PITTSBURGH -- Three weeks and counting. I realize that all of the city's attention is on some football team right now, but yes, there are only three weeks until Clint Hurdle ushers his pitchers and catchers onto the Pirate City fields for the first Spring Training workout of 2011.
Thank you for your patience while I took some vacation time to travel to India this month. For those who are interested in hearing more about the trip, I'll be sure to dedicate a short blog entry to the journey. For now, though, let's stick to baseball and run through another set of your Inbox submissions.
When Hurdle took over as manager, he said he felt we needed a couple of left-handers in the bullpen. Do you see any left-handers on the horizon other than Scott Olsen?
-- Richard D., Weirton, West Va.
Assuming that Olsen remains in a starting role, the Pirates do lack proven left-handed options in the bullpen. Lefties Justin Thomas and Brian Burres both signed Minor League deals with the club and could be possibilities for the bullpen. Internal options include Tony Watson and Daniel Moskos, though neither has any previous Major League experience.
The Pirates continue to scour the market to see if there are other left-handed options available, and don't be surprised if some additions are made in the next few weeks. It would be a substantial risk to begin the season without a reliable left-handed option, even if management insists that it doesn't see a strong benefit in having a lefty specialist.
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Is there any chance that both Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo make the team out of Spring Training? The Pirates have already said that they are going to play Doumit more than just as a backup catcher, so could we carry three catchers into the season?
-- Lee J., Lincoln, Pa.
Yes, I believe there is a chance that the Pirates will carry a third catcher this season, though such a decision has not yet been made. As you mentioned, the Pirates' plans for Doumit are not to plug him solely into a backup role. In order to have the flexibility to liberally insert Doumit in as an outfielder, first baseman or pinch-hitter, the Pirates would need to have a third catcher available in case of an emergency.
This decision is certainly one to keep an eye on as the makeup of the bench comes into better focus during Spring Training. It will also be intriguing to see how Doumit's new role develops, and how he handles the decrease in playing time.
With all the talk about the fifth spot in the rotation going to Olsen and Brad Lincoln, is there a chance that Rudy Owens could be rewarded with the job instead?
-- Dan S., St. Marys, Pa.
It's unlikely that Owens will make the jump from Double-A to the Majors without first stopping in Triple-A to begin the 2011 season. This will be Owens' first taste of big league camp, and he will technically be competing for a rotation spot with the Pirates as camp gets under way. However, I just don't see the Pirates slotting Owens into the rotation on Opening Day no matter how well he pitches this spring.
I'd project that Owens will start the year in Indianapolis, and it is certainly possible that you could see him in Pittsburgh sometime midseason. That will depend on how the rotation is faring at the Major League level and how Owens continues to develop in the Minors. I will say that, from a selfish standpoint, I'm looking forward to getting my first look at Owens in person this spring. The numbers that he has put up over the last two seasons are sensational, and he is a left-hander to get excited about.
And as you mention possible fifth starter candidates, don't forget about Charlie Morton. He, along with Olsen and Lincoln, seem the three likeliest options.
Neil Walker was great last year and, in my opinion, was one of the bright spots for the Pirates last season. Do you see the Pirates signing him long-term?
-- Brock M., St. Marys, Pa.
While there is definitely reason to be excited about Walker's potential, it is too early to begin talking about a long-term contract for the former first-round Draft pick. The reality is that Walker has had just four months of success at the Major League level. That's not to say that his 2010 success was a fluke. It's just to point out that Walker must consistently produce for another few seasons before the Pirates would feel comfortable offering multi-millions his way.
How big of an organizational loss is Nathan Adcock being taken in the Rule 5 Draft? Will he be able to stay on Kansas City's roster all year? If he is offered back to the Pirates, will they take him, and what would his status be? Would he have to go on the 40-man roster?
-- Frank M., Pittsburgh
The Pirates took a calculated risk when they left Adcock off the 40-man roster, and Adcock ended up being the fifth player snatched in the Rule 5 Draft. Be sure that Pittsburgh didn't leave Adcock vulnerable because it was ready to give up on him. On the contrary. The club still thinks highly of Adcock, who had a solid season pitching in high-A Bradenton's rotation last season. The Pirates could only protect so many of their prospects from the Rule 5 Draft, and the thinking was that even if Adcock was taken, he's unlikely to be ready to stick on a Major League roster all year.
It seems like a gamble the Pirates are likely to win, given that Adcock has never even pitched at Double-A. Of course, that's not a guarantee. If Adcock can't stick with the Royals, I would anticipate the Pirates will take him back. The club would not have to put him on the 40-man roster, though Adcock would be available in the Rule 5 Draft again if he is not put on the roster by next fall.
Welcome back! Tell me why the Bucs did not give Andy LaRoche a shot at shortstop? With the shortstop issues we have and our interest in upgrading the position, it seems we should have given Andy some reps there (he does have experience) since we did give up our best player (Jason Bay) at the time.
-- Jim M., Chattanooga, Tenn.
The Pirates' decision to basically admit that the LaRoche acquisition was a flawed one had much more to do with LaRoche's lack of offensive production than not having a defensive position for him. Had LaRoche proved he could hit consistently -- and he had almost two years to show that -- the Pirates would have at least retained him as a bench player. But outside of two strong months in 2009, LaRoche never proved he belonged in a lineup as an everyday player.
LaRoche played shortstop back in high school, and he probably could have worked himself back into being a capable defender at the position. But it's unlikely he would have been better defensively than Ronny Cedeno, and it's questionable that LaRoche would have ever proved an upgrade on the offensive end either.
The Pirates explored every option -- external and internal -- to see if there was a better fit at short. Ultimately, however, the Pirates felt it best to take their chances with Cedeno.
Is there still a plan to have Maz work with Walker this spring?
-- Ronald M., Ottawa, Canada
Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski has served as an extra instructor at Spring Training for years, and this year will be no different. Though second base was where Mazeroski made his mark, he spends time working with the entire infield corps. Given Walker's lack of experience at second, Mazeroski can certainly have a positive impact on Walker's continued development. But expect his impact to be felt across the diamond.