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June 18, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


46 comments so far - add yours!

The 25 most valuable Pirates

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SOUTH HILLS  – Back by popular demand is the Pirates’ 25 most valuable player list, which is essentially a trade value ranking.

This is not a list tied only to 2014 value, rather, it’s all-encompassing value ranking. The list takes into account present skills, future projection, age, contract (cost) and years of club control.

It contains a wide range of players from current Pirates’ regulars to prospects yet to play in Low-A ball, from ages 31 (Russell Martin) to 17 (Cole Tucker). It’s a balance between current production and future hopes.

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June 16, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


77 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: Polanco-palooza

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MIAMI – I wondered in this space earlier this month if Gregory Polanco could be Yasiel Puig.

No, he’s not going to be a demonstrative, serial bat-flipper like Puig, but could Polanco be the rare type of impact rookie that helps turn around a season? Impact rookies are unusual but after observing Polanco’s first week we might just be witnessing the rare type of player who is above average – and maybe great – from his first days in the show. If you had any doubts, Polanco should have erased them. He’s special.

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June 11, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


54 comments so far - add yours!

Pittsburgh, we have a problem

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SOUTH HILLS – This was supposed to be a blog entry recapping the feel-good story that was Gregory Polanco Day at PNC Park. (The Polanco statue to be unveiled next week  on the river walk). Baseball Gods usually laugh at your plans, though. And while it was Polanco’s day at PNC Park, it really become the story of Francisco Liriano’s left oblique.

An injury to Liriano was about the last thing the Pirates needed to see (outside a shoulder injury to Gerrit Cole). The reality is, the Pirates might not see Liriano until late July. The reality is that puts their 2014 hopes on the brink.

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June 10, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


25 comments so far - add yours!

Happy Polanco Day (though it comes under gray skies)

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SOUTH HILLS – In case you retire early and rise late, Gregory Polanco will be called up today and is expected to make his major league debut against the Cubs. (Though the Cubs do have a lefty scheduled). Polanco breaking his own call-up news via Twitter …

Is he ready? That’s the key question. Will he thrive and not just survive? Not only do the Pirates need an impact player now to stay on the outskirts of the postseason race, they need to maximize the value of Polanco’s controllable years.

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June 9, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


73 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: the sum of all fears

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PNC PARK – So much rests upon the right shoulder of Gerrit Cole.

The way I see it there are three players the Pirates cannot afford to lose for large portions of the season: Andrew McCutchen – you might have heard he won the NL MVP – Russell Martin - the pitch-framing, pitch-sequencing, throwing arm, presence and league-average bat for a catcher are invaluable - and Cole.

In looking beyond 2014, you can make an argument Cole is the team’s most valuable asset. So whenever your bluest of blue chips – a young, pre-arb ace – has shoulder discomfort that summons worst-case scenarios for the pitcher and the club. An elbow injury requiring Tommy John is not desirable but at least the success rates of the surgery are high. Structural damage to a shoulder is a much more difficult to return from.

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June 6, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


31 comments so far - add yours!

Going off the board

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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 MLB.com.

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June 4, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


56 comments so far - add yours!

Never draft for need, until you need to

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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?

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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

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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?

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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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