Saturday, June 05, 2010

Riddle Me This

First, off: Welcome Back, Freddy Sanchez, one of my favorite all-time Pirates, and that's saying something. A very, very good player and an even better person.

Case in point: While with the Pirates, Sanchez donated $50,000 of his own money to build a ball-field for special-needs kids, and that's just one of many, many contributions he made (quietly) to charitable causes. The San Francisco Giants and their fans are lucky to have him.

Speaking of the Giants, they're in Pittsburgh for a weekend series, which brings our discussion to their brightest prospect, Buster Posey, who played first base last night and went two for four at the plate.

What makes this germane to Pirates' talk is a question: Where is Pedro Alvarez? For that matter, where is Brad Lincoln? Where is Jose Tabata? Where is Danny Moskos? Oh, sorry, touchy subject, that last one.

Where are our bright prospects? What do we have to get excited about?

Anyway, back to Posey, whom the Giants plucked in the same 2008 Major League Baseball Draft as Alvarez. The Giants selected Posey secret three picks after Alvarez, and Posey received an even higher signing bonus ($6.2 million) than Alvarez ($6 million).


The point is, Posey is off to a good start in the majors, and Alvarez is still in the minors. It would be nice if we had our own emerging star to showcase this weekend -- no disrespect to Neil Walker, who is off to a great start and made a SportsCenter highlight catch in the field last night.

What are the Pirates waiting for? What are they clinging to?

Whatever. The Giants get to showcase their phenom, Buster Posey. The Pirates, playing at home, "showcase" Andy LaRoche at third base instead of Alvarez.

On Tuesday, the Pirates will face the Washington Nationals and their own phenom, Steven Strasburg, who was selected first overall in last year's MLB draft. By all accounts, Strasburg is The Next Great Pitcher, the real deal, a combination of Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver.

So, the Nationals will get to showcase Steven Strasburg. The Pirates will "showcase" journeyman pitcher Jeff Karstens, who is barely in the rotation.

It would be nice if the Pirates had the cojones to have brought up Brad Lincoln, a former No. 1 draft choice to start Tuesday's game vs. Strasburg.

It would be nice for Pirates' fans to have something to look forward to, with Alvarez at third base and Lincoln on the mound in a national-spotlight game that will be the lead story on ESPN, the MLB Network and in baseball coverage across the nation.

At least, we'd have something to get semi-excited about, other than the possibility of Strasburg throwing a no-hitter.

Not to digress, but since the Giants are in town, it's worth noting that the Pirates selected the aforementioned Brad Lincoln ahead of San Francisco's Tim Lincecum, who has won two Cy Young awards already in his brief major-league career. Lincoln remains in the minors. Not to be bitter.

Ironic, isn't it, that the Pirates reportedly passed on Lincecum because of concerns about Lincecum's durability? Lincoln, of course, went on the injury list almost immediately after the Pirates selected him.

Again, whatever. It was a previous management regime (The Dave Littlefield Reign of Terror) that selected Lincoln over Lincecum.

It was the Safe Choice.

And that has been -- and continues to be --the Pirates' Way in this, the Dark Ages of the history of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club. How else to explain keeping Alvarez in the minors, at this point, or Brad Lincoln, or outfielder Jose Tabata? It's the Safe Choice, the safe thing to do. We wouldn't want to risk failure, God forbid. We wouldn't want to harm their fragile psyches.

For the Pirates, making the Safe Choice means selecting reliever Danny Moskos (currently pitching for the Altoona Curve at the AA minor league level) with the fourth overall pick in the 2007 MLB draft over catcher Matt Wieters (taken with the fifth pick and now starting at catcher for the Baltimore Orioles) or, for that matter, power-hitting outfielder Jason Heyward (taken 14th overall and who, now at 20 years of age, currently rates as the clear Rookie of the Year in major league baseball).

This is beating a dead horse, of course, but ... to anybody but the Pirates' management team, Wieters was the obvious choice in that draft. Ironically, Wieters actually would have been, truly, the safe choice, but Littlefield claimed the Pirates (inexplicably, but evidently for monetary purposes) had Moskos rated higher than Wieters.

It's worth noting with the benefit of hindsight that Heyward was no secret at the time, either, and was "in the discussion" during the days and weeks preceding that draft. It's always fun to second-guess, but second-guessing doesn't lessen the pain of being a Pirates fan and wondering, "What if ... ?"

Granted, the baseball draft is nothing like the NFL draft, where teams draft players with the expectation that the first pick almost certainly will contribute immediately. Except in rare cases such as Strasburg or Cincinnati's rookie pitcher Mike Leake (who went directly to the majors), it takes two or three years (Posey, Wieters, Heyward), or six or seven (Neil Walker is a case in point, through no fault of his own) for most baseball draft picks to make it to the majors.


The question is, where are those Pirates' draft picks from the last few years? Where's Alvarez? Lincoln? Moskos? Granted, they may be on the near horizon, with Alvarez, Lincoln and Tabata almost certain to arrive in Pittsburgh by the mid-July All-Star break.

Still. As the Pirates stumble along toward another 95-loss season, throw us a bone. Really, what are the Pirates waiting for?

Oh, and one other thing: The 2010 MLB draft is next week. The Pirates pick second, after the Washington Nationals, who will select this year's phenom, Bryce Harper, the next Mickey Mantle.

For the Pirates, naturally, there is no consensus, clear-cut choice to be made at No. 2. Just their luck. Their options appear to be a high-school shortstop and a handful of pitchers.

They'll probably make the safe choice. Whatever. It will take years for that player to arrive.

In the meantime, we'll get to watch Steven Strasburg next week, and Bryce Harper next year, and Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum this weekend with the Giants.

Freddy Sanchez, too.

Well, that's something. Welcome back, Freddy.