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Pittsburgh Pirates: Point Park University Student Still Making a Difference

Last season, I had the privilege to meet and do a story on a young man who was attempting to make a difference.

That young man is 20-year-old and Point Park student Zac Weiss.

Weiss is one of those youngsters who has never seen a Pittsburgh Pirates‘ winning season, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a lifelong Bucco fan and doing something positive along the way.

Last summer I learned about Weiss and his cause, which was called Ballhawking 2011: Proudly Supporting the Children’s Institute.

Everyone has seen the guys at Major League Baseball games rushing around to collect balls in the stands. Weiss is one of those guys, but he doesn’t try and make a profit for himself by selling the souvenirs to the highest bidder.

Instead he does something else. Something admirable for anyone, especially someone only 20 years of age.

Weiss had decided to collect as many balls as he could during the season and then auction them off.  All the proceeds Weiss made would go directly to the Children’s Institute.

“I had to spend some time at the Children’s Institute as a child,” Weiss told me last summer. “I know what type of difference they can make in a child’s life. I’m a college kid with not much money in my pocket, but this is my way of trying to make a difference and help out.”

When we spoke at an Atlanta Braves game last season, Weiss was just getting his cause off the ground.

By the end of the 2011 Pirates season, Weiss had caught 137 baseballs and raised over $600 for the charity.

It doesn’t sound like a ton of money, but for a young man just doing what he can, it might as well be $600,000.

“I try and keep things very reasonable,” said Weiss. “I’m not trying to be an EBay type of thing.  I got a ball autographed by Kirk Gibson who hit one of the most memorable homers in baseball history and is one very good manager and only sold it for $20. I don’t think people should have to pay crazy prices.”

Weiss has goals for the 2012 season, but they are of a different variety.

“I want to continue raising money for charity, but I applied for an internship with the Pirates,” said Weiss. “My main goal is to get that, but if I don’t, I plan on being at about 50 games this season, assuming I stay in good health.”

If he’s out chasing baseballs in 2012, Weiss has some goals already set for himself.

“I’d like to get 206 this season,” added Weiss. “That’s about the number I’ve caught total in my life. If we don’t have 15 batting practices rained out like the Bucs did last year, I may have a chance.”

Several of the Pirates have been very supportive of what Weiss is doing, including manager Clint Hurdle and All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan.

“Hurdle is involved with the Children’s Institute as well,” said Weiss. “I got to meet and talk to him before a Saturday batting practice. The Pirates equipment manager gave me a Lyle Overbay autographed bat and I also received positive reactions from both Hanrahan and Daniel McCutchen.”

Anyone interested in checking on the progress Weiss is making or making a contribution to the Children’s Institute can contact him on Twitter @wewill1992 or by email at

These days there aren’t may positive stories in the world of sports, but what Weiss has been doing is certainly one of them. He thinks his efforts for charity could be joined by a winning season for the Pirates.

“That’s what I really want to see,” added Weiss. “I think they are close and on the verge of turning things around. I can’t wait for Opening Day. Let’s Go, Bucs.”

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2011 Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training: A Look at the First Basemen

Part two of our position by position look at the Pittsburgh Pirates takes us to the the first basemen in camp.

Last season, Garrett Jones was the primary first baseman, and while he could still see a start or two there this season, first base will have a different look to it.

Several Pirates got a look at first base last season, beginning with Jeff Clement. All together, seven different Pirates started games at the position. With the offseason signing of Lyle Overbay, first base is one position that should have a bit more stability during the 2011 season.

With that being said, let’s take a look at who’s in camp.


Lyle Overbay

2010 Stats: .243 AVG, 20 HR, 67 RBI

2011 Salary: $5,000,000

Overbay was one signing that was a bit peculiar in the offseason. He’s basically your run of the mill, average first baseman that’s trending on the down side of his career. He doesn’t amount to many more wins for the Pirates, but they could (and have before) do much worse.

Overbay will be pretty much the everyday guy and I will warn you now that he’s streaky. If Pirates fans weren’t happy with the streaky Adam Laroche, they probably won’t be too happy with Overbay either.

Overbay will provide a solid glove and, if everything goes well, could have a bounce-back type of season at the plate. He likely will hit in the middle of the Pirates’ order, so he will have run producing opportunities.

Fantasy Value: Not much. Overbay is the first baseman for those that miss out on the big guns at the position. At best, he likely will hit between .260 and .270 with 15-20 homers and 65-80 RBI. He will be given the at-bats, though, so if he produces early in the season, Overbay could be a mild surprise.

Overview: Overbay could help this young team both offensively and defensively. He’s a solid pro. If he has a solid first half, he’s likely trade bait at the deadline.


Steve Pearce

2010 Stats: .276 AVG, 0 HR, 5 RBI

2011 Salary: $414,000

Pearce is running out of chances in Pittsburgh, but keep an eye on him. He doesn’t have a bad glove at first base and the one thing he can do is hit lefties well (.304 lifetime average).

However, the signing of Matt Diaz could spell the end to the Pearce experiment. Diaz is even better against lefties and will start in right field against them, freeing up Jones as a backup first baseman.

Pearce will need a strong finish to spring training, but if he gets hot, he could become a good right-handed bench option for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

Fantasy Value: None. Making the team will be tough enough for Pearce, finding suitable playing time will be tougher. Spot starts at best.

Overview: It would be nice to see Pearce make the team and contribute. It likely won’t happen, though he will be given a long look the rest of camp though. He can at least force Hurdle’s decision to be a very tough one.


Garrett Atkins

2010 Stats: .214, 1 HR, 9 RBI

2011 Salary: $800,000 (non-roster invitee)

Atkins could be the guy to force Pearce off the team with a strong spring.

Atkins thrived under Hurdle while both were in Colorado, which is likely the only reason a team gave him another chance after watching his OPS decline by an average of 73 points the past four seasons.

The ideal thought would be that Atkins could provide some pop against left-handers, but even that may be stretching things a bit, considering he only hit .204 against southpaws a season ago.

He’s only 31, so washed up may be too strong of a term, but Atkins likely has to have a big spring to head north with the Pirates.

Atkins is currently off to a good start in camp, so if he continues, then he could force Hurdle to keep him. If he makes the team, he has a chance to be a bit of a surprise, providing a right-handed power bat off the bench that can play both corner positions.


Other First Base Options

If Overbay falters, there are a few other internal options besides Pearce. Of course, Jones would be the logical guy to plug in there, but the Pirates could also look at Ryan Doumit (let’s hope not), John Bowker and even Clement when he gets healthy enough.


Key Stat

In today’s game, first base has become a position that needs to be a run producing position. Pirates’ first basemen combined to hit under .240 a season ago. As far as run producing, the numbers weren’t much better, though Jones didn’t have a terrible season.

To be improved in 2011, Overbay having a bounce back season will be crucial.


Prospect to Keep an Eye On

Anthony Rendon: The Pirates don’t have a true first base prospect in the organization, although Calvin Anderson’s power potential is intriguing. Keep an eye on Rendon’s season at Rice University. He should likely be the first overall pick in this season’s amateur draft, eventually forcing a shift to first base for Pedro Alvarez.

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2011 Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training: A Look at the Catchers

Today is the first installment of a position-by-position look at the Pittsburgh Pirates camp battles in spring training.

We begin behind the plate, which was a sore spot both offensively and defensively during the 2010 campaign. Teams stole bases on the Pirates pitchers and catchers at an alarming rate a season ago. It was so alarming that it prompted Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington into making some midseason changes.

Ryan Doumit started the season as the Pirates’ primary backstop, but his defensive struggles prompted Huntington to acquire Chris Snyder at the trade deadline.

However the catching situation plays out, the production must increase both offensively and defensively.

Let’s take a look at who’s in camp.


Chris Snyder

2010 Stats: .207 AVG, 15 HR, 48 RBI

2011 Salary: $5,250,000

Snyder does a better job handling the pitching staff and will likely open the season as the starter. He has the best arm of the current Pirates catchers ready for the big leagues, and the Pirates pitchers should respond to having Snyder behind the plate for an entire season.

Offensively, Snyder offers up a little pop with the bat, but don’t get too excited about it, since he’s never hit more than 16 home runs in a season. He also puts up decent numbers against left-handers.

Fantasy Value: Very little. You can take a chance on his modest power and chance at regular playing time. He may reward you with a 20-homer season, but that career lifetime .229 average should drive fantasy owners away.

Overview: Snyder will be the Pirates’ primary catcher. Any offense they get from him will be a bonus. His job is to help turn this pitching staff around. Given the choices, he’s the right guy for the job.


Ryan Doumit

2010 Stats: .251 AVG, 13 HR, 45 RBI

2011 Salary: $5,100,000

Calling Doumit a huge disappointment throughout his Pirates career would be being kind. Entering his seventh season in the majors, we are still waiting for any glimpse of what the Pirates felt Doumit would become.

Defensively, Doumit is way below average as a catcher. He can’t handle a staff. He’s inadequate calling a game and he has a subpar throwing arm. Passed balls have also become commonplace with Doumit, as he’s not off to a good start this spring catching the ball either.

With the bat, Doumit has underachieved as well. The Pirates always were excited about what he could do with the bat, but the facts are that Doumit has only hit above .275 once (.318 in 2008), only hit 15 homers once (15 in 2008) and only driven in more then 46 runs once (65 in 2008) in his entire career.

Granted there have been some injuries, but it’s more likely the Pirates face the fact that Doumit isn’t an everyday major league player.

Fantasy Value: A trade would likely help Doumit’s fantasy value. When he gets going, which hasn’t been often enough for the Pirates, he can hit. A change of scenery could be good for a guy like Doumit. He has eligibility at catcher even if he’s dealt and winds up playing another position.

Overview: It looks more likely that Doumit will open the season with the Pirates. His versatility is a bonus, though he doesn’t play any one position really well. Within time though, Doumit will certainly be traded. It makes sense to move his salary and finally just part ways with him. 

To start the season though, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle will likely find some at-bats for Doumit, so he will be given an opportunity to produce.


Jason Jaramillo

2010 Stats: .149 AVG, 1 HR, 6 RBI

2011: Salary $97,500

If the Pirates elect to keep three catchers, Jaramillo will likely find himself with a bench role. If they only elect to keep two, then it may be down to AAA for a bit for Jaramillo.

Jaramillo is an average backup catcher. He will do an average job defensively and offer up nothing with the bat.

Fantasy Value: None.

Overview: Jaramillo is well liked in the Pirates clubhouse, but it’s no big deal if he doesn’t make the club. Even if he doesn’t and Doumit is dealt, the Pirates could still look for a No. 2 catcher that offers up a little more value.


Other Catchers In Camp

There are three others in camp, but they have little chance to make the club. That includes Wyatt Toregas, who caught 19 games with the Cleveland Indians in 2009; and Dusty Brown, who caught 13 combined games in 2009 and 2010 for the Boston Red Sox.


Key Stat

This is looking at the pitchers as well, but the Pirates were last in the majors in throwing runners out a season ago. Pirates catchers allowed 116 stolen bases a season ago and threw out runners only 22 percent of the time. That’s one area that they must make drastic improvements.


Keep an Eye on

Tony Sanchez: Sanchez is the Pirates catcher of the future and could arrive sooner, rather than later. An injury slowed him down a bit last season, but keep an eye on his progression. If everything goes well, Sanchez could arrive and be the Pirates’ primary catcher sometime in 2012.

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Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training Battles: Who Will Win The Closer Job?

For a change, the Pittsburgh Pirates will come to Bradenton, Florida with not many jobs open for competition. Almost all of the everyday position jobs are penciled in, leaving only a few bench spots to be earned.

On the hill, the fifth starter’s job will be up for competition and a few bullpen jobs will likely be earned as well.

The main battle for fans and fantasy owners to keep their eyes on though is the battle between Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek to see who will close out games to start 2011.

Now the common reply to this is “Why do the Pirates need a closer since they never win?”

That’s where most are wrong. Granted, having one of these guys as the closer won’t make the Pirates contenders, but constantly blowing ninth inning leads isn’t good for a young team like the Pirates.

The role needs to be defined and new manager Clint Hurdle says it will, but Hanrahan and Meek won’t be in direct competition with each other.

Looking at both guys, Hanrahan has had more experience pitching late in games; although that likely won’t be a factor in Hurdle’s decision making.

Both have power arms and are coming off fantastic 2010 seasons.

Hanrahan appeared in 72 games last season and finished with a respectable 3.62 ERA and allowed less than a hit an inning (58) and only 28 earned runs on the season.  More impressive though is how Hanrahan’s control came along.  He finished 2010 with a fantastic strikeout to walk ratio; striking out 100 batters, while walking only 26.

Meek on the other hand was fantastic in the first half of the season, earning a trip to the All-Star Game.  His second half was good as well. Meek finished the 2010 season throwing 80 innings, sporting a fantastic 2.14 ERA.

He allowed only 19 earned runs on the season, striking out 70 while walking 31.

Both guys could probably step in and do a solid job in the ninth inning, while the other will likely become the primary setup guy.

If the choice were mine, I’d likely give the ball to Hanrahan at the end of the games. He offers up the one thing that Meek doesn’t have at the moment and that’s the ability to strike batters out at any time.

The power of the strikeout is huge. Hanrahan is not afraid to attack anyone with his nasty breaking stuff and will throw it in any count to anyone.  If that’s not working, his high 90’s fastball is plenty enough to get the job done.

While Meek looks to be the closer of the future, for now I think it makes sense to let him continue his natural progression into the role instead of rushing him into it.

While it’s not a major decision, a solid ninth inning guy can add a few more wins to the total. Hanrahan definitely has the stuff to be that guy.  We may see early on if he has the make up for it as well.

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Trading the Pirates’ Paul Maholm to the Yankees Would Make Sense for Both Teams

With the Pirates likely done improving the team via free agency, there still could be a trade or two that could better the club, not only in the short-term but more importantly the long-term.

The Pirates front office has made it known to clubs that it would be open to dealing both catcher Ryan Doumit and starting pitcher Paul Maholm.

Most Pirates fans would have hoped that Doumit would have been dealt by now.  While that could still happen before the beginning of the season, it seems more likely that he heads to Wrigley Field on April 1 as a member of the 25-man roster. What’s more likely with Doumit is that the Pirates wait until another team has a need created by an injury and then look to deal him.

On the other hand, Maholm’s stock could be rising.

Many major league teams could use a veteran left-hander in their rotation come opening day. One team in particular may be willing to pay the Pirates price. That team could be the New York Yankees.

This would make sense for both organizations.

The Pirates currently don’t really need Maholm or his salary. The club added a couple of arms in the offseason, and the chances of competing for the NL Central crown are slim. Dealing the southpaw could also create a spot for either Charlie Morton or Brad Lincoln, who both deserve another look.

A Maholm deal makes even more sense for New York. Andy Pettitte’s retirement created a void in the Yankees’ rotation that likely needs to fill by Opening Day. With the offseason the Boston Red Sox had, the Yankees may be forced to overpay for a middle-of-the-rotation type pitcher to compete for the AL East crown.

Maholm could flourish by being dealt to the Yankees. Despite the short porch in right field, Maholm throws strikes and competes. He could do very well with a competitive team that can score runs and catch the ball behind him.

While it’s just a thought, this could be a win-win situation for both clubs if it ever gets discussed.

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Pittsburgh Pirates Come To Terms With Reliever Joe Beimel

The Pittsburgh Pirates were a team desperately in search of a left-handed reliever that can get outs late in a game.

They may have found that guy in ex-Pirate Joe Beimel.

The Pirates announced today that they have agreed to terms with Beimel on a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.

Beimel turned down a few major league offers, including a two-year deal from an unnamed team, citing a desire to return to Pittsburgh, where he began his career.

The southpaw has local ties, attending Duquesne University.  He was drafted by the Pirates in the 18th round of the 1998 draft and pitched for the big league club from 2001-03.

More recently, Beimel has turned himself into a reliable specialist with an ability to get left handed hitters out.

Beimel’s past five seasons have all been productive, including appearing in 71 games last season, posting a 1-2 record and 3.40 era for the Colorado Rockies.

Beimel’s deal includes an out-clause that allows him to become a free agent if he doesn’t make the Pirates’ Opening Day roster, but he’s expected to make the club. 

The signing fills a much needed role in the Pirates’ bullpen and will allow the possibility for Daniel Moskos to pitch in a less-pressured role if he makes the club out of spring training.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington says the club is still looking to add pitching, but other than taking a shot on another southpaw out of the bullpen, the Pirates are likely done adding to the team this off-season.

There is still a chance of a trade or two involving Ryan Doumit or Paul Maholm, but there have been no progressing talks as of late.

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Back to the Future: What the Bucs Could Look Like in 2014

As Baseball America just recently released their annual Top Prospects list, now’s a perfect time to take a look at exactly how bright the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates could actually be. At no time during the current 18-year drought has the state of the organization looked so bright.

While it may not turn into wins this season, expect the Pirates’ front office to stick to the current trend of spending money through the draft.  If they do, set a time table of about two-three years before the Pirates have a chance to become competitive year in and year out.

With that in mind, let’s take a look into the future and what the Pirates potential opening day lineup in 2014 could look like.

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Pittsburgh Pirates Come to Terms with Brian Burres: Could Paul Maholm Be Dealt?

The Pittsburgh Pirates today came to terms with left-hander Brian Burres on a new contract that will offer the southpaw a chance to compete for a job in the 2011 rotation.

The 29-year-old Burres, who was a mild surprise in 2010, was re-signed even though he was non-tendered last month.

Burres turned in his best year as a major leaguer for the Pirates last season, going 4-5 with a 4.99 ERA in 20 appearances (13 starts).

The signing of Burres provides the Pirates with depth, as Burres can also serve as a long man if needed.

The signing of another potential starting pitcher makes the potential 2011 starting rotation a crowded one.

Burres will compete with the likes of Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, Kevin Correia, James McDonald, Scott Olsen, Jeff Karstens, Brad Lincoln, Charlie Morton and Daniel McCutchen for the five open spots.

Maholm, Correia, McDonald and Ohlendorf are likely locks to begin the season in the rotation, but make no mistake about it, the Pirates need Lincoln and Morton to finally emerge.

The competition in spring training should be very interesting.  If one of the younger arms, or even a guy like Rudy Owens, surprise in March, then someone will have to be moved.

The likely candidate becomes Maholm, who has seen his name in trade rumors for the last couple of seasons.  Many teams would covet a lefty who has proved durable during his career, even though his numbers aren’t that great.

It may make sense for Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington to pull the trigger on a deal involving Maholm if the right offer comes around.

While I’ve always like the way Maholm battles and competes on the hill, he is a guy that doesn’t necessarily make the 2011 team much better.

The combination of Maholm’s salary and what appears to be a crowded bunch of arms, likely could spell the end of his Pittsburgh Pirates career.

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Pittsburgh Pirates: 10 Gifts on the Buccos’ Wish List

On a day where the Pirates made some minor moves by signing Garrett Atkins to a minor league deal, acquiring minor league shortstop Corey Wimberly from Oakland, claimed left-hander Aaron Thompson of waivers from Washington, and designated reliever Wil Ledezma for assignment, it’s time to take a different look at some of the Pirates needs.

It’s the holiday season, so just like everyone else, the Pirates have their wish list for Christmas.

Only time will tell if the Buccos have been naughty or nice.  Maybe some of their wishes can be granted.

So without any delay, lets look at the Top 10 items on the Pittsburgh Pirates Christmas list.

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Pittsburgh Pirates: Would Bringing Back Octavio Dotel Be a Good Fit?

There hasn’t been much to the Pittsburgh Pirates offseason so far. The signings of pitchers Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen, along with inking first baseman Lyle Overbay and outfielder Matt Diaz, likely make the Pirates a marginally better team than in 2010.

Then again, when you finish the season 57-105, anything you do in December likely makes you a better team.

The four newcomers aren’t flashy signings, and while other teams in the division are acquiring the likes of Zach Grienke, the Pirates have been awful quiet the past few weeks. 

That begs the question. Are the Pirates done this offseason?

The answer to that is a definite no.  Will they acquire a major talent like Grienke?  That answer is also no, but they still have a chance to add some parts.

While I covered the Winter Meetings, I heard the Pirates linked to many names. Most of that talk has fizzled, but there are still some possibilities.

They are still looking at some starting pitching. Brandon Webb’s name keeps coming up, but that’s not going to happen. One name that has popped up lately though is Carl Pavano, the best remaining arm on the open market.

Pavano has been very good the past two seasons, but I’d be very hesitant on offering him more than two or three years. He’s likely out of the Pirates’ price range anyway.

One possibility though is Jeff Francis, who is coming off of injury, but has had success under new Pirates manager Clint Hurdle while in Colorado.  Francis is very talented, and if he’s healthy, would likely be the most talented pitcher currently on the Pirates roster.

That’s a big if, though, when it comes to Francis.

Still, Francis is the type of arm the Pirates would be wise to take a long look at.

Another name that looks like it could end up in Pittsburgh is a familiar one in Octavio Dotel.

Jon Paul Morosi from FOX Sports reports that the Pirates are one of three teams showing serious interest in the right-handed reliever, with the Rays and Blue Jays being the other two. Consequently, those are the three teams that would likely be able to offer Dotel a chance at closing.

Would it be a bad move to bring Dotel back? Not at all. Despite the 2010 record, the back end of the Pirates bullpen actually performed pretty well. Dotel would give you a veteran arm that can get outs late in a game.

Sure, he can be a bit erratic at times, but the Pirates could do much worse than Dotel.  Having defined roles in innings seven through nine would be a good thing to have. Sure, it’s easy to say that Evan Meek or Joel Hanrahan will assume the closer role, but there is no guarantee they can hold up in the ninth inning.

Even if they could, the Pirates bullpen is much thinner than it was a season ago, and adding another arm would be big.

I’m all for signing Dotel, if you get him on a one-year deal. That would allow Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington to flip him at the deadline again. If he could even come close to matching last season’s return of Andrew Lambo and James McDonald, it would be amazing.

While signing Dotel is another move that wouldn’t be flashy and do much for the casual fan, it would be another small piece in making the Pirates a somewhat better team in 2011.

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