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June 6, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

31 comments so far - add yours!

Going off the board

SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates had an opportunity and a challenge on the first day of the draft Thursday.

They had four picks in the top 73 thanks to the trade with the Marlins that landed the 39th overall pick in the compensation round and the extra pick in the competitive balance round. (The trade also gave the Pirates more financial flexibility/creativity by adding $1.4 million to the spending pool.) Those four selections were the most top 75 picks the Pirates have had under Neal Huntington and the most they’ve had in the top 80 in the 21st century.

But picking 24th overall was also the latest the Pirates have drafted since 1991. There was no luxury of zeroing in on a handful of elite players for scouting purposes in the first round. And with their top two premium picks, the Pirates went off the consensus boards of scouting services like Baseball America and

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June 4, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

56 comments so far - add yours!

Never draft for need, until you need to

SOUTH HILLS – Last year at this time I offered the Pirates free advice. I suggested they adopt a high-upside draft doctrine, what I dubbed the Hart Doctrine, which is a theory how small-market clubs should target prep talent — especially with early-round picks — since such players possess higher upside and the draft is the premier vehicle for small-market clubs to obtain impact talent.  And as clear evidence of the influence of this blog, the Pirates went out and selected Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire in the first round, the first high school positional players selected under Neal Huntington and first since Andrew McCutchen by the Pirates.

It’s a hybrid BPA approach slanted toward more risk and more upside when debating the ceiling vs. floors of prospects.  But here’s the thing, no team operates in a vacuum. And while such a theory might make sense for most small-market clubs in most years does it make sense for the Pirates in 2014?

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June 2, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

136 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: can Polanco be Puig?

SOUTH HILLS – It’s June. The Gregory Polanco Watch is officially on.

I went to check on the prized Pirates’ asset on Friday night for a story on Polanco in Sunday’s paper. My contribution to the Polanco-hype machine is here if you’re interested.

Polanco has been discussed so often it was difficult to mine fresh material, but I did attempt delve into what makes him such an unusual prospect. You have to be unusual if you can be compared to an Avatar, Miguel Cabrera and California Chrome in a three-paragraph span. You simply don’t see many baseball players with his size-speed combo. Then there’s the batspeed, aptitude and efficient swing plane for a big man.

I think what has been somewhat lost in all the Super 2/Nutting/Polanco chatter is what kind of impact will Polanco make when he arrives shortly to Pittsburgh? Can he be Yasiel Puig or Wil Myers of 2014? Or is he going to be just another rookie who faces a steep learning curve?

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May 28, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

56 comments so far - add yours!

Ray Searage goes back to work

NEW YORK – Much has been made about Ray Searage‘s ability to spin yarn, or at least Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and others, into gold.

Searage’s track record the last several years has been sterling, his ability to communicate with players uncanny. But Searage has some work to do in 2014 as the Pirates’ starting staff has gone from a strength in 2013 to a great area of concern. The Pirates’ offense  has actually improved –  having scored the fourth most runs in the NL in June – and the bullpen is bound to improve when looking at those underlying skills.

But the rotation? Too many pitches have been up in the zone this season, or out of the zone, and the trend continued at Citi Field.

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May 26, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

29 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Morning Mop-Up: Cole vs. Strasburg, who ya got?

CITI FIELD  -  Which former No. 1 overall prospect would you rather have – and try to be objective here - Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg?

Considering everything, the contracts, club control, skill sets, age, physical characteristics, Jonah Keri ranked Cole as the 26th most valuable property in baseball, Strasburgh 15th in his trade ranking sin December. I think that’s fair – but I think Cole has also closed the gap. I think you can argue the Pirates now have two of the top 20 assets in baseball in Cole and Andrew McCutchen.

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May 23, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

47 comments so far - add yours!

Lessons from the Wandy Rodriguez Experience

SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates’ front office ran out of patience with Wandy Rodriguez yesterday, designating him for assignment. Even though his velocity wasn’t that far off his career average, even though his curveball appeared to have the same break and spin rate as it had before he left a start June 5 last season in Atlanta with elbow pain, Rodriguez was never again the same pitcher. This had more to do with command and fastball plane, I suspect.

Anyways, after Rodriguez’s posted sixth highest ERA among pitchers with 20+ innings pitched this season, the Pirates and Astros will eat the remaining dollars on his $14 million contract.

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May 21, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

46 comments so far - add yours!

Revisiting Machado vs. Taillon

SOUTH HILLS – If the first 40+ games haven’t been painful enough to many in Western Pa., if Tuesday night wasn’t disappointing enough with Francisco Liriano rocked by the Orioles, there was also Manny Machado playing third base at PNC Park – for another team.

Now Machado is off to a slow start this season, coming off a knee injury and resulting surgery. But as a 21-year-old last season he posted a remarkable 6.2-WAR campaign for the Orioles. And had the Pirates selected him, he would be playing his natural shortstop position, an area where the Pirates have struggled to generate production.

The great debate in the 2010 Pirates’ draft war room was Machado vs. Jameson Taillon. Machado has already made an impact at the major league level and could become a superstar. Taillon is in Bradenton, Fla. rehabbing following Tommy John surgery, a living reminder of the dangers associated with drafting and developing young pitching.

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May 19, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

91 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: first quarter report

NEW YORK – The Pirates salvaged something from their series in New York by splitting Sunday’s gaffe-filled doubleheader. But as we’ve officially passed the quarter pole, the Pirates are in a tough spot. There’s still a lot season to play, there’s still a lot to like about this roster (and some not to like), but the Pirates are without much margin for error. They are seven games under .500 (18-25). The Cardinals are beginning to look more like the Cardinals. The Pirates have regressed in just about every area, including now apparently, base-running.

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May 14, 2014
by Travis Sawchik

41 comments so far - add yours!

This is why we can’t have nice things

MILLER PARK – I didn’t get much of a chance to comment on Jose Fernandez earlier as I was traveling and had to immediately get to work at the ballpark Tuesday, but what an absolute shame for not only the Marlins but the entire sport as this was perhaps the best young arm in the game.  While Tommy John surgery doesn’t end his career, it puts a career on hold, and the procedure is not always the automatic cure many believe it to be. Just ask Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano. Even Stephen Strasburg isn’t quite as electric as he was before surgery. I hope we get to see Fernandez return as what he was: a remarkable talent.

What’s troubling, including and beyond Fernandez, is this: of the 22 major league pitchers who have had Tommy John since Feb. 18 – an astonishingly high number –  the overwhelming majority have been young. The surgery patients have averaged 23.4 years of age. Think about how young that it is? Think about what that tells us? Think about what that might mean, for, say, Gerrit Cole. (Including minor league arms, the TJ toll is at 34 this spring, including Jameson Taillon.)

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