Glimpse of the future: Youth serves big helpings of offense
PIRATES SPRING TRAINING
March 16, 2009 4:00 AM
By Chuck Finder Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- So thatis how the Pirates' future might look.
Pedro Alvarez crushed a ninth-inning, two-out, three-run, pinch-hit, home run that traveled somewhere between 440 feet and, were it not for the high center-field screen, the Atlantic Ocean. Andrew McCutchen made a diving catch in center field and had an extra-base hit where even he heard most of the 6,968 patrons in Charlotte Sports Park gasp audibly as he sped around second to stretch it into a triple. Jose Tabata had a sacrifice fly to score McCutchen, a double and a throw to home plate that nailed one of the major league's fastest baserunners, Carl Crawford, by an easy 6 feet.
Altogether, these kids -- ages 22, 22 and 20, respectively -- turned an 11-inning, 7-7, spring-training tie against American League champion Tampa Bay Rays into a crystal-ball glance at their potential.
"Lot of talent out here," McCutchen said after his 2-for-6 day with one run, three strikeouts and three putouts, including his fourth-inning dive. "Lot of talent in this farm system. You've got to watch out for us.
"It's good to see that, just having a glimpse of that future -- and what we have right now. We still have a good team that's young. I believe when we're [all] here playing, it's going to work out for the good."
Yesterday was conceivably the ultimate showcase for this collection thus far: a combined 5 for 12, 3 runs, 4 RBIs, 11 total bases, 7 putouts, an assist, lots of gasps. And management noticed.
"It's been fun all spring to see that," general manager Neal Huntington said.
"Oh, yeah," added manager John Russell, showing a rare trace of excitement. "Very talented players, all three of them. To see the at-bats they're having. Especially Tabata, he's a special kind of hitter, being that young. Pedro, it seems like he's starting to see the ball better. And Andrew has done a nice job, as well. It's a nice look, absolutely."
It came on a day when some previous pieces of the puzzle for the future didn't create a buzz. Talking pregame about the rotation, Huntington failed to mention Tom Gorzelanny and Jeff Karstens, but did basically say that Paul Maholm, Ian Snell and Zach Duke appeared to hold three of the five spots in their hands while Ross Ohlendorf and Virgil Vasquez are each "throwing the ball well at times."
Gorzelanny then went out and cruised through an eight-pitch first inning, allowed a single in the second and endured a four-hit, two-run third inning. Second baseman Luis Cruz just missed making outs of inning-openings singles, then a fielder's-choice throw by Steve Pearce allowed one run to score. Gabe Kapler's single to left plated one run, but Tabata's defensive gem caught Crawford to staunch further bleeding.
"The first two innings were good," said Gorzelanny, who allowed six runs in his previous two outings. "You could punch a hole in the wall for those hits [in the third]. But those hits happen. I would say it was a really good step forward."
Gorzelanny, whom Karstens followed with three shutout innings on two hits, was able to watch the kids turn around deficits of 2-0 and 7-3 with seven runs in the sixth, seventh and ninth.
McCutchen tripled to center in the sixth and scored when Tabata sharply lined a sacrifice fly for which the left fielder had to leap to grab. Andy LaRoche hit a homer in the seventh followed by a Brian Bixler triple that led to a 3-3 tie after Jason Jaramillo's forceout.
In the top of the ninth, with Anderson Machado at second thanks to a single and Tabata at first after being hit by a Joe Nelson pitch, Alvarez clouted his first pro homer high off the screen at the 416-foot mark in center field. How far would it have traveled without a net? "I didn't major in physics," said this No. 2 overall selection from Vanderbilt, "so I don't know.
"I was fortunate enough just to put the right kind of swing on it ... and it went where I wanted it," added Alvarez, who boosted his spring totals to five RBIs and a .444 average."