Friday, February 25, 2011

Will blue collar workers be in the green?

Anytime you use the term "green" nowadays, people automatically think it's going to be about the environment. This post is not about that.

Rather, it's a post about a discussion that DB~ and I have periodically. As a teacher, DB~ talks with other teachers and parents of her kids about what kids do after high school. There is now a school of thought, which DB~ is warming up to, that says that kids should be directed into trade schools or 2-year schools to get skills in blue collar jobs.

There are predicted shortages, both in Pittsburgh and nationwide, in the blue collar fields like plumbing, HVAC repair, masonry, and welding to name just a few. As the workers in these fields age and get closer to retirement, there is not a backlog of young people ready to take all these jobs because the common perception is that type of work is "not working to your fullest capabilities."

I couldn't disagree more with that idea. These types of jobs are vitally important, not only in our day-to-day lives (your ceiling is leaking because a pipe froze while you were on vacation, but your normal plumber has too much of a workload) but also in advancing our region and nation further into the future.

However, the part I struggle with is that it is almost posed as if ALL kids should be going to trade schools instead of going to college. The theory presented to The Squiggle is that colleges are flooded with kids who simply shouldn't be there scholastically. They are there because that is what is expected of them by their parents or society, but in reality they can't hack it. But they'll stay there for a few years, drive their parents or themselves deep into debt, then come out with no useable skills.

In the meantime, that kid could have been going to a trade school or a tech school to learn a useable trade and make a very competitive wage in the real world.

I'm not saying that the next Will Hunting should be thrilled with doing construction work instead of pursuing the Fields Medal in advanced mathematics. I'm simply saying that there is value and pride in doing jobs that are "blue collar". Most of those jobs pay equivalent to or greater than jobs that require college degrees, too.

So take a look at your kid (boy or girl) or niece or nephew next time and really think to yourself "Am I pushing him into college when maybe he should go to trade school?" It's a discussion that I've already had with my own nephew who is 17.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Buffalo Chicken Nachos - thanks to my sister

Within my post about Le Cordon Bleu, I mentioned how great of a chef my sister is (and my brother-in-law, too). Yesterday, DB~ and I went over to my sister's house for my nephew's birthday dinner. We were greeted by two things: 1) My dad grabbing The Squiggle and taking her out to his car to fix his Bluetooth and 2) these gorgeously presented Buffalo Chicken Nachos.

I've made some kick-ass nachos in my day, but the level of preparation and presentation was restaurant quality. My sister made some chicken with Quaker Steak and Lube sauce (and then topped it was Tabasco hot sauce). She placed the chicken on top of the nachos, added blue cheese crumbles, diced celery, and a few strands of cheddar cheese for color.

Then she finished it off by taking a butane torch to the whole plate to slightly melt the cheese and give the slightest char to the chips themselves.

This is to say nothing of the wonderfully tender pot roast with fingerling potatoes and carrots. Oh, and then she made her own puff pastries from scratch and topped them with vanilla ice cream and melted dark chocolate. Good Sunday meal. Thanks, DB Sister.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Everybody probably has a friend like this...a guy who's always doing a million things and is impossible to meet up with, but when you do it's worth it because he's funny and interesting. Well, my friend that is like that emailed me last week about going to dinner tonight (Tuesday) and asked if I would like to go to BRGR in East Liberty. Since DB~ and I tried to go there a couple of months ago on a Saturday night, but the wait was 2 hours, I said "Sure, let's do it" and thought it would be a perfect night to scope it out.

Mostly I wanted to see how it compared to my restaurant-crush of Burgatory. Let me give you the executive summary on this one -- if this were a boxing match, Burgatory would have won this one by a technical knockout.

Nearly all of my restaurant reviews on this site involve me and DB~ or the two of us with some "side dishes" like her sister or my friends or our respective parents. But for a long time, it's involved DB~ in some sort of capacity. Well this trip was just me and my buddy, who also happened to be the person I last went to and reviewed a restaurant without DB~.

This friend of mine is my oldest friend -- I've known him since 4th grade and we went to college together. So I know him well. He's habitually late and I'm habitually early. This collided tonight when he was 30 minutes late and I was 10 minutes early. BRGR's effeminate host informed me that when my "entire party" was present, I could be seated. Look....I understand that on a Friday or Saturday night and you don't want to tie up a table, but this was a cold Tuesday in February in a half-filled restaurant. So I had the pleasure of standing and watching the video slideshow that they project onto one of the walls on a continuous loop. It's basically a food porn Powerpoint, but with random scenes of Dust Bowl/Tom Joad-esque people, dilapidated buildings, and rusted out cars. I have no idea what theme or demographic they were going for here.

Also, between the host, the bartender, and some of the servers there were a huge quantity of bushy, unkempt beards in BRGR. Between here, Whole Foods down the street, and Borders across the street, there's no need for Gilette or Bic to even send a delivery truck to this part of the city.

When we sat down to eat, I instantly started comparing the menu to BRGR. BRGR has some great gourmet burgers, like a burger with braised short ribs, but they lack the "custom creation" aspect of the menu that wowed me at Burgatory. I went with a Shrimp Po'Boy burger, which is a fried shrimp patty with argula, tomato, and a cajun remoulade sauce on a brioche bun. It was very good, but not stunning. Everything was a la carte, so my friend and I split a side of fries for $4 extra (they're big enough to split for 2 people).

I also got a milkshake to try, but here at BRGR they are just plain vanilla or chocolate or espresso flavored milkshake. No S'mores milkshakes that make you want to take your shirt and slather the milkshake on your chest hair so you can savor it later. And at BRGR it was $5 for a good-not-great milkshake.

I liked BRGR, but I won't rush back. It was more expensive and more high-falutin' than Burgatory and frankly, it just didn't taste as good.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Legume - Valentine's dinner with DB~

Trying to surprise DB~ is a herculean task at times. She always wants to open a gift early on Christmas. When you tell her you have a surprise for her, she will badger you relentlessly for a hint. And when you give her that hint, she will Google research the crap out of that clue until she "wins". (You can't win Valentine's Day. Shut up, I win.)

Every 3 months, as the seasons change, we make a list of restaurants that we want to try in Pittsburgh. I told her that for Valentine's Day this year, I would surprise her with a restaurant that was not on our wish list. I was debating between Bona Terra in Sharpsburg and Legume in Regent Square. I've been wanting to try Legume for a while, so I called them for reservations and got a 6:30 on Saturday night.

So once I told DB~ about surprising her, she asked for a hint and I gave her two: It was close to her aunt's house and it was BYOB. She incorrectly guessed Cafe Zinho and then 10 minutes later she Googled, using 3 different sites, the Legume website for me to see. Ridiculous.

Legume is owned by Trevett and Sara Hooper and for the next 2-3 months is located on South Braddock Avenue in Regent Square. I say that because in April or May they will be moving to a bigger location in Oakland near North Craig Street. So on Saturday we got to enjoy the original, smaller version of Legume (the new one will have a full bar -- this version is BYOB).

Because Legume is small, maybe only 12-15 tables total, the menu is small. They specialize in the freshest ingredients, sometimes directly from local farms, and organic healthy dishes. Each night the menu changes and that night's menu is posted at 5 pm online. Last night there were 4 entrees to choose from: a fish dish featuring fluke with avacados and beans and lemon, a scallops dish, something called sweet potato sformato, and a bavette steak.

DB~ chose the fluke, totally by choice and not by chance, and I went with the sweet potato sformato solely because I had never heard of it. Sformato is the combination of sweet potato puree and custard into a flan-like cylinder. It was served with a potato pancake of sorts called farro, which made me think of the card game that was played in the movie Tombstone. It was fantastic and may be something that I try to reverse engineer at some point. DB~'s fluke was very tasty, as well. It was light and flaky with the perfect groupings of seasonings.

To start the meal, I had a fantastic cream of parsnip and apple soup infused with bacon. It was perfectly smooth, with no stray lumps or texture out of place. For dessert, we shared a chocolate truffle cake topped with fresh cream whipped by hand. And by shared, I mean that DB~ contemplated stabbing me in the hand with her fork so that I would be distracted and she could eat the whole truffle cake.

If you're thinking of going to Legume, I recommend going now. We both think that it may lose something in the translation to a bigger space. Will they still have the limited menu? Will it be too big? Here's hoping it is a success.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ranking the Farm Systems - 2011

Last year I ranked all 30 farm systems and explained my criteria in doing so. Aside from my stunningly wrong Royals writeup, I feel like the rankings were pretty fairly done.

If you didn't click the link above, here's my basic feelings on ranking farms:
When I rank prospects and, by extension, farm systems I go by a 60% performance/40% potential. You can draft all the 18 year olds and sign 16 year old Latinos, but eventually they need to learn how to hit a curveball or throw a good changeup.

I believe that having talent in the upper minors (AAA and AA) bears more weight than what a rookie does in short season or low A. You need to have prospects at the key positions of C, SS, and CF. You need good strike zone discipline, both your K rate and BB rate, for a batter. You need to miss bats as a pitcher. And you need to be age appropriate.

A farm system should either help supply the ML team with cost-controlled talent or provide the GM with adequate chips to make trades at the ML level.

Keep in mind that these rankings are based only off of the Baseball America Top 10's for each team. So with no further delay, let's go in reverse order to properly build the suspense.

30. Mets - The Mets have 5 internationally signed players in their Top 10, and some are not very spectacular, so that shows how poor their June drafts have been. If a player like Brad Holt is your #10 (and I like him if he were a reliever, not a starter) you have some real problems. I see a lot of internationals with no plate discipline and players that will be on the corners in the OF. There's middle of the rotation pitchers (MORS) and a so-so 2B (Havens).

29. White Sox - The only reason the White Sox are not on the bottom of the list is Chris Sale. I feel both of these Top 10's equally suck and Sale is the only potential star of the bunch. There's a lot of present-day relievers in the Top 10, which is never a good sign, followed by guys coming off major injuries (Mitchell) and players that don't have enough power for their positions (Morel at 3B, for example). Kenny Williams' relentless trading has ravaged this system.

28. Orioles - The O's have graduated a ton of key players to the majors in the past 2 years (Weiters, Matusz, Tillman, for example) but haven't replenished the system very well in that timeframe. Manny Machado is their #1 and I feel that all the same things said about Tim Beckham at draft time in 2008 are being said of Machado. I like Britton at #2, but after that things fall way off the cliff. The #6 and #8 guys (Pelzer and Adams) were left exposed and unclaimed in the Rule 5 draft, so that may tell you some things. There are a ton of middle infielders who have no stick in this Top 10. Matt Hobgood, a 2009 1st rounder, didn't make this Top 10....all aboard, next stop Bustville!

27. Marlins - Like the O's, the Marlins have graduated some talent to the majors in recent years (Stanton, Morrison, Sanchez) and that has depleted the system. I feel like their system doesn't crater as badly after their top 2 guys, although it is not great overall. Lot of 2010 draft picks here and/or guys that didn't play much in a full season league yet.

26. Brewers - The Brewers burned their system to the ground in 2010. First Dylan Covey, their 1st round pick in 2010, was diagnosed with diabetes after draft day. He decided to not sign in order to go to college and learn to live with it. Then in December, the Brewers traded Cain, Jeffress, and Odorizzi (and young SS Escobar) to the Royals for Greinke. In the knee-jerk-reaction time after the trade, many nationals said the Brewers had the worst farm system as a result. I still think Rogers, Scarpetta, and Peralta are a decent 1-2-3 and there should be 2 useable starters out of that trio. The Brewers haven't drafted well in recent years and it is catching up to them on the farm.

25. Astros - This is a very young system, as 7 of the Top 10 were either signed in 2009 or 2010. But Jordan Lyles should be a steady #2 or #3 for the Astros as soon as June 2011. I really like Villar, who they obtained from the Phillies in the Oswalt deal. In addition to Villar, they also have DeShields and Mier at SS, as well. Bushue and Foltyniewicz are interesting enough to give the Astros an extra spot or two on these rankings.

24. Tigers - The Tigers, like the Astros, seem to have set up permanent camp in the bottom third of the farm system rankings. This system does have Jacob Turner, though, and 2010 draft bonus baby Nick Castellanos ($3.5M). The Tigers tried to replenish in the 2010 draft with Castellanos, Ruffin, and Smyly. There are still some future relievers in the Top 10. Crosby would give this system an upward tick if he would ever be healthy for a full season.

23. Red Sox - As with the Cubs, what you see on Baseball America is not what you get. The Red Sox traded Kelly, Rizzo, and Fuentes to the Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. What was left is an uninspiring collection of #3's and #4's, an interesting SS (Iglesias) and some 4th OF'ers like Reddick. The Sox always draft well, though, so don't be surprised to see them move back up next year.

22. A's - Even though Grant Green may not stick at SS long term, his bat will play at 2B, even accounting for his Cal League-inflated numbers in 2010. Carter and Choice are nice power bats and there are enough MORS coursing through this Top 10. Beware the allure of high-priced international pitchers, as Michel Ynoa has been constantly injured and nowhere near this Top 10.

21. Cubs - Keep in mind that what you see on the BA list isn't the true Cubs Top 10 anymore. When the Cubs got Garza they traded Archer (#1), Lee (#4), and Guyer (#10) in the deal. Jackson and McNutt are still interesting, though. They have some guys that will contribute to the ML team in 2011.

20. Diamondbacks - The D-backs had a very young, unproven system last year, which led me to rank them #30. Well, in 2010, some of those guys stepped forth and showed that even though they have flaws, they may be able to get this farm moving. Jarrod Parker is back and should be healthy in 2011. As for the guys who boosted their stock, Matt Davidson jumped ahead of draft mate Bobby Borchering on the depth chart. Marc Krauss hit a ton of HR's. Tyler Skaggs and Pat Corbin came over in the Dan Haren trade. With the #3 pick and the #7 pick in the 2011 draft (for failing to sign Loux), the Diamondbacks are my pick to improve their ranking the most by this time next year.

19. Cards - Shelby Miller had a huge 2010 and established himself on the short list of top pitching prospects. The Cards also reloaded through the June draft and international front in 2010, with Cox and Jenkins from the States and Martinez internationally. All 4 of these guys are high end potential players. There's still a few too many #4 and #5 starters on this list.

18. Giants - After graduating Posey and Bumgarner (plus Thomas Neal coming back to earth in AA), the Giants take a little hit. Brandon Belt seems to be a found diamond and Zack Wheeler is still a quality young pitcher, but the real interesting guy to me is Peguero at #4. He refuses to take a walk, but you don't see a lot of guys with 19 2B's, 16 3B's, 10 HR's and 40 SB's in the minors.

17. Angels - Mike Trout is an absolute stud waiting his turn to patrol CF for the Angels. He may see the majors in September 2011, but he should be good to go in 2012. I love Segura at 2B with the same type of stat line that Peguero from the Giants put up, but with a touch more BB. Speaking of walks, if Fabio Martinez ever controls them on the mound, he will be a beastmaster too.

16. Padres - Thanks to the Adrian Gonzalez trade with Boston, the Padres re-stocked a farm system in desperate need of a talent infusion. Like the Brewers, the Padres were scorned by their 1st round pick in 2010, but it wasn't for medical reasons. Karsten Whitson simply didn't sign, which was a huge gaffe for the front office. But Kelly, Rizzo, and Fuentes from the Red Sox help augment the talent base of Simon Castro, Drew Cumberland, and Jason Hagerty. I still think Tate is a bust, the same as I said when he was drafted, and that Jaff Decker is a fire plug.

15. Mariners - Ackley, Pineda, and Franklin are a heck of a 1-2-3. The Mariners then added #4 prospect Tijuan Walker in the 2010 draft, a lively armed HS pitcher. It wouldn't be a Mariners Top 10 without a huge influx of internationals, but most of the ones on this list were obtained via trades. Chavez had a huge year at the plate, but remember the Cal League does crazy things, especially the M's home park of High Desert. Very solid system that should produce some players in 2011.

14. Dodgers - The Dodgers had an interesting year in the minors. They had some huge surprises (Sands and de la Rosa), some disappointments (Withrow, Martin), and a big surprise on draft deadline day when the signed the once-thought-unsignable Zach Lee. I think Webster and Robinson are too low at their current spots (#5 and #10). Dee Gordon keeps chugging along at #1 until someone reminds him that he is 5'-11" and 150 lbs.

13. Pirates - The Pirates graduated Alvarez, Lincoln, and Tabata from last year Top 10, but reloaded with Taillon and Allie in the draft. Owens, Locke, and Morris (along with Justin Wilson) formed a great rotation at AA that should carry forth to AAA in 2011, even if all 4 don't start there right away. With Anthony Rendon the presumed pick at 1-1 in 2011 and no major promotions from the farm, this should be a Top 10 system by national standards next year.

12. Twins - I've resigned myself to the fact that the Twins will always have a boring farm system. But they get results at the majors and that's all that matters. The Twins do have some interesting internationals in Sano, Kepler, and Arcia, but right now the system is led by Hicks (underachiever) and Gibson.

11. Reds - When you have a guy at your #1 spot that threw a fastball at 105 mph in the majors, that helps the ol' ranking. The Reds follow that up with Hamilton at #2 with his 48 SB's in short-season ball and breakout player Devin Mesoraco at catcher at #3. After that, the Reds have a ton of internationals with poor K/BB walks and some so-so pitchers, but it's these 3 that are controlling my ranking.

10. Nationals - Last year the Nats Top 10 was Strasburg, Norris, and bust. This year, one phenom was replaced with another phenom in Harper. Norris is still here after fighting through an injury plagued year, but now the Nats have Espinosa showing serious power and ready to play 2B in the majors. They also added Solis and Cole from the 2010 draft. Wilson Ramos was obtained in the Matt Capps trade with the Twins, so the Nats have definitely deepened things up.

9. Rockies - The Rockies always seem to have a vibrant system that never gets too high or too low in the rankings. Matzek has the #1 spot on lockdown for the time being, but behind him is Wilin Rosario at catcher and Arenado at 3B showing good power. The Rox added Tago, Parker, and Bettis in the 2010 draft and always have 1 or 2 toolsy internationals floating around the mix.

8. Indians - The Tribe is in full rebuild mode. They have populated this year's Top 10 with trade acquistions from the last 2 years (Knapp and Hagadone, plus the since-graduated Santana) and some solid, if unspectacular, draft picks in Chisenhall, White, and Kipnis. I'll be curious to see how Pomeranz does, as he was someone I thought the Pirates may have taken in 2010.

7. Blue Jays - In his short time on the job, GM Alex Anthopolous has rebuilt much of the farm's scorched earth left behind by JP Riccardi. He obtained Kyle Drabek and Travis d'Arnaud in the Halladay trade. He traded for Anthony Gose with HOU after they obtained him in the Oswalt trade. He got Lawrie in the offseason's trade for Shawn Marcum. And he's done a pretty good job himself in the drafts it seems.

6. Rangers - The Rangers graduated some talent in recent years, but they also traded some away during their playoff run. Gone are Smoak and Beavan. The frustrating Michael Main is with the Giants now. The Rangers reloaded a bit in the 2010 draft, but they still have Perez at #1 and the intriguing Profar at #2. This may be a touch high for them, but I'm thinking their potential will come through big time in 2011.

5. Phillies - This Top 10 has a little bit of something for everyone. Power/speed OF? Check. (Dom Brown). Power hitting 1B/OF with plate discipline? Yep. (Jonathan Singleton). A trio of young, fireballing pitchers? Mmm hmmm (May, Cosart, Colvin). Catcher? Bingo. (Valle). Toolsy high-upside OF's? Right again. (James and Santana). If this system seasons for another year, it could be #2 next year.

4. Braves - The Braves have an enviable collection of arms in their system, headlined by the exquisite Julio Teheran. The 20 year old will split 2011 between AA and AAA most likely. He is joined on the list by high end guys like Delgado, Vizcaino (injury flag, though), and Mike Minor. The only bat of interest is Freedie Freeman, and I'm not a huge fan, but the pitching is what defines this list.

3. Yankees - It pains me to say how good the Yankees farm is, although it's not as good as John Manuel thinks by recently putting 4 Yankees in the 20 overall top prospects. But this is the land of the catchers, as Montero/Sanchez/Romine are in 3 of the 10 slots. Banuelos and a resurgent Bettances are also great options. Even Brackman is showing some signs of life.

2. Rays - Not only is the farm good now with Hellickson headlining a group that includes Jennings, Moore, and McGee, but because of all the compensation picks accrued by the Rays from free agents leaving, they will have 12 picks in the first 3 rounds. There will probably be some safe picks, but you have to think the Rays will augment their talent base tremendously come June.

1. Royals - What do you get for the system that has everything? The Royals have a #6-10 that is better than some teams #1-5. Everything went right for the Royals on the farm in 2010. Hosmer and Moustakas overcame dreadful 2009's to explode in 2010. Wil Myers dominated in 2010. Pitching was excellent thanks to Montgomery, Lamb, Duffy, and Dwyer. And then the cherry on top was the addition of Odorizzi, Cain, and Jeffress in the Greinke trade. There won't be many, if any, defections from the minors to the majors in 2011, so it wouldn't surprise me to see the Royals at #1 next year.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Burgatory - I would be fine spending eternity here

As loyal readers of this blog know, DB~ and I enjoy eating out as much as we enjoy making food here at home. We've been to a lot of restaurants that have interiors we love (Tamari) and food we love (Table Brick Oven and Bar), but I have never left a restaurant thinking "Man...I wish I thought of that concept."

Until now. I am officially jealous that I didn't come up with this idea.

DB~ heard about Burgatory from a work friend a week ago. The same day, my Dad (not on the cutting edge with technology, but is when it comes to burgers and hot dogs) also mentioned it to me. Burgatory has only been open for 2 weeks total. So me, Squiggle, and my parents went down yesterday to the Waterworks mall to check this scene out.

A few things first. Burgatory is located in the old Empress chinese restaurant space. I didn't even know the Empress closed down, let alone a new place opened up. We asked our server who owned Burgatory, as you can tell there is significant funding behind this restaurant. He said that the group that owns Fuel and Fuddle/Joe Mama's/Uncle Sam's owns this place too. Conveniently, there is an Uncle Sam's right next door to Burgatory and has been there for quite a few years.

The Empress was a very functional Chinese restaurant, sort of ahead of its time actually. However, with the rise of places like Tamari, Plum, and other sushi-based places, the Empress eventually couldn't compete. The interior was sort of bland in the Empress and relied on a lot of mirrors. Burgatory totalled gutted the interior and started over. The ceilings are exposed to the rafters and have the popular industrial look now. The walls have dark wood panel with exposed graining and a deep blood red paint on the walls. There are two sets of garage doors that will enable an open-air feel during summer time. The center of the restaurant has an extensive bar-in-the-round feel to it.

The walls also have a great graphic design to them with some tongue-in-cheek religious references like "Honor Thy Mother and Honor Thy Burger". There's also a humorous flowchart on one wall to help you decide what type of burger is best for you. The logo shown above is taken from their menu and has a "B" on fire at the bottom with a halo on top.

A lot of thought went into this concept and they took it all the way to the finish line. I commend the people behind this theme on that.

But I wouldn't be this effusive in my praise of a place if they food wasn't great, too. Squiggle and I heard their milkshakes (devilishly good burgers and heavenly milkshakes is their motto) were fantastic, so we split the S'Mores milkshake. It came out with one of the fattest marshmallows seen in captivity outside of its normal wild environs of Marshmallow Island. The ice cream had caramel, cinnamon, and some chocolate syrup in it. I wanted to take a bath in it. There are six types of "hard" milkshakes and six types of non-alcoholic milkshakes --- ours was an N/A.

There are normal menu items that you can order for burgers, in addition to a nice selection of appetizers, but the real star of the show is the Custom Creation section of the menu. They have little note pads at the table that you can go section by section to create your own burger.

First you select your patty: ground meat, chicken, crab, vegetable, sausage, or bison. My dad and I went with ground meat, DB~ with chicken, and my mom with bison.

Then you select your bun: brioche (a light in taste bun), baguette, whole wheat, focaccia, topless (only the bottom part), or full monty (no bun...a naked burger...get it?). Again, we all branched out on this one. I had brioche, my dad had baguette, DB~ had focaccia, and my mom had whole wheat.

You can also get a rub on your burger, no charge. There are six to pick from: Angel Dust (a garlic salt mix), Kona, BBQ dry rub, Kingston jerk, cracked peppercorn, and a Bayou Cajun. I had the Kona and it was awesome. Squiggle had the angel dust on her chicken. That name reminds me of PCP, though, which made me laugh.

You can get cheese for $1 and there are 8 types of cheeses to pick from ranging from standard cheddar to somewhat exotic like smoked gouda.

You can get one free sauce on your burger (I had chipotle sour cream, which was fantastic) and there are over 15 choices here.

There are no-cost toppings (lettuce, tomato, onions, jalapenos, pickles, spinach) and $1 toppings that span the spectrum from grilled onions to fried egg to grilled pineapple.

The cost can get away from you if you go crazy on toppings, but DB~ and I each made a $9 burger (hers was chicken) and our milkshake was $5.50. Our total tab was $24, with tip it was $28. That's more than you ideally spend on lunch for two, but the portions were huge enough to make it a well-priced place for dinner. Each burger is served with a blend of russet potato chips and sweet potato chips, which was a nice change of pace. Fries can be substituted for $1.

All in all...we will be back. The wait for this place is supposedly one hour for dinner on Friday and Saturday, so maybe try it for lunch first or go on a weekday night for dinner. It is well worth it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The DBS Picks for 2011 Breakouts in the Minors

Over at OnlyBucs, a poster put up a thread to ask people to name their breakout minor leaguers for the Pirates in 2011. Since this was a topic that I had in the ol' brain hopper to do here, I thought it might be a good time to put e-pen to e-paper.

Last year, I picked Diego Moreno and Brock Holt as my breakouts. Both were well on their way to making me look totally awesome, as Holt was hitting .351/.410/.438 (848 OPS) until he shredded his knee in June and was out for the rest of the year. Moreno stared at the Florida State League until it collectively realized it was a woman, by pitching 38 innings, giving up only 14 hits, walking 5, and striking out 57 (!!), thanks to a high 90's fastball. He got promoted up to Altoona and proceeded to have a bad outing in bad conditions, which then affected his demeanor. Kyle Stark put him in the time-out room and briefly demoted him back to Bradenton. So overall, they broke out, but then fizzled last year too.

This year I'm going to pick 2 players in each category because....I want to. Hopefully, it brings twice the luck as last year, with half the injuries and frustration.

For my first hitter, I'm picking David Rubinstein. Rubinstein was a 2008 11th round draft pick and has progressed very slowly to date. He spent both 2008 and 2009 in short season State College, with 2010 being spent in Low A. In 2011, he should be in High A Bradenton, but he will be 24 years old, which is 2 years too old for the level. But Rubinstein has improved each year and in 2010 put up a .289/.347/.409 (755 OPS) with some hints of speed (23 SB in 32 attempts). Basically, he's my candidate for this year's "Where the crap did he come from?" award that went to Rudy Owens (2009) and Alex Presley (2010).

My second pick is Matt Curry. Curry is a 2010 16th round draft pick that hit the ground running out of the draft at State College. He had a very impressive .299/.421/.477 (898 OPS) with 7 HR's and a walk rate of roughly 20%. Curry is stuck in the daisy chain of 1B semi-prospects that the Pirates have stacked up, though. Steve Pearce and Matt Hague are going to fight for AB's at AAA, most likely. Calvin Anderson, the weak link in the chain, will be at AA. Aaron Baker, who had an OK year in 2010, will be at A+. That leaves the 22-year old Curry to man 1B at Low A. It would nice if Curry could make the jump to A+ and do a job share somehow with Baker, but you don't see that with 16th round picks too much. They have to earn their stripes. I feel that Curry blends Hague's plate discipline with Baker's raw power.

On the mound, my first choice is a rather uninspiring one, but I'll take Tyler Waldron. Waldron was a quiet 5th round choice for the Pirates in 2010, and by that I mean with all the attention focused on the plethora of high school pitchers taken by the Pirates he sort of slid under the radar. Waldron went to the Fastball Command Academy of State College after the draft and did well. He pitched 64 innings, gave up 66 hits, walked only 11 and struck out 39 (which was low, but's primarily fastballs there). With the pileup of potential arms at Low A West Virginia in 2011, it wouldn't surprise me to see Waldron start at High A in 2011.

My boom or bust pick for a pitcher is Joely Rodriguez. Rodriguez was a 2009 Latin American free agent signed by Rene Gayo. He spent 2009 in the Dominican Summer League and then came stateside in 2010. He spent the majority of 2010 pitching in the Gulf Coast Rookie League, as an 18 year old, and had a nice line of 47 IP, 44 H, 7 BB, and 29 K's. The left hander was said to have been hitting 93 by the end of the year in the GCL and during his brief promotion to State College. He was extremely homer prone in the GCL, giving up 10 in 47 IP, and has a tough time harnessing his command. He should spend 2011 in State College, but don't be surprised if you start hearing more about him at the end of the year.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Disillusioned with Baseball America

This is a post that has been a few months in the making it seems. This time of year, many online prospecting sites start to rank the farm systems of the various teams in ML Baseball. I expected that the Pirates would be in the middle of the pack, around 14-16.

Unfortunately, Baseball America ranked them #19 and Keith Law ranked the Pirates #21. The first thing you might be thinking is "Who cares?" Well, the rankings do have some merit during trade talks as some front office folks on receiving sides may underrate the talent level of the Pirates and not find our guys desirous.

It also is just a matter of respect. I'm tired of the Pirates getting kicked around both locally and nationally. I'm tired of this stupid 18 year (and counting) losing streak hanging over this franchise like the Sword of Damacles. I'm tired of seeing comments on pages like Fangraphs and MLB Trade Rumors from other fans just degrading the Pirates over and over based on stereotypical knowledge that "the Pirates never do anything right."

The farm system and the methods taught on the farm have drastically improved under Huntington's watch. There is a system of deliberate promotions and fastball command for pitchers that does not allow for sexy stats. You would think that a national publication with many writers, such as Baseball America, would take these things into consideration.

The kicker for me was the release of the Pirates 11-31 prospects this week. It was a hodge-podge of terrible ideas and ranking methodologies. Guys with upside were left off in favor of low upside guys closer to the majors. The omissions (Cunningham, Holt, Quinton Miller) were as glaring as the inclusions (Aguero, Latimore at 21, Gorkys at 14).

It's the double standard that irks me. For years, Jim Callis has preached "you win with stars" and "I'd rather have 2-3 impact players than a bunch of depth guys". So now the Pirates procure Taillon, Allie, and Heredia within 2 months of each other and the Pirates now get the "they haven't proved anything" label tossed onto them. It's just frustration on my part more than anything.

I also feel that Baseball America's individual writers' biases are seeping into their work more often now, too. John Manuel, who will never pass up an opportunity to slam the Pirates, does the farm system analysis for the Yankees. In his personal Top 50 overall prospects, he put 4 Yankees in the Top 20 (Montero, Gary Sanchez, Bettances, Banuelos). I can see the first two, but Bettances has had injuries and 2010 was his first fully healthy and successful year. Banuelos is a 5-10" lefty who probably doesn't have the stamina necessary to stay a starter. Manuel also writes up the Twins and he habitually overrates the system in general and the players, specifically. Of course he put Aaron Hicks at #34 on his list, even though his production to this point does not warrant it.

I gave up reading Baseball Prospectus a few months ago, too. It started to turn into my college level Differential Equations math course with their never-ending quest to come up with the perfect formula for modelling a completely random game. Fangraphs can get too fanboy-ish and they stare at their own navel, so to speak, with their own internally produced stats. It's also like an echo chamber on that site where there is very little interesting opposing viewpoints.

So where do I turn now? Not sure. I'll probably go back to Baseball America, like a beaten wife going back because "it will be different this time". But I'll just be disappointed again.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Taking in a game at Consol

My friend Jim has been a season ticket holder for the Penguins for a few years now. He's a big man, at about 6'-3" and 260 lbs roughly, and used to be a recreational league ice hockey goalie. As a result, he got his seats right on the end line by the net so that he could study the Pens goalie for 2 of the 3 periods of the game. At Mellon, he was 3 rows off the glass.

This was my first game at the Consol Energy Center. DB~ and I toured it with our friends this summer, though. I was wondering how his seats would transfer to the new arena. Turns out -- exactly the same seats. It was like we never left Mellon...except it was brighter, cleaner, wider concourses, and better food. But other than -- totally the same, right down to a lot of the same people in his section.

It was like they picked the seating area up from Mellon and plopped it into Consol.

The Pens played the Islanders tonight and won 3-0. The Islanders may be my least favorite team to watch in the NHL. They have no interesting players (their version of Crosby, John Tavares, is kind of a bust to this point) and no real style to their game. It's like a team full of 3rd and 4th liners. And for the first 59 minutes and 44 seconds, this game reflected that boring, grinding type of game.

And then we got to see the hockey equivalent of stumbling upon Bigfoot making sweet love to the Loch Ness Monster....a goalie fight!

With 16 seconds left, a 5 on 5 scrum developed after pretty boy (and pretty big bust) Rick DiPietro interfered with Matt Cooke, causing Cooke to crash to the ice. The scrum ensued, but ultimate team guy Brent Johnson (playing for Fleury tonight) decided to defend his teammate. He skated to center ice and crossed it, ensuring that he would be tossed out as a goalie, whipped off his mask and motioned to "go" with DiPietro.

In my opinion, DiPietro thought they were just going to lock up and dance for a minute or so. Johnson had other ideas. His idea was to land a left hook squaw on DiPietro's jaw. He went down to the ice like a ton of bricks; in fact, Johnson held back from delivering a right overhand while DiPietro was on the ice.

The place erupted and the video replay crew showed the fight at least 3 more times, sending the crowd to a fever pitch. Johnson was tossed out and Fleury actually had to come in for 15 seconds (he stretched out and everything).

It was just an awesome sight to behold. A goalie fight. I have never seen one live and may never see one again. Unfortunately, as I was pulling my camera out to take a picture of the goalie fight, Jim knocked the camera out of my hand due to his excitement level. It crashed to the ground and may be broken. Waaa waaaa. The picture above is from my phone, which Jim did not manhandle.

PS - I had the beef brisket sandwich from the 2nd floor Smokehouse area. Pretty strong sandwich. Not as good as delicious roadside meats, but very acceptable.