Tag: Clint Hurdle

MLB Playoffs: Managers Who Will Be Feeling Pressure in October

Having a great manager doesn’t guarantee postseason success.

Games are still won on the field, but managers are tasked with putting players in the best position to succeed.

Bruce Bochy didn’t have a ton of success before joining the San Francisco Giants in 2007. Before arriving in San Francisco, Bochy managed the San Diego Padres for 12 seasons. 

His regular-season record was below .500, and he couldn’t guide the Padres past the National League Division Series. In four postseason appearances, Bochy’s club was 8-16, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

The Giants didn’t make the playoffs in the first three seasons under Bochy but qualified in 2010 and turned into a dynasty. The team won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Bochy’s decision to pull Tim Hudson in the fifth inning of Game 7 and bring in Madison Bumgarner is the perfect example of a manager pulling the right strings and putting his club in the best position to win a championship.

Here are five managers who will feel pressure to step up as a tactician and help guide his team to a World Series championship.

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Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington Sign 3-Year Extensions with Pirates

A year after winning 94 games and reaching the postseason for the first time since 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates rewarded the architect of the team, general manager Neal Huntington, and manager Clint Hurdle with three-year contract extensions.

From the Pirates’ official website:

The Pittsburgh Pirates today extended the contracts of General Manager Neal Huntington and Manager Clint Hurdle for three years, with club options for the 2018 season. The announcement was made by Pirates President Frank Coonelly.

“Neal and Clint have led a team of baseball professionals, in the front office and on the field, that has transformed the Pittsburgh Pirates into a club that again must be reckoned with in the National League,” said Coonelly. “We are extremely pleased that they will continue to lead this team in Pittsburgh.”

“I have a tremendous amount of personal respect and appreciation for the impact that Neal, Clint and their staffs have had on our organization,” said Pirates Chairman Bob Nutting. “My expectation has been and remains that they, led by Frank, will continue to play a lead role in our success for years to come.”

Since taking over in 2010, Hurdle has accumulated a 248-242 record and has improved the team each season. Keep in mind that the year before his arrival, the Pirates were an abysmal 57-105. 

Huntington, meanwhile, was responsible for mixing veterans like Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau, Russell Martin, A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano with home-grown talents like Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Sterling Marte, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker.

The Pirates couldn’t get past their divisional rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the 2013 National League Division Series, losing 3-2, but they did knock the Cincinnati Reds out of the playoffs by beating them 6-2 in the Wild Card Game. 

You’d imagine Pittsburgh was thrilled enough just to reach the postseason, but to win a playoff game—then to take the Cardinals to the brink in the NLDS—well, it was almost too good to be true.

With one of the top farm systems in baseball, the Pirates will expect to keep the good times rolling. They’ve started the season 3-1, have a solid pitching staff and a perennial MVP candidate in McCutchen. Things are looking up in Pittsburgh. Plus, it would appear the magic they found last year has carried over.

From ESPN Stats and Information:

The good times just keep on rolling, and both Huntington and Hurdle are a huge reason why. Their extensions were certainly well-earned.


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Clint Hurdle Manager of Year Award Validates Change of Culture with Pirates

After guiding the Pittsburgh Pirates to the postseason for the first time since 1992, Clint Hurdle was named National League Manager of the Year on Tuesday night by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Of the 30 ballots completed, Hurdle was awarded first-place votes by 25 of the baseball scribes covering the sport around the country.

The honor isn’t just well deserved, it’s validation for a franchise that has undergone a seismic shift in culture since Hurdle arrived prior to the 2011 season. 

By contending in the top-heavy National League Central, Pittsburgh ushered in a new era of winning. By qualifying for the postseason, the Pirates shocked the baseball world. Now, Hurdle’s Manager of the Year award signifies the final piece of the 2013 puzzle for a franchise that has lacked direction for decades.

As stated here before the official announcement came down, Hurdle’s recognition goes well past just the 2013 campaign. From leading a 15-win improvement in his first season to another solid seven-win improvement in 2012, Hurdle set the stage for the Pirates to take the leap from mediocrity (79-83) to excellence (94-68) in 2013. 

When the Pirates tabbed Hurdle as the manager to replace John Russell, few around baseball took much stock in the hire. After all, even if the Pittsburgh farm system finally began to produce quality players, it would take an outstanding effort from the manager and coaching staff to mold them into contenders without the help of expensive veterans. 

As the Pirates morphed from awful to poor to mediocre, the culture changed around an improving young core of talent. Sure, the rise of Andrew McCutchen to MVP candidate expedited the process, but Hurdle’s willingness to stick with Pedro Alvarez through his development, trust Mark Melancon in a prominent bullpen role, and bat Starling Marte at the top of the order galvanized the work of Pittsburgh’s player development staff. 

Furthermore, Hurdle’s personality and willingness to evolve his thinking, both on and off the field, endeared him to veterans like Jason Grilli, Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano. Free-agent and trade acquisitions played a major role in the makeup of the 2013 Pirates roster, but none of the veteran talent came from expensive, long-term contracts. Instead, they were players needing a place to rehabilitate past success (Liriano), prove a big-market team wrong for moving in a different direction (Martin), or make an entire organization in Philadelphia feel foolish for letting talent languish in Triple-A (Grilli).

Before arriving in Pittsburgh, Hurdle took a team to the World Series but failed to win consistently during his tenure in Colorado. Much of his demise was based on a system that failed to generate enough talent. Or, when it had talent, suffered through major injury issues during seasons of high expectations.

Still, Hurdle could have easily remained stuck in his ways when approaching the situation in Pittsburgh. If the 56-year-old manager began the 2013 season without changing anything about his style, few would have noticed or complained.

Despite helping Pittsburgh improve from 55 wins in 2010 to 79 in 2012, Hurdle did the opposite. With the help of bright front-office minds, he evolved, per Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

By accepting the value of information on defensive shifts and how his pitching staff could maximize the strengths and weaknesses of his defensive alignment, going all-in with a philosophy that was foreign to him during his best years in the dugout, Hurdle placed the 2013 Pirates on a path to success.

That path led to 68 defensive runs saved, according to Fangraphs, good for third in baseball. Hurdle’s adaptability wasn’t highlighted as prominently as wins and losses, but there was a link to a member of Pittburgh’s past who routinely took a similar route to victory.

The full announcement of Hurdle’s victory included this seemingly innocuous fact from the BBWAA:

The Pirates qualified for a wild-card berth with a 94-68 record, the first time they finished a season above .500 since 1992 when they were 96-66 and won the NL East, their previous postseason appearance. Jim Leyland won Manager of the Year honors that season as well as in 1990.

At first glance, including Jim Leyland‘s accolades in a story about Hurdle’s honor feels like nothing more than linking the past and present of success for the Pittsburgh organization. Yet it does much more than that when you think about why Leyland was so successful.

He trusted young players, had the ability to coerce veterans into giving him maximum effort, and, even though he never subscribed to advanced statistics like defensive runs saved, always was open to learning and evolving his thinking.

Decades separated successful managers in Pittsburgh, but their similarities validated the culture change for the franchise. By finding a manager who would do what it took to bring the Pirates back to their past years of glory, the franchise finally moved forward. Clint Hurdle didn’t just win 94 baseball games—he exhumed two decades of uninspired baseball thinking in the name of progress.

Not bad for a manager who had only one winning season on his ledger before 2013.

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Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle onto Something by Getting Rid of Pitch Counts

Pitch counts, innings limit…they’re all terms we’ve heard over the last year.

From Stephen Strasburg to various rookies in the big leagues for the first time, managers and general managers alike have taken an interest in saving the arms of their young players.

However, when it comes to Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, pitch counts are something he doesn’t pay attention to, according to David Manel of bucsdugout.com.

My approach in terms of pitches, actually we were having a conversation today, I’m not paying attention to the number of pitches anymore, the rest of the year, for anybody. I’m serious. Just so you know.

It’s going to be about the barrel of the bat on the other team. The times men get on base. How they handle the stretch situation. Whether duress picks up or anything like that.

I want to make sure we have nobody looking at the rear view mirror at 95 pitches thinking ‘I’ve only got so many left.’ That’s out the window. Gerritt’s in that group as well. I mean, just pitch. If you want to have a goal. Some of us men need goals. Pitch seven full innings and we’ll figure it out after that what our next step is. That’s where we’re going.

What makes this interesting is the fact that it was said only a few hours before top pitching prospect Gerrit Cole was set to make his debut.

Some would call Hurdle crazy for making that statement. After all, you have to monitor a pitch count so a pitcher’s arm doesn’t fall off…right?

However, I think Hurdle may be onto something.


The Strasburg Example

Last year we saw the Washington Nationals virtually baby Strasburg. And in some cases they did it this year, before he went on the disabled list.

Strasburg has yet to pitch a complete game in his career and didn’t go more than seven innings in 2012.

Throw in the fact that he was on an innings limit and it was something that was always in the back of his mind.

As he got closer to his limit, his performance went down.

In his final start of 2012, Strasburg only went three innings and gave up five runs. Although he hadn’t reached his limit of 160 innings, they shut him down because it was in the back of his mind.

Then Washington, which had been the best team in baseball during the regular season, lost in the divisional round to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Strasburg could have pitched in at least one of those games and there might have been a difference.

Washington babied Strasburg and it ended up biting them in the butt.


Hurdle Has it Right

Hurdle understands the Pirates might not be in the position they’re in later in the future.

Even with how good the Pirates farm system is, there’s no guarantee they’ll be in the thick of things next year.

That’s where the Nationals messed up.

Washington general manger Mike Rizzo, assumed there would be great days ahead of the Nationals and Strasburg, according to the Washington Post‘s Adam Kilgore.

We’ve got a lot of bright and happy days ahead of us watching Stephen Strasburg pitch. This is something that he’s going to have to accept that it’s on his best behalf, and we’re going to move on from here.

As we can see, the Nationals aren’t in the thick of things this year and they may have wasted an opportunity last year.

Hurdle is not taking that chance.

If Cole is the best pitcher, then he’s going to pitch. It doesn’t matter what others think in terms of how many innings he’s pitched or pitches he’s thrown.

Cole is a competitor, like many others. If he feels like he can go, then why stand in his way?

Pittsburgh has a legitimate shot at not only making the playoffs, but going to the World Series. Cole will play a large role in that.

Why take away an opportunity he’s earned just so you can “save his arm?”

Your goal is to win a World Series. If you’re in the thick of it this year, then why worry about a pitch count, only to hope that you’ll be in the same position next year?

Baseball is about the present. Managers keep their jobs based on the results on the field, not the potential their team has in the future.

So, who cares about a pitch count? Let them do what they get paid to do.

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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 yngzc@yahoo.com.

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 vs. 2006-07 Penguins, Part II: The Front Offices

Despite the recent dry spell that has seen the team lose eight straight, the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ 2011 season will be defined by the total cultural turnaround that saw the team stay in contention for the NL Central Division lead through June and July.

Manager Clint Hurdle garners much of the thanks for the turnaround. Pre-season stories of Hurdle sending mass emails of positive reinforcement to players, coaches and team employees alike were met with sideways smiles. It would take more than a positive attitude to turn around one of pro sports’ worst franchises.

While Hurdle has certainly affected a huge change on the team’s culture, his success with the Pirates is unique in that he is the first manager in some time to have useful pieces to work with.

The collection of those useful pieces must be attributed to the work of general manager Neal Huntington and, though conventional wisdom may disagree, the work and open wallet of owner Bob Nutting.

Much like Ray Shero of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Huntington’s time with the Pirates has been a learning experience. Each inherited a team on the ropes, and Shero has already shown what can be done with smart management, excellent drafting and a good developmental system.

Though Huntington may not have had the luxury Shero enjoyed in inheriting a team with fantastic prospects waiting in the wings (and one that played in a league with a hard salary cap), his work with the Pirates draws parallels to Shero’s work with the Penguins.

These Penguins are a team with a very clear identity, one that starts at the top and reaches down to prospects in the earliest stages of their time with the team.

Fundamentally altering a baseball organization at all levels can take a great deal of time thanks to the lack of a salary cap, the multitude of developmental leagues and the average time it takes a prospect to reach and flourish at the major league level. It can take much longer than in the NHL.

That didn’t diminish Huntington’s fervor in taking the job.

“To achieve our goal, we will thoroughly evaluate and aggressively seek to acquire elite talent internationally and domestically,” Huntington said. “We will diligently cultivate that talent on and off the field in a process-oriented player development system that demands accountability and excellence from all staff and players. Lastly, we will utilize that talent to build our Major League roster and put our team in the best possible position to succeed.”

In three-plus seasons with the Pirates, Huntington’s Pirates are beginning to establish an identity, and his promise to rebuild the team can be interpreted in very explicit, very simple terms—infiltrate, destroy, rebuild.


It’s hard to think of Huntington’s hire as an infiltration, but bringing a young, forward-thinking executive into the Pirates fold could have been considered a coup in the pitch-black final days of the Dave Littlefield era.

The old guard out the door (and not a moment too soon), Huntington represented a fresh perspective for the franchise, an executive “…among the newer breed of executives who rely heavily on statistics and number-crunching before making decisions,” according to the New York Times.

The new boss was hired in September 2007 after holding an assistant general manager position with the Cleveland Indians. Huntington was a bit of a surprise hire at the time. A young executive in his first role as a team’s GM, he was hired after just two weeks of scouting potential hires despite the Pirates being the only team in the market for the position at the time.

Like Huntington, Ray Shero was an up-and-coming executive whose first role as a general manager came with Pittsburgh.

Son of the famed former hockey coach Fred Shero, Ray was an assistant general manager with the Nashville Predators before coming to Pittsburgh.

Unlike the staggeringly unsuccessful Littlefield, Shero’s predecessor, Craig Patrick, was the most important executive in Penguins history—the architect of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup-winning teams of the early 1990s and the man also responsible for drafting Brooks Orpik, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

Co-owner Mario Lemieux and the Penguins won big in gambling on Shero, who has rewarded his bosses with five straight postseason appearances and who annually performs feats of salary cap gymnastics to keep the team’s stars and role players in the fold.

Shero, like Huntington, was an up-and-comer at the time of his hire. Similarly, each has found early success in his time with his respective team, as well as the standard growing pains.


Huntington’s work so far has been to trim the fat from a team that had no muscle to speak of, jettisoning mediocre veterans at every turn in exchange for picks and prospects.

Like any young GM, Huntington’s deals so far have been hit or miss.

There have been some early successes. Trades that saw the departure of Xavier Nady, Nate McLouth and Damaso Marte brought Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Jose Tabata, Daniel McCutchen, Charlie Morton and Gorkys Hernandez in return.

Those two trades cashed out to a total of three starters, a reliever, an everyday outfielder and an MLB-projected prospect in exchange for just three players, only one of whom remains with the team to which he was traded.

There have also been misses, however, as the Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez trades brought almost nothing in return.

Huntington’s veteran acquisitions have been largely terrible, also. Names like Eric Hinske, Aki Iwamura and Lyle Overbay have been brought to Pittsburgh while providing nearly no return whatsoever.

Like Huntington, Shero also blew up his roster when circumstances called for it. Underperforming or perceived “lazy” players were shown the door, and the result is a team of hard-skating, ever-focused “Dan Byslmas” attacking the ice, and to great effect at that.

More than the simple movement of players, however, Penguins management had to destroy the team culture, a poisonous one, that had been fostered during the down years of the early 2000s.

Stories of fried chicken served on the team plane and beers after every game began to surface after former head coach Michel Therrien was hired. Therrien promptly put an end to the unhealthy food and lazy practice habits, providing a disciplinarian presence at the head of a young, directionless team.

Though Therrien was fired mid-season in 2009, his hire was a must for the young Penguins team. Similarly, Dan Bylsma’s player-friendly approach and intense standards have kept the team focused while not running them through drill school.

Shortly, Therrien and Bylsma were the right coaches at the right times for the Pens.

As part of the effort to destroy the losing culture of the Pirates, Clint Hurdle, ever the optimist, was brought on board to lead the young Pirates.

Many of the players on this Pirates roster are too young or too new to the team to have been jaded by the decades-long losing streak. Allowing them to develop in the right atmosphere will mean more to the team’s success than big free agent acquisitions, and the effects of Hurdle’s culture have already begun manifesting themselves.

In spite of the current losing streak, this year’s Bucs have already made strides they weren’t expected to make for another year or two.

The difference isn’t just a matter of personnel. It’s a cultural shift, and if the work of Hurdle and Huntington has already helped to push the losing mentality out of town, the Pirates aren’t far removed from winning on a regular basis.


Personnel are key to any rebuilding effort, and those efforts usually center around a core of untouchable, irreplaceable players.

The Penguins’ core of Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang have payed dividends for years already.

However—and for perhaps the first time in memory—the Pirates finally have an emerging core of young stars of their own, including Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and a core of strong-armed fireballers honing their craft in the minor leagues.

Those players don’t just fall into place—rebuilding starts at the top.

Penguins fans have seen what good ownership means for a team’s success. Owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle open their wallets every season, and the Penguins have been a team which has spent to the cap every year for the last three or four years.

Their wallets open, it has been Shero’s job to spend their money in the most effective ways possible.

Neal Huntington doesn’t run the books in the offices of PNC Park, and so far he has been given little incentive to spend big on the Pirates.

The acquisitions of Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick looked good on paper, but the team’s current freefall may prevent the true value of their acquisitions from ever being known.

Huntington will get his chance to sign important players in the midst of a division race. Avoiding overspending on such players this season is now proving to be a very far-sighted move by the young GM.

For the decades of stinginess displayed by the team and its string of owners, fans ready to point at current owner Bob Nutting’s perceived stinginess need to keep the Huntington approach in mind.

The Pirates are in no position to spend at rates commensurate to the Yankees or Red Sox. Baseball’s monopolists may be able to constantly build and rebuild by spending beyond the reach of Earth’s atmosphere, but small-market clubs like the Pirates are better suited to build from within.

This is the model of the Tampa Bay Rays, a small-market, small-money team who has managed to keep pace with the Yankees and Red Sox by continually drafting well and developing their young prospects.

Whether or not it’s a competitive model to make small-money teams develop and lose talent while the deep pockets get to cherry pick at their leisure, the model isn’t likely to change soon. The Rays cast the mold on small market success, and Huntington’s Pirates are working from that mold.

While Nutting has yet to prove he is willing to open his wallet on big-name free agents or trade candidates (the McCutchen re-signing will be the barometer by which Nutting’s intentions will be truly measured), he has opened his wallet in the interest of Huntington’s draft choices.

As noted in part one of this series, no team has spent more on draft pick signing bonuses than the Pittsburgh Pirates ($30.599 million) in the last four years.

With names like Pedro Alvarez, Tony Sanchez, Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie and Gerrit Cole selected and signed, Nutting has proven he is willing to fund the team as it builds from the ground up.

Given the realities of small-market baseball, that is exactly how a rebuilding effort should take place.

Part I of the series, Introduction: 2011 Pirates Mirroring 2006-07 Penguins Squad, is viewable at link.

You can view more of James’ work at his site, Slew Footers, or share some sports banter with him in 140-character form @slewfooters.

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Pittsburgh Pirates: Clint Hurdle Pulls Switch on Order, Spares Team

(For complete Pirates coverage, see Piratesreport.com)

MILWAUKEE — Another day, another Pirates lineup.

This afternoon Neil Walker will move from fourth to third in the batting order, while Ryan Doumit will occupy the clean-up position. Doumit made four starts there last season.

Matt Diaz will bat fifth against Milwaukee Brewers starter Chris Narveson, a left-hander.

“I might not be done,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve had more success on the road than at home, but our offense has not been offensive.”

At that point, I recalled a statement made by John McKay, the late Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach. Asked what he what thought of his team’s execution, McKay deadpanned famously, “I’m in favor of it.’”

Hurdle grew up in Florida and was a fan of McKay’s back in the day.

So I kidded, Does he feel that way about his own team?

“I’ll plead the fifth!” Hurdle laughed, a wide smile on his face. “I’m behind my boys 100 percent!”

The Pirates batting order: Andrew McCutchen, center field; Jose Tabata, left field; Walker, second base; Doumit, catcher; Diaz, right field; Lyle Overbay, first base; Pedro Alvarez, third base; Ronny Cedeno, shortstop; Jeff Karstens, pitcher.

The Brewers batting order: Rickie Weeks, second base; Craig Counsell, shortstop; Ryan Braun, left field; Prince Fielder, first base; Casey McGehee, third base; Mark Kotsay, right field; Brandon Boggs, center field; Jonathan Lucroy, catcher; Narveson, pitcher,

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Pittsburgh Pirates Starting To Show More Life with Small Ball

Pittsburgh hired Clint Hurdle this past offseason to work with a potentially playoff caliber team in the future. They seemed to hire the right guy then, and it sure is paying off. Although it’s hard to determine how a team will do with just two weeks into the season, the fact the Pirates are being more aggressive is true.

Hope is shining for this young ballclub.

The 22-year-old Jose Tabata took the Majors by surprise, batting .299 in 102 games last year. He also stole 19 bases. 

Although these stats are great for a rookie, the Bucs expected more from the 5’11” Tabata in 2011, and they have certainly gotten some support. 

He has already stolen seven bases, after working with base running coach Luis Silverio this Spring Training. What’s even more impressive is that his stolen base-to-caught stealing ratio at this point is 7:1 in 2011, which used to be 2.7:1 in his rookie campaign.

“Now, he feels really confident that when he takes off, he’s going to make it. After a couple of steps, he maximizes his speed. He has explosive speed. He just doesn’t look like it,” Silverio said about Tabata, who told the coach that he had problems reading off pitchers. 

Speed might one day be the ultimate weapon for this team, such as it was for the Texas Rangers last year. Did you see the postseason?

Home runs might have been a big part for the Rangers, but this is a start for Pittsburgh, a team that has been struggling for years.

Do not be surprised if Clint Hurdle encourages other guys on the team as well to steal some even more bags. If a .300 hitter in Neil Walker starts stealing, it sets up a RISP for power guys like Lyle Overbay and Garrett Jones. Also, don’t forget about Andrew McCutchen, who stole 33 of them in 2010.

Is there a possibility this team starts putting down suicide squeezes? Certainly, as this tactic goes perfect with speed in the lineup that can reach third base on a single from first. Or even with a runner that can advance to third easily after stealing a bag to second after a single.

Of course, only if there are less than two outs.  

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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.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Pittsburgh Pirates: Five Minor Leaguers That Could Make an Impact in 2011

Neil Walker. Jose Tabata. Pedro Alvarez.

Three names Pittsburgh Pirates fans have probably been familiar with for the years leading up to their major league debuts in 2010. 

Whether it has been through trade or by evaluating talent and drafting the appropriate player, the Pirates have amassed some talent once again in their farm system. 

While some prospects are multiple years away from making an impact at the major-league level; others are primed to make their names known to the fans at PNC Park and around the city of Pittsburgh.

The prospects will not emerge as stars from day one, but they will find their niches on a struggling Pirates franchise. Combine the young nucleus that has leaked its way onto the Pirates opening day roster, with these five talented minor leaguers, and there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for Pirates players, management and faithful.

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