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As camp nears, Coonelly chats with fans

As camp nears, Coonelly chats with fans

Pirates president Frank Coonelly participated in his monthly live online chat with fans on Wednesday. During the chat, Coonelly answered questions about potential additional offseason moves, the depth of the starting rotation, the 2010 First-Year Player Draft and more. The complete chat transcript follows.

Coonelly: Hello, everyone and thank you for joining me this month before we get ready to head to Florida. Let's get started.

clipper4255: Mr. Coonelly, it was great to see you at PirateFest on Friday. I have to give you credit for standing in there and listening to the fans. You and your staff keep up the good work.

Coonelly: It was a terrific weekend at PirateFest, which followed a great week on the Winter Caravan. Our players love meeting with our fans and are motivated by their passion for the club. Personally speaking, I always love to talk Pirates baseball with Pirates fans, and this past weekend gave me a great opportunity to do that over roughly 12 hours.

21thebest: Frank, what is your scouting information telling you right now about Bryce Harper?

Coonelly: There has certainly been a lot of hype surrounding Bryce Harper, and I am sure that there will be much more prior to the June Draft. We are scouting Bryce Harper, as he just began his season in junior college. While Harper is an interesting Draft prospect, he is clearly nowhere nearly as developed as Stephen Strasburg was this time last year.

jraylives: I have been a Bucco fan for 36 years, and I'm very upset that all I can purchase for Opening Day was standing room only today.

Coonelly: Tickets to our Opening Day game sold extremely quickly. There are tickets being held for fans who purchase season-ticket packages, including 10- and 20-game packages. Our season-ticket packages provide outstanding value and give you access to Opening Day tickets. If such a package does not work for you, seats other than standing room only may come available as we get closer to Opening Day. I appreciate your interest in seeing the Bucs at PNC Park in 2010.

bucsin09: Hi, Frank! Is it safe to assume we are done with free-agent signings and trades before Spring Training?

Coonelly: With the [Octavio] Dotel, [Brendan] Donnelly, [Ryan] Church, [D.J.] Carrasco and [Javier] Lopez signings and several Minor League free-agent signings, it is likely that we will head into Spring Training with the current group. We are, however, keeping tabs on certain free agents who might be a fit if their financial demands soften.

a7a7a: Every Spring Training there's new energy and optimism surrounding the Pirates, but why should the fans think this year REALLY will be a winning season?

Coonelly: We certainly felt excitement and optimism during Winter Caravan and at PirateFest this weekend. Our coaches, players and fans are all looking forward to the 2010 season.

Excitement regarding this team's prospects in 2010 is warranted, in my view, because we now have a core of talented young players who are beginning to believe in themselves and their teammates. To a man, these young players want to be a part of a team that returns the Pittsburgh Pirates to championship baseball. With [general manager] Neal [Huntington] strengthening the bullpen and adding veteran presence like Ryan Church, the young players see the organization giving them the tools they need to be successful.

Perhaps John Russell said it best at PirateFest when he said he was "jacked up" for the season. Our players and our fans feel the same way.

jjd316: Frank, you and Neal are doing an awesome job with rebuilding from within. It's something us fans haven't seen for a LONG time. What was your reaction when you saw Rick Ankiel signing as cheap as he did?

Coonelly: I appreciate your support. I wouldn't characterize the $3.25 million for which Ankiel signed with Kansas City as "cheap." For us, we were unwilling to guarantee Rick a starting position. Instead, we are looking forward to competition in both right field and at first base. In light of our unwillingness to guarantee a job, Ryan Church was a much better fit for us.

a7a7a: Why is Ross Ohlendorf the pitcher you seem to be building the rotation around? You have Paul Maholm with more experience, and Zach Duke was an All-Star. Wouldn't one of those guys be a better one to build around?

Coonelly: I am not sure why you believe that we are attempting to build our rotation around Ross Ohlendorf. It is certainly true that we are excited about the progress that Ross made last year, and particularly the way he finished the season. Zach Duke and Paul Maholm are the most experienced arms in our rotation and just as critical to our success, as is Ross.

We are also extremely excited to see Charlie Morton take a further step forward in his development and look forward to a strong competition between Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen for the fifth spot in the rotation. Accordingly, I would characterize our rotation as deep and not entirely dependent on any one starter. We need all five starters to give us quality innings and a chance to win every night.

gostate1: Mr. Coonelly, what are your plans for Pedro Alvarez this season?

Coonelly: Pedro Alvarez has been working extremely hard on conditioning and nutrition this offseason. We expect Pedro to come into Spring Training in a few weeks prepared to prove to us that he belongs on the Major League roster on Opening Day.

The reality is that Pedro spent half of last season at High-A and half at Double-A and still has areas of development that he needs to complete. We look forward to seeing the progress that Pedro has made when Spring Training begins and believe that he has every opportunity to play in Pittsburgh at some point in 2010.

In short, we are extremely excited about Pedro's development both offensively and defensively and look forward to having Pedro become a key contributor to the Pirates' success in 2010 and beyond.

Coonelly: One more question for today...

pirates983: Has the rebuilding process stopped, and are the Pirates now concerned about now instead of the future?

Coonelly: That is a great question on which to finish up. We can never stop aggressively acquiring young talent. Our talent pipeline always needs replenishment so that we can remain competitive when we lose a player off the Major League roster.

Having said that, the massive overhaul of the roster that has taken place over the last two years is over. The core of this team's present and future is here now at Pittsburgh and in our Minor League system. The players in Pittsburgh and at the higher levels of the Minor League system look forward to this year for a number of reasons, but one reason, certainly, is that they see an opportunity to finish the season with much the same team that began it.

While I would expect that there will be players who move up to the Major League roster during the season and perhaps other players brought in to supplement, we do not anticipate an exodus of players off the roster at this year's Trade Deadline. I think that you can see by the acquisition of Aki Iwamura and the free-agent signings that significantly upgraded our bullpen that we believe we can win in 2010.

Even more encouraging for Pirates fans, is that the players believe in each other and believe that they can be the team that returns the Pirates to winning baseball.

Coonelly: Thanks again, everyone, for joining me today. I will talk to you again next month from beautiful Bradenton.

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