Pirates in the News

A quick rundown of what’s being said about the Bucs around the Web: On MVN’s Outsider Radio, Brandon and Dan talked about Freddy Sanchez’ 2006 (and his possible position change), whether or not the Pirates will be decent this year, Pittsburgh’s baseball sanctuary (PNC Park) and Skyblast. I even made a quick call in to provide the black and gold side of the discussion. You can listen to the show in podcast form....

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Ten Things I Need to Know About the Pirates by April

A list of the ten most pressing Pirates-related Spring Training issues, according to me: 1. Can Adam LaRoche hit left-handed pitching? Like it or not, a manager bound for Cooperstown thought it best to sit Adam down against southpaws for the majority of 2006. The Pirates acquired Lefty McThump to be their everyday first baseman; if he struggles, though, it might behoove Jim Tracy to start Bautista in right and shift Nady to first...

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Welcome Indianapolis Indians Fans

Hello everyone! I’m Nancy, and I’ll be writing about the Indianapolis Indians, the AAA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I’ve been an Indy Indians fan for many years, and I’m looking forward to telling you about the Indians’ players and games and generally what’s going on here at Victory Field.
While we’re still looking at snow here, the Pirates have started spring training in Bradenton, Florida. The Pirates’ 40-man roster and the list of non-roster invitees include players who will be with us in Indianapolis this year. The remaining minor league players will be reporting to camp soon. The Indians’ first spring training game is scheduled for March 15th. While we’re waiting, let’s look at some of players who we might see with the Indy Indians this year. (These won’t be in any particular order.)
BRYAN BULLINGTON
RHP – starter
born 9/30/1980 in Indianapolis, Indiana
ht: 6′ 5″ wt: 220 lb B: Right T: Right
Bryan Bullington is something of a hometown hero in Indianapolis. He grew up right here in the Indy area, and graduated from Madison High School in 1999. He was Indiana’s “Mr. Baseball” in 1999 — this is an award given to the top high school baseball player in the state. Bryan attended Ball State University in Muncie, and he was the Pirates’ first round draft pick in 2002. In 2003, he pitched first in Hickory, where he won 5 and lost 1, with a 1.39 ERA in 45.1 innings, with 11 walks and 46 strikeouts. He moved up to Lynchburg, where he continued his winning ways with 8 wins and 4 losses, and a 3.05 ERA in 97.1 innings, with 27 walks and 67 strikeouts. He spent all of 2004 in Altoona, where he won 12 and lost 7 games, with a higher 4.10 ERA in 145 innings, 47 walks and 100 strikouts. He led the Curve in wins, and was second in the Eastern League in wins for the season.
Bullington started the 2005 season in extended spring training to fully recover from shoulder tendinitis, and first appeared with the Indy Indians in May 2005. He had a solid season, with 9 wins and 5 losses in 18 starts. He pitched 109.1 innings, with a 3.38 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. In July he was named Indians’ Player of the Month, for his performance in 5 starts, when he earned 3 wins and only one loss, with an 2.40 ERA, 25 strikeouts, and only 4 walks. When the Indians advanced to the International League playoffs, Bullington started two of the games, both no-decisions. He made his MLB debut with the Pirates on Sept. 18, 2005, pitching 1.1 innings in relief and allowing one hit, 2 earned runs, walking one and striking out one. However, he developed right shoulder soreness, and in October 2005 had surgery on that shoulder. He spent 2006 rehabbing, and though he had hoped to be able to return by late s ummer, that was not to be. He has continued rehab over the winter, including work during the instructional league last fall. The early reports from Spring Training sound encouraging.
Given the length of time he’s been on the DL, it’s rather unlikely that Bullington will make the Pirates’ roster out of spring training. If he struggles during spring training, then he could be restarted in Altoona. Here’s hoping for a good spring for Bullington, so that he can start 2007 here at home with the Indians.
Just over 5 weeks until the season starts….
Go Tribe!

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Prospect Profile: Jamie Romak

The biggest piece of off-season news for fans of the Pirates at the major-league level was the acquisition of Adam LaRoche. The hot stove deal with the Braves sent Mike Gonzalez to Atlanta in exchange for our Lefty McThump. Added in as sweetners, though, were Brent Lillibridge (then the #3 prospect in the Pirates’ system) and Jamie Romak, a Canadian Lumberjack from Atlanta’s Single A Rome affiliate. We’ve been showered in LaRoche coverage, so there’s a good chance that you know all about him. But Jamie Romak? Who’s he?
The stats:

Yr Level G AB HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
03 Rk 19 51 0 4 .176 .300 .216
04 Rk 48 158 5 22 .190 .287 .329
05 Rk 34 124 7 27 .274 .368 .540
06 A 108 348 16 68 .247 .369 .471
Tot.   209 681 28 121 .233 .345 .432

At first glance, you see a .233 career batting average and start cursing out Dave Littlefield. The next column over, though, shows that our young Canadian may have some promise. He doesn’t hit for quite as much power, but you could draw a comparison between Romak and Adam Dunn. Their averages are low (and strikeouts are a concern), but they take enough walks to mitigate the damages. And they’re big guys that can hit the ball a long way.
Mr. Romak’s vitals (courtesy of his Baseball Cube profile):
D.O.B.: September 20, 1985
Bats/Throws: R/R
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 220 lbs.
Draft: 4th round (2003) by the Atlanta Braves
Perhaps the most crucial tidbit in his background is his high school, A.B. Lucas in London, Ontario. Why?
This chunk from Batter’s Box Interactive Magazine explains:

An interesting question that the Suomi cases raises is whether or not Canadian prospects tend to develop slower than Americans. When trying to gauge if there was any way to determine if Suomi?s offensive improvements seemed more likely to be permanent or temporary, this question came to mind. When I?m talking about Canadian players here, I?m not talking about Cody McKay who went to high school and university in Arizona, but rather Canadians like Suomi or Votto who attended Canadian educational institutes until they went into professional baseball.
Because players like Suomi and Votto can?t play baseball the entire year, like kids growing up in the American south can, they are at a disadvantage. Additionally, playing in a Canadian baseball program at their local high school is not going to be as intense as one in the United States would be, and the level of instruction is likely to be noticeably different, as is the amount of money put into the program. I know that Canada has select baseball programs for top prospects where they?ll play for provincial teams and in other tournaments, but I don?t believe that this compares to equivalent programs set up in American states for their top prospects. I think over several years in one?s mid-to-late teens these extra months of playing time and the superior level of instruction could make a noticeable difference to development, and could put American prospects several steps ahead of their Canadian counterparts.

To make a long story short, it’s safe to assume that Romak is a year or two behind the typical 21-year-old (American) prospect in development. He probably hasn’t reached his full potential yet because all winter long, he was playing with snowballs instead of baseballs.
Here’s what an old Scout.com profile has to say:

[Romak] was originally a third baseman, but the Braves believed he would eventually become an outfielder. Injuries have kept him from developing over the past few years. He had only 158 at bats in 2004 at Danville, and when he returned to the Appy League last season he had only 124 at bats. Now healthy, Romak is in the Rome outfield. He has tremendous power, but he must make better contact to develop offensively.

And, an expert on the Pirates’ minor-league system, WTM:

Romak is a risky prospect with power potential, something almost entirely missing from the Pirates’ system. He had trouble getting out of rookie ball, but had a good season in the SAL in 2006. He was still only 20, which is a good age for the level. He finished the season strongly, hitting 10 HRs in July and August after hitting only five and struggling badly the first three months. His skills are the opposite of what the Pirates usually look for, as he gets on base and hits for power, but not for average.

Wilbur goes on to guess that Romak will start 2007 at the Pirates high-A affiliate in Lynchburg. With a potentially crowded outfield in Altoona, I’ll agree. Perhaps when Andrew McCutchen is ready for Indianapolis, Romak will get a shot at Double A. If Jamie puts the bat on the ball, he’s assured of a promotion by mid-season, I’d think.
I’ll leave you with a snippet from a Baseball America question and answer chat:

Q: Doug from Georgia asks:
The Braves seem to be high on big Canadians…Scott Thorman, Jamie Romak, Cole Armstrong and Adam Parliament, all of which are at least 6’2″ and 220 lbs. What does the future hold for these lumberjacks?
A: Bill Ballew:
They’re all big boys, no doubt. If they can avoid swinging as if they’re trying to cut down a tree with one swing of the ax, they could lose a lot of balls over the fences at the game’s highest levels.

Amen.

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Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable #18

Question #1: Will the 2007 edition of the Pittsburgh Pirates be the best team to take the field since 1992? Mark from Pirates Journal: Unfortunately, no. The Pirates won as many as 79 games in 1997 when they finished second place, and I don¬ít see the Pirates winning that many games in what should be a tougher NL Central this year (with the Chicago Cubs’ spending spree). There is a ton of promise though. Adam LaRoche provides the...

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Prospect Profile: Yoslan Herrera

This one should be a bit more fun than Walker, as Yo Herrera is one of the biggest mysteries in the Pirates’ farm system. Consider this profile a learning process for us all, as there are few Pittsburghers who are acquainted with the hard-throwing Cuban defector.
I’d pop in a table of Herrera’s career stats, or game photos, or interview transcripts, but I can’t. Those features aren’t available, unfortunately. I can tell you that Yoslan is listed at 6’2″, 200 lbs., and was (allegedly) born in April of 1981. Like I said, a mystery.
Dejan tried to clear up the situation a bit in this Post-Gazette article discussing Herrera and Masumi Kuwata, recycling the only stats we’ve seen associated with Yo:

Herrera, 25, was a rising star in Cuba, with a career mark of 18-7 with a 3.72 ERA. He was a member of the youth national team in 1999-2000, and the main national team in 2001-04.

Then there was this blurb from Global Baseball:

Herrera was nowhere near as hyped as [Serguey] Linares [another Pirates' signee], but seemed to handle himself just fine in the tryout. His fastball was sitting between 90-92, and the DSL Devil Rays, who served as the whipping boys for this exhibition, were helpless against his breaking ball.
The prevailing opinion of the people I spoke with was that Linares and Perez were the best of the group. It?s possible that these players could get bonuses north of $1 million.

That limited knowledge was enough for Baseball America to vault Herrera to #4 on their list of Pirates prospects, ranking him behind only Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Brad Lincoln, three first-round draft picks. Lofty praise for a pitcher who hasn’t thrown competitively in two seasons.
Here’s a snippet from a December 16th article from BA:

Herrera, 25, signed a major league contract worth $1.92 million over three years, according to BA correspondent John Perrotto, and gets a $750,000 signing bonus. His base salaries in the deal are for between $380,000 and $400,000.
A 6-foot-2, 200-pound righthander, Herrera’s strong suits are his knack for pitching, command and above-average curveball. His fastball ranges between 88-92 mph and he also throws a split-finger fastball. Some scouts project him to throw harder once he’s throwing more regularly. Herrera is expected to start 2007 at Triple-A Indianapolis.

In February, though, the Post-Gazette relayed that Herrera might start at Double A Altoona. More mystery. That is, until Spring Training rolled around.
Last Monday, Dejan relayed the news from Bradenton:

One of the more uplifting sights for management in the early days of spring training has been the performance and poise of starter Yoslan Herrera, the Cuban defector signed this offseason.
On the mound, he has displayed a seemingly effortless delivery, dazzling offspeed stuff and, perhaps most impressive, an ability to throw all four pitches with an unwavering motion.
Off the mound, despite knowing little English, he appears to be assimilating well, and not just with the Spanish-speaking players. He often is seen smiling and joking with just about anyone, including Japanese starter Masumi Kuwata.
“He’s very intriguing,” manager Jim Tracy said. “Watching him pitch, you can see he knows what he’s doing. His delivery is very consistent. And you can see, too, that he’s handled himself extremely well in all areas over the first three days of camp.”

First AAA. Then, maybe AA–who knows, the kid hasn’t pitched in two years. Now, if the cards fall right, can Herrera start 2007 in the majors?
Herrera still hasn’t thrown against MLB competition; ultimately, game action over the next few weeks should be the test that decides his fate. One would assume that Dave Littlefield would want to keep Herrera in a rotation somewhere (not wasting a four-pitch talent on the bullpen), and the Tony Armas signing seemingly blocks Yoslan’s assault on the fifth starter’s job. Is it inconceivable, though, to think that the Cuban could start the year as Indy’s ace and be the sixth or seventh starter? I don’t think so. In fact, I wholeheartedly expect to see Herrera in Pittsburgh by August.
We’ve heard that he possesses poise on the mound, that he knows how to pitch (not throw). His fastball isn’t overwhelming, but 92 mph is major-league ready. Having the ability to throw four pitches for strikes, including a couple knee-buckling breaking balls, will only help. A low-risk, high-reward signing by Dave Littlefield? Very much so.
Welcome to the organization, Yoslan. Now hurry up and get to Pittsburgh.

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