Frank Coonelly: Good afternoon, Bucco fans, and thanks for joining me today. Let's get started.
jm_bucsfan: Which prospects might we see in Pittsburgh soon - Andrew McCutchen, Brad Lincoln, Neil Walker?
Coonelly: jm_bucsfan, given his development at Indianapolis, it would be very surprising if McCutchen is not in Pittsburgh at some point this season. Andrew is starting to put up numbers at Triple-A that are approaching the type of numbers that reflect a player dominating his level of play. Brad Lincoln has also been dominant at Double-A Altoona, particularly of late. It is more likely that Brad will be promoted to Indianapolis in the near future. It is too early to tell whether Brad's progression will lead to Pittsburgh this year, but we are extremely excited about his performance and the way he is commanding the strike zone with his fastball, curveball and now changeup. Neil Walker has been coming on of late after a slow start, at least from a batting-average perspective. Neil has continued to show power, leading Indianapolis in home runs and doubles, and second behind Garrett Jones in RBIs with 32. Neil has also shown greater plate discipline this year and, of course, has continued to play an outstanding third base. Like Lincoln, however, it is too early to make predictions as to whether Neil will earn a promotion to Pittsburgh in 2009.
khalifa13: What's the No. 1 for priority for the organization in 2009? Is the focus on the big league club -- building roster continuity, keeping the core together, or will resources be concentrated on developing the farm system?
Coonelly: khalifa13, the No. 1 priority for our organization is, and will continue to be, the acquisition of, and development of, players who can win championships in Pittsburgh. The focus is always on the club in Pittsburgh, but our acquisition and development of talent in the Minor League system will result in championship clubs in Pittsburgh. As a result, we don't see a difference between focusing on developing a farm system and building roster continuity in Pittsburgh. We are focused both on our Minor League system and on retaining core talent on the Major League club.
bucs2008: Hi, Frank. With all three outfielders producing with the Pirates, where does that leave McCutchen since he seems just about ready for the big leagues?
Coonelly: bucs2008, as I indicated in my earlier answer, we agree that Andrew is beginning to demonstrate that he is ready to make his Major League debut, and he is starting to force that issue. You are also correct, however, that we have received good production from Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan and Brandon Moss. We are therefore facing the type of difficult decisions that talented clubs confront. I can assure you that Andrew McCutchen has not been, and will not be, forgotten.
swesker: With the recent success of the other professional teams in Pittsburgh, do you feel that puts more pressure on you guys to do just as well?
Coonelly: swesker, excellent question, one that I answered in part in today's Trib Review. No, we don't feel extra pressure by the success of the Steelers and Penguins, but we well understand that their success raises expectation levels of our fans. We relish the opportunity to meet the challenge of meeting those high expectations. We also applaud the outstanding work of the management and players of the Steelers and the Penguins. We look forward to joining them with our own championship run.
denbuc10: Tell us what you think of our young prospects in the Minors so far this season (Chase D'Arnaud, Robbie Grossman, etc.)? Are you satisfied with their performances?
Coonelly: denbuc10, we were confident that we had an outstanding Draft in 2008. Certainly the play in 2009 of that Draft class has reinforced our view. After a slow start and some frustration from the fact that opposing pitchers refused to throw him strikes, Pedro Alvarez has produced impressive power numbers at Lynchburg. As you also note, Robbie Grossman and Chase D'Arnaud are having very strong seasons in West Virginia. Grossman, in particular, has been impressive given that he is right out of high school. Other 2008 Draft class members Jeremy Farrell, Matt Hague, and Calvin Anderson are also off to impressive starts. We are very encouraged by the way that each of these players goes about his business and is working to maximize his potential.
tylerrc: Huge Pirates fan and I think you got it going in the right direction. How are we going to approach this Draft and the Latin Prospect period?
Coonelly: tylerrc, the Draft and international free-agent market are both critical to our success and therefore we are approaching both aggressively. Contrary to some suggestions in the media, however, we have no intention of attempting to save money in the Draft so we can apply it to one or more high profile international players. We intend to acquire premier talent through both avenues of player acquisition. Our new training facility in the Dominican and the outstanding work of International Scouting Director Rene Gayo have certainly opened some doors for us in the international market that had been previously been closed. We intend to aggressively pursue talent in the Dominican and elsewhere, but we will not divert resources from our Draft budget to do so.
EATM: On the upcoming Draft, is there a player that could make a immediate impact on the Buccos?
Coonelly: EATM, there is one player who potentially could make an immediate impact on our Major League club, but we do not believe that Stephen Strassburg will be available when we select fourth in the country. It is indeed extraordinarily rare for a player selected in the Draft to have an immediate impact at the MLB level. Certainly beyond Mr. Strassburg, we do not see any other players who would have that type of immediate impact. In fact, beyond Strassburg, the very top of the Draft this year is not nearly as strong as the first 10 selections in the 2008 Draft. Fortunately for us, however, the 2009 Draft is probably deeper than last year's Draft, and is particularly deep in pitching talent. While we will continue to select the best player available each round that we make a selection, we are certainly looking forward to adding substantial pitching talent to our system this year.
ArtBrut: How important is the signing of Miguel Sano to our reputation/future success in Latin America?
Coonelly: ArtBrut, great question, and it raises an issue that I think has been greatly exaggerated. First, we very much like Miguel Angel Sano as a player and intend to make a strong effort to sign him. We have spent time with Miguel and his family and have come to learn that, in addition to being a very good, young baseball player, Miguel is a fine young man who comes from a strong family. But, Miguel is a 16-year-old who is, like any other 16-year-old, nowhere near a sure thing. If Miguel decides that he has an offer that is superior to the one that we present to him, we will continue to have a strong presence in the Dominican, we will, I'm confident, continue to attract and sign premier players there. In other words, I do not subscribe to the notion that if, despite very aggressive efforts, we are unable to sign Sano, we will be damaged in any way in Latin America.
corsairs0920: I am concerned about John Russell's intensity. He never seems to get fired up about bad calls or appear to back his players in those situations. Does that concern you?
Coonelly: corsairs0920, I hope you were watching last night's game when John followed Nyjer's animated disagreement with first-base umpire Tim McClelland's call with an equally heated exchange with Mr. McClelland. But, no, I am not concerned that JR typically does not find it necessary to kick dirt, throw bases or other tactics. JR is fiercely competitive and disciplined. He commands respect in the clubhouse and in the league. Most importantly, he and his staff do an outstanding job of putting our players in a position to win on a nightly basis. The players, in turn, have a strong passion to play hard for John and his coaches.
Coonelly: Thanks again, everyone, for joining me this month. Thanks for your passion and I look forward to seeing you at the ballpark.