Pirates general manager Neal Huntington participated in a live online chat with Pirates fans on Thursday. During the chat, Huntington answered questions about the Pirates first overall pick in the 2011 First Year Player Draft, the team's current offensive struggles, the strategy involved in building a championship team and more. The complete chat transcript follows.
Huntington: Hey everybody -- sorry I am running late. We just got done a staff meeting, but I am ready for your questions.
daveplavi: The Brandon Wood experiment has its ups and downs, more down than anything. I was one who was for the acquisition. How much longer do you see the club sticking with him to be the backup SS and 3B? When will Pedro Ciriaco be brought up?
Huntington: Thanks for the question. Brandon obviously comes with a big pedigree but has had his share of struggles at the Major League level. We like the versatility he brings to the club and will be given every chance to turn around his Major League career with us. Ciriaco had a quality spring and is continuing to develop at Triple-A and remains in our plans.
bdbucs: Given the Pirates took two outstanding pitching prospects early in last season's Draft, will that factor in on which position is the Pirates first pick this year?
Huntington: The Major League Draft is different from the other sports in that the NFL, NBA and to an extent the NHL expect immediate returns at the highest level from their Draft picks. The reality is that with the Major League Draft, most players are 3-5 years away from making an impact so the Major League Draft is about taking the best available player for your organization and not filling needs of the current Major League club.
etzduke10: Is there anything you can disclose about contract negotiations with any current players?
Huntington: We have made a policy of not publicly discussing rumors with respect to trades and/or player contract negotiations. Generally speaking, signing young players to multi-year contract extensions does remain a part of the plan and we will continue to work to keep as many players in Pittsburgh as is feasible.
bucsin09: Hi Neal, thanks as always. It seems we have a lot of prospects who will need to be protected this fall. Might we finally be reaching the point where we trade some for Major Leaguers?
Huntington: One of the focus points for developing a deep system is the ability to trade prospects for established Major League players when the time is right. We are certainly closer to the time being right since anytime we have been here.
billpirate: Mr. Huntington, when are we going to start hitting?
Huntington: Today. Seriously, I understand your concern but we have talented young players that are making the necessary adjustments as the league adjusts to them and we have veteran players that we need to get going. Clint and Gregg are working hard and I believe we will see the dividends in the near future.
SamS: The Pirates managed to go one game above .500 two days ago, yet attendance is still very low. At what point do you believe fans will start believing and begin filling PNC Park?
Huntington: When we show the fans we are worthy of their support we expect this place to be electric!! However, as we sit here today, PNC is one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country, baseball is a great game and this club is coming together. I think it would be fun to say you were ahead of the curve and watched it happen...
cybixler: I cringe every time I see how well Jose Bautista is playing in Blue Jays. What's your take on that trade?
Huntington: Obviously that has not worked out well for us. Jose and the Toronto coaching staff deserve a lot of credit. After essentially a full season in Toronto, Jose made a swing adjustment and has become a terrific hitter.
cheese2356: Do you see getting a big name player in the near future?
Huntington: We look forward to the players on our roster becoming big name players! The reality is teams with our market size have to develop the core players from within (or trade for them when they are young) and add additional pieces through free agency, not vice versa.
jimdgobucs: What have you seen as the biggest problem with the team so far this year?
Huntington: We have not swung the bats any where near our capabilities, but we do expect that to improve in the near future.
go_buccos: Neal, some of our prospects have not gotten off to the start we were hoping for. What should we expect in the future and are players, namely Owens, still on track for mid-season promotions?
Huntington: While some of our guys in Triple-A have not performed as expected, it is early and as a result the sample size is such that small fluctuations in performance (good or bad) show up larger in the numbers. We had not set a timetable for any promotions as that is truly set by the player and his ability to adjust and get the job done. Additionally we take into consideration whether there is an opening and opportunity for an upgrade at the Major League level when determining call-ups.
meangene51: How will you deal with the influx of several first time Rule Five Draft eligible players? Thanks.
Huntington: Great question! A deeper, more talented farm system will lead to more difficult roster decisions and that is a good thing. We will continue to aggressively scout ourselves and all players in our system to make sure we understand what we have, who we need to protect and how they will impact our club in the future. Of course, we have to balance that with who we currently have on the 40 man and how they impact us now. Bottom line, we will remain true to our program and philosophy and work to balance the short term, mid term and long term view points.
td12345: How do you evaluate Director of Player Development Kyle Stark's performance?
Huntington: Kyle and our entire player development system do an outstanding job. They are relentless in their pursuit of excellence. Our players are given the best resources and instruction to utilize those resources. Our staff is focused on developing players to help win in Pittsburgh.
TR19: What if anything is wrong with Chris Resop, just bad outings?
Huntington: We always have to be careful of getting to high or low based on short-term performance. Baseball is a long season and even the very best players and/or teams have good or bad stretches.
jim_e25: Do Kyle Stark and yourself see the Cole vs. Rendon debate as a nice problem to have or would you have rather there been a Strasburg type of hands down favorite for the first overall pick?
Huntington: With all due respect to the gentlemen in the 2011 Draft class, the club selecting first is always looking for a franchise player, but there does not appear to be that guy in the Draft this year. That said, there will be multiple All-Star caliber players that come through the Draft this year and we are working diligently to make sure the majority of them are in Pirates uniforms.
go_buccos: Most Pirates fans agree with Clint that we expect more than .500 ballclub, nevertheless, it is important for both the organization and the fans. Fast forward to July 31st, how does it affect your strategy?
Huntington: Time for a few more questions! It is our goal to be in a position to add to the club because we remain in the hunt. Short of that, we will make the decisions that we believe will most benefit the organization.
bucmaster1: Mr. Huntington, at what point are you going to send Pedro Alvarez down to the minors? Or are we going to let him work out the kinks at the Major League level? He obviously looks extremely overmatched at the plate.
Huntington: I am far from earning the "Mr." title but I appreciate the courtesy! While we would like all young players to arrive at the Major League level and perform immediately, more often than not there are struggles in the early part of their careers. Pedro struggled early last year after his call up, but made adjustments and swung the bat very well the last 4- 6 weeks of the season. The league has adjusted to him and it is now his turn to adjust back to the league. Last night is hopefully a sign that he is turning a positive corner.
cutchn: How secure are our current young players (Walker, McCutchen, Alvarez) from being traded in order to rebuild or gain other prospects? Does that change later this year if we find we are many games under .500?
Huntington: Almost every trade we have made in the past has involved a player or players that were either free agents at the end of that season or the next season. The players you mentioned are many (5+) years away from free agency and in fact are players we hope will remain in PIT even after they would have become eligible for free agency because we have been able to negotiate contract extensions.
the_god: Why does Brandon Wood only play at home?
Huntington: I have to admit I laughed out loud when I saw this question -- better food in the home clubhouse versus the road clubhouses maybe? All kidding aside, Clint takes several variables into consideration when he makes out the lineup. Brandon has only been in a Pirate uniform a short time and my guess is that his home/road appearances will balance out over time.
mtcharger: Obviously you can not tell us much, but I'm sure all of us here are excited and curious to hear your opinions on Cole vs. Rendon.
Huntington: Last question for the day. Without getting into the specifics of whom we are focused on, I can tell you that the Draft is bigger than one pick for us. Our goal is to select the player with each of our 50 selections that we believe will most positively impact the organization. As we discussed before, because the players are years away from the Major League, we will not Draft based on present Major League club need. Additionally, no club enters the Draft intending to sign all of their selections. We will continue to Draft "tough signs" with the intent to add as much talent to the system as is feasible. Sorry to be vague in my answer -- both players you mentioned (as well as many, many other players) have very interesting ability and we look forward to calling a young man to tell him he has been chosen with the first pick in the 2011 Major LeagueB Draft! Thanks so much to all that submitted questions and I apologize to those who did not get questions answered. Chat with you next time.