December 2011

PNC Park season ticket hitting event

A swing and a miss. It was essentially the story of my night. What is this, you are asking me. Well I was given an opportunity to hit in the cages that the Pirates hit in, also known as the dreaded cages the Pirates hit in when there is no batting practice in an effort to test my patience. Last year I got to meet Garrett Jones and Neil Walker and had a lot of fun.

This season I only knew one of the athletes in advance before I landed at PNC Park as I had tweeted one of my favorite Pirates Daniel McCutchen asking if he was there. The following is the actual dialogue we had on it.

“@DanielMcCutchen Daniel McCutchen
In Pittsburgh all day with nothing to do. Any suggestions? And yes I will go hunting with someone if I got a chance for a big buck.

@AtoZSportsWPPJ Zac Weiss @DanielMcCutchen Dang that stinks. Wish I could give you advice, but I am teaching tennis. Will I see you at PNC Park tomorrow night?

DanielMcCutchen Daniel McCutchen
@AtoZSportsWPPJ I think so”

That was cool that I figured that he would be there and he is one of my favorite Pirates. I really enjoy all of the Pirates bullpen especially Evan Meek, D. Cutch and lately Chris Leroux and Jason Grilli.

My friend Nick Pelescak unfortunately could not meet up with us and Erik Jabs another buddy and had to show up earlier and told us that it was D Cutch as well as Brad Lincoln and Jeff Banister among active Pirates players and coaches. I was satisfied with this, especially since I had a math final on Wednesday and would miss Joel Hanrahan, Kevin Correia and Ray Searage.

I was so pleased to invite my father to hit with me. My dad does not get to go to the season games with me minus one we went to as a family and he had not been to a season ticket event since early in the 2010 when there was the rookie season ticket holder lunch which was on Mother’s Day. In short, it had been a while, and I wanted my dad to hit and see me in my element where I was most comfortable.

After briefly catching up with Erik, we were let in and went in line to wait for the cages. I got into the line with the faster pitches and I ended up not liking that decision, coming up with air and no contact during any of the pitches. My dad who plays softball quite a bit, made some nice contact with the baseballs, which impressed Bob Walk who watched us both swing.

“Good job dad, way to keep our family name partially respectable,” I said after he was done. This led to some laughter from Bob Walk who was laughing the entire time when I was breaking things down.

We both tried the other cage which was slower but the ball would drop off each time. Jaclyn, my season ticket representative was the one manning the machine and just like last year told me she would strike me out via the machine.

“I’m sure you will,” I told her which led to more laughter. I was telling the truth, I haven’t been working out and don’t work on my swing and after a long skate earlier in the afternoon, my first real long physical activity since the end of the season I could barely feel my hands. My swing was stiff and terrible all night and I would muster some foul balls, but my swing was all out of sorts.

My dad was being watched by Bob Walk and also John Wehner was in the area and again when the pitch was over the plate he pounced including hitting one which went as far as the netting on the cage allowed it to. The ball then had a wicked curve on it and barely missed Jaclyn, who looked a little intimidated for a minute. I was so glad it didn’t hit her because I would have had a lot of explaining to do.

When my dad was done, Walk described the differences between the two pitching machines to us and was using his hands to show the drop off rate for each pitch. He really knew his stuff and that was cool to see. I talk a picture with him, and although he didn’t admit it, he looked very surprised my dad could hit as well as he did.

We both were done by that point and we ran into a few more familiar faces which grace me each day that I am at PNC Park and it was great to see them. I then took the elevator to the Hall of Fame Club and prepared to see D Cutch, Lincoln and Bannister.

I was expecting a decent sized line, but I saw nothing so I went right up there with my dad right behind me.

The first one I talked to was Daniel McCutchen and the first thing he said to me was, “I remember you from all of those games in the bleachers and by the bullpen”. Yes that was awesome, and I explained why I go for the baseballs and he completely understood my reasonings and said that he loves when the others toss their gloves down so that he could stop them. I told him, I was not one of those guys, and he said he may try to help me out a little next year. I can only hope that is true.

I then met Brad Lincoln for the first time. I wanted to meet him at PirateFest earlier in the year, but we had a great conversation about hoping he would get a good look in the big leagues this year and all kinds of other things. Daniel McCutchen jokingly said to me, “You better not say anything bad about me on your radio show.” I never speak badly about D Cutch so I told the truth and told him I never do, and then he said, “If there’s anyone you need to talk bad about it’s Banister,” Banister winced expecting me to completely insult him as many overlook him but I said to them, “I can’t talk badly about Banny, he’s a lifer. I have nothing but respect for him.”

This led to a ton of laughs in the room, as I could tell they were all in a playful mood. No one else was really coming over so I just stayed over there and kept talking with them with a mixture of serious things but also some fun stuff which kept them laughing. It was great that I was in my element; just myself and the players. No one gets that chance, they are constantly bombarded for autographs but just to have a normal conversation with a fan when you are wearing a Pirate uniform let alone any uniform is rare. I think I got to know more about the guys and they got to learn more about me. I am a true fan of this team and I will defend them until the day I die, and if I can still defend them after death then I will.

My dad told me after a while that we had to leave and I said my good byes with the promise that I would see them Friday at PirateFest.

As for season tickets, I have still not purchased them yet. I would have to put a $100 deposit down. I want this internship with the team, so if I get it, I don’t want to be down $100. If I do not get the internship, I plan on going to 50 or more games. I would likely get a full season ticket plan for the cheapest rate possible. I would have to potentially part from my centerfield toss ups, but it doesn’t pay to be there if I don’t regularly sit there. Between all of the standing and hanging out by the bullpen, it is not worth it.

I will officially be all three days of PirateFest now as I won a Root Sports contest for four tickets Saturday. That will be nice, and I will have blog posts on here. Follow me @AtoZSportsWPPJ for updates while I am there and I will have tons of pictures on Facebook. Friday and Saturday’s pictures will likely come Saturday night and Sunday’s pictures will come after the event on Sunday. Should be a lot of fun.

Updated Pirates 25 man roster predictions

It changes a little with the moves/tenders done today.

Catcher (2)

Rod Barajas- The obvious starter. Should have 15 homers and be good defensively.

Mike McKenry- Proved his mettle and the Pirates have not forgotten it. He is great defensively and that could help his chances. Like him for the backup role although there will be some competition from fellow former Rockies catcher Jose Morales.

Infield (7)

Garrett Jones- He is the starter by default at the position. I am unsure if the Pirates are content with this, but Carlos Pena is a rumor that may not go away for a while. The fact that the Pirates tendered him means they plan on him being the starter and that Pena is highly unlikely at best to become a Pirate. Jones also can play some outfield if need be to give one of the outfielders a day off.

Neil Walker- The job is clearly his at second. He is still improving defensively but his second half performance needs to be better this season.

Clint Barmes- A plus hitting shortstop and very great defensively. I think fans will be most pleased that Ronny Cedeno is gone.

Pedro Alvarez- Pirates will give him every opportunity to win the starting job. 2011 was a disappointment for Alvarez but the Pirates have a program set for him. If he follows it, keeps his weight going and brings back the power, he will get the job.

Casey McGehee- The trade was a little bit shocking, but with McGehee now losing his starting job due to the signing of Aramis Ramirez he became expendable. He will provide great depth for Pedro Alvarez and was definitely worth taking a flier on. Although he does not want to, he can certainly play first base, and he even has some starts at second base under his belt. I don’t expect his 2009 and 2010 breakout seasons, but I expect a nice bounce back after last season’s disappointment. He will definitely get at-bats and chances here in Pittsburgh.

Josh Harrison- Harrison may be an odd man out, but he showed grit and determination as a Pirate. His ability to play shortstop will also help him out.

Gustavo Nunez- The Pirates tend to see how their Rule-5 selections work out. They took looks at Evan Meek, Donnie Veal, John Raynor and recently Josh Rodriguez, all recent Rule-5 selections by the Pirates. It is very possible that Harrison and Nunez could compete for one roster spot. If both make it like I have now, then one reliever will be out of the 25 man.

Outfield (4)

Alex Presley- Showed a lot last season. Despite the blunder of a baseball deflecting off of his arm for a home run, he does have some pop, speed and passion. I like what he brings and the Pirates will give him every opportunity to stop.

Andrew McCutchen- McCutchen really proved his metal last season. He does need to get back to the aggressiveness he displayed on the bases. The glove is there, although sometimes he makes some elementary mistakes out in the field. An automatic start and a five tool player.

Jose Tabata- A little worried about his injuries, but his speed, arm and instincts will give him a starting job. The starting outfield already seems set in stone.

Nate McLouth- McLouth was signed to be the fourth outfielder and with all three Pirates in the outfield experiencing injury last season, he could get lots of plate appearances. He could easily come in and play a corner and his bat at PNC Park has been great.

Starters (in no particular order)

James McDonald- The most consistent starter in the second half of the season. Got that confidence back and showed what we could have seen all season had McDonald not been hurt in Spring Training. I hope to see a more consistent McDonald and also one that has faster starts to avoid those high pitch counts which plagued him last season.

Jeff Karstens- Karstens showed his worth last season but it was fatigue and an innings count which hurt him last season. One can hope he displays that killer curveball once again. This is really the first season in a Pirates uniform that Karstens will not be overlooked. He will be expected to perform right away and it will be interesting to see how he responds to that.

Erik Bedard- If he is healthy, then Bedard will definitely enjoy PNC Park as it is a pitcher’s park. He is a groundball pitcher and I do believe that with Barmes and Walker, the Pirates have their best defensive infield since Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson graced PNC Park. That definitely cannot hurt Bedard as he navigates the National League waters.

Kevin Correia- Despite missing much of the second half of the season, Correia led the Pirates in wins. His road record was a great surprise for this team. For Correia to succeed though, he needs to pitch well at home. He did not get that done last season.

Charlie Morton/Brad Lincoln- I am platooning this as this is based off of Morton’s health. If Morton is healthy and shows that he is ready to pitch, then he will get that rotation spot. If not, I believe that Lincoln showed a lot last season and should get a good look in the rotation until Morton heals.

Bullpen (7)

Tony Watson- Hurdle loves his lefties, and I feel that Daniel Moskos will not be there Opening Day. Hurdle can use Watson however he wants. He can be a long reliever or a situational guy that needs to come in to retire that one hitter.

Jason Grilli- Grilli’s performance in the second half cannot be overlooked. He can be valuable as a long reliever, a middle reliever or in an extreme emergency a closer. His one year contract he just signed is worth $1.1 million and the Pirates like the reliability he brings. The strikeouts were a pleasant surprise last season.

Daniel McCutchen- McCutchen had a breakout season last year and pitched the most innings of any Pirate reliever last season. He will be expected to perform similarly this season.

Chris Resop- Resop was the victim of some rotten luck last season, and I think with Evan Meek back he will lose his setup job. He can still be a setup man if the team wants to ride a hot hand, but Resop projects to be the seventh inning guy.

Chris Leroux- With Jose Veras now gone, I expect Leroux to get the last spot in the bullpen. While Hurdle likes his lefties and a case could be made for Daniel Moskos, Leroux has some great stuff. He also has some great confidence having pitched well for the Pirates during his stint during the season and being stretched out as a starter during the fall. The Pirates really like Leroux and I believe they will give him every opportunity to get that bullpen spot.
Evan Meek- Meek is expected to help set the bridge. He needs to get as much of that velocity on that fastball. If he can stay in good health and get that lively fastball back, then it will be a good season for him.

Joel Hanrahan- I do not think that Hanrahan will be traded yet. He has shown how valuable he is to this team. Hanrahan will return as the closer and I am sure that will help the team as they know they have a reliable option in to close the door.

My current standings: American League

This will work just like my National League post.

AL East:

1. New York Yankees- The Yankees return largely intact and regardless of whether A.J. Burnett stays or not, this team is the clear front runner. Curtis Granderson finally learned how to hit lefties and Robinson Cano really showed his star potential. C.C. Sabathia is still the best pitcher in the division and Rivera the best closer. Will this be Derek Jeter’s last season? At the time of this post they look to have a replacement in Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima who has 30 days to sign with teams.

2. Boston Red Sox- There are two big problems with this team. The first is that many of the Red Sox players are not happy with the choice of Bobby Valentine as their manager. The hiring certainly says that their partying days are over. The other issue is that right now Daniel Bard is the closer for this team. Based on how Bard pitched in Septemeber, I am very concerned for the Red Sox. Perhaps a call to Ryan Madson is in order. The best news this season for the team is that David Ortiz accepted arbitration to rejoin the team after rumors that was considering joining the Yankees. Also good news was the fact that a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury was back, healthy and playing like an MVP all season. His power numbers were up and this bodes well for the team. Year one in the Bobby Valentine era should be a success.

3. Tampa Bay Rays- The Rays are back after no one thought they would make the playoffs last season. Evan Longoria and David Price will help lead this team. Joining Price will be Jeremy Hellickson the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year. They will help bring a lot of wins to the Trop. James Shields has been subject to many trade rumors and whether he goes or not, Matt Moore who just signed a five year contract could play a big factor in the rotation. I am not sold on their hitting although their outfield will be led by B.J. Upton. If Sam Fuld can get off to a fast start, then Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings can share a corner and make things less stressful. Never count out Joe Maddon.

4. Toronto Blue Jays- This team will continue to hit and their pitching is starting to turn the corner. Jose Bautista could have easily have been the MVP of the American League if his team were in better standing. Kelly Johnson was a Trade Deadline pickup and he will be back and can provide some nice pop from the lefty side of the plate. Add J.P. Arrencebia, Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus among others and this team is ready to hit. Ricky Romero had another quiet good season and perhaps this is the year that Kyle Drabek needs to step it up and show that he was worth trading Roy Halladay. This team could be good in almost any other division, but with these other three teams perhaps third is the highest that they can go.

5. Baltimore Orioles- The Orioles have to remain cellar dwellers for 2012. They have offensive potential with Mark Reynolds, Matt Wieters, JJ Hardy and Nick Markakis to name a few, but there are way too many offensive strikeouts for this team. Jeremy Guthrie has been rumored to be traded but with the team he is on, he is not getting a good deal and has been losing way too many starts. Kevin Gregg is an adventure at closer so Baltimore will need to score early and often.

AL Central:

1. Detroit Tigers- The Tigers look as though they may benefit from the weakest AL Central in recent memory. Yes, they lost Magglio Ordonez, but with his age getting higher, his power was going way down. Miguel Cabrera will still manning the hot corner and his power is good and his defense underrated. Alex Avila and Victor Martinez will both continue to help this team with Gerald Laird returning after winning the World Series with St. Louis. Delmon Young and Austin Jackson can certainly contribute to this team as they showed in the playoffs and Jhonny Peralta will be a consistent force for this team. Justin Verlander the AL Cy Young and MVP will continue to be a leader on this team. The signing of Octavio Dotel was a sneaky good one and I think he helps big time in setting things up for closer Jose Valverde who had a dream season in 2011.

2. Minnesota Twins- The Twins got a very raw deal last season. Injuries to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau really hurt this team and they never really could get into things. There still are pieces that need to be signed, but Ron Gardenhire is a sneaky good manager because he does his thing and consistently gets the most out of his players. Denard Span and Danny Valencia will bring big contributions to this team and this team will need to sign Jason Kubel to compete. They have no real ace although Francisco Liriano has thrown a no hitter. Joe Nathan is gone and the team re-signed Matt Capps to close the door.

3. Chicago White Sox- I am very low on the hire of Robin Ventura as manager. Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin will be back to help him out but Mark Buehrle will not be and his loss will be huge. Adam Dunn will need to show this team that he was not a wasted investment, something which certainly held true last season. The team is missing depth in the rotation and that will really hurt them and their bullpen which will take a lot of innings this season.

4. Cleveland Indians- This team had a one year wonder once again, but I project them to go back to reality. Ubaldo Jimenez just never got anything going. He should get some help from Derek Lowe who should help mentor Jimenez and also pitch towards the front or middle of the rotation with Justin Masterson who also pitched well. Travis Hafner’s health is always is a concern. Carlos Santana is a great power option, but power options are lower than usual.

5. Kansas City Royals- The team usually is at the cellar of the division, but last year they experienced a bump due to the newfound youth in the team. Jeff Francoeur had a career season, Alex Gordon finally met expectations, Eric Hosmer had a great rookie season and Billy Butler continued his consistency. The pieces are there, but I do think they will have a letdown. They did pick up Jonathan Broxton and Jonathan Sanchez but the rotation is not that great for the Royals. Broxton will likely set up for Joakim Soria, but if Soria struggles like he did in 2011, then Broxton could take his place.

AL West:

1. Texas Rangers- The Rangers somehow are going to get overlooked once again. They can thank the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who signed all kinds of big names. Despite losing Wilson, Neftali Feliz the previous closer will be joined in the starting rotation by Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando. Joe Nathan is the new closer and Mike Adams will help shut the door. Mike Napoli was a huge part of this team last season and Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler among others will help lead this offense. The pitching and offense are there to help lead the team to another division title.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- The Angels surprised everyone when they were in the hunt for Albert Pujols and then opened everyone’s jaws when they signed him. C.J. Wilson signed shortly after and now the Angels are forces in the AL once again. Wilson will join Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver and Dan Haren in the rotation. Jordan Walden is the team’s closer and can throw it over 100 miles per hour. Chris Ianetta was signed earlier as the team’s catcher. The key to this team though may be Vernon Wells who needs to have a good season after a bad 2011 season. Torii Hunter, Mark Trumbo and surprisingly Howie Kendrick will be back to help Pujols in the offense department.

3. Seattle Mariners- The Mariners have it as good as anybody when it comes to starting pitching. Felix Hernandez is one of the best in the game, and Michael Pineda had a nice start to the 2011 season. Ichiro Suzuki had his first rough season in the Majors and it leads people to think he is done. I do not think he is yet, but he may be getting closer to the end of his playing career. The offense is nothing special but keep an eye on Casper Wells and Justin Smoak. Miguel Olivo had 19 homers in 2011, but with the acquisition of John Jaso from the Tampa Bay Rays, Olivo may see less playing time.

4. Oakland Athletics- General Manager Billy Beane may be having a Moneyball moment again as he is trading more pieces to build the farm once again. Gio Gonzalez may be the next piece to move as he won 16 games last season and may get moved to a contender. This team does not have any real offensive pieces although they do have Dallas Braden coming back and that could be exciting. The team does not have much to look forward to, but who knows maybe this rebuilding thing will work… or they may just move out of town. Only time will tell, but for now, things do not look good for this team.

My current MLB Standings: National League

The off-season has not been a disappointment this season, however Prince Fielder among others still have not signed with a team. Obviously we do not know who will sign him at this minute and of course the standings that follow are my thoughts based on last season and the signings this off-season.

National League

NL East:

1. Philadelphia Phillies- The Phillies are still stacked at all positions. Even if they do shop Placido Polanco, this team still has a capable line up offensively and defensively. The team will be without Ryan Howard but Jim Thome is back and despite his age, he could help the offense. Also, a pitching staff led by Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee should not have much trouble leading the team. The signing of Jonathan Papelbon ends dilemmas as to who will close and he is an upgrade over Brad Lidge or Ryan Madson at that position.

2. Atlanta Braves- The Braves are a nice mix of young and old. Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward help represent the youth, while Chipper Jones and Tim Hudson help represent the veteran. The pitching staff also will include Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. The bullpen also includes Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel who were among the toughest to solve.

3. Miami Marlins- The Marlins had a great offseason and couple that with Gaby Sanchez at first base, Logan Morrison in left field and Mike Stanton in right field. If Josh Johnson can stay healthy then he, Mark Buehrle and Ricky Nolasco can make great front three. I do think that this team will disappoint what their expectations are, and that they are a season away. Morrison, Johnson and Stanton all got injured last season and Johnson has had long season ending injuries for the last two seasons and that is concerning. I like Heath Bell as the closer, but will Leo Nunez (or whatever his name is) come back and if so will he accept/succeed in his new role? Lastly, how will Ozzie Guillen fare in the NL and can his players respond? We will see.

4. New York Mets- The Mets have to overcome the loss of Jose Reyes. Reyes won a batting title last season and joined the Marlins. I expect Justin Turner to fill his void, but perhaps he stays at second base. They do not have a replacement. Their new bullpen signings will help them avoid the cellar and Dillon Gee will also help them. I believe that Jason Bay will have to step it up this season for this team to have any chance and the loss of their leadoff hitter Angel Pagan hurts them I think.

5. Washington Nationals- Minus Stephen Strasburg, this team is too old at starter. Livan Hernandez may be a second starter and at his age, that is never good. The team has Mike Morse and Jason Werth and that can help but I just do not think their starters can help. Drew Storen was a good closer last season and should continue that this season.

NL Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals- Even without Albert Pujols, this team still is an elite power. Adam Wainwright will return as an ace on this staff and Chris Carpenter will continue his clutch pitching but during the regular season he was mostly mediocre until September. I really hope that this team finds a spot for Allen Craig. With Lance Berkman being a liability in the outfield, I would move him to first base and putting Craig in right. Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Craig in the outfield would be a great trio. The signing of Rafael Furcal also really helps this team. Oh, and did I mention NLCS and World Series MVP David Freese will be manning third. If he stays injury free this season, then he will be a hero.

2. Cincinnati Reds- The Reds essentially stayed the same this off season and that will help. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce will lead the offense but perhaps the best all around player is Brandon Phillips who is solid offensively and great defensively. The team has options at starter but will need a new closer this season and that can be a question mark.

3. Milwaukee Brewers- This team will miss Prince Fielder. Fielder’s absence will definitely affect Ryan Braun. With the two pronged attack gone, teams will pitch Braun much differently and may even walk him if first base is open. That is of course if Braun plays. Braun’s positive testing of performance enhancing drugs means that a 50 game suspension likely comes his way and costs this team even further. Without LaTroy Hawkins, the team will be pushing more at reliever. John Axford is the best NL Central closer. If this team is to compete it is because the starting rotation led by Zach Greinke will be dominant. Brewers also have to hope that Rickie Weeks in 100%.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates- The Pirates have upgraded but they are still a season or two away from seriously competing. The pitching staff made all kinds of mistakes in the second half of the season and the relievers were forced to pitch more innings than they should have. Garrett Jones is a defensive liability at first and he cannot hit lefties for anything.

5. Chicago Cubs- This team has some pieces such as Darwin Barney, Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Bird, but with Theo Epstein on board, the team is not quite ready to compete in this division. The losses of Carlos Pena and Aramis Ramirez will hurt this team and the Cubs are very unstable at closer. Carlos Marmol blew way too many saves and Sean Marshall is not a closer type. If he opts to come back, maybe Kerry Wood could take the closer’s role. The starters are not great but Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster can help this team.

6. Houston Astros- They have no chance this season. They completely want to start over in their last National League season. They already have bid farewell to Hunter Pence and are trying to shop Carlos Pena, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers among others. This team still has young players with potential such as Jose Altuve and Bud Norris. Mark Melancon and Wilton Lopez were leaders in that bullpen.

NL West

1. Arizona Diamondbacks- The Diamondbacks just added Trevor Cahill and he will be a great left handed option in the starting rotation. Adding Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Josh Collmenter and Joe Saunders and this rotation is stacked. The relievers also get stronger with a quality lefty in Craig Breslow. Saunders could get traded as Jason Marquis and Wade Miley also have a chance to make this rotation. With young stars such as Juston Upton, Chris Young and Ryan Roberts, this team now appears to be the class of the NL West.

2. San Francisco Giants- The team clearly missed Buster Posey last season and many pieces got injured last season. They lost some relievers as well as lead off spark plug Andres Torres, but the injury prone Torres is now replaced by Angel Pagan. The outfield is shot though as Cody Ross wants to go elsewhere and Carlos Beltran was not resigned. The offense could be woeful once again and that put all of the pressure in the world on Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner among others. Brian Wilson is more than just talk but also a quality reliever. Posey will be the x-factor this season.

3. Colorado Rockies- The injuries of Carlos Gonzalez really hurt this team last season and Troy Tulowitzki cannot do all of the offense by himself. It was frustrating to be a Rockies fan last season and Ubaldo Jimenez is no longer on the team. The team still has Jorge De La Rosa and now has Kevin Slowey which can help the team. Esmil Rogers will need to be as advertised this season or else this team will go nowhere. With Huston Street gone, the team has a new closer, and that is Rafael Betancourt. This means that Matt Lindstrom and J.C. Romero among others will have to step it up.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers- I believe that this team will go as far as Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp will take them. Manager Don Mattingly made several poor decisions last season, and he better learn quickly if this team is to compete. Ultimately this team does not have enough tools to compete this season but Andre Ethier and James Loney cannot hurt. If Hiroki Kuroda leaves this team then they are doomed.

5. San Diego Padres- With the departure of Heath Bell, this team now really is in rebuilding mode. The star now is Cameron Maybin who can steal bases and occasionally show some power. He will be expected to take a big role on this team. We all know how that worked out for the Marlins, so Maybin needs to prove his doubters wrong once again. Much of the roster was injured last season so Brad Hawpe, Dustin Moseley and Clayton Richard among others need to step it up. Wherever he plays Kyle Blanks needs to show the power he can provide and Anthony Rizzo also needs to live up to his top prospect billing.

My current projections for the Pirates 25 man roster

As of this very moment here is my projected Pirates 25 man roster. Now yes, I understand that April is far away, but these are just my thoughts.

Catcher (2)

Rod Barajas- The obvious starter. Should have 15 homers and be good defensively.

Mike McKenry- Proved his mettle and the Pirates have not forgotten it. He is great defensively and that could help his chances.

Infield (7)

Garrett Jones- He is the starter by default at the position. I am unsure if the Pirates are content with this, but Carlos Pena is a rumor that may not go away for a while.

Neil Walker- The job is clearly his at second. He is still improving defensively but his second half performance needs to be better this season.

Clint Barmes- A plus hitting shortstop and very great defensively. I think fans will be most pleased that Ronny Cedeno is gone.

Pedro Alvarez- Pirates will give him every opportunity to win the starting job. 2011 was a disappointment for Alvarez but the Pirates have a program set for him. If he follows it, keeps his weight going and brings back the power, he will get the job.

Nick Evans- Jones struggles against lefty pitchers, so expect Evans to get the first base nod. His ability to play the outfield will make him the fifth man out there.

Josh Harrison- Harrison may be an odd man out, but he showed grit and determination as a Pirate. His ability to play shortstop will also help him out.

Gustavo Nunez- The Pirates tend to see how their Rule-5 selections work out. They took looks at Evan Meek, Donnie Veal, John Raynor and recently Josh Rodriguez, all recent Rule-5 selections by the Pirates. It is very possible that Harrison and Nunez could compete for one roster spot. If both make it like I have now, then one reliever will be out of the 25 man.

Outfield (4)

Alex Presley- Showed a lot last season. Despite the blunder of a baseball deflecting off of his arm for a home run, he does have some pop, speed and passion. I like what he brings and the Pirates will give him every opportunity to stop.

Andrew McCutchen- McCutchen really proved his metal last season. He does need to get back to the aggressiveness he displayed on the bases. The glove is there, although sometimes he makes some elementary mistakes out in the field. An automatic start and a five tool player.

Jose Tabata- A little worried about his injuries, but his speed, arm and instincts will give him a starting job. The starting outfield already seems set in stone.

Nate McLouth- McLouth was signed to be the fourth outfielder and with all three Pirates in the outfield experiencing injury last season, he could get lots of plate appearances. He could easily come in and play a corner and his bat at PNC Park has been great.

Starters (in no particular order)

James McDonald- The most consistent starter in the second half of the season. Got that confidence back and showed what we could have seen all season had McDonald not been hurt in Spring Training.

Jeff Karstens- Karstens showed his worth last season but it was fatigue and an innings count which hurt him last season. One can hope he displays that killer curveball once again. This is really the first season in a Pirates uniform that Karstens will not be overlooked. He will be expected to perform.

Erik Bedard- If he is healthy, then Bedard will definitely enjoy PNC Park as it is a pitcher’s park. He is a groundball pitcher and I do believe that with Barmes and Walker, the Pirates have their best defensive infield since Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson graced PNC Park.

Kevin Correia- Despite missing much of the second half of the season, Correia led the Pirates in wins. His road record was a great surprise for this team. For Correia to succeed though, he needs to pitch well at home. He did not get that done last season.

Charlie Morton/Brad Lincoln- I am platooning this as this is based off of Morton’s health. If Morton is healthy and shows that he is ready to pitch, then he will get that rotation spot. If not, I believe that Lincoln showed a lot last season and should get a good look in the rotation until Morton heals.

Bullpen (7)

Tony Watson- Hurdle loves his lefties, and I feel that Daniel Moskos will not be there Opening Day. Hurdle can use Watson however he wants. He can be a long reliever or a situational guy that needs to come in to retire that one hitter.

Jason Grilli- Grilli’s performance in the second half cannot be overlooked. He can be valuable as a long reliever, a middle reliever or in an extreme emergency a closer.

Daniel McCutchen- McCutchen had a breakout season last year and pitched the most innings of any Pirate reliever last season. He will be expected to perform similarly this season.

Chris Resop- Resop was the victim of some rotten luck last season, and I think with Evan Meek back he will lose his setup job. He can still be a setup man if the team wants to ride a hot hand, but Resop projects to be the seventh inning guy.

Jose Veras- Despite what fans think, Veras was a great addition especially when he signed as a Minor League Free Agent. When he is on, his offspeed pitches are deadly, just ask Albert Pujols.

Evan Meek- Meek is expected to help set the bridge. He needs to get as much of that velocity on that fastball. If he can stay in good health and get that lively fastball back, then it will be a good season for him.

Joel Hanrahan- I do not think that Hanrahan will be traded yet. He has shown how valuable he is to this team. Hanrahan will return as the closer and I am sure that will help the team as they know they have a reliable option in to close the door.

In the air: Josh Harrison vs Gustavo Nunez- As I mentioned earlier they could be battling for one spot. Considering the bullpen’s collapse last season they may want another arm. The arm I am thinking is Chris Leroux. He had a great September, and with a great fastball, he did not allow much during his time with the season last year. I believe Harrison, Nunez and Leroux will be battling for two spots. If the team is happy with seven guys in the bullpen, then Leroux will be out. If the team wants another arm, then I think Harrison is the odd man out as they will want to give Rule-5 Nunez an extended look to see if the Pirates have something.

Pros and cons to each day of PirateFest

Friday:

Pro- Season ticket holders only mean less people, however they are much more passionate and it makes the mood a lot better.

Con- You can get there as early as you want, and there will be a long line because everyone there is just as passionate as you.

Pro- PirateFest isn’t dumbed down to you and you truly are treated like family. Players are genuine, answers are longer and more thoughtful.

Con- Shortest hours result in interactions shorter than you wanted.

Saturday:

Pro- Longest hours mean you get the most out of your money.

Con- PirateFest Q&A Some of the questions asked are for player autographs and aren’t serious.

Pro- Chance to purchase tickets you want/need

Con- Crowded and half the people don’t even want to be there.

Pro- Funnest day for games.

Con- Bandwagon fans asking for (insert player who left five years ago) to come back.

Sunday:

Pro- Kid friendly

Con- Shorter hours

Pro- Stay until the end and you will get all kinds of goodies

Con- Half of the Pirates are long gone halfway through the event and it loses its luster.

Overall: PirateFest is well worth your money. If you are a season ticket holder and have paid in full, then you can go all three days. While $12 can be a lot of money to some, it is worth the money to come out.

PirateFest Why to go and schedule of events

Here are some reasons to go to PirateFest:

1. You miss baseball and can’t wait for April to come fast enough.
2. Chance to interact with your favorite Pirates.
3. Expanded show space so that there is a lot more to see and do.
4. See what the Pirates are like off of the field.
5. Autograph sessions.
6. You never know who you are going to run into.
7. Stage games which give you the chance for tickets, merchandise, opportunities and more.
8. Buy something at a store or kiosk for the Pirate fan on your holiday list.
9. The fans (unless it is Saturday)
10. Plenty of things for kids which incude meeting the Pirate Parrot, exclusive games and crafts and a Kids Fun Zone.
11. Test your swing in the batting cages.
12. The Root Sports booth will let you experience what it is like to be a broadcaster.
13. Chance to see the Pirates Minor League Affiliates and pick up a schedule and their thoughts on the season.
14. Chance to see the new Pirates Promotions
15. You get a pocket schedule and an exclusive calendar.
16. See how many times Clint Hurdle says “all-in”

Those are just a few that I could come up in the spur of the moment, but there are many more. Here is the schedule, prices, hours etc…

DATES & TIMES:
Friday, December 16
Season Ticket Holders only
Saturday, December 17
10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, December 18
Noon – 5:00 p.m.

LOCATION:
David L. Lawrence Convention Center
1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA

TICKET PRICES:
Adults: $12
Kids (14 & younger): $4

PirateFest 2012 Autograph Schedules*
Saturday, December 17 Time Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 Player 4
10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Jose Tabata Brad Lincoln Alex Presley
11:30 am – 1:00 p.m. James McDonald Michael McKenry Rod Barajas Andy Van Slyke
1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Daniel McCutchen Chris Resop Pedro Alvarez Kent Tekulve
2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Doug Drabek Jose Lind Bob Walk Steve Blass
4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Andrew McCutchen Jeff Karstens Kevin Correia
5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Neil Walker Joel Hanrahan Mike LaValliere

PirateFest 2012 Live Event Schedules**
Saturday, December 17 Event Time Location Participants Include
Pirates Jeopardy 12:00 Noon – 1:00 p.m. PirateFest Stage Joel Hanrahan, Bob Walk
Softball Clinic 12:00 Noon – 1:00 p.m. PirateFest Field Pirates Ball Girls
Deal or No Deal 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. PirateFest Stage Kevin Correia, Alex Presley, Greg Brown
Youth Baseball Clinic 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. PirateFest Field Clint Hurdle, Jeff Banister, Nick Leyva, Bob Walk
Minute To Win It 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. PirateFest Stage Neil Walker, Greg Brown
Pierogie Eating Contest 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. PirateFest Field Jeff Karstens, Aly Cohen
2012 Pirates Q&A 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. PirateFest Stage 2012 Pirates, Greg Brown
Reading with the Parrot 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. PirateFest Field Pirate Parrot, Cannonball Crew
Ask Pirates Management 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. PirateFest Stage Clint Hurdle, Neal Huntington, Frank Coonelly
Oh Say Can You Sing? 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. PirateFest Stage James McDonald, Clint Barmes, Bob Walk
Pierogie Eating Contest 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. PirateFest Field Chris Resop, John Wehner, Aly Cohen
Deal or No Deal 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. PirateFest Stage James McDonald, Greg Brown
Wii Home Run Derby 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. PirateFest Field Andrew McCutchen, Aly Cohen

Sunday, December 18 Time Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 Player 4
12:00 Noon – 1:30 p.m. Andrew McCutchen Michael McKenry Neal Walker
1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Joel Hanrahan Pedro Alvarez Rod Barajas Andy Van Slyke
3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Jose Tabata Clint Barmes Alex Presley

Sunday, December 18 Event Time Location Participants Include
Deal or No Deal 12:00 Noon – 1:00 p.m. PirateFest Stage Joel Hanrahan, Kevin Correia, Tim Neverett
Youth Baseball Clinic 12:00 Noon – 1:00 p.m. PirateFest Field Clint Hurdle, Jeff Banister, Nick Leyva, Joe Klimchak
Minute To Win It 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. PirateFest Stage Jeff Karstens, Tim Neverett
Wii Home Run Derby 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. PirateFest Field Kevin Correia, Joe Klimchak
Pirates Jeopardy 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. PirateFest Stage Jeff Karstens, Greg Brown
Pierogie Eating Contest 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. PirateFest Field Tim Neverett
Oh Say Can You Sing? 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. PirateFest Stage Brad Lincoln, Chris Resop, Andy Van Slyke, Tim Neverett
Reading with the Parrot 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. PirateFest Field Pirate Parrot, Cannonball Crew

PirateFest Highlights Include:
93.7 The Fan autograph party featuring free autographs with Pirates players, including Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Joel Hanrahan, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, James McDonald, Daniel McCutchen, Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, Chris Resop, Brad Lincoln, Alex Presley, Michael McKenry, Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas.
Autograph sessions with Pirates alumni Doug Drabek, Andy Van Slyke, Jose “Chico” Lind, Mike LaValliere and Kent Tekulve.
The KDKA baseball field, which will host Youth Baseball Clinics with Pirates coaches.
“Oh Say Can YOU Sing?” competition, with your chance to win the opportunity to sing the Star Spangled Banner at a Pirates home game in 2012.
Q&A Sessions with the players as well as “Ask Pirates Management” with president Frank Coonelly, executive vice rresident and general manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle.
The chance to join your favorite players in versions of Pirates “Minute to Win It” and “Jeopardy”, take on Pirates players in “Wii Home Run Derby”, play “Deal Or No Deal” and take part in Pierogie Eating Contests.
A Seven Springs rock climbing wall, plus other Seven Springs activities.
The Y108 Kids Fun Zone featuring many activities for children, including inflatable rides, batting cages and speed pitch, along with nutritional information on a variety of foods available at Giant Eagle.
Pirates “Lost Treasures” area to include authentic game-worn jerseys, and game-used bats, baseballs and more available for purchase.
A charity raffle with proceeds to benefit Pirates Charities.
Fans will also have an opportunity to have their picture taken with Parrot Claus.
Information on 2012 Pirates Season Ticket Packages and Group Outings.
Information on the Pirates 2012 promotional schedule.
All fans attending PirateFest will receive a 2012 Pirates wall calendar, 2012 pocket schedule and PirateFest program upon entrance.

Pirates 2011 Winter Meetings moves

The Pirates took a little while to act during the Winter Meetings, but when they did it seemed to be uncharacteristic of them to make the signings that they did.

1. Nate McLouth 1 year/$1.75 million- I do not see why people hate this signing. Pirate fans remember the breakout year he had in 2008 and how he cried when he was traded from the Pirates in 2009. Since then, things have not been the same for McLouth. Injuries and inconsistencies have taken a toll on him however the speed and confidence are still there. Pittsburgh will get their fourth or fifth outfielder and McLouth will get plenty of at-bats. With Alex Presley and especially Jose Tabata injury prone, it is great to have some proven veteran insurance who while questionable won a Gold Glove and can be a threat on the basepaths. McLouth was a fan favorite in his time with the Pirates and I believe he is a great addition to the 2012 Pirates.

2. Erik Bedard 1 year/$4.5 million- I am also a fan of this signing although it certainly comes with a risk. Bedard’s health is questionable, but this move was made to overcome the loss of Paul Maholm. Both essentially are ground ball pitchers, but when healthy Bedard is the much better starter. I do not know what my expectations are for Bedard but his strikeouts per nine innings are much higher than the rest of the projected Pirates pitching staff (Kevin Correia, James McDonald, Charlie Morton and Jeff Karstens). Bedard when healthy, could be the ace the Pirates desperately need.

3. The end of Pedro Ciriaco’s frequent flyer miles to Pittsburgh- Shortstop Pedro Ciriaco was let go off the Pirates 40 man and we almost certainly will never see him in a Pirates uniform again. I made my opinions known that I think he never really got a chance to perform in 2010 and 2011, and he should have received that backup shortstop position instead of Josh Rodriguez in April. Hopefully a team will give Ciriaco a fair shake. His bat still needs a bit of work, but his defense is worth a look.

4. Ross Ohlendorf rides off into the sunset- Ross Ohlendorf is one of the nicest Pirates I have ever met, and if this was a decision based on people skills, then Ohlendorf would still be on this team. Unfortunately, this is a baseball decision and between injuries and lack of performance, the team really had no choice other then releasing him. It is not fair to Ross to put him in AAA after what he has done for the organization and the Pirates showed him that respect. I hope that he gets on another team, but long relief may be his only chance of getting back into the majors. Ohlendorf managed to get an ERA over eight, and even before his April injury looked terrible in Spring Training. I hope he figures it out, and perhaps this will motivate him.

5. Pirates sign Jose Morales- I think I am sensing a constant. Hurdle loves and uses his Rockies connection. Sticking with the Rockies idea for a second, the team is still being linked to starters Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis. While the Francis interest is not what it was last season, I would be all for signing Cook. With Jason Jaramillo off of the 40 man roster (designated for assignment), Morales will compete with another former Rockie Michael McKenry for the backup catchers job. I like the depth here although an injury cost Morales his 2011 season early. It will be interesting see how he responds.

6. Exit stage right Derrek Lee- First baseman Derrek Lee rejected the Pirates arbitration offer and is now a free agent. I am not surprised as Lee wants to wait for Albert Pujols (who signed with the Angels) and Prince Fielder to sign before he does. Also Lee may have a season or two more in him, and I get the sense that he wants to win a World Series before he retires. That is not to say that the Pirates have no chance of getting Lee back to Pittsburgh, but I would consider it unlikely. Moving forward, the Pirates currently would have Garrett Jones platoon with either Jake Fox or Nick Evans both free agent signings with Matt Hague being a dark horse at best to start at the position.

7. Pirates acquire Yamaico Navarro from the Kansas City Royals- Navarro an infielder was earlier last season in the Red Sox system and was ranked anywhere from their 10th to 12th best prospect. Navarro could provide some competition for the backup shortstop job with Chase D’Arnaud and perhaps Josh Harrison among others. Navarro has a plus bat for the shortstop position although his fielding could be better. I would think it would be unlikely that Navarro would make the team though because…

8. Pirates select shortstop in Rule 5 Draft- The Pirates drafted Gustavo Nunez from the Detroit Tigers in the Rule-5 Draft. Nunez was on the Tigers AAA roster and is a switch hitter who played in 62 games last year. His 14 stolen bases in those 62 games suggest that he can bring more than one skill to the Pirates team. He is more of a defensive shortstop, which could help him back up Clint Barmes and give the team two solid defensive shortstop options. Other Pirates Rule 5 picks were in the Minor League portion and are Aaron Poreda a lefty and catchers Charles Cutler and Francisco Diaz.

All in all the Winter Meetings were unusually busy for these Pirates and I would give their activity a solid B.

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