pirate1610: It seems like Jim Negrych's numbers in the Minors are extraordinary. Are there plans for him at the big league level any time soon? It would seem like a waste if he stays in the Minors during such a hot streak in his career.
fc_pirates_prez: pirate1610, you are right that Jimmy Negrych had outstanding numbers last year in Lynchburg and Altoona. In fact, Jimmy was named our Minor League Player of the Year for 2008. We are excited about his potential and, as a result, moved him from third to second base where we think he has a better chance of making it to the Major Leagues. He certainly is not wasting any time in the minor league system. Instead he's working hard to make the adjustments necessary to become a Major League player.
woodeneye: With Neil Walker playing third base at Triple-A, will we see Pedro Alvarez playing first base when promoted, possibly in Pittsburgh in the near future?
fc_pirates_prez: woodeneye, Neil Walker will begin the 2009 season at third base at Triple-A Indianapolis. Pedro Alvarez will begin the season at third base at High-A Lynchburg. Pedro is adamant that he is prepared to continue to put in the type of work, both in terms of conditioning and his defensive preparation, to remain at third base. Our preference would be to keep Pedro as a third baseman as long as he demonstrates that he can play above-average third base at the Major League level.
jm_bucsfan: Do you think there will be any trades or major roster moves prior to Opening Day, or is everything pretty much set?
fc_pirates_prez: jm_bucsfan, there are often trades made shortly before Opening Day as clubs need to reduce their rosters and often times have multiple players who cannot be assigned optionally to the minor leagues. In fact, we picked up Tyler Yates, a key member of the back of our bullpen, in such a trade last spring. Neal has been having conversations with several clubs who may have roster decisions that require them to move a player. Even though we are getting close to Opening Day, it is impossible to predict whether we will find a trade that will make us a better club. We are, however, aggressively exploring all trade possibilities.
ekflinn: Now that Spring Training is winding down, can you please reflect on the surprises and disappointments of the past two months?
fc_pirates_prez: ekflinn, fortunately the disappointments have been limited. Certainly Tom Gorzelanny's continued struggle to throw strikes was disappointing. Having said that, Tom understands what he needs to do to return to being an effective Major League pitcher, has accepted that challenge and is working extremely hard in the Minor Leagues to make those changes and return to Pittsburgh as quickly as possible.
On the bright side, we have had several young players who have demonstrated that they are very close to being ready to make a significant contribution in Pittsburgh. Certainly Andrew McCutchen came into camp with the intent to open some eyes on the Major League staff, and he did just that. Likewise, Brian Bixler probably was our most improved player during this Spring Training camp. As all Pirates fans know, Brian struggled, particularly at the plate, when he filled in for Jack Wilson last year. Brian worked extraordinarily hard during the offseason and during camp and now looks like a much different player, both in the field and at the plate. Probably not a surprise given our internal views of the players, but Ross Ohlendorf and Andy LaRoche, two players we acquired in Trade Deadline deals last year, have had outstanding camps. With both players, it seems clear that the offseason and Spring Training work with our staff has really helped. We look forward to seeing good things from both players in Pittsburgh for many years to come.
bob91151: Hi, Frank. Bob from SABR here. how's Jose Tabata holding up? I assume the team will give him full support.
fc_pirates_prez: bob91151, twice in one day. It was nice to see you outside of PNC Park this afternoon. And thanks for asking about Jose. Jose has obviously gone through an extremely traumatic personal event. But he has shown that he is a very strong young man who has a burning desire to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Roberto Clemente. Kyle Stark and his entire player development team has done a wonderful job of providing Jose with the type of support that a young man needs in a situation like this.
barnesyb: Good afternoon, Mr Coonelly. I am very excited about Opening Day being right around the corner. Is there a good chance we will see Alvarez make a fast track to the Majors?
fc_pirates_prez: barneysb, I am equally excited to open the 2009 season. Pedro Alvarez certainly showed in the last three months in Bradenton that he is a high-quality individual who has enormous potential as a baseball player. While he did not look overmatched facing Major League pitchers in Spring Training, he certainly needs to work on some aspects of his game to ensure that he fulfills that vast potential. It is not unreasonable, given Pedro's work ethic and aptitude, to believe that Pedro is on a fast track to Pittsburgh. Only time will tell whether he makes the type of progress in his development that would justify bringing him to Pittsburgh in 2009. We need to put Pedro in a position where he can maximize his full potential, and we won't call him up before he is ready.
pitt1215: Will we see a Dollar menu at the Ballpark? Many other teams have added this in the past few days.
fc_pirates_prez: pitt1215, we have brought back Buc Night this season for our second game on Wednesday, April 15. Not only can you buy a hot dog, soda, and popcorn for a dollar, we have a limited number of tickets that can be purchased for a dollar as well. In addition, working with our partner Sugardale, we are offering dollar hot dogs during every Friday night home game during the 2009 season.
taabob: Why did we not more actively address our starting pitching in the offseason?
fc_pirates_prez: taabob, I am not sure how you define actively addressed. We began to actively address our starting pitching shortcoming when we made the two trades at the Trade Deadline. As a result, Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens, two players acquired in those trades, are now members of our starting rotation. Ohlendorf, as mentioned earlier, has had an outstanding spring and looks like he may be that big, power right-hander that every club desires. Jeff Karstens proved in his limited time with us last year that he can be an effective starter, particularly out of the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
In addition, Daniel McCutchen, another starting pitcher acquired in the Nady/Marte deal, is at Triple-A and provides us with one of several options in the event that we have an injury or disappointing performance from one of our starters. In addition, we acquired Virgil Vasquez on a waiver claim and have Phil Dumatrait working his way back from an offseason shoulder surgery. As we have said from the outset, we are not going to rebuild a starting rotation through free-agent acquisitions. The free-agent starting pitchers who might have helped us, such as CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, required financial commitments that we are not in a position to make. That is why securing a high-ceiling prospect like Bryan Morris, who is now our fifth-best prospect, was so important to us when we made the two deadline trades.
bayday28: What are the chances Nate McLouth moves to left field when Andrew McCutchen arrives in Pittsburgh?
fc_pirates_prez: bayday28, when Andrew makes it to Pittsburgh, we will have two outstanding defensive outfielders who can play center field. This is a good problem to have, particularly in PNC Park, with our deep left-center field. Obviously, no decision has been made as to where Andrew will play once he's called up to Pittsburgh, but I can tell you that Nate McLouth believes that he is a center fielder and very much wants to prove that he should remain in center field.
chaz2108: How about Jon Garland?
fc_pirates_prez: chaz2108, good to hear from you again. I think your question relates to my answer regarding starting pitching free agents, and I think you are referring to Jon Garland, who is sporting a 1-3 record and a 6.23 ERA with Arizona so far this spring. We did not believe that acquiring Jon Garland was in the best interest of the Pirates.
jdom: I was wondering how you feel about Freddy Sanchez after his somewhat disappointing year?
fc_pirates_prez: jdom, we are very excited about having Freddy Sanchez completely healthy all spring, which is much different than each of the last two years. Freddy's shoulder is completely healthy, and he is making throws that his shoulder would not allow him to make last season. As you will recall, Freddy got off to a very slow start last year but was one of the better hitters in the NL during the second half. Now that he is completely healthy, we expect that Freddy will again be a feared hitter in the National League, and this should bolster the strength of our lineup from the No. 2 spot.
fc_pirates_prez: Thanks, everyone, for joining us. We'll see you next month when we are nearly a month into the regular season.
pittguest: Thank you, everyone. Please join Frank for his next monthly chat on Wednesday, May 6, at 2 p.m.