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-P- Wow. It looks like the Pirates' incompetence goes all the way down to the Venezuelan Summer League. This expose is about steroids and Venezuelan baseball in general, but a lot of it explores the plight of two players who used to be owned by the Pirates.

The former Pittsburgh Pirates prospect [Juan Casas] clutches a pair of prescriptions, his last hope of overturning a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy while pitching in the rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League.

The 20-year-old wants to appeal, but doesn't know how. He has since been released by the Pirates, lost a promised promotion to the United States and could be too old to attract serious interest again unless his suspension is lifted...

At a dusty stadium in the town of Villa de Cura, about 80 miles southwest of Caracas, a sweat-drenched Edison Barrios, 17, another suspended Pirates prospect, says his manager was the one who told him of his positive steroid test -- then relayed the information to his entire team. Westreich confirms that no one else should have been told the results until Barrios had exhausted his 48-hour appeal window.

"That's not part of our protocol, no," Westreich says.

Barrios says he was never told how to appeal. He stays in shape by working out here with a winter-league team and grudgingly accepts his suspension -- having suspected the "vitamins" injected into his buttocks by employees at a local gym before he signed for $20,000 with the Pirates were banned substances.

"Nobody really ever told me what was forbidden and what wasn't forbidden," Barrios says. "I want to see a list of all the stuff so that I'll know. Some of us are taking muscle relaxants right now and we don't even know what the substances in them are, or whether they are legal or not."

Wow. This may not sound like a big deal, but for Latin American players, baseball is often the only thing keeping them from a life of poverty. To be kicked out of baseball for violating some rule you don't understand is life-changing. If true, it's awful that the Pirates aren't telling their players how to appeal these suspensions. It sounds like the Pirates' operation in Venezuela is just as poorly run as the major league team. It's no wonder they aren't producing any prospects from there.

-P- Ed Eagle is doing his thing over at pirates.com:

As a four-time Cy Young Award winner with 333 victories under his belt, Maddux would certainly be an asset as a mentor for the Bucs' young starting pitchers. And while Maddux is no longer among the elite pitchers in the game, he did win 15 games in 2006 for the 18th time in the last 19 seasons, so I'm sure there will be some demand for his services.

New rule! Persons who want to suggest that a player "would certainly be an asset as a mentor" must provide evidence that such lavishly compensated tutorships are, on the whole, helpful. Not anecdotal evidence - real evidence. Until such persons find such evidence, they must shut up, unless they want the Pirates to sign Jose Mesa again.

-P- Top Prospect Alert has published a list of its top ten Pirates prospects. There aren't any writeups - it's just a list. I'd argue with the order of the players, but they at least mostly picked the right ones. Nyjer Morgan is #6, which tells you a lot of what you need to know about the Bucs' farm system. Todd Redmond is high at #4, but only a little bit. I haven't seen any evidence that the Pirates consider Redmond a prospect, however.