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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Pirate Notes: Taillon vs. Cole, Lambo vs. Jones, panic signings to come?

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Jameson Taillon is on track to become a great pitcher. Compared with Gerrit Cole, Taillon might have the higher long-term upside of the two – though that’s a tough statement to make after Cole’s brilliant 2013. The Pirates drafted Taillon out of high school in 2010; Cole in 2011, out of UCLA.

Taillon didn’t come equipped with the polished bells and whistles Cole did. He didn’t pitch in big collegiate contests against top hitters. The learning curve has had to be greater for Taillon at the pro game. The Pirates have worked with him extensively, insisting on fastball command and a changeup to go with an out-pitch curve.

Of course, Cole’s so-called weakest pitch is his mid-90s fastball. His 96.1 mph average heater led all major-league hurlers with at least 110 innings in 2013. How much Cole can improve remains to be seen. His game almost seems more about refining than improving.

Taillon, on the other hand, hasn’t yet clicked at any minor-league stop. Granted, the Pirates are more interested in developing the righty than checking his results. For that reason, it’s difficult to state definitively where Taillon’s game stands right now.

Listening to a prominent sports personality on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh on Saturday, he was of the opinion Taillon has to break camp with the Pirates.

There are a number of reasons why that might not be a good idea and none include holding Taillon back a season for arbitration purposes.

Major league innings and minor league innings are not created equally. A pitcher can get away with mediocrity easier against Double-A or Triple-A batters than big leaguers. The stress level increases with each level, the “heart beat” as Pirates manager Clint Hurdle calls it. Obviously, it takes much more to succeed in the majors than anywhere else. There are no mulligans. Bringing up a pitcher because of his pedigree and dismissing shortcomings can be a trap, setting that pitcher back for a year or two or longer.

Taillon hasn’t put up great numbers at any minor league stop, nor does he have much experience. He has all of 127.1 innings for Double-A Altoona and 37 IP with Triple-A Indy. His combined 2013 numbers include a 3.73 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 147.1 frames.

There’s something to be said for Taillon dominating at the World Baseball Classic for Team Canada prior to his 2012 spring training. That’s good news for the Bucs. It was an important step for the 22-year-old and had to give him a jolt of confidence. Seeing Cole come up last summer also had to get his competitive juices flowing.

But while the two pitchers might be right-handed, they come from different backgrounds and are on different courses.

It wasn’t hard to forecast success for Cole right off the bat, considering his career path. Taillon is a bit different.

He could struggle upon his initial recall, whenever that is. The Pirates would be wise to give him a chance to dominate at Indianapolis and force his way into the rotation after the Super 2 Arbitration period passes sometime in June.

A number of prospect rankings have dropped Taillon in the past year, with some calling him a potential No. 2 pitcher. It’s easy to see how these outlets might make that call, especially based upon his middling statistics.

But Taillon is not the finished, polished product Cole was and is. What you see is pretty much what you get with Cole – certainly there’s nothing wrong with that. He was a stud in September, when his pitch count was higher than perhaps it should’ve been.

But good things come to those who wait, and Taillon is worth the wait. Counting on him right off the bat might be a mistake, but in the end there’s still a chance he could be just as productive – if not more so – than his fellow Pirates first-round draft pick.

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When Garrett Jones came to the Pirates, he was 28 years of age and had 77 major-league at bats to his credit.

Last season, Jones struggled to his worst year, hitting .233 with a .708 OPS in 440 plate appearances (including 417 against righties – his perceived strength). Incidentally, it’s interesting that he played in 72 games at home and 72 on the road, hitting .233 at PNC Park and .234 away.

Here’s my point.

Andrew Lambo or whomever takes over as the left-handed platoon partner with Gaby Sanchez, will not be replacing Babe Ruth. There is pressure on Lambo, but he doesn’t have to do all that much to do better than Jones.

There’s a school of thought that Lambo is a failed prospect at age 25, but he’s actually three years younger than Jones when he made his Pittsburgh debut.

Yes, the Pirates should upgrade first base. Based on Jones’s 2013 production, it shouldn’t be hard to do.

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Pittsburgh would forfeit its first round draft pick by signing Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana or Stephen Drew. The longer they remain unsigned, it serves to reason that their asking prices drop. The Bucs could find room for any of these guys. For them to give up the 24th overall pick, here are the annual salary numbers the team should hold out for before inking any of the three: Morales — $6-7 million, Santana — $8-10 million, and Drew — $5-6 million.

Ideally, Morales would be best on a one-year deal to see how he handles first base, but giving up the pick makes a one-year contract tough to justify. Santana could flourish in the National League. He has a bit of a head-case reputation, but getting two years out of him would really help the Bucs. Drew is an injury risk any time he goes on the field. He’s still looking for $10 million-plus per year, so he’s likely out of the equation, anyhow.

What the Baltimore Orioles did made a lot of sense in the free agent market. After signing Ubaldo Jimenez and sacrificing a first-round pick, they inked Nelson Cruz. According to the rules, they didn’t have to give up another first rounder, but their next pick in the same draft after the first rounder they already gave up.

It will be interesting to see how low the prices go on Morales, Santana and Drew drop before they panic and sign on the cheap.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Pirate Notes: Burnett, Fregosi, Smoak-Moreland

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Silence is golden.

The most incredible part of the A.J. Burnett offseason saga, at least to me, is how he could be so silent for so long. In this age of Twitter and Instagram, Burnett’s ability to avoid the media and keep his intentions to himself was remarkable. Well played.

He also showed veteran savvy by keeping bidders on the sidelines until the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes played out.

There’s only so much to be said about most perceived leaders in baseball. Burnett had a chance to add $12 million to his $120 million career earnings to stay in Pittsburgh but decided to go with the Phillies and their $16 million offer. Burnett should thank the Bucs a hundred times over because there’s no way another team gives him that much money if it had to give up a No. 1 pick for his services.

Pirates catcher Russell Martin chose his words carefully when he spoke of Burnett’s departure. After all, Martin will be in the same unrestricted free agency boat following the 2014 campaign.

Of course, Burnett will be closer to his home now. As Peter Gammons said on the MLB Network on Friday morning, he’s got his ride from the park to his house tabbed at 107 minutes. That’s kind of cool.

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Jim Fregosi died of multiple strokes Friday. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I knew of the former baseball player and manager as a first baseman/pinch hitter in his later years with the Bucs (1977, 1978). As a big baseball card coIlector, I sorted many a Fregosi Topps card, which made it even more interesting when I ran into Mr. Fregosi at PNC Park last summer. He seemed genuinely touched that I remembered his career in Pittsburgh.

That’s a common reaction to former players and coaches I come in contact with at the park. It’s easy to put these guys on a platform, but they’re just regular folk like you and me (as cliché as that sounds).

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It makes a lot of sense that the Pirates will end up with either Justin Smoak or Mitch Moreland at first base, depending upon where free agent outfielder, Nelson Cruz, signs. Cruz, who played for Texas last year, could lessen the Rangers’ need for Moreland by re-signing with the team.

Or, Cruz could go with Seattle. Mariners outfielder, Franklin Gutierrez, announced he would miss all of 2014 with a gastro illness Thursday. That opens a spot for Cruz in Seattle. The Mariners have Corey Hart at first base. Add Logan Morrison to the mix and promising power-hitting prospect, Ji-Man Choi, in the minors and it’s easy to see Smoak with Pittsburgh.

Links

It’s amazing how many articles about A.J. Burnett signing with the Philadelphia Phillies — such as Jeff Sullivan’s A.J. Burnett finds a new, mediocre home — slip into trade deadline scenario’s with the 37-year-old getting traded to another team.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@PiratesTalk
@JohnToperzer

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The Cautionary Tale of Tim Alderson

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A couple days ago I was testing my memory — and failed. No big news there, but it bugged me that I couldn’t remember the name of the pitcher Pittsburgh picked up for fan favorite Freddy Sanchez.

Do you ever have that feeling where the name is on the tip of your tongue but can’t remember it? Anyways, the following is my recollection of Tim Alderson’s journey.

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The Pirates acquired Alderson, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound righthander, for second baseman, Freddy Sanchez, in late July of 2009.

Alderson, 20 years of age at the time of the deal, was mentioned in the same breath as a prospect as fellow San Francisco pitchers, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner.

How could a pitcher who was ranked twice in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects flop so badly?

Alderson, who ascended as high as 45th in Baseball America’s rankings in 2009, has never pitched in the major leagues. After parts of five years within Pittsburgh’s system, the organization traded him to Baltimore for first baseman/outfielder, Russ Canzler, last summer.

Sanchez likely held the most trade value of any Pirates player when the team looked to shed itself of veterans in 2009.

What happened?

I made the trip to Double-A Altoona to watch Alderson’s third start for the Curve. He was coming off ack-to-back wins for his new team, allowing only two earned runs in 11.2 IP with two walks and seven strikeouts. That was likely the high-water mark of his time with Pittsburgh.

He gave up five runs in 3.1 innings against the Portland Sea Dogs on Aug. 13, the night I saw him pitch. His velocity was terrible and his delivery looked like a thousand legger crawling up my wall. Alderson was sitting 86 mph with his fastball. Blair County Ballpark, as it was so named, was notorious for taking a couple of miles per hour off speed, but this was ridiculous.

Trusting Baseball America, I wondered if Alderson was simply nursing an injury because if this was the product the Pirates were getting for their top trade bait, well, it just wouldn’t work out.

Between Alderson’s funky delivery and whatever other problems beset him, his quick ascent toward the major leagues fizzled in a big way. He ended up spending parts of four years with Altoona. The righty made it to Triple-A as a reliever in 2013, where his 2.79 ERA was Alderson’s best since he was a part of the Giants system. Unfortunately, with Baltimore he compiled a 6.27 ERA in Triple-A after the trade.
Alderson’s journey serves as a cautionary tale.

Right now, the Pirates farm system is being universally lauded as one of the best, if not the best, in all of baseball.

Nationally and locally, Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco are being penciled in as major contributors after the Super 2 arbitration period passes sometime in June.

Taillon and Polanco deserve the accolades they’re receiving, but it would be unwise to forget the forgettable Tim Alderson.

While the organization should be applauded for collecting a bumper crop of prospects, Alderson shows that sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

PS – Funny thing about Tim Alderson is that he’s homered three times in 35 career at-bats and holds a .786 OPS.

Click here for a link to Tim Alderson’s career numbers.

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Pirates Notes: Can Pedro Alvarez hit .250? Cutch reach 35 HR? Liriano back-to-back?

By John Toperzer

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I’m convinced Pedro Alvarez is going to hit .250 one of these seasons. Yes, it is wishful thinking. He needs to avoid those Death Valley slumps, where he goes 1-for-two weeks. His walk rate has also dipped, from 14.9 percent in his only Triple-A year to 7.8 percent in 2013 with Pittsburgh. He did compile a 9.7 BB rate in 2012 with the Bucs, so there’s legitimate room for improvement.

Alvarez hit .256 as a rookie in 2010 (386 plate appearances), so the slugger set a precedent in the past.

His swing rate has jumped from about 43 percent to 50 percent, which might lead one to believe he basically hacks at anything coming out of the pitcher’s hand. But what’s interesting is that the pitches he swung at were inside the strike zone 70 percent of the time – a career high.

Lots of folks have pigeon-holed Pedro Alvarez as a Dave Kingman, Pete Incaviglia, all-or-nothing type and I happen to think there’s more to him than that.

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I was listening to SiriusXM radio Monday and the host discussed the pro’s and con’s of drafting Andrew McCutchen third overall in fantasy baseball. The argument was made that McCutchen might only hit 15 or 16 homers as a floor and that makes him a risk (as the No. 3 pick). Speaking from a fantasy perspective, the host said he might prefer to take another batter who has the potential to either dominate in homers or steals, that there’s no way he could see McCutchen hitting 35 dingers.

I think the tough part for McCutchen is how he reacts to being named NL MVP. Do pitchers work around him more than ever? Is there a bit of a letdown by Cutch? I don’t see that being the case, but they’re reasonable questions.

I see McCutchen belting 35 homers before he steals 35 bags. Don’t get me wrong, he could swipe 35 or more bags if he sets his mind to it, but steals don’t come naturally for McCutchen. Sometimes he goes a month or more without even an attempt. Frankly, stealing bases isn’t one of his go-to skills. McCutchen has a strong but small frame. The extra sprinting seems to take a toll on him, especially when one considers how he hustles down the first-base line on routine grounders.

I think the power game still has room to grow with McCutchen. He’s in his age 27 season and Alvarez is beginning to provide better support behind him in the lineup.

Cutch hit 31 home runs in 2012, when he actually had a better season than his MVP campaign. If I had to make a bet, I’d say his homers increase before his stolen bases.

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There’s a belief Francisco Liriano will regress from his 2013 numbers because he’s never put up strong back-to-back numbers in his eight major-league seasons. Looking over his numbers, he’s really had only three decent or better campaigns. In his last two American Leagues seasons, Liriano registered earned run averages of 5.09 and 5.34, respectively.

I think people are discounting the fact the National League is much more forgiving than the AL. The 2014 will only be his second season in the senior circuit (though he originally signed with the Giants in 2000).

If anything, the 30-year-old lefty is more of an injury risk than a performance risk. Sliders take a toll on arms and he’s got one of the best in baseball. Here’s a list of Liriano’s ailments and injuries, courtesy of RotoWire.

2006 – DUI, root canal, food poisoning, elbow/forearm, Tommy John surgery
2007 – Recovery from Tommy John
2008 –
2009 – Late to spring training, forearm, arm fatigue
2010 – Dead arm, illness (Sept.)
2011 – Shoulder, illness/sore throat, shoulder
2012 – Quad, non-pitching arm (Christmas injury)
2013 – Non-pitching arm

Liriano is much better from the windup than the stretch. If he can pitch with some control – his 3.5 BB/9 IP last year was his best mark since 2010, then he could put together another strong season.

Liriano compiled an 8-1 record, 1.47 ERA and 0.96 WHIP at PNC Park. Pitching coach Ray Searage, who worked with the lefthander and his mechanics/release point, is also back for another season.

I see the downside similar to his post All-Star break numbers – 7-5 record, 3.95 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.

Click here for Francisco Liriano’s career statistics.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@PiratesTalk
@JohnToperzer

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