Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Chat
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Moderator: John Perrotto will begin taking your questions at 2 p.m. ET

 Q:  Scott from Springfield, Illinois asks:
How is the development of Patrick O'Brien coming? Will he make the top 30 this year?

John Perrotto: Scott, Pat O'Brien took a step backward this year and is getting to the point in his career where he needs to make an impact soon. I wouldn't give on him but I don't see him as a top 30 guy either.

 Q:  Dave S from Pittsburgh asks:
Would you consider 1BC Chris Shelton, left unprotected in the expansion draft, a better prospect that JR House, who plays the same position?

John Perrotto: Dave, I believe Shelton is a better prospect than House at this point if only because he has been healthy and produced in recent seasons. I think Shelton could definitely be taken in the Rule 5 Draft later this month. However, I also think House has really bounced back well from his surgeries and reestablished himself as a prospect off what he did late in the minor-league season and in the AFL.

 Q:  Jason from Great Falls, MT asks:
What is the status of Jose Batista, is he the 3b of the future or will we miss Kody Kirkland?

Josh Perrotto: Jason: Batista had a lost season because of his broken hand but he is still very talented. The Pirates may indeed miss Kody Kirland but it is certainly far too early to give up on Batista.

 Q:  Rocco from Pgh, PA asks:
John, Great work in the BVT. With your assessment of JVB (4 avg. to plus pitches), can he really be considered the Bucs TOP prospect? Was there debate as to which player would get top billing?

John Perrotto: Rocco, thanks for the nice commments. The check is in the mail. Seriously, it was a very difficult decision for the No. 1 prospect between John VanBenschoten and Sean Burnett. You can make a strong case for either one and there was also some sentiment for Jason Bay. However, I really feel JVB has just a touch more upside.

 Q:  Ryan Patton from Mechanicsburg, PA asks:
Pitchers look promising, up-the-middle looks serviceable, corner outfield could be okay. Corner infield positions, however, seem scary--any prospects long or short term for first or third?

John Perrotto: Ryan, The Pirates do lack depth on the corner infield spots and don't have anyone on the farm ready to fill those spots. With Walter Young gone on waivers to Baltimore and Shelton possibly going in the Rule 5, the Pirates really have no interest first basemen, though it looks like J.R. House could wind up there.

 Q:  t-bag from pittsburgh asks:
What is the deal with JR House? He was once the prize of the system and then caught the injury bug. His numbers when he came back last year and in the AFL indicate he may be back on track. Any chance he ends up being an above average MLB catcher?

John Perrotto: I think House can still be a good major-league player but because of his arm woes it will likely be at first or left field.

 Q:  Jason Brown from Rome, GA asks:
How high do you think the ceiling is on Rajai Davis? Do you think he has major league potential? If so, when do you expect to see him there?

John Perrotto: Jason: Rajai Davis is an interesting player and is making great strides. I'd like to see how he does in Carolina League this upcoming season before I'm ready to commit to him as a surefire big-leaguer.

 Q:  Dave S from Pittsburgh asks:
Why would the Pirates keep Abe Nunez on their roster and risk losing some good young players in the rule 5 draft when they already have Bobby Hill and Freddie Sanchez?

John Perrotto: The Pirates' company line is that want players who are ready to help at the major-league level now, which is why they left a player like Walter Young unprotected but kept Abraham Nunez. I don't say I necessarily agree with it but that's their rationale.

 Q:  dan from nj asks:
which pirate prospects are most likely to be taken in the upcoming rule 5 draft? do you think the pirates will look to take anybody in the draft? they've had some good success with sauerbeck and got a good year out of javier martinez.

John Perrotto: Dan: I think the Pirates could definitely lose Chris Shelton in the Rule 5. Rich Thompson might be lost. If you want a long shot to be lost, try right-hander Jonathan Albaladejo, a hard thrower who pitched at low A Hickory this year. As far as getting anyone in the Rule 5, they haven't seen interested in that market during Dave Littlefield's tenure as GM.

 Q:  Jeff Tripodi from Beaver, PA asks:
John, please make my entire holiday season by telling me the Pirates are at least considering a non-tender of Jack Wilson. Is there a chance that the Bucs can have a middle infielder who slugs over .400?

John Perrotto: Jeff: Hate to be the Grinch who steals your Christmas but it looks like Jack Wilson will indeed be tendered and the shortstop again in 2004. Don't see any slugging middle infielders on the horizon, especially since it seems Jose Castillo will eventually move to third base.

 Q:  Mike from Carnegie, PA asks:
John, With JR House's second half last year and his impressive AFL stint, how could be be left off the list in favor of guys like Blair Johnson. And what about Tom Gorzellany (sp?)? Thanks.

John Perrotto: At some point, you have to produce and House really hasn't done anything since 2000. Johnson made great strides this year and has an outstanding arm. Gorzelanny is a good prospect, just not top 10 in this organization at this time.

 Q:  Big Al from Waterloo, Ontario asks:
What is your outlook this year for Bobby Hill and Ryan Vogelsong?

John Perrotto: Both are out of minor-league options but I don't think either is necessarily a lock to make the club. Both have potential but haven't had results expected. They will both need to step up in spring training.

 Q:  Jason from Great Falls, MT asks:
What is the upside of Pitchers Starling, Capps, Pearson, Cuffman and Molleken? Can they make strides next year?

John Perrotto: All the pitchers you mention have promise but are all very young at this point. There is no reason all couldn't make strides, though I think Capps and Starling are at the head of this class. Cuffman is an interesting guy, who has a great arm but very little pitching experience. His story is very similiar to the Cubs' Matt Clement, who went to the same high school in western Pennsylvania.

 Q:  frank from pittsburgh asks:
The Pirates minor league system seems to be loaded with pitching. The latest rankings show seven pitchers in the top 10 prospects. Are any of these pitchers projected to be "aces", or are we going to have a staff of #3 pitchers in the years to come. It doesn't seem like we have a prior or a Beckett in the bunch...

John Perrotto: I think John VanBenschoten certainly has the arm and makeup to be a potential No. 1. I think guys like Sean Burnett and Ian Oquendo could be solid No. 2s. So, too, could Cory Stewart. The one thing the Pirates have is quantity, which lends hope that quantity will shake out.

 Q:  Oliver Stone from Conspiracy, USA asks:
Did the Pirates overplay Brandon Lyon's physical condition in an attempt to extort Freddy Sanchez from the Red Sox? What really happened there?

John Perrotto: Oliver: The Pirates seem to be the only organization that thinks Brandon Lyon was a health risk. I wouldn't say they extorted Sanchez, though, as they gave up both Jeff Suppan and Scott Sauerbeck for him. It might be a good plot for your next movie.

 Q:  Matt from Pittsburgh asks:
How do you see Bobby Hill fitting into the Pirates' organization long-term?

John Perrotto: I saw Bobby Hill play two games in Nashville late in the season and he looked sluggish. It seems to me Freddy Sanchez rates the edge over Hill for the starting second baseman's job going into spring training. A lot of scouts I talk to believe Hill is overestimated.

 Q:  Randy from Germantown asks:
What's your take on C Steve Lerud? The Bucs have a solid supply of catchers with Doumit, House, Cota and Paulino. Where does he rank, strictly on potential since he hasn't suited up yet, with those guys?

John Perrotto: Randy: The Pirates really like Lerud's power potential. He didn't play in the Gulf Coast League much because of injury but he could quickly emerge as a top prospect next season.

 Q:  Dave S from Pittsburgh asks:
Ian Oquendo is younger, and has a better overall stuff, and has pu up better numbers then Sean Burnett and John Vanbenscotten. Why dosn't he get the respect her deserves?

John Perrotto: I think Oquendo is starting to gain respect as he has been on the Pirates' Top 10 the past two seasons. Even though he is ranked behind VanBenschoten and Burnett, he isn't THAT far behind them. I expect Oquendo to be a good major-league pitcher, even though there is always a bias in baseball against little right-handers.

 Q:  Stephen Zielinski from Pittsburgh, PA asks:
Making a contract offer to D. Ward, offering a pay-cut contract to Matt Stairs, signing replacement-level pitchers like Figueroa and Meadows, resigning Nunez, stiffing D’Amico, hedging their bets on their rookies, exposing their best minor league hitter to the Rule V Draft etc. — are the Pirates that clueless about what it takes to build a winning organization? Steve

John Perrotto: Stephen: The Pirates have indeed made some curious moves, especially offering Matt Stairs $75,000 less than they will pay Salomon Torres next season. Obviously, the Pirates' decision-makers are hamstrung by a lack of financial committment from ownership but they also have to be called into question for some of their moves so far this winter.

 Q:  Jeff from Los Altos, CA asks:
Paul Maholm had a very good start to his minor league career. I haven't had the chance to see him pitch yet. What major league pitcher reminds you of Maholm and how high is his ceiling?

John Perrotto: I did have a chance to see Maholm make his pro debut this year and he reminds me a little of Tom Glavine in the fact that his stuff isn't overpowering but he really has a great idea of how to pitch. Now, I'm not saying he will win 200 games but he was impressive.

 Q:  Mike from San Diego asks:
What do you see for J.J. Davis in 2004 and beyond?

John Perrotto: I see Davis platooning in right field in 2004, playing mainly against left-handers as he gets his feet wet. He is out of option, so he'll be on the club. Davis has made made tremendous strides the last two years and I think he's going to be a good big-leaguer.

 Q:  Mike from Orrville, OH asks:
John, Last year, Jose Castillo was the #4 prospect. He hit nearly .290 this year, but fell completely off the list. Can you tell me why? I realize the Pirates brought in some talent, but I would rather have Castillo than Stewart. Is there something we don't know?

John Perrotto: It's a combination of factors. While Castillo hit .290, it was a pretty soft .290. Furthermore, some other prospects in the organization moved ahead of him. Beyond that, the Pirates brought in guys like Bay, Sanchez and Stewart, who, in the estmiation of myself and others, are better. Castillo is a still a good young player and could very well move back into the top 10 next year.

 Q:  Ron from Evans City, PA from Annandale, VA asks:
Why did the Pirates draft Taber Lee two years ago? He seems to have an upside of being a utility infielder or a plus defensive shortstop but with no plusses on offense. For a team like the Bucs why spend $500,000 in bonus money on him? Please tell me I'm wrong and he has great potential!

John Perrotto: I could disagree with you but I'd by lying, Ron. I didn't get the Pirates drafting Taber Lee in the third round either. He is a good defensive infielder and can run. However, it doesn't look like he is going to hit enough to be a major-league regular.

 Q:  Paul Colbert from Bandon OR asks:
Do the Pirates regret trading Kody Kirkland, Roberto Novoa and Adrian Burnside to the Tigers for Randall "Sausage" Simon? All three seemed to have decent years in 03, especially Kirkland.

John Perrotto: If Kirkland become a good major-league player then the Pirates will definitely live to regret the Simon deal. However, I don't think Novoa and Burnside were great losses.

 Q:  Jeff from State College, PA asks:
John, I love your writing in the Times, keep it up - you are the best. Secondly, what are your impressions of Cory Stewart and Jason Bay? Can Stewart be a #2 or #3 starter? Can Bay fill in most of the gap Giles left. I know some teams gave up on Bay, but numbers don't lie and he was putting up some nice ones at AAA this year.

John Perrotto: Jeff: Thanks for the kind words. Want to be my agent? Seriously, I haven't seen Stewart but I hear good things from scouts. I could see him as a No. 2. I think Jason Bay is going to be a good major-league player. He won't be Brian Giles _ then again, who would? _ but he could be an above average guy for many years.

 Q:  Gene from Robinson Twp. asks:
JP, What's your take on the Bucs' #7 prospect 2B Freddy Sanchez? He's hit for HIGH average in the Boston system and his adjusted OPS is quite good for a middle infielder. Do you see him as the Bucs opening day second bagger? Thanks!!

John Perrotto: I think Sanchez will be a good major-league hitter with a high average. I don't see him being a star but certainly a solid player.

 Q:  Bob from Phoenix asks:
Has Tony Alvarez still in the Pirates plans? He was a top 10 guy last year but looks like he's been passed over.

John Perrotto: Alvarez has hurt himself with some off-field episodes and attitude issues. He has talent but he isn't quick enough to play center and doesn't have enough power to play left or right. To me, he's a fourth or fifth outfielder in the big leagues.

 Q:  Joe from NY asks:
Assuming Doumit begins in Double A, does JR House start at AAA. It was exciting to see House perform well at the end of the year and in the AFL. Can he continue?

John Perrotto: The Pirates will likely have House rotate between catcher, first base and left field next season as they don't believe he is good enough defensively to be a starting major-league catcher.

 Q:  Jason from Great Falls, MT asks:
Is there upside in the outfielders in Hickory and W-port (Kingsbury, Boeve, Bocchino)?

John Perrotto: The guy I really like is Williamsport's Nyjer Morgan. He can put the bat on the ball and fly and also is developing patience. He's a little older, so he'll have to move quickly but keep an eye on him.

 Q:  CBlake from Springer, NM asks:
Which of the Pirates pitching prospects do you see in the Pittsburgh starting rotation in 2005?

John Perrotto: I certainly think VanBenschoten, Burnett, Oquendo and Stewart could all be ready in '05.

 Q:  Joe from Boston asks:
Where did Bullington rank on the top 10? When will he be ready for the Majors?? Should it be soon, due to the fact that he pitched in college and is more mature now??

John Perrotto: Bullington did well at low Class A Hickory in his debut last year then struggled some at high Class A Lynchburg. He is a bright guy with a good arm and I think he has a very good future.

 Q:  Bryan from Middletown, NJ asks:
Between Vic Buttler and Nate McLouth, which one looks like the more likely to make any kind of impact on the MLB level? Do they both have a shot? What type of players do they project to be?

John Perrotto: McLouth did very well in his second go-round at hi A Lynchburg this year. I'd put him ahead of Buttler in the pecking order. McLouth could emerge as a leadoff-hitting center fielder in the major leagues. At worst, I see him as a solid reserve.

 Q:  Greg from Phoenix asks:
Hi John: What is your take on the losses of Duaner Sanchez and Walter Young? I mean I understand that Littlefield felt that Sanchez wasn't going to make the Bucs out of Spring Training so they waived him now in order to clear a much-needed roster spot for someone else. However, I don't understand losing real prospects in order to protect a utility player like Abraham Nunez. I just remember Walter Young being really impressive early in Spring Training last season before being sent back down to the minors. Am I overreacting? I know that Littlefield is supposed to be a smart baseball guy, but I'm not getting some of these moves. I have no problem with trading Suppan for Sanchez, but to trade Ramirez (despite his backage) for what ultimately turned out to be Bobby Hill (who I believe is already six months older than Ramirez), is just awful, even as a salary dump trade. I would appreciate your thoughts. Keep up the good work and happy holidays to you and your family! Thanks.

John Perrotto: I think Sanchez regressed but I also think Young could be a big-time home run hitter. Sorry, I have to close hear becuase of a family matter. Thanks for all the questions and you can also e-mail me at perrotto@timesnet.net

Moderator: We thank John for taking some time out of his busy schedule to talk Pirates. Will Lingo will hit the chat room tomorrow to discuss the Cardinals Top 10.