when he was announced. During his announcement, the boo-birds got off to a strong start, but like Bonds in the playoffs, they faded (sorry, couldn’t resist the snipe) and he was fairly well received. Lesser players like Adam LaRoche have been booed more vociferously.

The intensity of holding a grudge against Bonds is dimming. The Pirates could easily have been baseball’s best team in the 1990s. I, for one, was readying myself for a trip or two to the World Series. If Bonds had played in the playoffs like he did in the regular season, who knows, there might be more than five World Series signs (1909, 1925, 1960, 1971, 1979) hanging underneath the Bucs’ broadcasting booth inside PNC Park.

But having a winning team on the field after two decades of losing changes one’s perspective.

A lot of Pirates fans are moving on from hating Barry Bonds and it feels like a steroids-sized Bonds head being lifted off one’s shoulders.

Of course, if Bonds comes out next week and says something bad about Pittsburgh – all bets are off.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@PiratesTalk
@JohnToperzer

I was fortunate enough to take in Bonds’s first major-league hit. My college roommate and I made the hour trip from Westminster College. Here’s the actual ticket.

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Pirate Notes: The Lambo Leap, McCutchen’s Protection, Didi’s Defense

P1530782Travis Ishikawa reflects on his future

Seeing Ty Wigginton’s name on the waiver wire Tuesday morning got me thinking: What if the Pirates think Wigginton is better than the team’s current options at first base?

The Bucs optioned Andrew Lambo to Triple-A on Tuesday and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, the 25-year-old didn’t win the right to be on the 25-man roster, at least not out of camp. In past seasons, a Jeff Clement wouldn’t deserve to head north with Pittsburgh and yet there he would be, trying to learn a new position during the regular season at PNC Park.

Tuesday’s message shows that the Pirates are not willing to stand pat with a first baseman that doesn’t produce.

There’s a decent chance the club trades for Boston’s Mike Carp or plucks a Wigginton off the waiver wire.
For as good of a spring Travis Ishikawa has had, his track record suggests that it’s unlikely he fills the role of “Gaby Sanchez Platoon Partner” for more than a month or so.

While the Bucs are basically admitting they made a mistake by sending down a player they backed less than two weeks ago (click here, that willingness not to factor a decision based on public perception is invaluable going forward.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talked about the merits of Lambo earlier in March.

“As an organization, we need to look at Andrew’s power,” Hurdle said. “You can go spend $10 million, $15 million on a free agent with power, but you’re obviously better served to find your own internally.”

There will be plenty of first-base wannabees on the dashboard horizon. The names of players whose best years have already passed them by will crop up daily.

It’s not difficult to envision a revolving door at first base in 2014. It’s quite possible the guy who ends up there was just optioned to Triple-A. Once Lambo relaxes and finds his game, look for the Pirates to call him back up.

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Andrew McCutchen having such a tremendous spring might actually work against him. Since the season ended, the Pirates let major-league sticks like Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau walk. That loss of veteran depth in the lineup will allow opponents to once again pitch around the NL’s reigning MVP. Byrd and Morneau saw varying degrees of offensive success, but they both made pitchers think, putting pressure on opposing managers.

The Bucs’ replacements for since-departed free agents currently are Travis Snider and Ishikawa. That’s not to suggest either or both players can’t do well in 2014. Snider, in particular, has looked mobile and almost downright agile in Grapefruit League action after losing weight.

But there’s a difference between Byrd and Morneau as compared to Snider and Ishikawa.

McCutchen struggled after the All-Star Break in recent years as team’s pitched around him and he expanded the strike zone – swinging at the outside, out-of-the-strike zone slider with regularity. He batted .339 post All-Star Break, thanks to a better cast around him. In 2011 and 2012, McCutchen hit .216 and .289 following the All-Star game.

The Pirates could once again go out and bulk up the lineup as they did in 2013. But it might not be as easy to do at the deadline. Last year, there weren’t many major-market teams looking to improve at the deadline. The Yankees, for example, stood pat.

In 2014, there’s a good chance a guy like Byrd, who was available for weeks before coming to Pittsburgh, could sign with the Yankees or another big market team. Last year, everything broke the Bucs’ way at the deadline. Thinking that will happen again would be poor planning. Most likely, it won’t.

And unless the team acquires a first baseman before camp breaks, then whatever names are on the roster are the players who are most likely to serve at first base through June. Why? Most major league teams like to evaluate their talent and shy away from trading the first couple months of the season. Trade talk doesn’t pick up until June. That’s why Lambo will most likely get another chance by June.

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The name of Didi Gregorius, one of Arizona’s shortstops, has been kicked around in trade talk the last week or so. The Diamondbacks paid a pretty price to get him a year ago, that might be the biggest stumbling block of moving him.

He looks and moves like a Praying Mantis on the field. He hasn’t shown he can hit in the majors and his speed hasn’t translated to stealing bases. But he can field, and that’s what a team reliant on a shifting defensive strategy needs up the middle of the field.

Gregorius would be a decent-enough acquisition, but like anything, what is the cost?

The Diamondbacks want a starting pitcher and the Pirates have a plethora of relievers. Since Pittsburgh doesn’t have a gaping hole at short, there’s little reason to overpay with a pitching prospect like Nick Kingham. What makes it difficult is that Brandon Cumpton would be a good match, but he’s better (IMO than Edinson Volquez) and the rotation is too important to mess with trading for a Didi Gregorius. The staff’s health can change the dynamics of the team in a day.

Bryan Morris for Gregorius might make sense from a talent perspective, but it would be a tough sell for Towers to say that that’s all he could get for a guy he traded Trevor Bauer away for.

Gregorius would be a great defensive replacement at shortstop, but the price might just be too high.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Pirates Notes: Byron Buxton vs. Gerrit Cole, Josh Bell, the Hot Dog Guy

I can’t believe there’s no in-game entertainment this spring at McKechnie Field. No Parrot or Marauder running around, no Hooters girls telling little kids to spin around a bat 10X then run the length of a baseline like a drunk. What is the world coming to? In fact, the Pirate Parrot actually quit to join the Chicago Cubs franchise and replacement birds are now being auditioned – I’m not making this up.

Alas, we spent the last two days at Pirates City and at McKechnie. The Bucs played a “B” game against the Twins at Pirates City on Friday and a regular-squad tilt later that same day at McKechnie. Saturday, we went back to Pirates City and spent time watching the minor leaguers.

The “B” game was well worth the price of admission (and then some) – free. I have never seen the area so crowded. It’s as if the Pirates were good or something. Scouts lined up and stood behind home plate. I secured a spot behind a bench to their immediate left. I even met a guy who has tix at PNC Park and mentioned his usher’s name, whom I am friends with. The gent also purchased a Rotowire fantasy baseball magazine recently and we talked fantasy baseball and now follow each other on Twitter.

Back to the game. The home plate wasn’t loud, gregarious or outspoken, pretty much the opposite of Pirates manager, Clint Hurdle. Gerrit Cole pitched for the Pirates and had an uneven outing. I was seeking out as many pictures of Byron Buxton as possible. Buxton is the top-rated prospect in all of baseball. I had my dad also snapping pics of him, too. Well, Buxton started in center and led off for Minnesota.

Cole whiffed Buxton looking with a curve ball. The Twins phenom contorted his lips in amazement after watching the hook for a called strike three – a picture of that would’ve have priceless, almost like a welcome to the big leagues moment.

Cole looked a little uneasy and gave up some well-struck balls. He reared back and struck out a batter after No. 8 took him deep with an opposite-field dinger.

Pirates third-base hopeful, Brent Morel, went deep to left center with a three-run bomb that cleared the fence and nearly plugged right behind it like a golf ball.

Ex-Bucco Kevin Correia pitched for Minnesota. He was hittable, but for the most part got through the lineup, just like he usually does. Gaby Sanchez returned and flew weakly to short right field after a long plate battle with Correia.

Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the scrimmage was the interplay between the Pirates management bench and the Twins’. With big no. 86 at the plate for the Twins, the home plate ump called a 2-2 pitch ball three. The Twins called out “nice call” and “good eye” within earshot of the ump. The Pirates and Hurdle said the pitch looked good, in so many words. The whole time Pirates pitching coach, Ray Searage, and a Minnesota coach were looking at each other and laughing, trying to influence the home plate ump – who never looked at either bench but could hear every spoken word.

Well, on the 3-2, it looked like Cole threw the exact same pitch in the exact same spot as his previous one. This time the home plate ump called “strike three” and Searage said “good call” and started cracking up while the Twins coach simply laughed. It’s amazing how lobbying for the next call pays off.

Saturday at Pirates City, the hot dog guy who set up shop in between two of the practice fields saw his car get hit. I could hear the players yell “heads up, hot dogs” as a foul ball hit his little shade tent. When we walked passed him, I mentioned that I saw him nearly get hit and he remarked that a foul ball already broke his front windshield. I surveyed the damage and true enough, his windshield was laced with a 10 inch or so break.

I wanted to get some photos of Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow, two prospects on the rise but couldn’t locate either player. I did take a number of photos of unknowns. The Pirates hand out rosters of players and their corresponding numbers and I snapped photos of many players, especially ones under 22 years of age. I took pics of Starling Marte before he was well known four or five years ago and hope that some of the new guys come through the system like Marte – almost like prospecting for gold.

Hurdle made his rounds on each of the four practice fields, almost to the point where it felt like he was
following me around. It was interesting to see how the 20-year-olds respond when they see Hurdle standing behind the cage where they’re batting. Of particular interest was Josh Bell. Bell is a player who could make his way to the majors in the next couple years. Big, switch-hitting outfielders with power don’t grow on trees – especially in Pittsburgh – and Bell has a chance to be a good one. My thinking is that he could move to first base to fill a need at first base, but for now he’s an outfielder.

I watched Bell hit with Hurdle directly behind the cage and he did well. A couple of the other hitters seemed like they were pressing too hard to impress the Pirates’ big-league manager, but not Bell. He drove the ball to all fields while batting right-handed.

Super Latino scout, Renee Gayo, walked past me and went into foul ball territory. Gayo just looks like a guy you want to sit down and talk baseball with. He’s definitely one of the most important pieces of the puzzle for the Pirates in Latin America. His find of Marte, among others, is very impressive. I hope Gayo watches his weight a little better, he’s too big to have a nice long ride ahead of him unless he takes better care of himself. I know, who am I to criticize anyone else, but I’m just sayin’.

I recognized Josh Bell’s parents and went over to speak to his dad. I wished the family well and told them I’ve worked for the Pirates the last 13 years. Mr. Bell and I chatted about ex-players and the Red Sox failing to draft his son and Theo Epstein, etc. He humored me for more than five minutes before I realized that he probably wanted to watch his son, so I wished him well and let him have his time back.

I was happy to snap some shots of first-round pick, catcher Reese McGuire. He’s not a real big guy or real stocky, but the reports are that he’s an excellent defender who could turn into a surprisingly good hitter. We shall see. I watch fellow catching prospect, Ryan Mathison, last spring and he was tasering the ball at Pirates City but had a regular season that proved less than successful.

It’s true that Luis Heredia has lost weight, noticeable weight. He was cordial enough to sign autographs behind the pitching area and he almost looked skinny after having a pot belly last spring.

We closed out Saturday’s Pirates City trip on two accounts. First, we went to Mixon’s Fruit and Farms right down the road. If there is a bigger rip-off place in the world, I have not seen it. I bought six chocolate malted milk balls for $3.06 (at $16.99 per pound). I also purchased a 16-ounce chocolate milk (marked local) and it cost $1.95. Second, my dad found an Apple phone. We saw a Facebook friend posted on it and sent a message to the owner. Hopefully we find these folks at Sunday’s Pirates game or sooner. It’s amazing how much info I found on these people with only a few clicks of the Internet.

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Spring training shots from the last couple days …

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Gregory Polanco will pack his bags for Pittsburgh in June, but for now he’ll remain in the minors.

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Third base coach, Nick Leyva, having fun at McKechnie between innings. Leyva also throws BP.

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Before I knew which number Byron Buxton was, I took this pic of him. He stands out, reminds me of BJ Upton’s build — hopefully that’s where the comparisons end, however.

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Ron Gardenhire guards his Buxton prodigy (No. 70) very closer.

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Gerrit Cole preparing for his first pitch in Friday’s “B” game at Pirates City.

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More Cole, he was sitting 92-96 mph and reaching 97 mph, according to Travis Sawchik.

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Andrew McCutchen doffs his cap to everybody after jacking an opposite-fielder HR on Friday.

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Jason Grilli debuted Friday. I still want to ask scouts his radar readings in the coming days.

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Joe Mauer is moving from behind the plate to first base in 2014.

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McCutchen stopping to watch a fly out to left field with two outs.

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Jameson Taillon struggled a bit Friday. It seemed like he was overthrowing to impress. When he found his rhythm, his infielders were unable to turn a pair of potential double plays.

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Here’s more of Buxton’s wiry figure, with Taillon looking on from the dugout steps.

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This shot showed Josh Bell walking past Clint Hurdle after a batting practice round. Hurdle, who made some comments to Bell, liked what he saw.

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The above two photos are of 2013 first-round pick, Reese McGuire. He isn’t stocky but is reputed to be an excellent backstop who can hold his own in the batter’s box.

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JaCoby Jones is a high-ceiling, high-risk shortstop who spells his first name differently.

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Josh Bell, courtesy of John Toperzer Sr.

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It’s true, oh it’s true. Pitcher Luis Heredia lost a ton of weight in the offseason.

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Pirate Latino super scout, Rene Gayo, seen here at Pirates City on Saturday.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Pirates-Tigers Tuesday: Josh Harrison hustles, Chris McGuiness struggles

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Just to get you in that Florida frame of mind, 76 degrees and sunny.

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Taiwanese Yao-Hsun Yang has decent numbers — 1 run in 3 IP this spring — but he had trouble finding the plate between innings and during Tuesday’s tilt in Lakeland. I’m not convinced he has the control to succeed in the majors (albeit after watching a grand total of one-time ever).

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What a professional game by Josh Harrison. He successfully completed numerous chances at second base — isn’t that where he mostly played in Cubs’ system? — and as a batter he turned a single to the shortstop’s left into a double with hustle that never stopped out of the batter’s box (Cutch, take note). Harrison aggressively took third on an infield groundout and ran so fast from third to home that my father caught only a part of his leg on his scamper to the plate. Seriously, he set a good example for the younger players (and older ones, for that matter) in both dugouts Tuesday.

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The Trib’s Travis Sawchik noted Alvarez hitting the ball to the opposite field in batting practice Tuesday. He went so far as to mention a Chris-Davis like breakout possibility. I won’t go that far. I spoke to Joe Hultzen of the Bucs’ front office during BP and didn’t see Alvarez’s exhibition. I will say that after purposely making an effort to see him take BP at PNC Park regularly, he does spray the ball around, so Tuesday might have not been anything really new. We’ll see. It’s exciting to think about Pedro’s possibilities. Isn’t that what spring training is all about?

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My Aunt Helen once told me she said a doctor noted how she should be six-feet tall with the torso she has. Short legs, however, conspired to max her height out in the low five-foot range. Gregory Polanco looks to have the opposite build. His torso doesn’t appear to match up with those daddy-long legger legs. I think it will be interesting to see how he physically matures. Will he keep his quickness and his surprising speed? Or will he turn into a thicker slugger and have good speed for a “big man.” Pirates fans are lucky to have such a question posed, either way.

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Polanco beat out another infield single Tuesday, but it was his interplay with Detroit slugger, Miguel Cabrera, after a ground out that seemed more interesting. Cabrera had some playful words for Polanco on his way back to the dugout. I’d love to hear what they were.

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You don’t have to look hard to see photographic equipment in the corner of this photo. For the first five innings, a couple of photographers sat on the field and ruined picture-taking for anyone on the other side of the field.

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They seemed to be having a good time, anyhow.

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Brent Morel hit a couple hard drives to center, but both were caught.

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First baseman, Chris McGuiness, had been having a good spring prior to Tuesday. Against Detroit, the lefty was charged with an error in the field (pitcher Brandon Cumpton was scrambling to cover first base) here) and watched three pitches go past him for three straight called strikes. At least swing the bat once; it’s spring training.

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Jordy Mercer uses every inch of his six foot-plus frame to cover the plate and does a good job of it. He’s set to murder right-handed pitching again in 2014.

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Some of the Bradenton booster club made the trip to Lakeland. Everyone in the yellow jerseys volunteers at McKechnie Field, ushering or working elsewhere in the park. Someday that will be me, but as they say in the “Gladiator” — “not yet.”

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A caption contest would go well with this shot of prospective first baseman, Andrew Lambo, inspecting his bat alongside manager Clint Hurdle.

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Hurdle is originally from Michigan. He was seen here blowing kisses not to AJ Burnett, but to one of his many admirers in the crowd prior to the game.

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Mt. Lebanon native, Don Kelly, stroked a couple hits down the right field line, including a double, then flew out to the track in left.

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Starter Rick Porcello hit 96 mph in the first or second inning and I immediately turned to the Tigers fans to my right and asked him if the radar gun was accurate. I’m not sure I saw another 96 mph heater, but he was consistently throwing 93 or 94 mph.

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Joe Nathan looked solid for Detroit. I had read an article about how he was actually lucky in 2013 with the Rangers, but even if he regresses a bit this year he’ll put up plenty of saves for the Tigers.

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Cabrera moved well Tuesday and hit like he’s ready for another MVP-like season, grounding hard to second and flying deep to center.

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Austin Jackson went deep to left field for the Tigers. I remember scouting him and Jose Tabata in Altoona, back when both players were still with New York’s Double-A Trenton team. Lots of fantasy gamers are expecting a big year from Jackson. See if you can find Kate Upton, or at least Justin Verlander, in the dugout congratulating the outfielder after his dinger.

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I made sure to wear my “neutral” Penguins gear to the game Tuesday. Surprisingly, I didn’t get into many discussions with Red Wings fans, though the retired police officer I spoke with did note the Wings’ tough season thus far.

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Before dad and I left the officer snapped a shot in the shade. Jim Leyland watched the game from the box to the right of the section.

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Almost forgot to mention that Charlie Morton pitched really well and made short work of the Tigers for three frames. He unveiled a new split-change that he intends to keep left-handed hitters honest. Brandon Cumpton, on the other hand, was rocked and even the outs he recorded were loud ones.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Pirates Notes: Pictures and Commentary from Monday’s Bucs-Boston tilt

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Fantasy baseball alert: I recently dropped the Bucco in the first photo (Barrett Barnes) in favor of the player in the second one (Josh Bell). Of course, I had to trade away a $30 Allen Craig to secure Bell, but the long-range keeper acquisition could pay handsome dividends. By the way, I told Bell about my trade and that I’m counting on him.

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Jackie Bradley looks thicker than he did a spring ago. He also has braided dreadlocks — a big fantasy plus. Guys who aren’t afraid of not conforming become their own person and aren’t afraid of what others think of them. I see that attitude in Bradley. Plus, it worked for Andrew McCutchen … Brent Bretz smoked a homer. He’s had all kinds of power, but the contact hasn’t been there. He boosted his stock a bit Monday. He could turn out like Jerry Sands II, but let’s hope not for his sake.

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Francisco Liriano pitched well Monday. He gets himself into trouble when he pitches from the stretch, so as long as he doesn’t let too many runners reach base he should be okay. I’m not worried about Liriano repeating his success as much as him missing time due to injury. Otherwise, he should be in line for a strong year, though facing staff No. 1’s instead of No. 2’s or No. 3’s without A.J. Burnett won’t help him in the wins column.

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Pedro or should I say “DayDro” dropped a bomb on the above pitch as Pittsburgh’s DH. He also scored a run on an extra-base hit and showed off his always-surprising nimbleness on the basepaths.

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Yes, Travis Snider has dropped a lot of weight since last season. This is likely his last chance in a Pirates uniform in 2014.

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Andrew Lambo played the role of Casey at the Bat on Monday whiffing on the first two pitches and then letting a third pitch go for a called strike. Lambo made a pretty stab at first base and got the runner going to second, but his throw to SS Clint Barmes was a poor one. Lambo was batting against a right-handed starter Monday, a situation he would commonly see in the regular season if he impresses.

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Garin Cecchini is a highly-touted third baseman/shortstop for Boston. He reminds me a lot physically of left-handed Hunter Pence and displays an effusive love of the game. I can see why Sox fans are excited about him.

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Starling Marte’s left hand does not have an easy-bake mitt on it; his right hand does. Manager Clint Hurdle says his left fielder wears the unusual-looking glove as a precautionary measure. Marte impressed me in his very first at-bat Monday. His weakness comes against righties and recognizes breaking pitches. Marte was fooled against Workman, but was able to stay back and hit a soft ground to deep short for an infield single. That’s progress, in my opinion.

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Lots of notable Pittsburgh management sitting behind Cutch in above shot.

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McCutchen shows more displeasure at the plate than he used to. It’s easy to think he’s whining, but more likely No. 22 is working the home plate umpire for future calls. He’s grown into his leadership role in more ways than imagined.

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Cutch slaps a rare double down the right-field and likely jokes with third base coach, Nick Leyva, about not legging it out for a triple during a break in play.

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Moments later he steais third base. What’s interesting about Cutch stealing is that he doesn’t slide “hard” into the next base, but readies himself with a pop-up slide. I don’t know if that has anything to do with his sliding efficiency, but it doesn’t help his speed into the bag.

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Here’s a nice pic of Cecchini with Red Sox management looking on.

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Uehara — so good, even with his eyes closed.

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Wandy Rodiguez (left) with Edinson Volquez. Would you be happy if either one of these pitchers contributes consistently to the 2014 Bucs? I would. Volquez looked out of sorts Monday. He struggled to throw strikes. He averaged 17.7 pitches thrown per inning in 2013. Fans could be in for some long games at PNC Park when he starts this summer.

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A couple of cool shots of Andrew McCutchen, just because. If you like baseball and are this far into my entry, you’ve gotta love it.

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In the time it took you to review the above three Gregory Polanco photos he beat the throw from shortstop at first base. The man has speed.

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Polanco has long strides but is quick in addition to being fast.

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AJ Pierzynski has proven to be remarkably healthy for a long time, but he got nicked up Monday.

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If Pedro can hit .250 this year — and I think he can — the Pirates will be in great position to take advantage of his exploits in the standings.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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