In addition to being the editor over at SB Nation Pittsburgh, Charlie Wilmoth is the manager of SBNation's Pittsburgh Pirates' blog, Bucs Dugout. We sent him over some questions about the state of the Pirates, and Charlie was kind enough to take the time to respond for us.
On the Draft:
MLBDD: As you know, the Pirates spent $17M on the draft, crushing the Nationals' record of $12M from just last year. What do you think about the Pirates' historic draft spending spree, and how do Cole and Bell fit into the system?
CW: Cole and Bell become two of the top four prospects in the system, along with Jameson Taillon and Starling Marte.
The Bucs also spent heavily on ninth-rounder Clayton Holmes ($1.2 million) and several other players. It has the feel of an impending apocalypse, or something like that - the world is ending, so we might as well have fun. It's great that the Pirates spent like this, but I can't believe they would have done it if they didn't think there was going to be some kind of slotting system next year.
My Thoughts: Regardless of their reasoning for doing so, spending that much and getting both Cole and Bell into the system bodes well. Bell had been widely considered to be a first round talent, most likely to go in the top 10 if drafted based on talent rather than signability. The possibility of a hard slotting system could be bad for the Pirates, as it has been to their advantage to spend over-slot in the draft.
Read Charlie's answers about the team's struggles in the second half, a pair of Pirates' prospects, and his thoughts on locking up Andrew McCutchen after the jump...
On the Farm:
MLBDD: Staying with the farm system, how are last year's top picks Jameson Taillon (2nd overall) and Stetson Allie (52nd overall) shaping out? Also, could you name some prospects to watch for next season?
CW: Taillon looks great. He has pitched at Class A West Virginia and has put up great strikeout numbers (85 in 84 innings). He needs to work on keeping the ball down, but his breaking ball is a thing of beauty.
Allie has not pitched well at short-season State College, and he has struggled with his control. He was supposed to be a project when he was drafted, but it is still a little surprising that he has struggled so much against kids in a short-season league.
My Thoughts: Clearly, a strikeout/walk rate of 1.0 (24:24) out of Allie isn't what the team was hoping for yet. The team has some interesting prospects in the system (Luis Heredia, Tony Sanchez), but there's a pretty big dropoff between the top 4 and the rest of the system in my opinion. The hard part for me is that with the exception of Cole, the other top 3 prospects could still be 3+ years away from contributing to the big league team.
On the Team's Performance:
MLBDD: So... this might be tough territory for Pirates fans, but what happened? The Pirates were on top in the first half, and then they collapsed. What gives?
CW: They lost a 19-inning game against the Braves on a terrible call by umpire Jerry Meals, and that seemed to take the wind out of them. Other than that, they had a stretch where they played a bunch of hard-fought games and lost them all, with a few blowout losses in there as well. Also, they hit badly as a team, and Kevin Correia got awful results for several starts before being placed on the disabled list.
My Thoughts: It definitely looks like that game can be traced toward the collapse of the team, and I think it didn't help that the team didn't use their best pitcher in that game while waiting for the save opportunity. The team seemed to be overperforming in general, but I didn't think the collapse would be that pronounced. It clearly hasn't helped that they have also not won against the division leading Brewers at all this year.
On the Future:
MLBDD: This ball club isn't exactly a powerhouse lineup, and hasn't been for some time now. What do you think the team will need next season to stop this trend of offense? Is there anyone in particular the team might target in the off-season?
CW: They could use a catcher, but there aren't a lot of tantalizing free-agent options. Another first baseman or corner player would be great, but we saw how poorly Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz worked out. I wouldn't be surprised to see them swing some sort of trade for someone at one of those positions, but I doubt they'll give up much. Realistically, their best hope of improving is Pedro Alvarez figuring things out and starting to hit. If a younger player like Alex Presley, Matt Hague,or (less likely) Starling Marte can step up, that would be a tremendous help.
My Thoughts: They really, really need Pedro Alvarez to start hitting. With the team continuing to struggle, they are going to be hard-pressed to convince high level free agents to come to Pittsburgh. I think that they could be well served to try moving a couple of players to get more controllable talent, but I'm not sure how that would look.
MLBDD: More and more, we see small-market teams lock up their franchise players before they hit arbitration. We saw this with Colorado, Tampa, and Milwaukee locking up their superstars in Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria and Ryan Braun. Do you think the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen should follow in their footsteps, and how does it get done?
CW: Should? Yeah, of course the Pirates should do that, and they're trying to. McCutchen is a franchise player, and his athleticism and well-rounded skill set make him very likely to have a long, successful career. I have no idea what McCutchen wants, but so far it appears that he and the Pirates are not on the same page.
My Thoughts: The team recently signed Jose Tabata to a very team-friendly contract extension, and I doubt highly that they will get the same kind of deal for McCutchen. That said, the team really needs to build around a bonafide star, and McCutchen definitely fits the bill on that one.
Just For Fun:
MLBDD: What band would you compare the 2011 Pirates season to? I'll go with Bon Jovi, because you know, at first they were like, "Whoa, a band my chick likes", and then it was more like, "Hey, Not Bad!", and then all of a sudden it was like "BED OF ROSES???" And then finally, "...now he sings country. Thanks, Bon Jovi."
Thanks to Charlie for taking to the time to answer our questions during an up-and-down season in Pittsburgh. You can find his writings both at SB Nation Pittsburgh and Bucs Dugout.