Coonelly: Thank you, everyone, for joining me for today's chat. I am very excited to talk to you today during the opening of the Bucs' 2010 Spring Training season. Let's get started.
IdaBuc2100: Based on your comments last week regarding a "dynasty," what did you mean by that? Do you really believe that the Pirates can ever have a dynasty?
Coonelly: IdaBuc2100, my use of the term "dynasty" was a poor choice of words. While I should have used another phrase, I make no apology for informing our players that our expectations and aspirations as an organization are at the very highest level.
I was not making any bold predictions, but rather reiterating the expectations that we expect every member of the organization to have that we discussed with the players that morning. Again, while the pundits who mis-characterized the context of my comment spent a considerable amount of time dissecting and parsing my words, I do not apologize for the lofty expectations that we have set for the organization and every member of the organization.
Gone are the days when anyone in the Pirates organization will use our market size or revenue limitations as an excuse for why we cannot expect sustained excellence in Pittsburgh. My message to the players was that our expectation was that 2010 would begin the next era of sustained excellence for Pirates baseball and that message is one from which I do not run.
pnrsteelers: I have been hearing a lot of buzz about Starling Marte and wanted to get your thoughts on this prospect.
Coonelly: Starling Marte made a strong impression in 2009, which was his first year in the United States. Starling is a dynamic young Dominican player who can develop into a five-tool athlete. We are extremely excited about Starling's development and look forward to him continuing to develop his tools and work his way to Pittsburgh. As you know, we have placed tremendous emphasis on our programs in Latin America and look forward to having future members of the Pirates organization again come from Latin America and other International markets. Starling Marte has a very good chance to be one of those future Pirates.
jhalagan: I am pleased to see the additions of Octavio Dotel and Ryan Church this year, but do you think this was enough to give us fans a hope for at least a Wild Card spot?
Coonelly: jhalagan, at the risk of providing additional fodder for the talk show radio hosts and bloggers, our objective is to make the playoffs and win championships. I am not, however, in the prediction business. General manager Neal Huntington and his staff did a nice job of addressing needs of the organization this offseason without blocking the path to the Major Leagues of any of our exciting prospects who are on the cusp of making it to Pittsburgh.
With Dotel, Brendan Donnelly, D.J. Carrasco, Javier Lopez and other additions to a bullpen that has Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek, Neal has improved our ability to finish games and win the games that we are leading after six or seven innings. With the acquisition of Aki Iwamura, we added a veteran professional bat who can get on base from a top-of-the-order slot and steal some bases for us while playing above-average second base. And finally, with Ryan Church, Neal added a veteran left-handed bat who can play several positions and give J.R. multiple options in filling out his lineup.
Even more important than the acquisitions, however, is the continued development of our young players such as Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Lastings Milledge, Andy LaRoche, Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton and Jeff Clement. While, as you note, Neal made several important additions this offseason, our ability to compete for a postseason berth will depend on the development of these young players. The Tampa Bay Rays added only Cliff Floyd in a role position and other role players to a team that finished with the worst record in baseball in 2007 and played in the 2008 World Series. Their worst-to-first climb was predicated on the development of a strong young core of players. We need to see that same type of development to have a chance to compete for the postseason in 2010.
pnrsteelers: I was wondering how Jarek Cunningham is doing with is comeback from a season-ending injury last year.
Coonelly: Jarek Cunningham is fully recovered from the knee injury that he suffered shortly after having a dynamic start to his professional career following his selection in the 2008 Draft. Jarek is an exciting infield prospect who is likely to open the 2010 season with our new High-A club in Bradenton, Fla. In fact, Jarek was -- along with Tony Sanchez -- one of our "models" for the new Marauders jerseys that we introduced in Bradenton last week. Jarek worked extremely hard to rehab from his injury and we look forward to his progression through the system.
Tonyb: Was there any real interest in pursuing Rick Ankiel? If so, why was there no contract offer?
Coonelly: There was real interest in Rick Ankiel, and that interest was expressed to his representative. Rick was looking for a guarantee that he would start and we were not willing to make such a guarantee given our outfield options both here in Pittsburgh now and those coming soon. As a result, there was no need to make an offer.
oscar43: How far away is last year's first-round pick, Tony Sanchez, from playing in the big leagues?
Coonelly: oscar43, as I'm sure you have been able to tell, we are extremely excited about Tony Sanchez and what he brings to the organization. He is currently in Major League camp. While respectful of the more veteran players, Tony does not seem in the least bit out of his element. He is a tremendous leader with an outstanding work ethic and high character. He had an impressive first half-season in professional baseball last season in moving from State College to Lynchburg, finally helping Lynchburg win the Carolina League championship. All of this, of course, came after a full college season with Boston College.
Tony is likely to begin the 2010 season with the High-A Bradenton Marauders and his progression to Pittsburgh will depend on the development of his game both defensively and offensively. We have confidence that Tony will hone all facets of the game and make a quality impact in Pittsburgh.
jm_bucsfan_2: You've said often that fans are enthusiastic about the 2010 club, so what are your expectations for attendance at PNC Park this season?
Coonelly: We'll make this the last question of the day. jm_bucsfan_2, we have seen a very high level of excitement by the terrific Pirates fans for the 2010 season, starting with Winter Caravan and then PirateFest and continuing during Spring Training and now playing games in Bradenton. The players are feeding off of this excitement and have looked forward to beginning the season today in Tampa, Fla., against the Yankees. Judged by ticket sales, the excitement level of our great fans has been tremendous.
We are well ahead of our pace of last year in terms of ticket sales, both new and renewals. If this young team that is beginning to believe in itself can jell, as we believe it can, we should see significantly increased attendance at PNC Park. The players feed off large crowds at PNC Park and look forward to the day when their play results in packed houses every night.
Coonelly: Thanks again for joining me this month. I look forward to talking to you next month as the regular season begins.