Pirates president Frank Coonelly participated in his monthly live online chat with Pirates fans on Wednesday. During the chat, Coonelly answered many questions about the club's recent trades, the status of 2009 Draft picks, future plans for the club and more. The complete chat transcript follows.
Coonelly: Welcome everyone. Thank you for joining me. I'll take the first question now...
jtusk64: Mr. Coonelly -- Do you believe you will be able to sign the majority of the 2009 Draft, and are there any picks that have stated that they will do something other than sign?Coonelly: jtusk64, we selected 51 players and expect to sign somewhere between 20 and 30 of those players. On average, Major League clubs sign roughly 25 players per year out of the Draft. We are continuing to negotiate with several players who we have not yet signed and are confident that we will be able to sign several of these players.
BigB23: First I would like to say I think you and Neal and everyone else did a fantastic job this year acquiring talent and fully understand your plan...my question now is since we have a lot of depth now especially at 3B with Alvarez and Walker in the minors.. What are the next steps at that position?
Coonelly: BigB23, I really appreciate the comment, particularly after the team has performed in a very disappointing manner over the last three games. Pedro Alvarez had another big game last night for the Curve, going 3-6 with another home run. Pedro is having a very strong first professional season, and his performance since his promotion to double-A has been impressive. Neil Walker on the other hand, struggled at the outset of this season at triple-A and then missed a few weeks with injuries. Since coming back from the DL, however, Neil has begun to hit the ball with authority. AS we have said often, we can never have too much talent in the system. We look forward to both Pedro and Neil developing into Major League players, and if that happens, we will have an opportunity to either move one player to another position or to fill a need at the Major League level by finding the right trade partner.
twogram: When are we going to start seeing the real prospects come up?
Coonelly: twogram, it is certainly a compliment to the strength of our minor league system that you apparently do not consider a Garrett Jones, who yesterday was named the N.L. Rookie of the Month, or Steve Pearce, who was the Topps Minor League Player of the Year in 2007, to be "real" prospects. Having said that, the prospects working their way to Pittsburgh, including Pedro Alvarez, who I mentioned above, Jose Tabata, Gorkys Hernandez, Brad Lincoln, Brian Friday, Jeff Clement, Starling Marte, Tim Alderson and many others, will arrive in Pittsburgh when they demonstrate that they are ready to be very productive Major League players. This is the same progression that Andrew McCutchen made before he began what we hope will be a Rookie of the Year season this year.
chaz2108: Given that it has been over a calendar year and none of the players acquired in the Bay deal have met expectations, is it too early to call the deal a bust?
Coonelly: chaz2108, you are absolutely correct that it is too early to make any final conclusions about the Jason Bay trade of a year ago. I disagree strongly, however, that Andy LaRoche has not lived up to expectations. In his first full season, Andy has become a legitimate contender for a Gold Glove and has provided respectable on base production. Power production is often the final aspect of a players' game to develop at the Major League level. Likewise, Brandon Moss, after a slow start, has certainly provided respectable production. While it is disappointing to lose Craig Hansen for an extended period of time as a result of his nerve ailment and we are dealing with some maturity and development issues with Bryan Morris. Morris remains an intriguing prospect and we are working hard in an effort to return Craig to play. So, no, I would not call that return to be insufficient for a player who had one year and two months remaining on his contract and who still has been unable to reach an extension of that contract with the large revenue Boston Red Sox.
Bargo: Hey Frank! What do we have in store for next season?
Coonelly: Bargo, let me start by reiterating that no one in this organization has given up on, or is looking beyond, the remainder of this season. As Neal told the players last Friday, they each have a unique opportunity to win or solidify Major League jobs and a role in the turnaround of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Our system now also includes a significant amount of talent in the upper minor league levels who are working hard to become Major League players. No player is guaranteed a position on next year's team, but each player has an opportunity to earn such a position. We expect the players currently at the Major League level to work hard every day to win the competition for Major League jobs for the remainder of this year and next year. The players understand that it is critically important to this organization and to their own careers that we finish the 2009 season strong. Looking forward to next year, we will be a young team with strong starting pitching and depth in the rotation in the event that a starter falters. Offensively, we have several players who have the ability to demonstrate that they are productive Major League hitters. We are extremely excited by the young talent in the system and seeing that young talent gel into a winning Major League club.
sikofloses: You committed to winning through the Draft, yet we've signed less picks than every other N.L. central team, and we haven't upped the offer for Sano? Is the accountability still there to do these things?
Coonelly: sikofloses, it is much too early to reach any conclusions regarding the 2009 Draft. First, the number of players any club signs in a particular Draft year is probably the most irrelevant number than one could look at to assess the quality of talent the club has added to the system. Second, I look forward to your assessment of the quality of talent we have added to the system once the August 17 deadline has passed. On Miguel Angel Sano, we have been the only club, to our knowledge that has made any financial offer to the player. We have tried repeatedly to push the negotiation process and are continuing those efforts as we speak. Miguel's representative, unfortunately, has been unwilling to engage in the negotiation process until he is satisfied that Major League Baseball's investigation has been completed. We have been the only club, apparently, that has been willing to offer significant dollars despite the MLB investigation.
Piratesfan15: Hey Mr. Coonelly, this is Kelsey. I was wondering with all the players you have acquired recently, what do you plan on doing with prospects such as Neil Walker?
Coonelly: Kelsey, it is nice to hear from you. As I previously indicated, Neil Walker has recently begun to swing the bat the way that we believe he can and in the way he needs to in order to earn a consideration for promotion to the Major League club. The addition of quality players in our minor league system as a result of our drafts and the trades certainly requires all of our prospects, including Neil, to reach another level to earn a Major League position. As we have indicated, Kelsey, this type of intense competition is a hallmark of every successful organization.
Coonelly: Time for one more question.
buccos39: When can Pirates fans be expecting for Alvarez, Clement, Tabata, Alderson and Lincoln?
Coonelly: buccos39, this is the first time in many, many years that Pirates fans have been able to watch the progression to the Major League club of so many highly talented players. Alvarez, Clement, Tabata, Alderson and Lincoln are only the beginning. In fact, our top 10 prospect list that came out last week included seven players who were not in the system when Neal and I arrived in September of 2007. Four of those players were secured through trade -- Tabata (Nady), Alderson (Sanchez), Hernandez (McLouth) and Bryan Morris (Bay). Three of the 10 were selected in the last two drafts (Alvarez and Robbie Grossman in 2008 and Tony Sanchez in 2009). Starling Marte is a player from our Dominican program who has demonstrated tremendous growth in our system this year. Rudy Owens was not previously considered a highly-rated prospect but has developed this year and with a 10-1 record and a sub-2.00 ERA, certainly has earned that status. Pirates fans should begin to see these players and others making it to Pittsburgh over the next few seasons and becoming significant contributors to our return to winning baseball.
Coonelly: Thank you everyone for all your passionate support of the Pirates. Please join me for my next chat on the first Wednesday in September. Thank you again for all your great questions.