Coonelly: Hello everyone, and thanks for joining me today after a great Opening Day on Monday. Let's begin.
Streeter182: Mr. Coonelly, you guys have done a great job putting together a team that will certainly open a lot of eyes around the league. I look forward to an exciting season. It is obvious that you have done a lot of rebuilding at the plate, but I am concerned with the bullpen. Do you see the Pirates doing a little shopping for some relief pitchers? The talent in the lower system isn't as eye-catching as some of our position players.
Coonelly: Streeter182, I appreciate the comments, which I think are directed mainly toward the talent accumulation at our Minor League clubs. You are right in that we have concentrated our efforts in bringing in new young players, either through the Draft, international market or trades. We have found that these are the most difficult commodities to acquire and develop. Bullpen arms are typically your starting pitchers who were unable to have success as a starter or simply lacked the durability to pitch 200-plus innings a year. Having said that, we believe we have solid bullpen arms in our upper levels of the system, such as Jean Machi, Ronald Uviedo, Dan Moskos, Jeff Sues and others. Certainly, some of the large number of starting pitchers who we have in our system will ultimately become relievers.
malizia: Is the time Pedro Alvarez comes up dependent on the play of Andy LaRoche, and what time do you believe he will be called up this year? Thank you.
Coonelly: Malizia, no. Pedro's progression to Pittsburgh is dependent upon his development and not the play of any members of the current Pirates club. We want Pedro to be in a position to be able to succeed at the Major League level and will not call him up before he is ready to do so, even if we have a need at the Major League level.
Steve15222: Would you consider 2010 to be a successful season for the organization if the Minor League teams and players become winners but the Major League club still continues to struggle and play .450 winning baseball?
Coonelly: This is another question to which I can provide a non-lawyerly answer. No, no one in the organization would be satisfied with a losing season in Pittsburgh [and only] championship seasons with our Minor League affiliates. Building champions through our player development system and winning championships in the Minor Leagues like we did in Lynchburg last year are important parts of building a championship organization. But our objective is winning in Pittsburgh, and we would be extremely disappointed if that does not happen this year.
jm_bucsfan: How much of a difference do you think guys like Ryan Church, Octavio Dotel and Brendan Donnelly can make in the mentality of the team?
Coonelly: Jim, leadership and direction from solid veteran players like Dotel, Donnelly and Church are quite important for a young team like ours. I think that you saw from the press reports about a "players-only" dinner just prior to breaking camp -- the type of leadership position that these players have embraced. Bobby Crosby is another name that you could have included as an example of a young man who has played in a winning environment and is determined to help this organization win again. I also found it significant that, responding to a poll in the Trib Review, a majority of our players viewed attitude/confidence as the most important key to our success in 2010. These veterans, along with players like Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge and others, are determined to bring swagger back to the Pirates.
piratefan62: Any talk of contract extension for Neal Huntington and John Russell?
Coonelly: No, there has not been any talk of contract extensions, because we have a policy of not discussing such matters publicly. Both Neal and J.R. are keenly focused on turning around the Pittsburgh Pirates and not concerned with their contract status.
SnakeWesker: If the Nationals pass on Bryce Harper in the Draft this June, will the Pirates take him?
Coonelly: SnakeWesker, that is a question that we have received often and, I am sure, we will continue to hear as we approach the June Draft. It is far too early to opine as to whether we will select Bryce Harper if he is still on the board when we select with the second pick. If Neal and Greg Smith believe that Harper is the best player on the board, then we will select him regardless of his representative. As a point of reference, no player, including Harper, is the type of certain No. 1 selection as Stephen Strasburg was last year. In fact, there is probably no player in the 2010 Draft who is as highly regarded as Dustin Ackley was when he was selected second by the Mariners last year.
jhalagan: When Joel Hanrahan gets better, is he going to be put on the active roster as the 13th pitcher, and if he is, does that mean John Raynor is going to be taken out?
Coonelly: Joel has been progressing well in his rehab in Bradenton, [Fla.], and it is likely that he will be eligible to be recalled at the end of next week. If that remains the case, it is likely that Daniel McCutchen will be optioned at that time so that he can get his work in during a span when we will not need a fifth starter in Pittsburgh. When McCutchen returns to Pittsburgh, we will need to make a roster decision at that time.
Nick15329: Could you see Kevin Hart becoming a bullpen pitcher at some point?
Coonelly: Kevin Hart has the stuff and the mentality to be an effective pitcher at the back end of the bullpen. So it is certainly possible that he could at some point pitch out of the bullpen. We still believe, however, that Kevin can and will be an effective starting pitcher at the Major League level. We have been working with Kevin on his mechanics and delivery since the end of last year, and adjustment to these changes caused Kevin to have trouble with his consistency and command. Pitching in Triple-A should help Kevin lock in these mechanical changes. We are confident that Kevin has the pitches, durability and mentality to be an effective starting pitcher in Pittsburgh, and therefore, he and the club are both singularly focused on making that happen as quickly as possible.
cyredmond: Would you consider altering the strategy to draft someone like Jameson Taillon if he is clearly the second-best talent available in the June Draft?
Coonelly: While there are certain fundamental principles that we will follow in every Draft, our Draft strategy for a particular year is influenced by the strengths and weaknesses of that particular Draft. Jameson Taillon is a highly talented high school pitcher. While the track record of high school pitchers taken with a top five selection is concerning, Taillon is among a group of players who we continue to evaluate as a potential first-round selection.
signdante: Lost in all of the great trades made by Neal Huntington was the signing of Garrett Jones. Based on the fact that he is on pace for 324 home runs, should I purchase a Garrett Jones jersey?
Coonelly: Signdante, you are right that the job that Neal and his scouts did identifying Jones as a Minor League free agent who potentially had Major League talent is often overlooked. Any club in baseball could have signed Garrett to a Minor League contract, but Neal had scouts who banged the table for Garrett, believing that there was more there than indicated by his Minor League numbers over a fairly extended Minor League career. While I typically stay away from advising people how they should spend their money, I would think that a Garrett Jones jersey would be an outstanding investment.
Coonelly: Let's take one more for today ...
devan1105: Now that we have such a young ballclub, do you think that a lot of these players are here to stay to be able to build a championship-winning ballclub?
Coonelly: Devan1105, our intent is to retain as Pirates the talented young players on our team for as long as possible. Our owner is committed to providing us the resources necessary to retain the young talent that we have and are developing. We will succeed in retaining players while we will not always be able to keep a player in Pittsburgh for his entire career. That is simply the reality of our game. That is why it is so critical that we continue to draft aggressively and develop premier talent in our system so that we can replace players who leave without taking a step backwards in the talent level of the club. Minnesota, in recent years, has done the best job of retaining some of its home-grown talent while replacing those that have left (e.g. Johan Santana and Torii Hunter) with talented players brought up from their Minor League system. We are well on our way to putting ourselves in a position where each year we will have several highly talented players knocking on the Major League door, such as we do this year with Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln. That type of depth and strength in the Minor League system is what produces sustained excellence at the Major League level.
Coonelly: Thanks again for joining me this month. I hope to see you down at the ballpark, and I look forward to chatting again next month.