On a serious note, thanks to all of you who stopped by to say hello at PirateFest over the weekend. I thoroughly enjoy meeting readers in person, and PirateFest is one of the best opportunities to do so. I apologize for being under the weather and for the fact that the illness stripped me of my voice by the end of Saturday. I'm still searching for it, as a matter of fact.
Anyway, we have just two more weeks, folks, until Spring Training opens. Keep your submissions coming so we can tackle a few more topics before pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 17.
It doesn't seem D.J. Carrasco was in his last year of arbitration when the White Sox non-tendered him. If that's true (and assuming he gets added to the roster), did the Pirates inherit whatever arbitration years he has left and, therefore, have him under control for next year, too? That could mean both Octavio Dotel and Carrasco might not be just one-year guys, right?
-- Dave H., Menifee, Calif.
Carrasco was actually entering his first year of arbitration this winter when Chicago opted not to offer the right-hander a contract for 2010. So, yes, even if Carrasco makes the Pirates' roster out of Spring Training and remains on it for the entire season, he'd have two more years of arbitration eligibility still left.
Based on his credentials, Carrasco has to be seen as the likeliest of all the non-roster relievers to dent the Opening Day roster. And if he proves to be an asset in the 'pen this season, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Pirates tender him a contract next winter. Carrasco is set to make $950,000 if he's in the big leagues all year, meaning that even an increase from that number wouldn't be excessive (even for a middle reliever) if the results are there.
How do you feel about the competition for the remaining bench spot? I don't know if I feel comfortable giving John Raynor a spot on the roster. It would cost the Pirates $25,000 total, but I think it would be better giving the spot to Delwyn Young or Brandon Moss. What are your thoughts?
-- Derek S., Bradford, Pa.
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First off, Raynor is going to have to earn that bench spot. It's not going to be handed to him in the same way as some of the club's recent Rule 5 pitchers, who have had more wiggle room. That's because it's much more constraining to have a position player that's not ready for the Majors on the roster than it is a reliever.
Be sure that general manager Neal Huntington and manager John Russell will strongly consider upside, though, when making this decision. With Raynor, the Pirates have a 25-year-old outfielder with above-average athleticism and game-changing speed. He struggled a bit in his first season at Triple-A in 2009, but Raynor's previous three Minor League seasons produced intriguing results. In other words, there is potential upside, and because of that, Raynor will get a close look.
Young or Moss could very well win out that final bench spot, but to do so, they will have to prove more than they did in '09. Moss was given the chance to take the reins in right field last year and flopped. He never found consistency with his swing, and with the organization's outfield depth, his window of opportunity looks to be rapidly shutting.
Young proved that he can be a pinch-hitting asset, but the long-term issue is that there's really no position for him. He wasn't able to show enough defensively at second, and the Pirates don't really have a need for him as an outfielder. As a result, it might be worth taking the chance that Raynor pans out than to keep someone with a future in Pittsburgh that includes nothing more than a bench role.
I really like what I've seen and heard so far from Jeff Clement. We need another left-handed hitter that can take advantage of the short right-field wall at PNC Park. As far as power, what should we expect from him in his first full season as a Major Leaguer?
-- Bryan K., Hunker, Pa.
To dig into this, let's look at some of Clement's numbers. In 219 big league at-bats with Seattle, Clement went deep seven times. That's a rate of once every 31 at-bats. However, there seem to be many reasons why that frequency is bound to improve.
For one, Clement is getting a more favorable park in Pittsburgh than he had in Seattle, where it was 326 feet to the right-field foul pole and 386 feet to the right-field power alley in Safeco Field. At PNC Park, those dimensions are 320 and 375, respectively. Also, it's unfair to read too much into Clement's numbers with the Mariners because of the small sample space and absence of consistent playing time.
Clement showed plenty of power in the Minors, including 21 homers in 119 games last year at the Triple-A level. The power is obviously there and coupled with a home ballpark that is designed especially well for left-handed hitters, there's no reason why you can't expect a 20-homer season from Clement if he sticks as the team's everyday first baseman this year. The last part of that assertion is the key. Remember, Clement first has to get a stranglehold on the starting spot and maintain that.
Does Donald Veal have a shot of making the rotation out of Spring Training? If so, what kind of impact do you think he will have?
-- Paul L., Fall River, Mass.
No, Veal is not going to be in the Pirates' rotation this season. Now that the Pirates have gotten Veal through his year as a Rule 5 guy, they can take a step back in his development. The plan is to develop him as a starter moving forward, and he'll begin that by taking his place in the Triple-A rotation this season. The Pirates' improved starting depth at the Major League level allows the organization to take more time with Veal, who hasn't been a starter above the Double-A level.
Jenifer, what happened with the Indian-born pitchers the Pirates were trying out?
-- Steve D., Curwensville, Pa.
Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel weren't exactly "trying out" last year since they had been signed by the organization. But in many ways, 2009 was a huge first test for the two. Singh pitched 12 1/3 innings in the Gulf Coast League and Patel threw 6 1/3. After spending much of the offseason back in India, the two Indian pitchers are preparing for another year with the organization.
Still -- and this is worth reiterating -- it remains a long shot that either Singh or Patel ever make it to the Majors. There's certainly a chance given the raw talent the two showed in winning the Million Dollar Arm contest back in 2008. But by no means is it expected, or even likely. For now, the focus remains on basic development.
We all know about a starting outfield of Lastings Milledge in left, Andrew McCutchen in center and Garrett Jones in right. If Clement isn't ready to play first base by Opening Day and Jones moves to first, how will the outfield shape up?
-- Bob, Bellefonte, Pa.
That's an easy one, Bob. The Pirates' contingency plan if the Clement-playing-first experiment does not pan out is to shift Jones to first and start Ryan Church in right. The Pirates' decision to sign Church, who has everyday playing experience, was largely dictated by the need to have such a Plan B.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.