Monday, December 23, 2013

Bocktown Beer and Grill

It was Saturday night and we decided to check out a holiday light show in Findlay Township, so on the way out there we stopped off for dinner at Bocktown Beer and Grill in Robinson Township.  Bocktown is located in the midst of strip mall-mania at The Pointe at Robinson.

Our car and about three thousand other cars were navigating our way through the labyrinth of shopping malls and strip malls in Robinson.  We finally got to Bocktown, across the parking lot from the Target, and were greeted with a very warm pub-ish atmosphere.  We were seated in a quasi-private backroom off of the main bar area, because the host probably thought we looked old and not in the mood for fun.

For an appetizer, we got an order of beer cheese dip, hoping to try and re-create the magic of the now-closed Ziggy's Beer Cheese Soup.  The dip was fair and came with some soft and hard pretzels for dipping purposes.

My dinner was the Geno Burger, which was a take on a burger crossed with a Rueben (the namesake being for Geno Malkin).  It was a burger with coleslaw and Russian dressing on marbled rye, then toasted.  It came with some fresh cut fries.

DB~ chose the Crab Roll and fresh cut fries.  Her crab roll was creamy and pretty middle of the road.

Overall, we liked the place.  It's kind of like a Sharp Edge, but the food quality isn't as good and the beer selection not as deep.  But other than that, it's just like it.  It's a good place to grab a beer and a sandwich if you happen to be in the area, but probably not worth going out of your way for.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Matteo's -- Lawrenceville

Sometimes, little things set me off.

Like a man riding a unicycle down Butler Street on a 20 degree day.  What a hipster d-bag.

This was what I saw on the way to a lunch with two other people from my office, courtesy of our IT consulting firm, at Matteo's in Lawrenceville.

My irritation grew when our disaffected server handed us our menus and made us (me) feel inadequate for not getting an appetizer or soup.  It's a business lunch at 12 pm on a Wednesday.

Peak irritation occurred when she read the "specials" of the day.  On the printed menu, there were probably six pasta and five sandwich choices.  She proceeded to wax poetic about (at least) five pasta dishes and three sandwiches, plus a soup.

Is this lunch sponsored by Lumosity or something?  How in the world were we expected to remember all the specials?  Oh yeah, the giant chalkboard that only half of our table could see....forty feet away from us...written in faint chalk.

So I was all set to not like this place and give a scathing, unicycle-influenced review.

But I can't.  The food was excellent.

Three people got this baked ziti-esque dish with pasta, mushrooms, sweet and hot peppers, and sausage.  It was a special, so I can't tell you exactly what it was because I didn't take my fish oil memory pills that day.

My co-worker and I got campanelle pasta in a sage-butter sauce with rapini, complemented by sweet sausage disks.  I was worried it was going to be a lumpy sauce, but it was the perfect consistency.  This was also a special, but they should bump this up to full time.

The sixth guy got a meatball sub and he seemed to enjoy it also.

The decor of Matteo's is urban chic, pretty spartan.  They have a nice size bar for being a relatively small restaurant.  The full floor to ceiling window at the front brings a lot of natural light into the place.  I've always been a fan of Piccolo Forno right up the street, but Matteo's is a place that I'll have to take DB~ too, as well.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


DB~ and I were at Phipps on Sunday to see the decorations and check out the hype of that Santa guy.

Afterwards, we took a quick jaunt over to Squirrel Hill for a midday snack at Waffallonia.  Specializing in Belgian waffles, specifically the sugary Liege waffle, we hoped to re-capture a little of the waffle magic from our Euro trip to Brussels this summer.

I had a waffle called Namur (apparently a city, but made me think of Namor the Sub-Mariner) with Nutella and banana slices ($4.50), while DB~ got a waffle with Nutella and whipped cream ($4.50).

The waffles are sugary and very good.  Unlike the waffles your parents made when you were growing up, the mix is not a liquidy mix, but rather a dough that is put on the waffle maker and then pressed hot.  The toppings are generous, but I found them to be a touch overpriced for the size -- they are slightly bigger than a man's hand.

Waffallonia is a great place to get a snack, like we did, as they aren't filling enough for a full meal.  They also have ice cream there, which wasn't appealing on a 20 degree day, but something to keep in mind for a return visit in the summer.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Every year I work with sheets of fillo dough once a year.  It's during that time that I remember how much a pain in the rear end it is to work with fillo dough and then I don't do it for another year.  Tonight was my reminder.

I wanted to make my lady friend some homemade spanakopita.  I bought a 6 oz bag of spinach leaves at the "Iggle" and ended up chopping up the whole bag.  I wilted the chopped spinach in a skillet with a splash of water drizzled over top.  I mixed in some shakes of an interesting Greek spice mix we picked up in Chicago's Greektown last year.  It has salt, pepper, Greek oregano, cayenne, and cinnamon in the blend.  Once this was drained, I mixed in some feta cheese.

Then came time to work with the fillo sheets.  You have to keep them moist or else they'll dry out and flake apart, so I covered them on a baking sheet with a moist towel.  If you hold an individual sheet up, you can practically see through it.  I think each sheet is like 8 microns in thickness (42% serious).

I kept a small saucepan of melted butter on low so that I could dip my pastry brush in it easily.  After each layer of fillo, I brushed it with butter to prevent overburning.  After about 4 layers on the bottom, I added a spoonful of the spinach-feta.  3 more layers, then more spinach-feta.  3 more layers for the top, then I folded it into a giant triangle.  I made us each one of these and the flaky delights puffed a little in the oven.

I baked them for 20 minutes at 400 degrees and served with some rice pilaf and roasted squash and parsnips.  On a night when it was 15 degrees outside, this was the perfect comfort meal.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

DBS Top 30 Prospects 2014 - #5 to #1

This is the lonely friend...the end...

Wow, another action packed Top 30 prospects in the books. This was the 5th edition on the ol' DBS blog. By far, this had the most overall talent of the editions. There were years that I was stumped to find a guy I liked enough to put #8 and this time I went an easy 15-16 spots before thinking too hard.

Here's the preceding posts:

For the top 5, I've put some projections on their ceiling and their estimated arrival time to PNC Park.

#5 Austin Meadows, OF (19), A --
Like McGuire, Meadows was a 1st round pick by the Pirates in 2013, as he was the compensation pick for the Pirates inability to sign Mark Appel.  Meadows was very highly rated and considered by many to be the premier HS bat.

Meadows has 5-tool potential in the OF, although many project him to end up more in the Jay Bruce power-hitting corner OF mold, which would be fine too.  Meadows had a very strong debut in the Rookie Gulf Coast League and cameo with Jamestown at the end of the year, hitting .316 AVG/.424 OBP/.554 SLG (997 OPS, 7 HR).

Meadows joins the Pirates enviable collection of OF talent, both in the majors and the minors.  He won’t be rushed, but he’ll probably move along quickly as his talent may eclipse the lower level pitching.
PROJECTION -- Starting corner OF.  ETA -- Mid 2017

#4 Nick Kingham, RHP (22), AAA --
Kingham is perhaps the most overlooked top prospect in the system.  He’s not flashy and gets lost in the shadow of the now-graduated Cole, the soon-to-graduate Taillon, the meteoric rise of Tyler Glasnow, and the international flair of Luis Heredia.

Kingham turned in another exceptional season in 2013 split between High A and AA.  Over 143 IP, he put up a 2.89 ERA, struck out 144, and walked only 44, while giving up just 7 HR all year.  Kingham features a 92-95 mph FB, an excellent 12-6 curveball, and a solid changeup.  Kingham is the kind of pitcher that will be a solid, yet overlooked, presence in the rotation.

His starting assignment is up in the air right now, as he only spent half of a season at AA, but he’ll most assuredly see AAA at some point in 2014 if he doesn’t start there.
PROJECTION -- Low end #2, high end #3 SP.  ETA -- Late 2014, early 2015

#3 Tyler Glasnow, RHP (20), A+ ---
Based on pure upside, Glasnow probably has just as much if not more than #1 prospect Taillon (spoiler alert), but Glasnow is further away on the development chain than Taillon, thus leading him to this spot on the list.

First things first, Glasnow is a giant.  Even among the Pirates’ starting pitching prospects (where the minimum seems to be 6’-4”), he towers over them at 6’-8”.  And he still might be growing.  Glasnow throws a 94-98 mph fastball that just overwhelmed Low A batters this year, paired with a good curveball.  His changeup, like most young pitchers, is still being refined.

Glasnow’s 2013 season produced eye-popping numbers.  In 111 IP, Glasnow had a 2.18 ERA, struck out 164, and allowed only 54 hits all year.  To put that in perspective, if Glasnow’s stats were averaged out to a 9 inning complete game, he would strike out 13 and give up 4 hits per game.  The downside is that he walked 61, but that’s a function more of just getting his gangly body to repeat his mechanics.
PROJECTION -- Low end #1, high end #2 SP.  ETA -- Mid 2016

#2 Gregory Polanco, OF (22), AAA ---
Polanco burst onto the scene in 2012 with a 910 OPS, 16 HR/40 SB season.  He continued his progression this year over two levels, with a 9 game audition in AAA as well, by hitting .285 AVG/.356 OBP/.434 SLG (791 OPS, 12 HR, 38 SB).

I like to describe Polanco as a hybrid of Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen.  He has McCutchen’s hit tool and strike zone judgement (52 BB/73 K) and Marte’s pure blazing speed and solid defensive profile.  His upside for HR is probably in the 16-20 range as he continues to fill out his 6’-4” frame.

It will be interesting to see what the Pirates do in the offseason with regards to their RF situation.  If they re-sign Byrd or some other free agent for 1 year, they may keep Polanco in AAA all year.  If they go with Tabata/Lambo/Snider, they think Polanco will be ready to debut mid-2014.
PROJECTION -- Starting OF, can play CF if needed.  ETA -- Mid 2014

#1 Jameson Taillon, RHP (22), AAA --
Talk about following a tough act.  Fellow high-end pitching prospect Gerrit Cole debuted in 2013 and was instant impact.  I’ve always felt that Cole was the better prospect, but now Taillon is going to face inevitable comparison to what Cole did.
The short story is that Cole always had the more developed arsenal of pitches, with two fastballs, a slider, changeup, and curveball.  Taillon has a power 4-seam fastball that sits 94-97, a hard sinking 2-seam fastball at 92-95, and a killer curve that will be one of the best in the majors when he arrives.  His changeup is workable, but not plus, and that may hold him back a little.  In 2013, Taillon pitched 147 IP, issued 52 walks, and struck out 143.

I’ve been comparing Taillon to another FB-CB pitcher in Pittsburgh lately, one A.J. Burnett.  One of the many reasons I would like Burnett back for one more year is for him to tutor Taillon and Cole at the major league level.  Taillon only needs a tune up and to avoid the Super 2 deadline.
PROJECTION -- High end #2, low end #1 if change develops.  ETA -- Mid 2014.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

DBS Top 30 Prospects 2014 - #10 to #6

For the top 10, I thought I would switch it up a bit. For these guys, all elite guys that were like a forgotten dialect under the Dave Littlefield regime, I'm going to put a projection and an estimated time of arrival to Pittsburgh.

And as always, check the first post for an explanation about methodology and eligibility.

Any good gunfighter names left in the Top 10?

#10 Reese McGuire, C (19), SS/A -- 
The second of two 1st round picks for the Pirates in 2013, McGuire had an excellent debut in the minors.  He spent the vast majority of his time in the Rookie Gulf Coast League, with a 4 game cameo for the short-season Jamestown Jammers in the New York-Penn League, and hit .323 AVG/.380 OBP/.380 SLG (760 OPS).

McGuire had nearly as many walks (16) as strikeouts (19), which is very encouraging for any young hitter.  His defensive work received high marks, although the scouting videos I watched pre-draft seemed to me like he is very busy behind the plate and prone to passed balls.

The Pirates have an odd logjam in the lower minors of high-end prospects at catcher.  Wyatt Mathisen had an injury-plagued year at Low A and Jin-de Jhang played primarily at short-season.  In a normal situation, I would say McGuire would be shoe-in for Low A in 2014, but it wouldn’t surprise if they kept him at extended spring training until they see if Mathisen is ready to move up to High A.
PROJECTION -- Primary starter at catcher.  ETA -- Mid 2017

#9 Tony Sanchez, C (26), AAA/MLB --
At the opposite end of the development spectrum is Tony Sanchez.  As the 2009 1st round pick out of college, it still took Sanchez four years to debut.  Part of his path was derailed by injuries, but his bat was also lagging behind.  However, in 2013 the bat caught up to his defensive reputation as Sanchez hit .282 AVG/.358 OBP/.487 SLG (845 OPS).

Sanchez’s affable nature and ability to work hard will make him a natural team leader when called upon.  I still feel that he’ll be a defense-first catcher, but I see many similarities between Sanchez and Russell Martin.  Sanchez is probably a player that will hit either 7th or 8th and get 10-12 HR with batting averages around .250 to .260.
PROJECTION -- Backup in 2014, Starter in 2015.  ETA -- Already here

#8 Luis Heredia, RHP (19), A+ --
2013 was a little bit of a lost year for Heredia (2010 International signee).  Reports were that he came into Spring Training out of shape and as a result did not debut with Low A West Virginia in late April/early May, as expected.

By the time he debuted in late June, he was still held to inning limits and only pitched 65 innings over 13 starts this year.  In those 65 innings, he put up a 3.05 ERA, struck out 55, but walked 37.
He still has the low to mid-90’s fastball, but his changeup and curveball still need refinement.  Hopefully he can come out of the gate strong and get assigned to High A Bradenton for 2014.
PROJECTION -- #3 starter, chance for a #2 if offspeed progresses.  ETA -- Mid 2016

#7 Josh Bell, OF (21), A+ --
Bell’s story is one of constantly trying to live up to hype and expectations.  His parents famously wrote every team in the 2011 Draft and said that Bell was going to college, so don’t bother drafting him.  The Pirates did anyway and convinced him at the last minute to sign for $5M and forgo college.

My personal opinion is that the Pirates viewed Bell as their chance to get a “Giancarlo Stanton” power hitting outfielder and didn’t want to pass it up.  His 2012 season was over almost before it started, as Bell tore his meniscus in May and missed the remainder of the year.  The 2013 season was encouraging to see him come back healthy and productive, but it was not a very loud season (.279 AVG/.353 OBP/.453 SLG, 806 OPS, 13 HR), causing some people to already overlook him.  He’ll move up to High A this year.

Bell is not a 5-tool OF.  He has power and should be a good switch hitter, but he won’t offer much defensively or on the basepaths.  With the glut of dynamic OF’s at the major league level and in the minors, it’s easy for me to project a position switch down the line for Bell.
PROJECTION -- Starting 1B.  ETA -- Late 2015, early 2016

#6 Alen Hanson, SS (21), AA --
Hanson and teammate Gregory Polanco exploded on the prospect scene in 2012, but while Polanco continued his ascent in 2013, Hanson had a little bit more of a muted season.  For the year, split between High A and AA, Hanson hit .274 AVG/.329 OBP/.427 SLG (756 OPS) with 8 HR and 30 SB.

Hanson has never been a particularly efficient base stealer, as he was caught 16 times this year.  The big question with Hanson is whether he has the aptitude to stay at SS, where his offensive potential would be a huge bonus.  I saw him in Altoona and came away feeling he had a good shot to stay at SS, but the jury is still largely out, mostly due to his footwork.

Hanson will return to AA to start the year and may see AAA for a cameo at the end of 2014.

PROJECTION -- Starting SS/Starting 2B.  ETA -- Mid 2015

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

DBS Top 30 Prospects 2014 -- #15 to #11

Let's keep on truckin' into the top half of this eagerly anticipated list.  As always, check out the first post for methodology and eligibility rules.

#15 Cody Dickson, LHP (22), A/A+ -- The Pirates are unbelievably rich in pitching.  Right-handed pitching.  They are severely lacking in left-handers, now that Locke and Wilson are up in majors.  Enter Cody Dickson via the 4th round of the 2013 draft.  Dickson has good velocity for a lefty and good promise on his secondary pitches.  He debuted with short-season Jamestown and had a fantastic campaign (2.37 ERA, 57 IP, 42 H, 24 BB, 59 K).  It's entirely possible that Dickson could jump West Virginia and go to Bradenton for 2014, as Adrian Sampson did this past season.  However,  Bradenton's rotation is potentially crowded, so he and Buddy Borden could be forced to pitch in Low A for the first half of the season.

#14 Buddy Borden, RHP (22), A/A+ -- Aside from being right-handed, you can pretty much take the whole writeup from Dickson above and use it for Borden.  Borden was a late signee as the Pirates were able to chase him down at the deadline when some other draftees looked like they weren't going to sign.  Borden didn't pitch as much as Dickson, but his stats were very loud (1.08 ERA, 16 IP, 10 H, 5 BB, 23 K) and his arsenal is a half-tick better than Dickson.  I hope that at least one of them jump to Bradenton to start 2014.

#13 Harold Ramirez, OF (19), A -- An embarrassment of riches.  That's what the Pirates' organizational OF depth is, both at the major and minor levels.  Which is a stark contrast from the Pirates just being an embarrassment in recent years.  Ramirez was a big ticket International signing back in 2010 and has gone one rung at a time, making his full season debut in 2014 seem like a certainty.  Ramirez had a great season, considering he was 18 against 21-23 year olds in the NYPL, and put up a .286/.354/.409 (763 OPS) with 5 HR and 23 SB's.  The one thing I'm not wild about is his size at 5'-11'.  Hopefully he can grow a couple of inches.

#12 Brandon Cumpton, RHP (25), AAA/MLB -- Cumpton is the forgotten man in Pirate discussions.  No one talks about him as a prospect, no one talks about him as a potential candidate for the 2014 rotation.  He's here because of his proximity to the majors and his demonstrated ability to pitch in the majors.  Cumpton sure looks like a #4 starter that is ready to go, if needed (30 IP, 26 H, 5 BB, 22 K in MLB).  His stuff is not overwhelming, but he showed a nice slider-fastball combo.  Not a flashy prospect, but he's not high risk, either.

#11 Stolmy Pimentel, RHP (25), AAA/MLB -- Here's another guy not getting much burn.  Pimentel had a fantastic 2013 in AAA (3.35 ERA, 169 IP, 150 H, 56 BB, 123 K) and got his feet wet with 9 bullpen innings in Pittsburgh.  His ceiling, like Cumpton, is probably a 4th starter, but that has tremendous value nowadays.  Of the two, I think Pimentel sees more time in 2014 in Pittsburgh, probably as a swingman out of the bullpen, because he is out of options and Cumpton still has an option.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

DBS Top 30 Prospects 2014 -- #20 to #16

Oh, Neal.  I can't believe you're such a troublemaker.  How dare you trade away #18 prospect Alex Dickerson in the middle of the DBS 30?

I'm not a huge fan of Jaff Decker (starting with the ridiculous first name), but in order to keep my sanity, I'm just going to slot him in to Dickerson's spot at #18 and keep on truckin'.  To get the recap on the methodology and eligibility cutoffs, check out the first post.

#20 Barrett Barnes, OF (22), A+ -- A large part of the way I rank prospects is based on the question 'How likely are they to reach their potential' which factors in distance from the majors and injury history.  This is why the supremely talented, yet injury-prone, Barnes is situated at #20.  He missed time in his 2012 draft year and then missed the majority of the 2013 season with different leg ailments.  Along the way he put up a .268/.338/.399 (732 OPS) line with 5 HR and 10 SB in just 46 games.  Barnes should be in the discussion of the great wave of talented OF in the system, but not until he plays a full season for me.

#19 Max Moroff, SS (21), A+ -- Once you factor in the potentially excellent rotation coupled with the number of interesting positional prospects scattered about, it seems as if Bradenton will be the team to watch in the 2014 season.  Moroff is one of them for me as a young shortstop prospect.  Moroff has shown in his short time since being drafted in 2012 that he has a good ability to judge the strike zone.  In 2013 his line of .233/.335/.345 (680 OPS) seems pedestrian, but he did draw 65 walks in nearly 500 plate appearances.  Lot to work on, but if his judgment gets refined there could be something here.

#18 Jaff Decker, OF (24), AAA/MLB -- Decker is a little fireplug of a player at 5'-10" and 200 lbs.  He's basically Travis Snider without the ability to do an awesome job of grilling, right down to the unfulfilled potential.  Decker doesn't have enough power to be a full-time starter at the corner OF and doesn't have enough speed to compensate for it.  In 2013, he hit .286/.381/.443 (824 OPS) with just 10 HR in the hitter-friendly PCL.  With Snider in his first year of arbitration and a less-than-glowing endorsement from Huntington, Snider could be on his way out and Decker on his way in.

#17 Blake Taylor, LHP (18), SS -- Warning!  Warning!  DBS Blind Spot Alert!  Yes, lefties that can gas it are my Achilles heel.  Couple that with a draftee at age 17 who will be younger by a year each level and I'm definitely going to be nuts.  Taylor, in his pre-draft videos, looked like Justin Wilson but with even less control.  Once he gets put in the fastball command machine of the Pirates' developmental system, I'm thinking he has the potential to be a power lefty starter.  Or Justin Wilson's replacement in the pen as a power setup guy.  Definitely a guy to watch this season at Jamestown or the new Bristol affiliate (most likely).

#16 Andrew Lambo, OF/1B (25), MLB -- Lambo debuted in 2013 with Pittsburgh and was on the roster quite a bit, but only accrued 30 at-bats.  In Indy, he had an amazing line of .282/.347/.574 (922 OPS) with 32 HR.  He's been working at 1B in the winter leagues, so he may be the platoon partner of Gaby Sanchez.  His defense in the OF is less than awesome, so it may be 1B or bust for him.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

BOhem (not a typo)

Recently, The Counselor came out.  I was really anticipating this movie, based on the great cast, the great director, and the great screenwriter.  Can't miss!  Well, it missed.  All the pieces were in place and some of those pieces even did a great job, but all together it just didn't work.

Cut to Friday night.  DB~ and I were supposed to meet our friends for dinner at BOhem in Seven Fields, but unfortunately they had a family issue and couldn't meet us.  When we walked into BOhem (short for bohemian, but not sure why the 'O' is capitalized too), we were taken back by how gorgeous the interior is.

Cut stone on the walls, funky chandeliers, interesting typography fonts, lighting fixtures made out of old wine bottles, and rough-cut wooden tables.  This is pretty much how we would decorate a restaurant if we owned it.  On this damp and chilly November night, there was a fire going in the fireplace right next to us.

Our first flag was the fact that at 6 pm on a Friday night, in the busy 228 corridor no less, there were only 3 other tables seated.  By the time we left at 7:15, it was more busy, but still.

The menu is billed as French rustic bistro, so again, it should have been right up our alley.  I went with the Boeuf Bourguignon and DB~ chose the Mac 'n Cheese with Shrimp added.  A rustic stew (with short rib meat, one of my culinary kryptonites) and mac 'n cheese?  Talk about a slam dunk to try a new restaurant!

Unfortunately, the meal was disappointing.  Not to harp on what is becoming a common topic, but my dish was overpriced ($18) for the amount and quality of what I got.  I counted six (!) half-dollar sized chunks of meat in my stew.  The stew meat, if it was short rib, was tough and chewy.  The carrots and potatoes were very tender (I even ate the mushrooms) and the sauce was extremely flavorful, but there wasn't even enough carrots and potatoes to make up for the lack of meat.

Where's The Boeuf?

DB~'s dish was also underwhelming.  Billed as macaroni with a cheddar gratinee and spinach, it was a pasta dish with a creamy spinach sauce.  This should have been a hearty dish, definitely not with a runny white sauce, with some prawn size shrimp on top.  Instead, the shrimp were tiny and the dish completely underwhelming.

So we're never going there again, right?  Well, not really.  Much like The Counselor, I'm willing to give it a second chance.  Maybe get some appetizers and treat it like a tapas bar.  The interior is too good to give up on.  What this place really needs is a chef that knows how to cook like a French bistro.

Friday, November 22, 2013

DBS Top 30 Prospects 2014 - #25 to #21

We kicked off the first part of this six part epic series a couple of days ago.  The ground rules and ranking methodology were in that post, for reference.

#25 Clay Holmes, RHP (21), A+ -- Holmes had more fanfare than Tyler Glasnow in the 2011 draft, but Glasnow has broken out in a big way, while Holmes has struggled.  Such is the life of drafting prospects.  However, it's not time to give up on Holmes (unlike...say...Zach von Rosenberg from the 2009 draft).  Holmes' 2013 was "eh" on ERA (4.08), good on K's (90 in 119 IP) and terrible in BB's (69 in those same 119 IP).  He'll move up to a potentially crowded Bradenton rotation and really needs a strong year, lest he'll get lost in the shuffle of the amazing pitching depth in this organization.

#24 Casey Sadler, RHP (23), AAA -- Sadler was just recently added to the Pirates' 40-man roster, so they at least think his future will be with the team at some point.  Sadler had a breakout season in 2012 with Bradenton, but saw his K/9 peripheral drop significantly in 2013 at Altoona.  Sadler had a respectable season (3.37 ERA, 136 IP, 72 K, 43 BB), but his odd 3/4 delivery may not play out in the majors as a starter.  Ultimately, I think he's a middle reliever.

#23 Jin-de Jhang, C (21), A -- Jhang is a Taiwanese international signee that the Pirates are quite high on.  His offense for a catcher is promising (.277/.338/.413, 751 OPS) and his defense is good.  This year should see him go to full-season ball for the first time, as he's part of the jumble of catchers with Mathisen and McGuire.  Right now, he seems more like a backup or the lesser part of a job share, unless one of the bat or glove becomes spectacular.

#22 Joely Rodriguez, LHP (22), AA -- Rodriguez was also recently added to the 40-man roster by the Pirates.  I've been a fan of his for a while, because left handed pitchers with any modicum of velocity are my Achilles heel (imagine how much I like Justin Wilson).  Rodriguez has dealt with some injuries and so-so results throughout his career, but he seems poised to show his stuff coming off a good season split between WV and Bradenton (2.70 ERA, 140 IP, 39 BB, 101 K).  Rodriguez has demonstrated an incredible ability to generate ground balls, which gives him bonus points with the front office.

#21 Jason Creasy, RHP (22), A+ -- People ask me all the time (no they don't) 'Who is a sleeper in the Pirates' system?' My answer for this year would be Jason Creasy.  Drafted in the 8th round in 2011 (along with Holmes and Glasnow, to say nothing of Gerrit Cole), Creasy has been overshadowed.  Part of it was his own doing, as his 2012 was kind of bad.  But he broke out in 2013, first as a reliever in WV and then as a starter.  His stats for both were very good (Reliever -- 3.16, 42 IP, 7 BB, 41 K and as a Starter -- 2.47 ERA, 65 IP, 17 BB, 55 K), but I would expect him to be used as a full time starter in 2013 for the aforementioned crowded Bradenton rotation.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

DBS Top 30 Prospects 2014 -- #30 to #26

Let's sort the laundry!  Time for the annual (and eagerly-anticipated) DBS Top 30 Prospects series.

Ground rules -- 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 30 relief appearances in the majors exhausts your eligibility.  So bid adieu to Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Jordy Mercer, and top prospect Gerrit Cole.

The way I evaluate prospects is two-fold:
1) What is the player's ultimate ceiling?
2) What is the likelihood that he will reach it?

#2 has to do with injury history, location on the rungs of the minor league ladder, and other non-performance factors (suspensions).  So with that said, let's tackle the first five.  The number in parentheses is the player's age for the 2014 season, using the standard July 1st cutoff date.  I'm forecasting the level they may start at, as well.

#30 Wyatt Mathisen, C (20), A -- There is no question that 2013 was a wasted year for Mathisen.  His on-field performance was awful (.228/.323/.251, 575 OPS) and he dealt with various injuries to his shoulder throughout the year, too.  But there is still an athletic and talented player within Mathisen.  The issue at hand now is the presence of 2013 1st round pick, Reese McGuire, in the system.  Clearly, McGuire is "the catcher of the future", and needs reps.  Typically, those reps for high-end HS draftees start at Low A the year after his draft year (like Mathisen), but Mathisen's performance doesn't warrant a promotion to High A.

Further complicating it is the fact that Jin-de Jhang needs to move up from short-season to Low A in 2014, too.  Mathisen and Jhang will most likely be the starters at Low A, with McGuire sticking behind at Extended Spring Training in the hopes that Mathisen impresses enough to move up.  However, Mathisen could also be looking at a position change, too.  In short, Mathisen is a total mystery to me in 2014 at this point.

#29 Neil Kozikowski, RHP (19), SS -- Kozikowski was the Pirates' 8th round draft pick this year out of a Connecticut HS.  He was able to pitch 24 innings in the GCL.  Kozikowski is tall (6'-4") and thin (180), which fits the profile of the projectable HS arm the Pirates are enamored with.  He should follow the typical model and move up to one of the short-seasons this year, either Jamestown or the new team in the Appalachian League in Bristol.

#28 Ryan Hafner, RHP (22), A+ -- Ryan Hafner in 2012 was a disaster as a starter (75 walks in 74 innings with only 36 K's), but in 2013 as a pure reliever he was much better (102 strikeouts in 87 innings, with only 40 walks).  His fastball jumped up to the low 90's from the 87-88 it was sitting as a starter and his offspeed stuff showed improvements.  At this point, Hafner's career should remain in the pen and keep moving him up the chain.

#27 Adalberto Santos, OF (26), AAA -- To me, Santos has the makings of a decent 25th man, which would be a nice get for your #27 prospect.  This is his last year on the list, win or lose, as he is in his age-26 season in 2014.  He's defensively limited, but he can put the bat on the ball and could be a decent pinch hitter/pinch runner (.281/.375/.386, 782 OPS, w/ 21 steals).  Santos did not get bumped up mid-season in 2013, which probably speaks to his overall future, but I'm going to keep the flame burning one more year.

#26 Kyle McPherson, RHP (26), AAA -- Like Santos, this will be McPherson's final year on the list, as I don't believe you are a prospect anymore at age 27.  McPherson got his feet wet in the majors in 2012 and was a candidate for the #5 spot coming into Spring Training 2013, but he experienced some arm troubles.  This led to a demotion to Indy and he was awful (2 starts, 4.2 IP, 19.29 ERA) before getting Tommy John surgery.  He'll be out until mid-2014, most likely, and then will have to claw his way back to Pittsburgh with a pretty long line of starters ahead of him in the pecking order.  His future is probably as a middle reliever.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Seriously, What Happened to Neil Walker's Switch Hitting Ability?

Neil Walker was a hot mess this year as a right-handed batter against lefties.  It's to the point where there is legitimate talk about putting him a platoon situation.  Good news is that he is still fantastic against RHP's, of which there are significantly more pitchers.

But it wasn't always this way.  What it has been is a long, steep decline.  Check out his splits for each of his full seasons (2010 to 2013).

v. RHP -- .298/.353/.465 (818 OPS), 123 wRC+
v. LHP -- .295/.344/.464 (809 OPS), 118 wRC+

As a refresher, wRC+ is weighted Runs Created above average.  100 is the base level, so Walker was 23% better than average against RHP and 18% better than average against LHP.  There is virtually no split at all here.  It's pretty much the perfect example of a switch hitter.

v. RHP -- .277/.340/.434 (773 OPS), 114 wRC+
v. LHP -- .269/.322/.350 (672 OPS), 86 wRC+

OK, starting to go downhill, but it's still manageable.  The disconcerting part is that his isolated power dropped to .081 versus LHP.  If Walker could hold the line here, it would be acceptable, but not preferred.

v. RHP -- .291/.352/.473 (825 OPS), 126 wRC+
v. LHP -- .246/.314/.288 (602 OPS), 69 wRC+

Well, now the wheels are off the wagon completely.  He's not even hitting for an empty average, as his .246 is poor.  Even worse is his isolated power is now at .052, which is Juan Pierre-esque.  And his weighted Runs Created continues to drop like an anvil in a lake.

v. RHP -- .256/.350/.455 (805 OPS), 127 wRC+
v. LHP -- .225/.281/.238 (519 OPS), 48 wRC+

I mean...c'mon now, Neil.  There's no way to defend any part of this horrible line.  A .013 isolated power?  Neil hit 1 double, 0 triples, and 0 home runs this year.  And he's 52% worse than average against lefties.

Just take a second and look at the steep and consistent decline in those numbers from year-to-year.  That's jarring.  It's at the point where someone has to say to him "Stop switch hitting, Neil."
It literally can not be worse if he batted full time as a lefty.

I am a big advocate of giving Neil Walker a moderate extension.  I'm proposing something along the lines of 4 years/$30M.  The contract would buy out the three remaining arbitration years (Walker is a Super 2) and his first free agent year.  That would take Walker through his age-31 season.  By that time, Alen Hanson would hopefully be able to take over at 2B.  My Hanson estimate is that he would be ready in mid-2015, so Hanson could apprentice in the middle infield at either SS or backup both SS and 2B.

In the meantime, for the love of baseball, stop switch hitting Neil.

Where will all the new TV money go -- nationally and the Pirates?

For the 2014 season, new national TV contracts kick in from ESPN, TBS, and Fox.  All together, each team's share will go from $23M to the range of $50M, per team, per year.  That's an increase of $27M.

With all this extra money being injected into the game, it's only logical to think that it's going to get reflected in free agents this offseason.  After all, min-scale salaries are governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and will still hover around $500,000.  Arbitration is heavily based off of counting stats and previous contracts, so any change in salaries there will be gradual.

This is the season of crazy contract demands, such as Robinson Cano wanting 10yr/$305M and Ervin Santana and his $100M contract demands.  Both of those guys are probably going to get 60% of those demands in the end.  Cano's case is interesting because his market is so, so limited, especially when he comes out with that number.  There are maybe 5 teams that can afford him -- Yankees, Dodgers, Mets, Angels, and Red Sox.  The Mets are still building a contender and have said they don't want to spend on Cano.  The Red Sox have Pedroia.  The Angels have Howie Kendrick (who they're looking to move to re-allocate payroll to pitching) and a host of bad contracts already.  The Dodgers just signed a Cuban ex-pat to play 2B.

So that leaves the Yankees, realistically.  And they aren't going to bid against themselves, one would think.

Players like Shin-soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury will be in demand and they'll definitely get overpaid by someone, but it's hard to see it being a "good Lord" overpay.  I suppose it's possible that the middle tier of free agents, like a Scott Feldman/Phil Hughes type, will be the ones to benefit the most from the influx of TV money.  I can see some pitching needy team like the Twins or Rockies dropping a ton of shantovoes on them.

The Pirates are an interesting case, as they have already said that dedicating the $14.1M qualifying offer to A.J. Burnett would occupy too much of their offseason budget.  I've estimated that including arbitration cases (and non-tendering Garrett Jones) and pre-existing salary commitments the Pirates payroll stands at $60M going into 2014.  It was $65M on opening day 2013, plus they had a strong attendance season, and new TV revenue.

You would think that $75 to $80M would be a realistic payroll figure.  Some teams may be allocating a portion of that new TV money to paying down heavily leveraged debt.  That's their prerogative to do so.  But many teams are going to put it towards payroll, so you don't want to be left behind, either.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Roasted Acorn Squash

Here we are in the heart of fall.  Whether it's my imagination or not, I feel like I'm embracing fall more this year, especially in the kitchen.  It's feels like my dishes are hearty and the kinds that you want to curl up with next to a fireplace.

Lot of cinnamon, nutmeg, parsnips, pumpkin-infused flavors.  I wanted to try a different vegetable this week, as I feel like I'm falling into a kale rut and we need to move out of yellow squash.  I was hoping to get a butternut squash, but there were none available.  No eggplant, either, so I went back to the squash section and saw an acorn squash.

Last night, I made the acorn squash as the vegetable to our main dish.  I chopped it in half and scooped out the seeds and strings.  With some melted butter, I rubbed the inside of the squash and then sprinkled some salt over the acorn.  I then took some brown sugar and rubbed that on the melted butter, hoping to get it nice and carmelized in the oven.  The remnants of the melted butter made their way down into the bowl of the squash along with some excess brown sugar, creating a nice little soupy mix.

I roasted it off in a 375 oven for 1 hour.  I served each half on the plate and we each scooped our own squash out.  It was quite tender and had a great brown sugar flavor with the touch of butter, as well.  I'll probably make this at least one more time this fall.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thai Foon

I was in the midst of a DBS Saturday (while DB~ was teaching a workshop), which consists of completing a chore list then watching bad movies and English Premier League "soccer", when I got a text at 3:30:

"Got done early.  Want to meet for dinner at Robinson?"

I double-checked the time to make sure that I hadn't blacked out, but it really was still 3:30.  DB~ wasn't supposed to home until around 6 pm.


"Gravity 3D is at 5:50"

Ah, dinner and a date night!  All right.  We'll watch Gravity and then go out somewhere and make a night of it...

"Can you meet at 4:30?"

Whazzuh?!  We're both in our mid-30's.  Now we're going to have a blue-hair special dinner and a matinee movie, be home by 8 pm?  We became 65 year olds so gradually I didn't even notice it happening.

I suggested we check out Thai Foon right around the corner from the Cinemark theater at Settler's Ridge.  DB~ loves Chinese food, especially the Sesame Inn, but she has a reticence about Thai that I can't figure out.  I think she thinks every dish comes out and makes you breathe fire, when the opposite is actually true.  Yes, it can get spicy if you ask them to, but Thai has a much more interesting palette of flavors than Chinese, which can be very heavy.

Thai basil, cilantro, coconut, peanuts, just to name a few.  To say nothing of the curry dishes that are staples.

My goal for dinner was to get my adventurous/yet-not-adventurous wife to order something other than her favorite safe choice of Pad Thai.  Mission accepted.

Not surprisingly, we got a table right away at 4:30.  Thai Foon doesn't have much in the way of interior decor, aside from two interesting circular tables set off to the sides in their own little private nooks.  Yellow is the national color of Thailand, due to its association with good luck, and the walls here were a golden color.

The menu was pretty standard Thai stuff - curries, noodles, soups, some spicy dishes, but one item's name caught my eye:

I really did a double take -- Jap Chap?  In the words of Archer....phrasing?

Periodically, I need to be reminded that I don't care for certain things.  After trying bubble tea in Montreal with DB~ (waaaaay back in 2009 when we first was actually our first "trip" together), I thought that I was good on checking bubble tea off my list.

But there it was last night.  And you got to check off little boxes on what flavor you wanted and the types of tapioca!  I went with Mango and standard tapioca.  I wanted to sample it throughout the meal, but it didn't come out until our dinners were served, so I was sort of forced to chug it, which is not something bubble tea is meant for.

For dinner, I was (again) completely out-ordered by DB~.  She never really drifted towards Pad Thai, but she was putting up a lot of "play it safe" vibes.  She eventually ordered the Udon noodles with Chicken.  It had such a great flavor base and the Udon noodles were chubby and perfectly cooked.  Just the right amount of vegetables to complement the Udon, not overwhelm them.

I went with the Honey Coated Walnut with Chicken.  Mine had a cream sauce (which it said on the menu), but after eating it I just didn't feel like I was at a Thai restaurant.  It was pretty heavy and the cream congealed a little towards the end of the meal.

Overall, I would definitely come back, especially prior to a show.  It's quick service and located a few feet from the entrance to the movies.  Way better than waiting in line at some of the other chain type restaurants at Settler's Ridge (it's a good thing my parents don't read this blog, as they're obsessed with Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, which I find "eh").

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to race DB~ to the fridge to claim the rest of her Udon noodle dish.