Thursday, August 18, 2011

XC & Pirates’ "Success"

The last week or so has been more of the same - clicking off the mileage on the running, cross country practice, getting stuff done around the house, and following the buccos.

Our two-a-days started for XC. The practices are at 8am and 3pm which presents for me a dilemma. Do I go home between practices with my 45-minute commute each way? It takes time and uses up gas. So, I pack a lunch and get my classroom set up early (less to worry about next week). The team has their first scrimmage next Wednesday and I'm excited to see everybody out on the course and how their summer training has paid off.

My next race is this Saturday. It's a "scrimmage" for my old high school (that I graduated from) where they compete against alumni willing to go back and subject themselves to the torture that is the Hempfield Cross Country course. Over the summer, I've been in the 17's with my 5k's. This race, my goal is to go sub-20 for the first time. It's a HARD trail course (here's
last year's race report). After not being able to crack 20 the last few years, I have acquired/borrowed a pair of XC spikes from a kid on the team (where I coach) to try to give me a little better footing this year (there's no truth to the rumor that I offered any grade assistance in Calculus this year in exchange for said spikes).

As always, my main goal is to "make varsity" meaning that I finish among the top 7 high schoolers. We'll see how it goes. Also, I get excused from my coaching duties for practice that Saturday morning with the justification that I'm out "scouting" a competitor team for later in the season.

The Pirates made some great strides forward this week. Yes, they got swept in Milwaukee last weekend, eliminating any shred of hope that may have been left to sneak back into the division playoff race. However, two of the games were 1-run games. Then, they came home to take 2 of 3 against the Cardinals, who always give them trouble. Can we get .500 by the end of the year!?!?!?

The most pivotal action the Pirates made this week was signing their 2nd round draft pick, high school outfielder Josh Bell. To give you a background, Bell was consider a mid-first round talent (among the top 10-20 range overall) and considered to be the 2nd best high school bat. Prior to the draft, he sent out a letter to all 30 MLB teams telling them not to draft him because he was going to honor his scholarship to the University of Texas. The letter stated about how his mother was a college professor and she wanted him to go to school.

Meanwhile, he enlisted the assistance of super-agent Scott Boras to be his "advisor" (it's funny how that works to allow the players to remain amateur). If he REALLY didn't want to be drafted, why did he find the most tenacious sports agent out there? Well, the Pirates called his bluff and drafted him in the 2nd round (after every other team had passed at least one chance to draft him). As the evening moved on Monday night to the midnight deadline, I read about how the Pirates threw some big money at a mid-round high school pitcher and assumed that meant they were no longer pursuing Bell. But, to my surprise when I woke up Tuesday morning, the Pirates committed not only the $8 million to their first round pick Garret Cole, but another $5 million to Josh Bell, and additional bonuses to rank first in the MLB in doling out $17 million total for their draft.

While this is great, it has to be kept in perspective. Cole won't become a major league factor until probably 2013. If Bell follow's Andrew McCutchen's path (drafted in 2005), he won't be up and making significant contributions until 2016 or 2017. But, it's just knowing that the commitment is there to build a winner through developing minor league talent. In the last calendar year, the Pirates have acquired FOUR pitchers regarded by national publications as potentially being "Ace" #1 pitchers in the majors (Tallion, Allie, Heredia, and Cole). Not all players will work out, but it's how teams not named the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox have to do it.

While Beth was wrapping up her epic training weekend on Sunday, I got the crazy idea to take a trip up to Altoona to see the Curve (the Pirates' AA team) on Sunday night before the schedule got busier with two-a-days and school then starting. I was going back and forth all afternoon about whether or not to go because there was rain in the forecast. After Beth got home, I checked it one more time and the hour-by-hour precipitation chance dropped from 50%-60% down to 20-30%. It was 4:30 pm and I needed to get going for the 6pm game if I was going to go.

I end up going, but as I roll out of Ebensburg (about 20 minutes West of the stadium) I run into a monsoon. I turn on the radio and the pre-game show is not mentioning a thing about the rain. In fact, I'm running a few minutes late (literally slowed down to 35 mph on a 4-lane highway because of how hard the rain was coming down) and the game starts. I'm thinking, "how is it not raining there?"

By the time I pull into the parking lot, they are starting the second inning. Then the rains come. Drat! Did I make the 90-minute trip up to Altoona for nothing? Fortunately, after a 25-minute rain delay, the game resumes and I head in to watch the game.

One of the reasons I was interested in coming was that Tim Alderson was starting for the Curve. He was acquire straight up from San Francisco two years ago for Freddy Sanchez. Alderson has gone backwards to the point that he was demoted to High-A. But, this season he's been pitching out of the bullpen with great results and the Curve needed a starter so they put him in there.

The result - not too impressive. Sure, he got some people out, but he didn't have good control (hit two batters) and his fastball was sitting around 85 mph. His curveball (his best pitch) was sharp and had a lot of bite to it, at least.

His lack of control also caused his ejection one batter into the 4th inning. It was kind of odd. In the second inning, he hit one of the players near the bottom of the order. Fortunately, that runner got picked off of 2nd base later in the inning to cause no damage on the scoreboard. But, then the pitcher was up, and Alderson hit the pitcher. You don't hit a pitcher on purpose, he's an easy out!

The next inning, Alderson came up to the plate and, after two inside pitches, got plunked on a 2-0 fastball right in the middle of the back. Baseball's way of policing itself, I guess. The umpires (as they should have) warned both benches, meaning that any future intentional hit batters would cause ejections.

So, I went behind home plate to see his curveball better and snap a few shots in the 4th inning, but only saw two pitches from that vantage point due to the ejection. It's been misting this whole time, so not the best of traction and footing. Alderson is facing that same player he hit in the 2nd to lead off the inning.
The first pitch was inside. The 1-0 pitch went over the batter's head, making it look like Alderson was head-hunting. The umpire perceived it as intentionally throwing at the hitter and automatically ejected him. The manager came out to plead his case that it wasn't intentional, but to no avail. Oh well. Not that Alderson pitched that great anyway. Good thing I snapped a shot on the first pitch of the 4th inning, I guess!

In other events, outfielder Andrew Lambo (acquired in the Dotel deal last year) is finally coming around in AA after being demoted down from AAA, where he struggled mightily for the first three months of the year. Lambo blasted a 3-run homer over the right field wall to give the Curve the lead early in the game. The picture is a celebration of the players heading back to the dugout after scoring on the home run.

The other player I wanted to see was catcher Tony Sanchez. He didn't play (night off) when Beth and I went up in June. Sanchez, the Pirates' first round pick from 2009 out of Boston College, hasn't been hitting well either this year. I was hoping to see something from him but he had some groundouts and a flyout. In the 12th inning (I had left after 9 because I was getting up at 4:45am to do a run before the first day of XC practice), I heard on the radio he allowed a ball to get past him on a 3rd strike and compounded the problem by sailing his throw to first base out into right field. This allowed the winning run to score. I hope he can get back on track next year.

The surprise of the night was Duke Welker coming out of the bullpen in the 7th. Welker, a 2nd round college pick from Dave Littlefield's last draft in 2007 had been scuttling along the past four years in low-A and high-A, never really putting it together. Well, this year I think he may be putting it together (and about time for a college pitcher picked in the 2nd round!!!). He went 3-up and 3-down, striking out two of them with a 95 and 96 mph fastball and a devastating mid 80's slider. He should be up in AAA Indianapolis to start next year and may make it up to the Pirates next summer if he continues to deal like he did on Sunday.

So, that's my report from Altoona. Thank you to the rain for cooperating and for Beth not missing me for an evening!


Steve said...

WOAH!!! That was some scouting report. If you hear rumors that maybe I skimmed parts of it they are definitely FALSE!!! :)

chuckled on the grades for spikes thing. :)

Have a great weekend. :)

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