05/14/2002 7:01 pm ET
Littlefield: Benson looked good
By Ed Eagle / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- After providing us with insights throughout the Hot Stove months, Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield has graciously agreed to continue to meet with MLB.com each week to discuss his club.
Ed Eagle: What were you able to take out of Kris Benson's return to the mound Monday night, both positively and negatively?
Dave Littlefield: The positive was just him being out there and competing at the Major League level healthy. The biggest positive that comes out of it was that his velocity was good, his delivery was under control and his arm worked fine. Post-game he felt "normal," if you will. The next question will be how he feels [Tuesday] after a night's sleep. That will be the next step.
My experience is that there is no way that you can simulate the Major League setting of a game, regardless of the weather and rain leading up to the game and fact that the crowd wasn't as big as anticipated. It was an ESPN game and all of those types of things are part of what comes with pitching in the big leagues. As much as you try to prepare him for that, he hasn't been in that type of a setting for over a year. It's just kind of a progression that you eventually move to.
EE: Could you expand upon the decision to option Mike Lincoln to Triple-A? A lot of people were surprised to see a guy with his kind of numbers demoted.
DL: The first thing is, going into last night I believe we were leading the Major Leagues in bullpen ERA. So, obviously, as a whole we are pitching very well in the bullpen. We're very pleased with that and I think it has been a strong reason that we have the record that we do today coming off of a very tough year last year.
As the season unfolds there are a lot of things that take place with injures, the disabled list and a variety of roster moves that myself, Lloyd McClendon and our scouting staff and coaching staff are always trying to prepare for. In looking at not only the present day, but also the big picture of the season and, in an even bigger scope, the future beyond this year, you take all of those things into consideration in any kind of roster decision.
When Benson was added to the roster some of the initial thoughts were that we wanted to stay with 12 pitchers and Lloyd felt that he wanted to have three left-handers in the pen. As part of managing the roster, you have to keep aware of a variety of issues that are encompassed with what you are trying to do present day, what you are trying to do for the season and beyond this season for the future. When we looked at the situation from a pitching standpoint, we felt that, unfortunately, we had some limited options for what we could do and eventually we made the decision to option Mike Lincoln to Nashville.
I do understand that on the surface people would be a little surprised by it because here is a guy who is pitching with a very good ERA. But the most important thing is that I want to be sensitive to Mike. He has done a real fine job for us for the year or so that he has been in the big leagues with us and I anticipate him doing a fine job for us down the road. But we have to take into account from an organizational standpoint and from my standpoint -- ultimately the responsibility rests on my shoulders -- that we are trying to do what is best for the team present day, for this year and for the future. You are taking all of those things into account. After analyzing all of the issues that go into roster moves, roster management and analyzing our current situation, we felt that optioning Mike Lincoln made the most sense at the time.
I want to reiterate to everybody that we are, without a doubt as I have stated many times, trying to win as many games as possible this year, as we will do every year that I am involved with the team. A key point is that a year encompasses 162 games. I am sure that many people can revisit the problems that we had last year, which in part were do to a lack of alternatives as to who we could bring up when we had problems, whether they be poor performance or injuries. This is something that we definitely want to avoid.
We want to do a better job giving ourselves alternatives. We think we are moving in that direction. Unfortunately, optioning Mike Lincoln to Nashville obviously takes a guy who has pitched effectively at the Major League level and puts him into the minor leagues. But, from a standpoint of stabilizing our organization and looking at the big picture of what's going to take place this year, I think it puts us in a better position in that we have more alternatives available when injury or poor performance takes place at a later time. I won't at all be surprised to Mike Lincoln back in the big leagues soon.
EE: How much of the decision was impacted by the interest other teams might have in some of your veteran players and your need to show that they can perform at the big league level in order to get value in return for them in a potential deal?
DL: Well, there are a lot of things that are involved in making decisions in every type of decision. As a general manager you've got to analyze many issues and figure out which ones are more important for your team and organization at that time. There are many that we do consider.
EE: Switching gears here, Josh Fogg doesn't seem like a guy who would be a scout's dream because he doesn't throw exceptionally hard. In your opinion, what makes him so effective?
DL: He throws a lot of strikes and he has four pitches that he can throw in the strike zone. At this point, we have seen him throw his pitches in any type of count for strikes. He's got very good presence on the mound, which is very unusual for a guy who hasn't had a lot of big league experience. He carries himself with a fair degree of confidence. Again, this is an unusual trait for a player without a lot of experience in the big leagues.
Some guys will carry themselves with confidence but, at times, it is a mask maybe to cover their anxiousness or nervousness or maybe that is just their style. But unless there's substance to it -- which in Fogg's case is pounding the strike zone with four pitches and getting out of jams, which he has done, to show you that he does have confidence -- that mask is kind of melts quickly with the guys who don't have the substance behind the confidence.
EE: When the trade with the White Sox was made, a lot of us in the media assumed that Fogg was basically a throw-in. Just how wrong were we with that assessment?
DL: Throw-in is a term that people use a lot in trades. But throw-ins from my standpoint are long shots, guys that are a long ways away or an effective pitcher who has pitched for a long time and we have a scout who has a special feel for him.
In our eyes, there was a certain formula that we were looking for if we wanted to trade Todd Ritchie. We had to bolster the pitching staff with the unconventional approach of trading arguably our best pitcher when we need pitching. This wasn't just by happenstance and this wasn't just a throw-in for Josh Fogg.
I will say that he has gone beyond expectations at this point in time as to what we have evaluated. None of our people felt that he would do this well this quick. Again, we're still early and he's only seven starts into it. This is not a done deal and we've still got to see what we've got in Josh Fogg over time. But there were a lot of points made about his control, his confidence, his presence and his ability to throw four pitches for strikes. All of those things were a part of it and he added to that success at the minor leagues. Those components, to me, do not describe what I would call a throw-in. He was certainly part of the discussion at different times throughout the course of the periods that we were talking trade.
We're happy to have him. Our people did a real nice job of scouting him and I think that's a big part of why we got him. He's certainly been a big help to us.
EE: The draft is just a few short weeks away and you have the top pick. How many players are you looking at right now as a possibility for that selection?
DL: [Scouting director] Ed Creech and his staff are probably targeting five players at this point.
EE: How would you rate this year's crop of eligible players?
DL: From my discussion with Ed Creech, who is overseeing the scouting department in their search for our draft picks in 2002, the feedback he gives me is that it is a solid crop overall but no one is jumping out as being head and shoulders above everyone else to potentially be that first pick.
To some degree there seems to be some good high school arms that are throwing hard and a lack of position players in college.
EE: With the history of high school pitchers taken early who haven't panned out, are you leaning more towards a college guy who has more experience.
DL: If you consider our situation, we certainly need quality players to help us get better in Pittsburgh. That would be the very generic thought. But you really have to spend some time looking at the player and analyzing -- whether it's a college or a high school player -- how far away they are and what kind of talents they have.
We have spent a lot of time looking at the numbers through the years and there is no doubt that it appears that the college players are getting there quicker and there is less risk. It is also pretty evident that, through my experience and the research that has been done, the risk of injury for high school pitchers is significantly more than for the college pitchers. However, there are still examples out there of fine high school arms who have gone on to become solid to star-like Major League pitchers.
You can't go in with absolutes where we're not going to draft this profile of a player. You learn over time that you have to be open-minded. Although the gross numbers tell you one thing through the years, you have to use your scouting experience and common sense as to who you select and for what reasons.
Ed Eagle covers the Pirates for MLB.com and can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.