Hot Stove: Pirates' rookies must improve D
The Pirates have a stated goal this offseason of upgrading their defense, and two apparent targets toward that end are finding a new shortstop and, possibly, a new first baseman.
But what of the two rookie anchors at second and third base?
Neil Walker's .985 fielding percentage -- 11 errors -- ranked sixth among all National League second basemen with 100 or more games at the position, which sounds pretty good. But his 4.59 range factor ranked ninth, and, in what generally is accepted as the most intricate defensive measure, he had a minus-10.8 ultimate zone rating. The latter was second-worst in the league, with St. Louis' Skip Schumaker at minus-15.4.
And yet ...
"Neil, to do what he did at second base last year, was remarkable," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Any criticism of Neil comes with the caveat that he played 18 games there in his life before that. The adjustments he made, the improvements ... does he need to get better? Absolutely. And he's working on all of that, getting better agility, taking better angles, the intricacies of the position."
Those intricacies can be better taught, Huntington added, with a full spring under new infield instructor Nick Leyva and, of course, Bill Mazeroski.
"Pretty good teacher, having Maz around," Huntington said, smiling.
Pedro Alvarez had a .938 fielding percentage -- 17 errors -- which was the worst among the 14 third basemen with 90 or more games at the position. His 2.86 range factor actually was third-best among that group, but his UZR of minus-6.2 ranked 11th.
To hear Huntington tell it, the more critical number will be the ones describing Alvarez's conditioning. He played at 235 pounds on a 6-foot-3 frame, this despite a regimented workout program in Arizona last winter, and the doubts that scouts long have cast on his ability to stay at third remain in place.
"Pedro is just a matter of where he is physically," Huntington said. "He has the hands, he has the arm strength, he can make the plays ... it's just all about whether his body composition will allow him to play third base. We're working hard to make sure that happens."
Alvarez is working out on his own this winter, under the team's supervision.
• Manager Clint Hurdle, on his rotation carryovers: He said of Paul Maholm, "There's more there. I'd say he's not happy. Nobody I talked to is happy. They're excited about next year, but they want to improve." On James McDonald: "I've seen the kid, and he excites me. I know he had a good run after the trade." On Ross Ohlendorf: "I've got to believe he's the best 1-11 pitcher in baseball." Hurdle laughed and added, "Your numbers are over. You have another chance. Do something with it."
• Outfielder Jose Tabata finally got his wish and will be allowed to play winter ball in his native Venezuela, a point of pride for many Latin American nationals. The Pirates initially expressed reluctance, for concern of injury or wearing down.
• Hurdle's preference is to add two more left-handed relievers. Wil Ledezma stands alone for now.
• Huntington called the recent outrighting of pitcher Sean Gallagher "maybe the best thing that could happen for him," in the sense that Gallagher will have the best chance at his wish to start by proving himself in Indianapolis. Gallagher, who will turn 25 later this month, pitched in the Venezuelan Winter League and had a 3.72 ERA in eight appearances, five starts.
• The winter caravan runs Jan. 24-31, covering 23 communities across Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Players scheduled to participate: Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Evan Meek, Jose Tabata, James McDonald, Garrett Jones and Joel Hanrahan. Check pirates.com for full schedule.
• Sixty-three days until pitchers and catchers report to Bradenton.
First Published December 12, 2010 12:00 am