Neal Huntington Interview Highlights

Here are the highlights of the bloggers' chat with Neal Huntington yesterday. Thanks so much to Matt Nordby for putting this together for us.

-P- On how Huntington might judge the Pirates' season differently than the fans might judge it:

"I think the fans are excited that this club has played well, and we're right there. We want to share it with them. We want to celebrate our small successes. But we've got a long ways to go. I think there's an element of the fanbase that would be happy with 82 wins, and I get that. I respect that. But that's certainly not why we do this. If 82 wins is where we end up ... we'll take a look back on it, try and evaluate why is was only 82 wins, or how did we get to 82 wins. But it won't be [an excuse for] a celebration ...

"It's not all about breaking the streak. It's all about putting us in a position to be a consistent championship-caliber team, and that's going to continue to be logical, rational decisions. And that's where fans ride the emotional high and the emotional low. We as a front office, and we as an organization, have to try to stay away from the emotional high and the emotional low."

-P- Huntington noted that Josh Bell and his family are interested in what he could get out of the college experience, but that "we also believe that he wants to play professional baseball. Now, can we convince him to play in 2011? We obviously believe that we could convince him that we were the right fit for him, that we were the best organization in baseball for him, given the infrastructure that we have beneath the surface that we think is a significant advantage for us over every other organization in baseball ... 

"We felt it was a worthwhile gamble. We felt he was one of the better bats in the country, and we felt that the opportunity-cost of losing a player ... that we would have taken at [No.] 61 and wasn't available there when we picked at 91, we felt that was worthwhile, because we get pick 62 in the country next year ... We're going to work as hard as we can to sign him and add him to the organization."

-P- I asked what it would take, at this point, for the Pirates to trade Paul Maholm or Joel Hanrahan at the deadline.

Huntington said that the Pirates would try to take advantage of market trends, and might consider selling if he thought they could get a key part of the Pirates' future in return.

"We're always gonna look to be opportunistic," Huntington said. "We'd love to add. But there may come a point where we add here, subtract here, but we add again, and that's where we've got to look to be creative."

-P- On Alex Presley: "How does Alex fit? Well, the guy has swung the bat the way he has, the speed on the bases beginning to play more. He's beginning to gain more confidence on the bases. But if he can drive a ball gap to gap, play plus defense in a [corner outfield spot], get on base and wreak havoc on the bases, he can be a very interesting player for a long time. People want to continue to talk about the game and power ... for whatever reason, power isn't where it once was in the game, and guys that are athletic, guys that can get on base, guys that can wreak havoc on the bases, guys that can play great defense, they're beginning to find their way back onto major-league fields in important roles again."

-P- On Rudy Owens: "We think Rudy's going to be a very good major-league pitcher. Rudy's learning ... there's a reason why there's levels in minor-league baseball, and why guys jumping from Double-A to the big leagues is rare. He's being taught some lessons by some Triple-A hitters right now, and some of the pitches Double-A hitters either put in play weakly early in the count or chase later in the count, the veteran Triple-A hitters aren't."

-P- I asked what had changed with Chris Leroux, and what the Pirates had seen in him that we didn't see a few months ago, when many of us were wondering what he was still doing on the 40-man roster. 

"We claimed Chris last year because of the arm strength and the makings of a breaking ball ... We carried him on the roster during the offseason because of the same upside. [We] saw some good things out of him in Spring Training. Saw the breaking ball play consistently, saw the fastball command down in the zone. Maybe not dotted, but down in the zone, out of the middle of the plate."

I asked if the Pirates had changed his arm slot.

"Yeah, this year our pitching coordinator and pitching coaches decided to drop his arm slot a little bit. It gives him more life to the fastball. Makes it a little more difficult to command, but it makes it more difficult to hit as well."

-P- On Tony Sanchez: "Tony got himself in trouble a little bit earlier this year because his home-run numbers were down ... It's bad when a young hitter tries to hit home runs. That's a lesson we try to teach every one of our young hitters: Be a good hitter first. For most hitters, home runs are mistakes. They get just under a ball that they've squared up, and it leaves the ballpark, and that's a great thing. [But] when you sit in the box and sit and rip, you become an out, you become a much easier out, you open up a lot of holes."

-P- Brian from Raise The Jolly Roger asked about reports from a few weeks back that said teams had been asking a lot from the Pirates in return for catchers because they perceived the Pirates as desperate. When asked whether that had changed, Huntington simply said "no."

"I know I was aggressive, and I think my first year or two here took some criticism for being aggressive in our [asking prices]. Ironically enough, then I took criticism for not getting enough for the players, but that's neither here nor there.

"Teams have been aggressive. It's early, the trade deadline is still a ways away, there's still more buyers than sellers, there's still a limited number of players out there. Teams are really looking to hold onto players that have a chance to be on their club for the next year or two because the free-agent class continues to project as not a very good one again, so yes, teams are continuing to be aggressive ... and understandably so."

Huntington also talked a bit about the 2008 trade deadline, and how the Pirates might approach the market now that they are likely to be buyers rather than sellers.

"A team ruled out their entire South Atlantic League [roster] in a trade for Jason Bay. A team ruled out their nine top prospects, one for one, in a trade for Jason Bay ... the key for us is going to be ... we've got to know our own players better than everybody else does. There will be players that we'll move that may raise some eyebrows. There will be players that we'll hold that may raise some eyebrows."

-P- Huntington said that the Pirates would be willing to sacrifice a bit of power from his outfield in the future in exchange for having fast players who can cover a lot of ground in PNC. It sounds like he won't be at all shy about, for example, using Starling Marte in a corner spot if need be.

-P- Huntington said the number of players drafted from Louisiana this year was "probably more of a coincidence than anything else." 

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