Ask Bucs Dugout: Baseball writers, minor leagues, infielders

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Again, thanks, everyone, for the questions. Here goes.

RDV Across The Sea: Which other baseball writers do you enjoy reading? I understand that as part of your second job as a baseball writer, you must have to trawl the internet for information regarding trades etc, but which writers (if any) do you actually read for pleasure?

Off the top of my head: MLBTR, Rob Neyer, Dave Cameron (I know he's a bit of a lightning rod, but he does a better job than maybe anyone of explaining trends throughout the game), Jeff Sullivan, Grant Brisbee, Jonah Keri, Rany Jazayerli, Ken Rosenthal, Keith Law, Steven Goldman. For non-Pirates team blogs, McCovey Chronicles (Giants)USS MarinerMad Em-Dashes (Cardinals)Crashburn Alley (Phillies) and River Avenue Blues (Yankees) are all very good. Also, I don't end up seeing Jerry Crasnick's work as much as some of the other names on this list, but every time I do, I'm impressed by the quality of his reporting and the clarity of his thinking -- he does a much better job with the Pirates-related pieces he's done over the years than most national writers have.

I'm sure I'm missing plenty of names. There are a lot of good writers out there, and I'm sure I omitted a ton of really great ones. I'll also leave out Pirates-specific stuff -- I don't want to play favorites there.

KentuckyPirate: What was your personal baseball low point during the two decades "at sea" was there ever a time during the losing streak when you legitimately considered giving up on the Pirates or (gasp) baseball altogether? If so, what prevented you from doing so?

In 2004, I halfheartedly tried to root for other teams. That didn't take, and I started a blog instead. I thought about quitting after the twin Matt Wieters / Matt Morris debacles in 2007. I didn't because I had a small audience by then, and the Pirates hired Neal Huntington soon after. I haven't had much of a problem since then.

Mingy: What Pirate on present day roster would you most like to have a beer with? And what about all time?

I'm trying to establish Bucs Dugout as an outlet for semi-serious journalism, so I'm not sure I should be friendly with players in that way. But there are a bunch of Pirates I'd love to have an extended conversation with. Currently, Russell Martin tops that list, followed by Tony Sanchez and maybe Charlie Morton. From my limited experience dealing with players (and listening to lots of taped interviews Dave Manel sends from the ballpark), catchers almost always have the most interesting things to say about the game. It sounds silly, but I was thrilled when the Pirates let us talk to Chris Stewart for a half hour at PirateFest, because I knew he would say interesting things.

All-time, Craig Wilson, mostly for sentimental reasons. Ross Ohlendorf would probably also be pretty interesting.

Aj94: Would you have rather had Jose Abreu this summer now that you saw where the pirates spent (didn't spend) their money?

Off the top of my head, yes, but I'm not sure I want to go too far out on a limb there. Abreu is a relatively unknown quantity, and if I were a general manager, I would want to scout him very extensively before making a decision.

Zvedza: I’m trying to plan a road trip(s) to check out Bucs affiliates when they are within 90 minutes of me. Setting aside the Florida affiliates and Bristol, who never get close to PA, which of these three teams is likely to have the most interesting roster this year? Indy visits Scranton in May, and Allentown in June. Altoona visits Harrisburg in April and July, and Reading in August. West Virginia visits Hagerstown in April, and Lakewood (NJ) in May.

Indianapolis is a great bet in May since Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon will likely be there, but West Virginia should have Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, and Harold Ramirez, among others. I'm going to try to see them for sure.

Rintintinsoldier: How do [minor-league affiliations] get decided? Are they on agreements and when those agreements expire the teams (Indianapolis for example) go shopping?

Affiliates have player development contracts with big-league clubs. These contracts (or extensions of existing contracts) seem to last about two to four years, after which both parties are sort of free to "go shopping." I say "sort of" because, obviously, there are a limited number of spots available at each level, and so there may be some incentive to develop a lasting relationship, or you'll end up with an undesirable affiliate (or, if you're an affiliate, an undesirable big-league team). Organizations can and do change affiliates, but there aren't usually a lot of choices. Teams sometimes play hot-potato with undesirable affiliates (like Las Vegas, which is a bandbox, for Triple-A), but the Pirates will have been with Altoona for 20 years by the time their current development contract ends in 2018. Organizations also appear to increasingly be looking for affiliates that are close geographically, which clearly makes sense on a number of levels.

JSteelers86: Do you remember a specific time/game when you knew the Pirate organization had turned a corner?

Actually, maybe this one. The specifics of that story turned out to be a little silly, since two of the players featured (Garrett Jones and Travis Snider) had poor seasons, but that was probably the game that got me thinking that last year's team was different than what we had seen before. The 2013 team seemed less like a random collection of talent and more like a team with good players that were finally well suited to their roles. I think that game is what led me to write this article a few days later.

Thunder: Why is it that the Pirates seem to have extreme difficulty in developing infielders through their minor league system? This is likely to be an issue in a couple years when Alvarez and Walker are approaching free agency. On Draft Day 2008, if someone would have told Pirates fans that their 1-2 draft pick would have a .235/.306/.443 career line after three-plus seasons, he’d have been considered a large disappointment. The Pirates have had 6 drafts under this front office. We’ve gotten one regular IF (Pedro), and one anticipated starter (Mercer). Beyond that, we’ve really got nothing approaching ML ability above Low A for the infield, other than one guy who has 35 games at AA (Alen Hanson). Is it a developmental issue, talent evaluation, drafting approach, or bad luck? They seem to do OK when it comes to outfielders and pitching.

To be really simplistic about it, let's say being a big-league infielder involves two separate skills, hitting and fielding. If the Pirates are able to develop hitters at other positions (players like Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco), then there's no reason to think they couldn't help an infielder learn to hit. And while the sample size is small, I don't think what's holding the Pirates' young infielders back is a lack of defensive ability. Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker have both become better at their positions than I ever thought they could be, and that development happened entirely during the Neal Huntington era.

In fact, exactly which infield prospects have busted? Chase d'Arnaud, I guess. Drew Maggi. And some biggish-bonus international guys like Yhonathan Barrios (who's now a pitcher) and Jodaneli Carvajal. And Alvarez is a good player, even if he's fallen short of expectations (expectations that, by the way, may have been overly ambitious to begin with). On the whole, that's disappointing, but I don't feel comfortable calling that a trend, particularly given that d'Arnaud, Maggi, Barrios and Carvajal weren't really huge investments to begin with. The Pirates have really just focused more on pitchers, outfielders and catchers, and other than Alvarez, all their biggest-bonus players (Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, Tony Sanchez, Stetson Allie, Luis Heredia, Clay Holmes, Luis Heredia, Robbie Grossman, the crop of 2009 pitchers, etc.) have fallen into one of those categories.

Brian O': How is Neil Walker’s value inflated because he is from Pittsburgh? I really like him and think his game is ok, but there is never talk about trading him. Could we be missing an opportunity to upgrade because he is a hometown guy?

I doubt Huntington cares about Walker's hometown status. What's likely more interesting to him is that Walker is a good player who can help the team now. The Pirates really aren't in sell mode. If they were, I'm sure we would hear about Walker as a trade candidate.

Bucsabudhabi: How do you deal with your emotional attachment to the Pirates? Do you give yourself much chance to express yourself in ways that don’t have anything to do with dollars and cents, or wins and losses, or "What’s best for the future of the team?" Just an example, from my side: I’ve got an 18-year-old Pirate fan son. He loves following the Bucs, but he doesn’t invest much time with analysis. The saddest news of the off-season for him was to discover Michael McKenry would no longer be on the team. And as much as I do pay attention to advanced stats, and financial implications, I agree with my son on that count. Michael McKenry was fun to watch, every time he took the field. He seemed to care so much, and try so hard, and bring so much joy. How much of that kind of fan perspective is in your book, and in your life?

McKenry seemed like a great guy, but I don't get too wrapped up in personalities. I was disappointed to see A.J. Burnett leave, but that was purely because I want the team to win. I never thought of the departures of players like McKenry exactly in the way you framed it, but I think that's a pretty decent explanation for why people were so irrationally upset about the trades of Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and especially Nate McLouth. The team hadn't won in so long that, for many types of fans, their connections to the personalities of players like McLouth were really all they had.

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