SP A.J. Burnett has become both an on-field and off-field leader for the 2012 Bucs

Pirates Smorgasbord June 24, 2012


With the Pittsburgh Pirates continuing to win series and maintaining their second place standing in the N.L. Central, the time has come again to take a look at any and all issues and stories affecting the club.  We do this in a quick shot styled column that I like to call The Pirates Smorgasbord.  Here is your Pirates Smorgasbord for June 24, 2012.

-  A.J. Burnett is well on his way to an All Star Game appearance next month in Kansas City, but it isn’t just his awesome pitching that has helped the Pirates this season.  Burnett has become what seemingly every other team in baseball never thought he could be – a LEADER.  Burnett has taken a role as a leader and clubhouse veteran that has inspired the younger Bucs to follow his lead.  There is no doubt that the Pirates got a steal when they acquired Burnett from the Yankees, and now that the world has seen what he can do when he isn’t being constantly harassed by the media and fans, there are many teams out there who wish they would have taken a flyer on Burnett when the Yanks were trying to basically give him away.  Burnett has dominated in his stats recently, winning seven straight decisions.  He is also the first guy out of the dugout to shake hands with all of the players and the first player that the young pitchers go to for advice.  All of that was missing from the 2011 Bucs, and let’s not underestimate the value of his leadership on this team.  The Pirates will go as far as A.J. Burnett and James McDonald can take them, the latter having been schooled throughout spring training and the early season by Burnett.  GM Neal Huntington took a chance on Burnett, and it has been one of the best moves he has made from the GM chair.

-  Speaking of J-Mac, the trade that brought McDonald to Pittsburgh for RP Octavio Dotel just looks better with every quality start the Pirates Ace lays out there.  The Dodgers have to be kicking themselves for making that deal.  McDonald is also a legitimate All Star candidate and if he continues to dominate like he has, a run at the NL Cy Young is not out of the question.

- As reported by numerous Pirates bogs, the Bucs inability to secure a deal for Boston 3B/1B Kevin Youkilis may have been the best thing that could have happened.  By not jumping on the first offensive player to be available this summer, Neil Huntington has kept his guns loaded for the July push – where names like Willingham, Morneau, Quentin, and even our old friends Maholm and Doumit will be available.  The Bucs are in a power position in 2012 with the limited trade market, and they have the commodity EVERY team is looking to acquire – young, major-league ready starting pitching.  With Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Luis Heredia all making strides in the farm system, players like Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, and even Brad Lincoln are all expendable pieces of quality pitching that can be dealt for that big right-handed bat the Pirates will be shopping for in July.  Smart move by the Pirates brass to skip on Youkilis, who looks to be a shell of the player he was in 2010.

-  Not enough is being said about the impact that Rod Barajas has had on the pitching staff.  The veteran backstop has truly helped all of the Pirates hurlers, and his game-calling is second to none.  Obviously, I am a big Michael McKenry fan, so I would love to see “The Fort” get some more starts.  I’m sure as the season wears on, that will happen.  The combination of McKenry/Barajas gives the Pirates their best tandem backstops since Spanky/Sluggo in the early 1990′s. (Note from Cocktailsfor2: It takes a big man to admit something like this, Jeff, and I for one commend you on being flexible in your stance regarding Barajas and The Fort. Would that other Pirates’ fans could be the same.)

-  Andrew McCutchen is having a season that could very well end up being an MVP-type campaign.  Now is the time to get Cutch into the All Star Game.  You can vote up to 25 times from each computer by heading to this link:  http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/events/all_star/y2012/ballot.jsp?tcid=nav_asb.  ALL Pirates fans should be voting often and as much as possible if we have any intention of helping Cutch climb the Outfield ranks in the balloting.  The man deserves to start in this game, and by the end of 2012 you can bet there will be serious discussions about a National League MVP for the Pirates franchise player.  VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!

- Here is hoping that Justin Verlander never ends up in the National League.  The best pitcher in baseball beat our Bucs again today and is by far the premier starting pitcher in the game.

-  With Jeff  “Zombie” Karstens returning to the rotation this week, the Pirates will need to figure out what they are going to do with Kevin Correia.  Correia pitched well today against the Tigers, but he is going to be the odd man out once Karstens is back.  There is no room in the bullpen for him, and the Pirates would need to have him clear waivers and accept a AAA demotion to keep him in the system.  A trade seems to be in the offing, this should be an interesting week for Kevin Correia, who has been a dedicated Pirate and solid back-of the rotation type starter over his two seasons here.

- A few words about Charlie Morton.  Morton never seemed to click this season, and now it seems he was battling a terrible injury.  Morton is a guy who has changed his entire formula to become a sinkerballer, but still has the hard stuff that got him to the majors initially with the Braves.  He is now out for 12-18 months, and his Pirates future is in question.  Hopefully, the Bucs find a way to keep Morton around because I have a feeling that when he returns from this injury next year, he will be a much better pitcher with both a great fastball and that awesome sinker.  The Pirates can’t give up on this kid, or they might end up seeing a similar track back to the majors for Morton with another organization, a la Ryan Vogelsong.

- Welcome back to infielder Drew Sutton, who was a Pirate for about 10 minutes last month before being flipped to Tampa Bay.  Sutton was claimed by the Bucs this week and will be on the roster as the Pirates head to Philadelphia.

- Remember to VOTE for all of your favorite Pirates for the All Star Game!  Fill PNC Park every night to show the team that Bucco Nation is behind them, and enjoy this magical season.

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Tags: A.J. Burnett Andrew McCutchen Clint Hurdle James McDonald Kevin Youkilis Neil Huntington Pirates Pirates Trade Deadline Targets