Springtime Storylines: Wait! What's that? Is there actually hope for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of
the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: A team they used to call the Buccos, but no one seems to do anymore.


The
big question: Wait! What’s that? Is there actually hope for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

You know what? I think so.  Yes, the Pirates have attempted to rebuild and tear down multiple times since the early 90s, but I’m kinda hopeful now for some reason. They won’t be winning anything anytime soon — in fact, I think they may have the worst record in baseball this year — but at least they allowed themselves to hit bottom and have stopped drafting like total morons in recent years.

The hope comes in the form of two guys right now: Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. McCutcheon seems like he’s been around forever because he was drafted in 2005 alongside some guys who have been in the bigs for a while such as Jay Bruce, but he’s still only 23. That extra time may have done him some good. While Bruce is still searching for his stroke, McCutcheon came up last year and posted a .286/.365/.471 line and seems poised to for some truly great things.

Alvarez hit .288 with 27 homers and 95 RBI across A and AA ball last year. He may or may not stick at third base and he may or may not see any time in Pittsburgh this year, but he’s got a ton of raw power and actually improved after his promotion in 2009.

Overall the Pirates are improving the organization. Nothing fantastic is happening right now and the big league club is going to be pretty horrendous, but the question I asked was “is there hope?”  The answer is yes.

So
what
else is
going on?

  • I’ll admit that I didn’t watch a ton of Pirates’ games last year, but I was kinda surprised to look at the Pirates Baseball-Reference.com page and see that their four primary starters — Ross Ohlendorf, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Charlie Morton — all had quite respectable ERAs in 2009, with the highest being Morton’s 4.55.  That’s better than I thought, and having Octavio Dotel in the pen is an improvement over Matt Capps.
  • But even if the rotation is acceptable, they’re not going to get a ton of help from their defense. Jack Wilson and Nyjer Morgan are gone and apart from McCutcheon in center, there isn’t a lot of leather on this team.
  • One smart thing the Pirates have done recently is to become the island of misfit toys. Taking chances on guys who crashed and burned or simply weren’t given opportunities elsewhere — think: Lastings Milledge and to lesser degrees Jeff Clement and Andy LaRoche — is probably a pretty decent strategy for a team in the Pirates’ position on the success cycle.  Why not take a chance on Elijah Dukes at this point? Zero downside so you can release him if he’s a headache, and if he turns into anything, flip the guy.
  • Misfit toys aside, this is going to be a pretty brutal offense. A healthy Ryan Doumit will be nice and the blossoming of McCutcheon could make things better, but overall there’s no reason to think that they’ll do much to improve what was a league worst offense.

So
how
are they gonna do?

Arguably respectable pitching + poor defense + poor hitting = a pretty bad team. The Buccos are going to lose a lot of games this year, no question. But like I said, there is hope, and if the teams keeps drafting well they could be genuinely competitive in a few years.  Given how bad things have been since, oh, December 8, 1992, that has to count for something.

Prediction: Sixth place, NL Central.

Phillies select active duty Navy aviator in MLB Rule 5 draft

philadelphia phillies
Al Bello/Getty Images
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SAN DIEGO — The Philadelphia Phillies took U.S. Navy aviator Noah Song in the Rule 5 draft Wednesday, hoping the former top pitching prospect can still be effective once he completes his military service.

There is no definitive date on when the 25-year-old Song might be able to join the Phillies.

Song was picked from the Boston Red Sox system in the draft for unprotected minor league players. Philadelphia put him on the military list while he continues his active duty and he won’t count on the 40-man roster, the pool from which major league teams can select players for the 26-man active roster.

Song impressed in his only pro season, making seven starts for Boston’s Class A Lowell affiliate in 2019, with a 1.06 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 17 innings. With a fastball clocked in the upper 90s mph, the right-hander dominated that year as a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy, going 11-1 with a 1.44 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 94 innings.

The Red Sox drafted Song in the fourth round – he likely would’ve gone much higher, but his impending military service caused teams to back off.

In November 2019, Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed a memo clearing the way for athletes at the nation’s military academies to delay their service commitments and play pro sports after graduation. Song’s request to have those new rules retroactively applied to his case was denied.

Song began school as a flight officer in the summer of 2020 and finished that phase last April. He started additional aviation training in May.

Song was among the 15 players, including three Boston pitchers, taken in the big league phase of the Rule 5 draft, which wasn’t held last year because of the MLB lockout.

Washington took righty Thad Ward from Boston’s Triple-A roster with the first pick. Baltimore took Red Sox minor league pitcher Andrew Politi with the ninth choice and the Phillies chose Song with the 11th selection.

Teams pay $100,000 to take players in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. The players must stay on the big league roster next season or go on waivers and, if unclaimed, be offered back to their original organization for $50,000.