On the Pirates: Youth? Not the problem

Team's issue is lack of young talent, not current average age

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NEW YORK -- With the Pirates back on a comfortable pace for a 17th consecutive losing season, one of the most common explanations given, by some in the public and some inside the team, is that they are young and, thus, prone to growing pains as they progress toward the future.

Two problems with that:

1. They are not that young.

Their average age of 27 years, 318 days does rank second-youngest in Major League Baseball, with only the Florida Marlins younger at 27 years, 96 days. But their everyday players -- when healthy -- include Jack Wilson (31), Freddy Sanchez (30), Adam LaRoche (29), Ryan Doumit (28) and Nyjer Morgan (28). And their oldest players are on the bench.

The only player younger than 25 is seldom-used Rule 5 draft pick Donnie Veal, at 24.

2. The young players the Pirates are using, for the most part, have been instrumental in whatever success they have had to date. That is because most are in the starting rotation, notably three 26-year-olds in Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and Ross Ohlendorf.

Put together, that makes blaming youth doubly misguided.

If the Pirates truly were to go young, and truly would be able to blame youth for their troubles, they would have to do it like the Marlins, who once promoted Miguel Cabrera at age 19 and Hanley Ramirez at age 22. Which would make their current lineup look something like this:

Andrew McCutchen, CF, age 22

Nate McLouth, LF, 27

Pedro Alvarez, 1B, 22

Ryan Doumit, C, 28

Jose Tabata, RF, 20

Andy LaRoche, 3B, 25

Shelby Ford, 2B, 24

Brian Friday, SS, 23

Paul Maholm, P, 26

And the trouble with that is that a good chunk of those players legitimately are not ready, notably Friday, the Class AA shortstop in a system still grasping for a long-term answer at that position.

Thus, we come to the Pirates' real problem, and not just through this seven-game losing streak: There is not enough talent. Not in Pittsburgh. Not in the system.

Sanchez's sudden strength

Back at PirateFest in January, Sanchez joked that he should bat third in the Pirates' lineup because of his unprecedented strengthening program in the offseason.

No one would laugh now.

Sanchez's 18 extra-base hits -- three home runs, two triples, 13 doubles -- lead the National League, with the doubles ranking first. That represents nearly half of his 38 hits.

It looks very little like the 2006 batting champion.

"No, this is a lot different than just dropping the ball over the infielder's head," Sanchez said. "My goal right now is to drive the ball."

He did not add weight but, rather, achieved greater strength in specific muscles targeted for baseball as part of his workouts at the Athletes Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz., an offseason destination for many players. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox worked out with him.

"You look at Pedroia, and he's not a big guy," Sanchez said. "But you see him in the weight room, and he's so strong. That's how he drives the ball, and that's what I wanted to add to my game."

One pocket or two?

The Pirates spent a franchise-record $9.8 million on the amateur draft last year, as well as a franchise-record $2 million on Latin American talent.

There is almost no chance of securing a player the caliber of Pedro Alvarez with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft next month, though, and $6.355 million of that total last year went just to him.

Does that mean a reduction in draft spending this year?

"We're fortunate in that we've been given the resources by ownership to have the same budget this year," Huntington said. "That means we can stay aggressive, even in the later rounds, as we were last year. Also, we do have the two second-rounders."

The Pirates have an extra pick in that round as compensation for not signing their second-rounder last year, pitcher Tanner Scheppers.

The budget also is flexible to the point it could be shifted to Latin America, if needed, but there is no indication that will happen.

Baseball's Jewish fraternity

It hardly rivals the Cy Young, but John Grabow was recognized back in January with the Barney Pelty Award as the Jewish pitcher of the year. He beat out Craig Breslow of the Minnesota Twins and ... well, not many others.

There were 13 Jewish players in the majors last year, only 159 in history, notably the great Hank Greenberg of the 1930s and 1940s.

"There sure aren't many," Grabow said. "Not sure why that is."

Among those currently playing: Youkilis, the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun, Colorado Rockies' Jason Marquis and Texas Rangers' Ian Kinsler.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog .


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