Pirates president Frank Coonelly participated in his monthly live online chat with Pirates fans on Wednesday. During the chat, Coonelly answered questions about the club's strong start, the organization's top prospects, the early struggles of Pedro Alvarez and Evan Meek, potential upcoming roster moves and more. The complete chat transcript follows.
Coonelly: Hello everyone and thanks for joining me for today's chat -- our first into this season. I hope that you're able to follow the game while chatting today. Let's get started.
wafe14: The Pirates currently lead the league in strikeouts. The pitching is picking up the slack and keeping games rather close. I know it still early in the season, but is this of any concern?
Coonelly: wafe14, the pitching, particularly the starting pitching, has been strong to date. On the high strikeout totals, yes, that is a concern for Clint [Hurdle] and his staff, and Clint has addressed the issue with the players. Giving the opponent free passes and making outs without putting the ball in play are both issues that we have prioritized.
bucsin09: Hi Frank, thanks as always! Is there a roster crunch coming up in the next month with Chris Snyder, Joe Beimel, Scott Olson and Jose Ascanio all possibly returning to the Buccos?
Coonelly: Each of those players are progressing well in their rehab in Pirate City in Bradenton. GM Neal Huntington will certainly have roster decisions that he needs to make when the players are available to come off the DL, particularly with respect to the bullpen.
Breener61: Frank, I know it's early, but what changes can you see so far in the 2011 version of the Buccos compared to last year? I'm talking about talent, attitude and general team mindset.
Coonelly: Breener61, it is early, but the talent on the team at the open of the 2011 season is clearly superior to the talent that was on the club at the start of the 2010 campaign. This will be the first full year with us for key players like Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and James McDonald. In addition, the offseason free-agent signings of Kevin Correia, Lyle Overbay, Matt Diaz and Jose Veras make us stronger. Clint Hurdle has certainly brought a new level of energy and enthusiasm and accountability. The players have accepted ownership of this team and believe that they can win. That attitude has been reflected in their play over this early portion of the season.
bucsdowork: What do you think of the starting rotation's good start?
Coonelly: bucsdowork, our starters' performance to date has been encouraging. Clint Hurdle said early in Spring Training that we would pitch much better than the 2010 Pirates, and over a very small sample size, we certainly have. The starters have kept us in every game thus far. Charlie Morton's focus and approach, in particular, have been entirely different than last year. With the table setters and run producers in our lineup, we will win our share of games if we continue to get effective starting pitching.
bucsin09: With so many prospects who will need to be protected this fall, might we see some prospects-for-big leaguers trades?
Coonelly: bucsin09, that is a great question. We had many difficult roster decisions this past offseason in putting together our 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft. Neal and his staff made the decision to promote Mike Crotta and Kyle McPherson to the 40-man in order to protect them, and given their performances in Spring Training and to date, those appear to be wise decisions. We lost Nate Adcock in the Rule 5 Draft. There is even a greater amount of talent that would become Rule 5 eligible following this season, and barring trades, Neal's decisions will be even more difficult next offseason. In-season trades of prospects for Major League players is certainly a possibility.
york43k: Hi Frank. How confident is the staff that this competitiveness can last all year?
Coonelly: As I indicated, the team's play out of the gate has been encouraging. I believe in these guys and I know that Clint Hurdle believes that they can remain competitive. More importantly, however, the players believe that they will compete all season long. Given the players' confidence, I think it is going to be a fun summer at PNC Park in 2011.
Buccos4eva12: Are you at all worried about the lack of power from Alvarez so far?
Coonelly: Buccos4eva12, Pedro certainly had a rough night at the plate last night and has not yet driven the ball like we know that he can. It was good, however, to see him lace a single into right field in his first at-bat today. As we saw last September, Pedro has tremendous power to all fields when he is locked in. I am confident that Pedro will hit, hit for power and drive in runs this year. He and Lyle Overbay and Garrett Jones will have opportunities to drive in runs and I am confident that Pedro will be a run producer.
Piratesfan4life: Although I know it is early in the season, but with Evan Meek struggling are there any plans to trade or replace him with someone else, and who?
Coonelly: Piratesfan4life, Evan Meek's track record from 2009 and '10 is much better evidence of his talent than three outings this April. We have no plans to trade Evan, and I am sure that Clint will continue to use Evan in high-leverage situations. And I look forward to him holding leads in the eighth inning.
lemmyk: Mr. Coonelly, thanks for meeting with us again. My question is what exactly does extended Spring Training mean for Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, and what is the projection time for them to start at Class A West Virginia?
Coonelly: Extended spring is, as the name suggests, an extension of the Spring Training routines in Bradenton. In addition to working on various aspects of the game and conditioning, the players play exhibition games against the other Major League clubs' extended teams. By having Taillon and Allie stay in Bradenton, we can limit their innings pitched so that they do not have to be shut down in early August, as they would have been had they started the season in West Virginia. It is simply a matter of not wanting to add too many innings to the total that each player threw last season as high school seniors. The inability to get high-round Draft selections signed in June makes it impossible to build their innings in their Draft year. This limits the innings that they can pitch in their first full professional season. There is no set timeline for a promotion to West Virginia, but it likely won't happen in April.
Coonelly: One more question today...
bucsdowork: Will Pedro move to first base?
Coonelly: After not taking charge on two infield popups on Opening Day, Pedro's defense at third base has been solid-to-spectacular at times. It has been very encouraging -- even on nights when he has struggled at the plate, he has not taken that to his defense. Again, last night Pedro made several solid plays at third. The best answer to the question has been provided by Pedro himself, as I'm sure you have seen. Pedro is committed to doing what in necessary for him to remain at third base. He has, as we have said many times, all of the tools necessary to remain at third base given his commitment and his tools. A move to first base is hardly inevitable.
Coonelly: Thanks for participating today, and let's pick up another road series win.