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.