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Mailbag: Why not Van Benschoten?

Mailbag: Why not Van Benschoten?

PITTSBURGH -- I know it doesn't rival Penguins fever, but in the midst of all the hockey buzz here in the 'Burgh, the Pirates are making a buzz of their own as they take a five-game winning streak into Monday's doubleheader.

So as the Pirates look to continue to roll right along with the Penguins -- albeit it on a different stage -- let's take a look at what's on your mind this week.

What are management's thoughts behind moving Phil Dumatrait into a starting role over letting John Van Benschoten continue to start as he has been in Indianapolis. I am not sure that Van Benschoten even has much experience as a reliever, and the way the majority of our bats have been this season, we could use his offense once every five days as well.
-- Stephen S., Sharon, Pa.

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Quite frankly, Dumatrait earned the opportunity to get the first crack at joining the rotation. He made the club out of Spring Training, out-pitching Van Benschoten for the long-relief role. I know that the argument can be made that since Van Benschoten was starting in Triple-A, he should just assume that role here, but really, there was no reason Dumatrait wasn't ready.

He had extended himself in some of his relief outings. And though he couldn't have surpassed the 100-pitch mark his first time out, he's fine to go that far now. You also have to remember that just because Van Benschoten had worked up to 100 pitches in his Minor League starts, that's not equivalent to 100 Major League pitches.

Management likely also took Van Benschoten's best interest into consideration as well. Van Benschoten has never succeeded as a starter at the Major League level. He was strong in the Minors last year, but couldn't parlay that into success when he was called up. Similarly, he was strong at Triple-A this April, but there are still questions whether he can have that same success at this level. By putting Van Benschoten in a relief role, it takes that initial pressure off him. Maybe that's what he needs.

There is always the ability to move Van Benschoten into the rotation if Dumatrait stumbles, though after two starts, Dumatrait seems to have made the adjustment just fine. Van Benschoten hasn't had any experience as a reliever in the past, but he has assumed the role and its nuances just fine. Sunday's rain delay will give him the chance to spot start on Monday, but for the time being, that rotation spot will continue to belong to Dumatrait.

And as for Van Benschoten's bat, it's no longer the asset that it used to be.

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Any chance the Pirates will look for another veteran starter to fill in that fifth starter's role? It seems Van Benschoten still could use time in the Minors and Dumatrait seems to be best suited in the long-relief role.
-- Brian W., Elkton, Md.

At this point, landing a veteran pitcher is not a priority. You have to remember that this franchise is going to be stabilized by its young players and pitchers, and giving some of them -- including Dumatrait and Van Benschoten -- a chance to get their feet wet in the big leagues this year could pay dividends down the road. And how both fare in their time with the Pirates this season will help management further evaluate if and how either Van Benschoten or Dumatrait may play into the team's long-term plans.

If the Pirates prove to be in the race come July and if that fifth rotation spot becomes an issue, going after a veteran starter could be considered. However, that's a scenario that is way too far off to predict.

When is it determined who will represent each team at each position on the All-Star ballot? I don't understand why Ronny Paulino is the Pirates' catcher on the All-Star ballot, when Ryan Doumit has started behind the plate in more games and has the far better numbers.
-- Gary I., Irwin, Pa.

MLB determined which players would be listed on the All-Star ballot at the beginning of the season. Since Paulino was still deemed the starting catcher when the season opened, that's why his name is listed. It wasn't until the middle of April that it became evident that Doumit would be receiving the majority of the playing time. Up unto that point, manager John Russell still called the pair a "tandem" behind the plate.

For Doumit, who came into Monday's game leading all National League catchers with a .340 average, to play in the Midsummer Classic, he'll have to depend on a persistent write-in vote campaign.

Jenifer, in the most recent mailbag you stated: "The Pirates are going to be very selective in who they offer long-term contracts to, and ultimately, Xavier Nady doesn't fit the bill of the types of players (i.e. Matt Capps and Ian Snell) that they are going to considering locking down." That made me wonder, what are the types of players will the Pirates consider locking down? When players develop, what characteristics does the organization weigh that causes Nady to not be considered? Or, did you mean that the Pirates will only lock down pitchers?
-- Colby K., Slippery Rock, Pa.

Thanks for the question, Colby, and let me clarify/expand on that point. As Pirates management looks to lock down players for multiyear deals, they are first looking to identify players who are just before or in their arbitration years. This concerns both position players and pitchers. By targeting these types of players for long-term deals, the Pirates are hoping that in the end, they get a discount on what the player may have been in line to make in arbitration or free agency.

As for characteristics, management will make their decisions on who to target for a multiyear deal based on factors like limited injury history, consistency of performance and years of service. Again, you have to remember that in order for the Pirates to benefit from multiyear deals, they have to offer them to players whose value will continue to increase.

For Nady, who is already making $3.35 million, any multiyear contract would have to pay dollar figures that are not in the Pirates' best risk-reward area. Add in the fact that Nady knows he could garner a big salary increase when he hits the free-agent market after next season, and there seems little hope for the two sides reaching a deal.

How are Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker doing in the Minors? What is the timeline for them being called up to the big league club, if there is one?
-- Joel H., Stoystown, Pa.

As of Sunday, McCutchen was ranked in the International League's top 10 in runs, stolen bases, home runs, hits and doubles, among other offensive categories. The 21-year-old outfielder, who is hitting .283 on the season, had a 13-game hitting streak earlier this season.

Walker hasn't gotten off to such an impressive start at the plate. The third baseman has a .203 average in 33 games. I wouldn't expect either to be up before September.

You mentioned some of the outfield prospects that the Pirates have in Indianapolis. What other position players and pitchers are considered quality prospects?
-- Brian M., Laurel, Md.

When it comes to the Indianapolis roster, the core position-player prospects are all in the outfield, as was mentioned in the last mailbag. You could probably throw Walker into that group, though his slow start for the Indians this spring is further evidence that the switch-hitting third baseman still has some work to do.

If you're talking about Indianapolis pitching, keep your eye on Marino Salas. The righty came over in the Salomon Torres deal and has put up strong numbers. At the age of 26, however, Salas isn't as young as many of the arms in the system.

In the lower levels, a list of prospects to keep your eyes on would include the likes of Daniel Moskos (LHP), Shelby Ford (2B), Duke Welker (RHP), Brian Friday (SS), Quincy Latimore (OF), Brad Lincoln (RHP), Andrew Walker (C), Jason Delaney (1B) and James Boone (OF).

What's this I hear about all-you-can-eat seats at the ballpark? What a great idea! Can you tell us a little more about them?
-- Steve, Dallas, Texas

The Pirates just recently announced that they are expanding this all-you-can-eat offer to include weekend games as well. A section in the right-field corner is set aside for these seats. More information can be found at pirates.com.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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