First Pitch: The Day Huntington and Stark Lost Their Jobs?

When I read Dejan Kovacevic’s column on the Navy SEAL training last night, my initial reaction was “someone is getting fired”. Between the team’s horrible play at the major league level, and now this news coming out complete with Kyle Stark’s e-mail, it was the perfect recipe for a full day of “Look at how the Pirates have collapsed in the second half…and while we’re at it, take a look at the joke they are in the minors.”

That’s pretty much what happened today. Yahoo picked up the story. Then Deadspin, CBS, and other outlets. If you Google “Hell’s Angels”, the fifth article that comes up is about this situation.  All of the articles were pretty much the same. It was a regurgitation of Kovacevic’s original article, with their own “this is crazy!” input added between the quotes. Only Jeff Passan in the Yahoo link added more to the story, most notably when he mentioned that Jameson Taillon had previously been injured in a similar extreme training drill (we’ll get to that later).

I wanted to take my time and think about this whole topic. I wanted to think about the things I’ve seen at Pirate City, and the things I’ve heard, keeping in mind a lot of what was said today. I wanted to consider what other organizations and players do. I didn’t want to just give my initial reaction of “this sounds crazy, and it’s probably going to lead to someone getting fired”. That’s kind of a lazy reaction, and it’s a typical reaction any time you hear of a team doing things differently.

Before I begin, I’d like to point out the articles that Charlie and Pat wrote about this subject. I usually don’t read others before I write, but I wanted to see what they had to say on the subject while I was thinking about it today. They both brought up some good points, some of which you’ll see me touch on below.

Extreme Training

The biggest thing for me out of all of this was the training. I spend most of my focus on this site following how individual players are developing. So Kyle Stark sending a motivational e-mail to his staff which comes off a bit crazy isn’t really a big deal to me. I’m more concerned with the direct impact on the players.

Kovacevic wrote about the Navy SEAL’s training last week, and it wasn’t a topic I was interested in. The Pirates sent their minor league players to instructs three days early to go through Navy SEAL training. The basis of the argument boiled down to “this is ridiculous that they’d focus on this while the whole system struggles with fundamentals”. The latter is a valid complaint, but I don’t see how three extra days of intense training and team building exercises relates.

The recent articles detailed some of those intense workouts. Quoting the list from Kovacevic:

So let’s start with the SEALS activity list I was texted. And bear in mind, these are baseball players:

• Wake up at 5 a.m.
• Organize room/locker
• Pushups and sit-ups
• Serpentine on the grass
• Crab walk
• Running along the beach with a telephone-type pole, carried by five or six players
• Pushing a truck tire through the outfield for 90 feet, then flipping it
• Being sprayed by a hose
• Diving into a sand pile

All with a drill sergeant barking orders throughout.

Some of those sound pretty extreme, such as pushing a truck tire around, or running along the beach with a telephone poll. Jeff Passan added to that, saying that Jameson Taillon had injured his knee in a previous year after hand-to-hand combat. When I spoke to Taillon prior to the 2011 season he said he had a minor knee injury. I didn’t think to ask “did this happen in hand-to-hand combat?” The knee injury wasn’t serious, and didn’t restrict Taillon. But it gets you thinking “what if the injury had been serious?” Then you start to think about other injuries. For example, Jeff Inman missed Spring Training and the early part of the season with an ankle injury. A relief pitcher suffering an ankle injury sounds strange, but it is Jeff Inman, who has been injury prone the last few years. Looking back with this information, you start to wonder if it was because of the extreme training. I don’t know if it was or wasn’t, but proof might not matter. If the Pirates continue these extreme training courses, every single injury that comes up will have people wondering “is this because of the Navy SEAL style training?”, even if the training had nothing to do with it.

That’s pretty much the case with every extreme training style. While the above is extreme, I can’t really fault the Pirates for doing things differently. That seemed to be the general complaint today — the Pirates were doing things differently and writers, anonymous American League scouts, and some people in the organization didn’t like it. The main complaint is the risk of injury. That was my first concern, but then I started thinking a bit more. This is how every extreme workout gets viewed. Look at all of the attention paid to guys like Trevor Bauer or Dylan Bundy for their extreme pre-game workouts, and extreme training methods. And it’s not just them. Athletes go to API, which is the “boot camp of baseball training facilities”, where they wake up at 6 AM and go through two rigorous training sessions per day. There’s always the “this is different, and it could lead to an injury” reaction to those exercises. Unless they lead to success. Then, like API, they’re innovative and more people start practicing the extreme methods.

The Navy SEAL training might be a bit more extreme, but is that a problem? I’d say yes and no. There are some parts which probably bring too much injury risk. For example, carrying a pole on a beach just sounds like potential injuries waiting to happen. It also sounds like a team building exercise. In this case, I’m not sure if the team building out-weighs the potential for risk.

I’ve seen some pretty intense team building drills at Pirate City. Last year during instructs I watched an infield throwing drill where, if the baseball got past a player while it was being thrown wildly around the diamond, the entire team had to run to the center field wall and back to home plate. And that’s not just the guys on the field. That’s the entire team, even guys standing around watching. The players had to throw one-hops intentionally, which is going to lead to some passed balls. Sure enough, the team ran a lot that day, including catchers in full catchers gear. If you thought the Navy SEAL training sounded extreme, try watching Jin-De Jhang running from home plate to the center field wall and back — over 800 feet total — over and over in full catching gear in the Florida heat and humidity in September.

That drill was meant to be a team building exercise, with the message that if one player makes a mistake, it hurts the whole team. It was a pretty extreme workout, but there was never any threat of injuries. So while some of the Navy SEAL training methods could be seen as the next step in pushing for more extreme and innovative workouts, I think it’s possible to achieve the same thing while removing the risk of injury.

Overall I’m not overly concerned with the workouts. It’s one of those things that is different, which means people will automatically criticize it. But that doesn’t make it a bad thing. In fact, it’s one of those extreme/innovative things that people would copy if the farm system started producing a lot of success.

Kyle Stark’s E-Mail

That brings me to the farm system, and to Stark’s e-mail. The e-mail sounded like a motivational e-mail that went a bit over the top. I will point out that if you read the entire e-mail, you’ll see that Stark didn’t come up with the whole “hippies, boy scouts, and Hells Angels” comment. He was quoting Olympian Mac Wilkins. While Stark didn’t come up with the saying, he certainly adopted the quote, far beyond the normal “how can we apply this approach to us”. I don’t think the e-mail would sound as strange if he dropped the continued “Hells Angels” references and just said what the focus needs to be on developing young players.

The reaction to the e-mail was similar to the reaction to the SEAL training. It was a lot of piling on in a “this is strange, so therefore it’s bad” way. But I think a lot of loose connections were made between the e-mail and things that had nothing to do with the e-mail. In almost a “Chewbacca Defense” kind of way, everyone talked about how crazy the e-mail sounded, and then pointed out their problems with the farm system and the major league team. Those are totally separate issues from the e-mail, where the only fault is that it went a bit over-the-top with the analogies.

There are concerns to be had. The major league team is free-falling, getting embarrassed by some of the worst teams in baseball in the process. But that doesn’t have to do with fundamentals or anything taught in the farm system. A big reason the team is struggling in the second half is that the pitching has fallen off the last two months. There’s also been some horrible offensive displays, but even when the offense shows up, the pitching blows the game. That’s not really on Stark. That would be more on Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle, since they’ve got more influence on this team.

In the minors, there are definitely questions about the drafting and development of players. I pointed out the other day that the 2009 draft is lacking an impact player, and is looking bad right now, at a time where we should be seeing results. I wouldn’t say the 2008 draft looks bad. Pedro Alvarez is playing well in the majors this year, and 6th round pick Robbie Grossman was the top piece in the Wandy Rodriguez trade. You’re typically looking for three players out of every draft, and the Pirates have more or less secured two as a result of that draft. But I think if you look at the overall results of those first two drafts, and if you don’t take a black and white approach, then you’ll see that the results aren’t horrible, but aren’t close to ideal at this point.

The big question is hard to answer: is this a scouting issue, or a development issue? Are the Pirates drafting bad players, or are they drafting good players and failing to develop them? It’s hard to say that it’s a drafting issue. All of the drafts were praised at the time, and a lot of the players were considered top talents, not just by the Pirates, but by national outlets. That would lead us to development. But the development hasn’t been universally bad. Top names like Zack Von Rosenberg and Stetson Allie have struggled, but guys like Robbie Grossman, Tyler Glasnow, and Nick Kingham have taken some positive steps in the system.

Then there’s the “who gets credit for which player?” Two of the biggest success stories this year have been Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco. With any international signing, I give credit to Rene Gayo and his team of scouts in Latin America for adding the player. It doesn’t matter who the GM is at the time, it’s those guys doing the scouting and finding the players. But what about the development? I’ve watched Gregory Polanco the last few years. I’ve loved his upside, but until this year he’s never lived up to his potential. Gayo and his team get the credit for adding Polanco, but who gets the credit for developing him?

The Pirates have developed players under Stark, whether those players were acquired by Dave Littlefield, Neal Huntington, or signed by the international scouts. Starling Marte was almost fully developed by this group. Kyle McPherson and Rudy Owens both turned their careers around after going through the “fastball academy”. Alex Presley went from a guy who looked like he would never reach Double-A, to a guy who looks like a good fourth outfielder in the majors. And let’s not forget that Neil Walker was struggling and looked on his way to being a utility player until he broke out in 2010 in his fourth try at the Triple-A level.

Who gets the credit for this type of stuff? A lot of it is written off as “well, they were already here, so they don’t count”. But if a player’s development came under a specific farm director, it would be hard to say that director didn’t play any role in the development simply because he wasn’t here when the player was acquired. And I think we need to consider another thing. Most of these guys were acquired in 2006-2007, and they’re just now making it to the majors. That’s a pretty standard pace for most players. Yet you see a lot of people questioning why the 2008-2012 draft classes haven’t produced much major league talent yet.

Pointing out a few success stories doesn’t mean they’re doing a remarkable job. It just means that they have something to show for their work. At the same time, things don’t look good for the 2009 draft, where their strategy to go signability in the first round definitely put a lot of weight on not only their ability to scout and develop players. That was their first opportunity to not only find good players, but take those raw high school talents and turn them in to impact players. And so far the results don’t look good.

When we break down what could be going wrong with the development, we get to the theories and philosophies. We’ve talked about how the Pirates ignore the running game all throughout the system. That’s not a huge problem, but it is a problem. It also doesn’t make sense in that they don’t feel it is important to prevent people from stealing, but they feel it is important to try and risk outs on the bases by sending their own guys in an attempt to steal. And every time a Pirate is thrown out on the base paths, it serves as a frustrating reminder that the Pirates have so many fast players, and almost all of them have horrible base running fundamentals.

Some of the philosophies get made in to a big deal when they actually aren’t. The “fastball academy”, for example, isn’t a big deal. It was a big deal because the Pirates didn’t focus that much on fastball command prior to this group taking over. But it’s not an approach that is unique to the Pirates. It was just new to the Pirates.

Perhaps the biggest philosophy could be the way the Pirates promote players. I get comments all the time that the Pirates are slow to promote their players. I’ve pointed out that this isn’t true. There are a ton of examples where the Pirates are aggressive. They might not have ultra-aggressive approaches like Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy in the majors at 19, but that doesn’t mean they’re slow. There is one area where they could be considered slow, and that’s holding a player back when he’s ready for a promotion, all to produce adversity. The Pirates have a theory that it is better for a player to experience adversity in the minors than in the majors. In a lot of cases they’ll delay promoting a player to try and create some adversity. Teach the player to only focus on things he can control, and forget about the things he can’t control, such as when will he be promoted? But I’m not sure that prepares players for adversity.

Adversity in the majors comes when a player reaches the majors and gets hit around, gets overmatched by hitters, or fails to adjust to an adjustment. That’s not something you can create by holding a player back from a promotion when he’s ready. That approach does allow the player to deal with adversity, but only by making him wonder “why haven’t I been promoted?” That’s not the same adversity as “why can’t I pitch in to the fifth inning” in the majors. It seems the best way to get that adversity would be to go ultra-aggressive in promoting players, such as what we’ve seen with Machado, Bundy, or Bryce Harper. Send them to a level above their current talent level. If they succeed, keep pushing them. If they struggle, you’ve got your adversity, which is a closer match to major league adversity than just holding a player back from a promotion a few weeks.


When it comes to discussions of evaluating the Pirates personnel, and deciding if they should continue, I feel it’s best to wait until after the season. Any analysis now is usually filled with guesses on what could happen over the final two weeks, and “what if” analysis based on those predictions. I’d rather just wait and see what happens, then react to all of the information we have. But it’s impossible to avoid the subject with all of the discussions on the topic going around the last few weeks.

I said in the opening that I could see someone getting fired over this, and that someone would probably be Kyle Stark. But I think that Stark would be going down as a scapegoat here. It’s not that Stark has been perfect. I’ve mentioned a few concerns with the development and philosophy of players. I’ve also mentioned a few success stories, but just because there are some success stories doesn’t mean a person is doing a good job. Dave Littlefield had a few success stories.

All of this news is being tied in to the horrible play by the Pirates. As a result, it’s being presented as “the entire organization is a joke”, with the reaction to Kyle Stark’s e-mail making him the poster child. I don’t necessarily agree with that, as I think that makes him the scapegoat, rather than focusing on the problems throughout the organization. I don’t think there’s much of a problem with an innovative/extreme workout or a motivational e-mail that sounds crazy. I think there are other problems to focus on, such as the continued struggles of the major league club, as well as questions about the development and philosophies in the minors. The SEAL training and the e-mail have nothing to do with those issues.

I said a few weeks ago that I don’t think Neal Huntington should be fired. At this point it seems like it would take a miracle for the team to finish above .500 this year. But if that happened, can you imagine firing the General Manager who ended the losing streak, right after he ended the streak? Ending the losing streak shouldn’t be the goal, but it does show progress. That progress would be enough for me to see one more year out of Huntington and company, with the expectations that next year it is playoffs or bust.

There’s a difference between my opinion of what should happen, and what will happen. After thinking about it today, it wouldn’t surprise me if the house was cleaned after this season. That’s not just Stark, but Huntington as well, and maybe more (I don’t think you can clean house and keep Clint Hurdle around for a new GM). I think that’s hard to avoid when you combine the horrible play over the last two months with the potential for losing season number 20, and mix in the national black eye that this situation has created. It’s hard to see people keeping their jobs if the Pirates go from 16 games over .500, to finishing below .500, and in the process every outlet cites sources around the industry mocking their development approach.

This probably isn’t something that garners much attention if the team is winning. But the team isn’t winning. I’ve previously said Huntington shouldn’t be fired. But every loss to the Astros or Cubs, and every no-name pitcher that dominates the offense chips away at that belief. When I said Huntington shouldn’t be fired, it was with the belief that the team wouldn’t look overmatched against the Astros and Cubs, and would finish with a record near .500. It’s getting harder to believe that will happen, especially with losses like tonight.

If the team finishes this collapse to the season, then I think Huntington might be gone. It would be hard to say that’s not justified if that happens. You can’t finish a season like this, all while being embarrassed by the local and national media for your development approach, and keep your job. I think there’s some good things this management team has done. I think the team is heading in the right direction. I do have concerns with some of their philosophies and theories, and I don’t think all of the results are great. And I think that while the team is doing well and they seem to be heading in the right direction, you can ask if they’re doing well enough, and ask if someone else might have them further along.

What I think the most is that in a few weeks we might be looking back at today and saying “that was the day Neal Huntington and/or Kyle Stark lost their job(s)”. Between the continued horrible play in the second half, the national embarrassment of today’s story, and the fact that there are some concerning questions in the farm system, I would feel that’s more justified than I felt it would have been a few weeks ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s .500 or bust at this point for this management group.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost to the Astros 7-1.

**Pirates Notebook: Bucs Struggle to Find a Spark.

**Melky Cabrera Ineligible for Batting Title; McCutchen the Leader.

**Pirates Need to Finish in Final Two Weeks of Season.

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“For example, carrying a pole on a beach just sounds like potential
injuries waiting to happen. It also sounds like a team building
exercise. In this case, I’m not sure if the team building out-weighs the
potential for risk.”

absolutely agreed.


I would like to keep neal and fire hurdle…i get tired of saying hurdle has ” changed the culture” when in fact the culture remains the same..losing…he needs to go his in game decisions are unbeliable at times..


With all due respect your article is a classic case of finding exceptions to refute the norm.
When trying new and inventive ideas there will be successes and failures. But the difference between the two is the leaders intrinsic understanding of the objective to be achieved and the vital pieces or skills necessary to become highly effective. In the Pirates case it appears the have placed a disproportionate amount of focus on areas that do not produce highly effective baseball players.
If they were highly effective the results would be there. They have had very high draft picks, out spent every other team in baseball and yet they are not filled with talent.

Two truths need to be recognized:
1) We are not nearly as good as we should be.
2) Neil and his staff are not that smart. They had a philosophy and it failed.

Sorry Neil, Stark and Smith. The evidence is overwhelming you are not highly effective. Pirates fans deserve more than you can give. Good luck and good bye.

Kevin Anstrom

Regarding point #1 – the Pirates have the best farm system in baseball. How good do you think it should be?


Baseball America had the Bucs at #1 1 coming into 2012 (

Kevin Goldstein at BP had the club at #8 coming into 2012 ( )

Has anyone updated their rankings to put Pittsburgh at #1 ?


I don’t know what will happen with this organization but I know one thing for sure ………
I will NOT be sucked in again.


For anybody who’s interested, here’s a much more level-headed, and infinitely more knowledgeable, take on the SEAL training than what we’ve seen in the mainstream media:

John Lease

Because it’s another apology job for the worst management team in baseball.


Sorry Wilbur but there is a big difference. The training Navy SEALS go through is designed to produce…Navy SEALS. While some traits are similar or transferable the Pirates training is supposed to produce excellent baseball players – and it isn’t happening.


Not sure what your point is. Nobody can possibly have thought that a few days of SEAL training would, or was intended to, produce Navy SEALs. But the article I linked, as well as some of the comments in the thread, are from military people familiar with this sort of training who think it does have potential value for minor league players. They may or may not be right where the Pirates are concerned, but unlike Dejan Kovacevic and Jeff Passan, they have personal knowledge of the issue.


My point is organizational excellence requires focus on the outcomes to be achieved. When that focus is switched so the key elements of SEALS training, or any non-baseball training, can be introduced it is a recipe for disaster. What we focus on is what grows.

IF the elements of SEALS training MAKE a baseball player better, it needs to be incorporated into the BASEBALL training these young men see every day. If it’s not seamless the essential elements will not transfer and the activity is a waste of time. People who understand management on a professional level know this to be true. This is where Kyle Stark, and to an extent Neil Huntington, are woefully inept. There is a big difference between knowing something and understanding how to transfer that knowledge into actionable results.

Our outcomes are lousy. Rankings are ok, but the real test is the overall production for the entire organization. After five years it’s just not there.


Lets, see!!!! The bandwagon is just about empty, it is near midnight and
the Bucs, their entire organization and everyone connected to it is
about to go under the bus, could not get any gloomier for the boys in
Black and Gold.

What I think of the Pittsburgh media can’t be printed.

It was fine when the Pittsburgh Penquins trained with the Navy Seals,
Crosby said it was terrrific, the Pittsburgh media had no problems with
it, but wait, they were not losing, the magic word when talking about
the Pirates is “Losing”.

The Pirates do a lot of things that IMO not necessary.

I do agree with accountability.The fundamentals on the major league
level are the worst I have seen in many a year, worse than the
fundamentals was the fact that they could not correct them during the
season. Thats on management.

The hitting approach is awful. Thats on management.

The baserunning is awful. That is on management.

Holding baserunners was awful. That is on management.

As far as the major league team failing in the stretch run, thats on
both Management and the players, you can’t get rid of them all.

I did not see one media person or blogger call McDonald’s
collapase or Cutch’s drop from .373 to the .338, or Neil Walker missing
most of a month because of a back injury and now he is tired. Couple
that with the fact the Pirates started 3 rookies last night on a team
that was in a pennant chase, from a farm system that does not produce,
that is a joke to? Not to mention that they were not the only rookies in
that game. They had one real veteran in that game, the rest were
rookies, first or second year players, none of them fully major league
developed including McCutchen.

This last paragraph is a
microcosm of why they are where they are.

As far as the farm, since development can take as much as eight years in
most players careers, it is way to early to judge the farm. McCutchen
is in his 7th year and he still will develop further. Walker is in his
8th year and he needs more development.

F Lang

Why haven’t the Rooneys ever shown interest in buying the Pirates? At least we know they understand Pittsburgh and know how to run a sports franchise.

F Lang

The thing that gets me about all Stark’s email is all the rhymes and buzzwords. I have worked at fortune 500 companies pretty much the last 20 years and at 40 I can tell you they are pretty much all bs and words jack@sses use to make themselves sound smarter. “Be the sage on the stage” made me cringe beyond belief. Being sprayed with a hose is not going to make you a better ballplayer or teammate i’m pretty certain. Fine do goofey stuff to break up monotony once and awhile but to make these things part of your core training is a little bit out there. Pro baseball has been around for 160-170 years and i think fundamentals that are needed to win and be sound major leaguers are pretty well established at this point. I like the way they have thought outside the box signing players from all over the world but Stark sounds like a crazy cult leader. …another thing that bothers me is Hurdle uses a ton of buzzwords and NH has been known to throw some cheese out there so I fear it is probably a systematic mess.

Mike Farnham

Tim, I live in Bradenton so I get to see the Marauders play ball in person. I have never understood a lot of the Pirates philosophy. Something as simple as they won;t allow the pitcher to know their pitch speed. What? Why not? I see how they rarely is ever check a runner from stealing a base. I’ve seen them attempt to steal bases and fail most of the time. The coach rarely argues any call the umpire makes. It’s a very laid back attitude which results in laid back results. How do they go on year after year doing the same thing, with little success, and still think it is the right thing to do? Our local pro team are the Tampa Bay Rays and I want to buy the coaches all tickets and take them to the game and say “,…see how these guys play? Do this and you will be more successful…” I can see why the Pirates are where they are just by their own philosophy that seems to be counter-productive. They draft all the pitchers they can so they can use them as trade bait for someone down the road instead of keeping them, developing them, and winning with them. I think of it like this – they do the exact opposite of the Yankees. The Yankees have the financial resources to buy anyone they choose so they can win. They just buy buy buy. The Pirates take everything they have and sell sell sell. Don’t get me wrong, I support the Pirates (especially the Marauders since we live here) but they are not supporting their own players very well. If you try to call them on it they get very defensive, as I would expect, and have no openness to the possibility that someone else might have a better way. I have vented enough. Thanks for the article.

F Lang

You are exactly right…you play like you practice. How do you learn to hold runners if you aren’t working on it in the minors? It’s embarrassing. They say it is so players can concentrate on batters and working on their stuff….but there is more to being on the mound than just pitching.


I agree that what we would call “high risk” activities are probably not the answer to creating a winning “team culture”. If many people can look at something and agree that it is “high risk” then it is probably something best left to those that can afford to take that risk. I would not put the Pirates in that category.

However, there is a level of risk that is optimal. What is that level? No one really knows. If they tell you that they have the answer, you should do an about-face and run, don’t walk, but run away from them as fast as your legs can carry you, because something bad is about to happen. But there are people that have come close to finding that level of optimal risk, and they get there through experience. That is something that is sorely lacking in the Pirates organization. That is not to say that there is no experience. There just isn’t enough. Will the Pirates get there? They will if they have the time and ability to learn from their mistakes. Which speaks directly to these activities. Will they continue them, or will they find different methods that are equally successful, but less risky? Just like a child learning to walk, they are going to fall down many times. And just like the parents who can only watch as their child face-plants into the carpet, we can do nothing but watch the system and hope that soon they will be walking without holding on to the furniture. A word of caution though, there is no guarantee that the child, once walking, will become the next Usain Bolt. The genes have to be there. Darwin called it evolution and survival of the fittest. The Pirates must first survive these trials before they can evolve.

“Who writes this crap”?


I agree that what we would call “high risk” activities are probably not the answer to creating a winning “team culture”. If many people can look at something and agree that it is “high risk” then it is probably something best left to those that can afford to take that risk. I would not put the Pirates in that category.

However, there is a level of risk that is optimal. What is that level? No one really knows. If they tell you that they have the answer, you should do an about-face and run, don’t walk, but run away from them as fast as your legs can carry you, because something bad is about to happen. But there are people that have come close to finding that level of optimal risk, and they get there through experience. That is something that is sorely lacking in the Pirates organization. That is not to say that there is no experience. There just isn’t enough. Will the Pirates get there? They will if they have the time and ability to learn from their mistakes. Which speaks directly to these activities. Will they continue them, or will they find different methods that are equally successful, but less risky? Just like a child learning to walk, they are going to fall down many times. And just like the parents who can only watch as their child face-plants into the carpet, we can do nothing but watch the system and hope that soon they will be walking without holding on to the furniture. A word of caution though, there is no guarantee that the child, once walking, will become the next Usain Bolt. The genes have to be there. Darwin called it evolution and survival of the fittest. The Pirates must first survive these trials before they can evolve.

“Who writes this crap”?


Tim, do you really believe NH is an above average MLB GM? If not then why settle for average? I don’t think he’s a bad GM, but I also don’t think he’s teh guy to get us to the next level. He has done a decent job in several facets, but I think we can do better.

GM’s don’t cost nearly as much as players, why not spend big for a top GM like Andrew Freidman? That woudl be the most substantial thing we can do with our limited money.

F Lang

I am not a NH hater but he has done nothing to prove he is above average. For the 40 mil+ spent on the first 4 drafts we don’t have a lot of results although there is still time. I would rate him as mediocre. Then again i spend too much time following the Bucs and not other teams and I am institutionalized. Compare what we do to the Reds, Cards, Nats, Rangers, Yankees…we’re not even close.

F Lang

One person is drinking the coolaid still.


I see one other potential issue that Tim didn’t mention and that is the impact at bringing players into the organization when the rest of the league perceives the Pirates development program as somewhere between lacking and a complete joke. We’ve had four players (that we know of) turn down money to either remain with the team or come on board – Derrek Lee, Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson and Mark Appel. What is the likelihood that opinions around the league regarding the Pirates development program influenced them? Jackson and Appel are both represented by Scott Boras. I’d bet Boras has a pretty good handle on which teams are considered to have good development and which don’t. Plus he’s got the opinions of all his clients currently running around the majors and minors and his own personal dealings with all 30 teams to draw from. Appel would have more to lose than the older players in that his entire career would be in the hands of these guys.

Maybe I’m seeing a conspiracy where none exists. But if this is the case, that’s all the more reason to clean house.

Also, I’m in favor of being different/pushing the envelope/thinking out of the box. When you do things differently and are successful, people consider you a genius. Maybe ahead of your time. When you aren’t successful with doing unconventional things, then you are perceived as being crazy or eccentric. Guess which category Stark falls into right now?


I see your point. But Appel is different than the highly regarded prep pitcher in that, barring an injury, Appel is almost certainly guaranteed a couple of million next year (even though he lacks leverage). For the prep guys, walking away from the Pirates overslot money is more of a risk. If those guys don’t develop in college, then their stock is sure to fall and the likelihood of a big bonus is next to nil.


Half a mil now versus much less – or perhaps nothing – later if things don’t go well in college? I jump at that even if people advising me are telling me the Pirates methods are garbage.

Maybe Jeff Passan didn’t talk to the scouts you spoke with because it sounds like the development program as a whole is not highly regarded.


“Maybe Jeff Passan didn’t talk to the scouts you spoke with because it
sounds like the development program as a whole is not highly regarded.”

Or maybe he didn’t because he’s a lazy, untalented writer who finds it easier to deal in hyperbole and sensationalism than in facts. Really, I’ve read enough of his stuff. He’s a horrible writer.

What’s completely absent from the current maelstrom surrounding NH and Stark is any examination whatsoever of the quality of instruction the team’s prospects are getting. If somebody can tell me, other than by just screaming about the losing streak, that the quality is lacking, that’s worth listening to. But in all the furor over the development system, there hasn’t been a word about that. Not. One. Single. Word. That’s why I hate seeing things like this become big issues. They distract from where the real focus should be.


With regard to the minors in general, I’m not so concerned with the SEAL training as much as I am by two things.
1. The generality that Passan paints – and maybe he is lazy and maybe it is an incorrect generality – that the rest of baseball doesn’t have much respect for the way the Pirates handle their minor leaguers, which goes beyond SEAL training. Such a low regard in the industry, might, as I noted in my first comment above, cause some players to avoid coming to Pittsburgh.


2. What I perceive to be a lack of depth in the minors behind the Latin Americans and Cole & Taillon.

I’d love to read your take on the development system and how it is perceived by others in baseball. Please post a link if it is published elsewhere.


My take on it is that I think the Pirates’ drafting has been mediocre under the current FO, but I lack the knowledge to judge the coaching and I’ve seen virtually nothing written anywhere that addresses it. In fact, Tim’s discussions with scouts are about the beginning and end of it. As far as I can tell, Passan is just basing his conclusion on the SEAL business and Stark’s seemingly drug-induced email.

As a general matter, though, I think the importance of coaching is overrated. Not non-existent, but not vital if you have truly talented players. I keep thinking of Aramis Ramirez, whom Bonifay and Lamont jerked around horrifically. They did everything they could to ruin him as a prospect, but once McClendon put him in the lineup and left him there, the talent came through. Until somebody can offer an explanation of what the Pirates are doing, development-wise, that’s so awful, I remain convinced that their issues at the minor league level result from their drafting.


the importance of coaching being over rated is reasonable in my opinion. How are coaches really evaluated? Supposedly Brian Graham had a written plan for every player in system yet when he was replaced I was left with impression that new folks didn’t think old system was doing much instruction, or communicating with players.

F Lang

What is interesting ecbucs is I specifically remember a special about our system (specifiically focused on the dominican) on fox sports spit when littlefield was still here and it emphasized the point that the whole system was doing the same thing from “at every level – down to the Dominican we are doing the same as in the mlb.” …then i specifically also remember NH taking a jab when he took over aluding to the fact that there was not uniformity of practices down through the system. Listening to a fo speak is a lot like a political campaign…you don’t know what is spin or what is fact.


I don’t have an issue with team building exercises, but I do have an issue when these exercises risk injury. These type of exercises have way too much risk compared to their created value. You can build camaraderie other ways.

I disagree with you when you say fundamentals aren’t the reason for the Pirates struggles. I don’t have any stats to back this up, but my “eye-test” says otherwise. I would argue that the inability to locate pitches and hold runners are a lack in fundamentals. It seems like the Pirates currently have a bunch of throwers, not pitchers. Too many pitches are being left over the middle of the plate.

The major league team (if you can even consider them a major league team anymore) also lacks approach and plate discipline, which I consider poor fundamentals. It’s inexcusable to not score runs when you have the bases loaded or a runner on third with less than two outs. It’s more egregious in extra innings or late in a tied game. There’s no reason for the next batter to be the “hero” and swing for the fences. I wish whoever is batting would just simplify his approach and try to hit a line drive back through the box instead of swinging for the fences.

And errors – it seems like they have been committing more errors and bone-headed decisions too.

Obviously, I can’t pin all of that on the Pirates’ minor league
development team because players have been brought up in different
organizations. There may be flaws in our farm system, but I can’t fairly criticize the minor league development team because I’ve never seen a minor league game. I only read box scores. I can say, though, it’s disappointing to not see any of these “projectable” arms rise in the rankings. And it’s more disappointing seeing the Pirates fold again.


Maybe that’s why other teams are letting them go…


Tim, I think your post actually supports my point!

The reason AJ Burnett was available had nothing to do with the player the Pirates sent to NY. It was due to his performance was not close enough to the value of his contract. If his fundamentals were better, his performance would have been better. That was why he was available for such a small price. This year he has been a good MLB pitcher. Pirate fans feel he is a GREAT pitcher because we have been exposed to such a low standard for 20 years. It goes without saying the Yankees higher standards than the Pirates, which is why he was available in the first place.

Typically fundamentally sound players with talent are impossible to trade for. The exceptions usually occur when there is an established player blocking someone from coming up. That’s when we see typically a trade for a fundamentally sound young player.

Look at the trades and FA signings in Pittsburgh over the last 5 years. Either fire sales or buying low on players with talent but flawed. This will DESTROY the culture of an organization unless a change agent comes along and leads the organization. The Pirates are still doing that today. I know everyone praised the deals for Travis Snyder and Gabby Sanchez but the real question is why were they available in the first place? I hope both players turn it around and we have seen some positive signs but something is less than stellar with both players despite their talents. Neither is sound fundamentally which is why they were available at such a cheap price.

Marte is a difficult question to answer. It depends on his development and the package offered. His game is built on speed and defense. He isn’t going to be a power hitter, so his skills will deteriorate faster as he ages. I love his arm and his speed but if he doesn’t figure out the fundamentals he is going to fail. He has the potential, but so did Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, and many others who have darkened our door.

Let me ask – two years ago would anyone have traded Tabata? Today we can’t give him away. What is wrong with Tabata – his fundamentals. As this website pointed out he is just as fast as he always was. But he isn’t hitting, playing good defense or running the bases well at all. Again, this is why the Yankees (see a pattern here?) made him available.


Sorry Tim but I think you are actually supporting my point with your answer.

Typically players with talent and are sound fundamentally are virtually off limits in a trade. Unless it’s a win-win by trading excess at one position for another team’s excess at another position to fill mutual needs this almost never happens.

If AJ Burnett was fundamentally more sound he would have produced better results, which would have been easier to justify his contract. Since he didn’t produce near his contract value, he was dumped to the Pirates. He has had a good year for a MLB pitcher. He has had a GREAT year in the minds of Pirate fans, because we are use to seeing much poorer performances over the last 20 years. It goes without saying the Yankees have higher standards than the Pirates. The Pirates are not good, they just aren’t as bad as we are use to.

Look at the trades and the FA signings over the last 5 years – either fire sale or buying low on a player who had some promise but is tarnished. That mentality KILLS the culture of an organization, unless a change agent comes along and is really good at what they do. Huntington and Stark just are not good enough at what they do. They are just better than what we had before. Time for them to go.

John Lease

WOW! What a complete and utter joke you were writing that Tim. All the BS the Pirates do, ‘it’s not a big deal’. It’s different than other teams, they don’t like different. Quit reflexively defending EVERYTHING the Pirates front office does. That is the absolute definition of apologist. BTW, another great effort from the Pirates yesterday. Jeff Locke struck out 8, so the 3 run homer in the first doesn’t really count. That’s what the Pirates website spun this morning. They HAVE to spin. You don’t. Defending Stark? He’s had some successes? Who, Alvarez? That’s a debateable 1. Sadly, the only good players on this team are all Littlefield players. And he wasn’t good either.

John Lease

I read the whole thing. Pirates doing something stupid, that doesn’t matter. People jumping all over the Pirates because of their stupidity? Well, that’s just what ‘they’ do. Condescending AND reflexively defending at the same time! Dejan Kovacevic is a reporter, not a fan. There is a difference.


So, do you think NH is an above average MLB GM????


well, im going to be a Huntington apologist right now, and heres why: the average time it take a minor league player to “make it” in the big leagues, from time of draft or initial signing, is over 6 seasons. and by making it I mean actually becoming a fulltime productive player. sure a select few will make it quicker, while most take even longer.
for this reason alone I will not judge NH and his drafts. his FA signings havent been glorious for another simple reason: no one wants to sign with the Pirates. this was definately proven by both edwin jackson and roy oswalt. do you think Overbay was the pirates first choice in 2011? hell no. sometimes you take what you can get and hope for a resurrection.
all of this anger being spewed at the FO just proves the definition of the word FAN. none of us know how to run a ballclub but we all think we do. this is still the best season we have had in a decade and some of the steps that our players have taken are noteworthy and the current FO deserves as much credit as the blame you easily throw around.

Paul Hartman

Tim makes a lot of good points. But here’s something not considered that is important for next season. Who can truly say at this point that the 2013 Pirates will be good enough to finish ahead of the Reds, Cardinals and Brewers? No one of course.

That leaves the Cubs, since we won’t have the Astros to kick around. And the Cubs could be better next year, better than the Pirates. All things being relative, if the Pirates can’t compete with the other four teams in the 2013 NL Central, that means another season in the basement and possibly, another season of reverting to 90+ losses.

Now that’s a scary scenario but certainly a plausible one, given the tanking of the current team.

F Lang

The brewers have some good young players and money to blow. The Cubs will spend too. Right now the Bucs are #4 in a 5 team division with the Cubs and Theo Epstein gaining on them. This year is really tough because we had a window with the Cards and Brewers struggling a good part of the season…of course the Cards are know for turning it on the last 5-6 weeks…that’s what good franchises do.

Paul Hartman


Ok, let’s try it this way. Let’s look at next season in terms of “impact players” on each team. It takes approximately four impact players for a team to contend for a pennant.
The Reds have three to five such players, including two pitchers. The Cardinals have two or three. And Milwaukee has three, one of them a pitcher.
What does Pittsburgh have outside McCutchen? The answer is nobody and there’s no reason to expect anybody else on the current team to step out as an impact player next year, i.e. a player having a hall of fame type of season.
That leaves the Cubs and Pirates to duke it out at the bottom of their division. Thanks to a falteing amateur draft program by Neal Huntington, I see no impact players arriving in Pittsburgh next year. To expect Cole to suddenly blossom into Tom Seaver next year is expecting too much.
Likewise our best prospects, few though they be, are still anything but future Hall of Famers until they make it to Pittsburgh, including Taillon, Bell, and Heredia.
In sum, the final two months of 2012 play by the Central Division teams does not bode well for the Pirates chances in 2013. James McDonald epitiomizes the team at this point with his shattered ego and quesitonable future.
No one seems to have a clue as to why McDonald melted down. As he did, so did the team around him. I’ve been following the team and the game closely since 1956. I can’t remember when a player and his team fell from grace so far and so fast in one season, barring major injuries.
WAR figures suggest that the Pirates over performed this season. From my observations of the players and the team, I believe this is plausable and had come to the same conclusion.
The good people of Pittsburgh are known to have, perhaps, an extra dollop of PRIDE in their sports teams and have tasted success in pro football and hockey for some time. Such was the case in baseball from 1958 when the Pirates finished 2nd to the early 90’s when Bonds, Bonilla and Drabek nearly carried the team into a World Series.
Note that when the team surged this year and last, the fans came out in droves, hungry for a winning team. Note also that this has not happened in Baltimore, where they also have a new stadium but apparently, not the same level of fan interest and support for a legitimate contender.
So one is left with the impression that perhaps the players did indeed over perform in order to rid themselves of the stench of losing for two decades and to please the nightly crowds. All of this is admirable, but the lingering impression is that of the team stumbling into a death march near the end of seasons 2011 and 2012.
Recovering from these two seasons is not going to be so simple. I remain an optimist throughout, but a cautious optimist. I’ve been fooled several times along the way these past twenty years by Bonifay, Littlefield and now Huntington. As THE WHO said in their anthem, We Won’t Get Fooled Again.

Paul Hartman
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
—– Original Message —–
From: Disqus
Sent: Saturday, September 22, 2012 9:16 AM
Subject: [piratesprospects] Re: First Pitch: The Day Huntington and Stark Lost Their Jobs?

Tim Williams wrote, in response to Paul Hartman:

I don’t know why every other team would stay the same or would show improvement, while the Pirates would be worse. Almost all of their players are returning next year, including the guys most responsible for the success this year. Add in some help (Gerrit Cole should be joining the team next year, as one example) and the team should expect to see improvements.
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or the team could be having its first and only slump of 2012 at the wrong time.

F Lang

i think its more than a slump WA. It’s an adjustment back to what we really are. We aren’t a 14-38 team and we aren’t a 60-44 team. We are below average. It’s hard to say but I thought the staff looked good for 2013…now it looks really shaky. Burnett, Rodriguez, J-Mac, Karstens, Locke, McPherson, and maybe a Morton return…and Garrett Cole sometime in June or July maybe. We already alientated Correia so he will be headed back to San Diego or somewhere else probably.


God I hope Locke doesn’t return anywhere but Indy.

F Lang

Locke’s just gotta cut down on elevating the ball and giving up HRs and he will be fine. He has a low 1.2 whip and a 23:5 K:BB ratio which is excellent so it’s just the HRs right now. 6 HR in 25ip is a huge issue though.


Come on Angus, the team has played poorly since the break. The first few weeks they did OK W/L wise with some luck and poor opponent play, but teh signs were there back in July.


im sorry, but you dont get to be 16 games over with luck. we’ve have slumped because our pitching, including the bullpen, has been poor. alot of our players showed just how talented we are which is how the team got 16 games up in the first place. ive never said we were a playoff team, but this team is still the best we’ve had in a decade, at least!


Angus they got 16 over with two blazing hot streaks from Cutch and Walker (a 16-6 stretch). The had a ridiculously weak schedule in the second half and they have been eaten alive by bad to average teams. We were never really a 90 win team with all the lineup holes and lack of top end pitching talent.

I agree, we are more talented than any other NH team, but the lack of fundamentals and awful game strategy/decision making has contributed to the players own failings. I was against CH hiring from day 1 because he was known as a an old school small ball guy. I figured that at least they would be fundamentally sound, man was I wrong. This team is the worst baserunning team I can remember, yet CH insists on using strategies that play to our weakness.

Then you have bad organizational strategies like ignoring baserunners. This reminds me of NH’s innovative OF shift in the Russell era. In theory, allowing SB’s to focus on the hitter might work OK (if the opponent runs at a normal rate), until a team realizes you can’t stop them and they run wild. NH’s penchant for the “I’m the smartest guy in the room” mentality has burned him many times. Sometimes other teams do it a certain way because that’s how it works. I do think NH has learned some from his mistakes, but I feel he lacks the talent to really complete the task at hand.

These issues with the minors are not new, I have heard other scouts make comments about concern with how we are doing things over the last few years. Sometimes innovation is smart and a great thing, other times its just a bad idea and that’s why no one does it. The biggest indictment of the development program is the lack of depth in our system. Elite talent rises above our practices, but we are not getting much out of the next tier. We are drafting consensus high ranked talent, but it isn’t developing much at all.


‘Elite talent rises above our practices’. That made me laugh. I like that. I think Stark should have that printed on shirts and given to all the players in the minor league system.


so they got to 16 games over based on merit, and they have collapsed to below 500 based on merit? Just based on overall record it is time for this group to go. Now they are being dominated by Astros, Cubs and Brewers, teams that have struggled all season. It is time for this maangement group to go. I do’nt have a problem with Seals training objectives but Stark and his crew need to look at objectives of having the training and determine whether this is best way to achieve those objectives. What instructions has he provided the trainers? I would think it is more than, Hey just put them through 3 days of Seal training.


Stark most likely will be offered the opportunity to resign immediately or be fired at season’s end. You lead by example. If it’s such a great idea to build camraderie thru his ideals, he should be getting hosed, getting up at 5:00 a.m. and carrying his own telephone pole. Scapegoat? Not in my mind.
NH has 2 more years remaining on his contract, extended last season. That will probably be his saving grace. But, he’s probably going to be “offered” the opportunity to get his house in order and estaablish the long missing accountability that is lacking, or face his own consequences.
Does this all tie in with the owner reviewing the F.O.?


Time to clean house. They’re an embarrassment. They won’t finish above .500 so they don’t have to worry about firing the people that finally got them a winning record. Never had faith in Hunnington. But who cares what I think, management needs to be held accountable for 1) another epic collapse 2) the awful FA signings 3) the bad trades, thinking more about previous yrs 4) Navy SEAL training for prospects…WTF??

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