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View From The Crow’s Nest

Pirates GM Neal Huntington was obviously pleased to sign his two top draft picks—pitcher Gerrit Cole and outfielder Josh Bell—but he’s disgusted with agents advising their clients to wait until the midnight deadline on August 15 before signing.

 “When we draft a player we know what our bottom line number is going to be. We don’t need to sit around for 10 weeks,” he said. “The whole dance between draft day and August 15th is silly. It’s not a good system right now and hopefully the signing deadline will move at some point because it’s not working for anybody right now in terms of getting these guys out and playing and getting them to the big leagues as quickly as possible.”

The landscape in the N.L. Central could change significantly if free agents-to-be Albert Pujols of the Cardinals and Prince Fielder of the Brewers both sign elsewhere. In the Milwaukee line-up, Ryan Braun does more damage against the Pirates than Fielder, but Pittsburgh pitchers have had to face Pujols way too often in each of his 11 years in the major leagues — and he kills them every year. In 168 games against the Pirates, the Cardinals slugger has a .367 average, with 47 homers and 141 RBI. His on base percentage is .453 and his slugging percentage is .683. Fielder has only hit .269 against Pittsburgh, but his 24 homers off Pirates pitching is the highest total against any one club.

When Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton struggled last year there were whispers that he wasn’t tough enough to succeed in the majors. Such talk has dissipated because he’s has had a much better season in 2011, but it still bothers him a little bit. “If you get good results it’s like: ‘Look how calm he is on the mound. Look how mild mannered he is in the dugout. Look how calm everything seems to be,’” Morton said. “If you’re not doing well, it’s like: ‘Look how calm he is. He doesn’t care. He’s not motivated.’ Me being motivated or being competitive was never an issue in my mind. If you’re not competing against me, there’s no reason for me to prove to you how competitive I am.”

The version of the Pirates’ outfield that has Alex Presley in left, Andrew McCutchen in center and Jose Tabata in right is intriguing. There’s not a ton of power there, but all three have the speed to make things happen at the top of the batting order and cover a great deal of ground in the outfield. In fact, manager Clint Hurdle called it an outfield with “top-shelf range” and said: “If the ball goes up in the air with a hump in it, we’ve got a good chance for it to end up in a glove.” It’s too early to tell if Presley will hit well in the big leagues over an extended period, but McCutchen is already All-Star caliber and there are plenty of scouts who swear that Tabata’s home run power is still coming.

How to make an offensively-challenged team jealous: On the same weekend the Pirates were swept in a three-game series at Milwaukee last month—scoring a total of three runs in the process—Cincinnati’s Miguel Cairo and Ryan Hanigan each hit two homeruns, and the Reds blasted a total of seven in a single game, a 13-1 victory over San Diego. Then on August 25, Robinson Cano, Russell Martin and Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees each smacked a grand slam during a 22-9 triumph over Oakland, as the Yanks became the first and only major league team to hit three grand slams in one game.  

The Pirates had 13 official rookies on the major league roster at some point in 2011: middle infielders Josh Rodriguez, Pedro Ciriaco, Josh Harrison and Chase d’Arnaud, catchers Wyatt Toregas, Dusty Brown, Eric Fryer and Mike McKenry, outfielder Alex Presley and pitchers Aaron Thompson, Daniel Moskos, Michael Crotta and Tony Watson. Eight—Rodriguez, Harrison, d’Arnaud, Fryer, Thompson, Moskos, Crotta and Watson—made their major league debuts this season. A few more will likely join the rookie parade this month.

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