Inbox: Is Hinske a power threat?
Beat reporter Jenifer Langosch answers fans' questions
Thanks for the influx of questions since I posted our first Inbox last Thursday. I received so many submissions that I wanted to get a fresh Inbox going early this week, as we sit just one day away from the team's first full-squad workout.
Will Eric Hinske be given a chance to win the third base job? He probably has the most power of anyone on the roster, and power is lacking from Andy LaRoche's game.
-- Jayme F., Philisburg, Pa.
At this point, there is no discussion of Hinske being a starting option at third. It's LaRoche's job at this point, and I can't see anyone else starting the season there. The Pirates are going to give LaRoche every chance to succeed at third, and they really don't have any intention of having him sit on the bench. And since LaRoche is out of options, the possibility of sending him to the Minors isn't really there.
Now, if Hinske opens some eyes during Spring Training, don't count out the possibility that he may challenge Nyjer Morgan for the starting job in left field. Right now, that hasn't really been a scenario brought up by management, but it certainly is intriguing. The job is still Morgan's to lose, but Hinske's power and experience could give management second thoughts about handing that everyday job to Morgan right away. Keep that storyline on your radar.
What other options are there at backup catcher?
-- James W., Waynesboro, Va.
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Diaz was acquired late last season in a trade with the Blue Jays and is in the same boat as Jaramillo in that he hasn't proven himself at the big league level. His Major League experience is limited to 10 total at-bats.
How patient will management be with Adam LaRoche if he stumbles into this season like he has the last two? I mean, the guy usually ends up hitting .280 with 20 HRs and 80 RBIs, but it takes him three months to get it together.
-- Marc B., New Bethlehem, Pa.
If you're asking if LaRoche is going to be benched, the answer is a definitive no. In fact, when asked a similar question at PirateFest last month, Russell made it quite clear that he does not intend to bench LaRoche.
Russell's exact words: "Adam LaRoche will work harder than any other player. That's accountability. He'll be busting his butt for his team and for his fans. I'm not going to turn my back on that."
Russell and general manager Neal Huntington have also both stressed that because LaRoche's worst month of the season comes in April it is magnified. A poor month later in the season can be hidden in the statistics much easier.
Hey, I looked at Craig Monroe's stats and they looked really good. Why did they sign him to a Minor League contract?
-- Julian K., Pittsburgh It's quite common for players, even established players, to sign a Minor League contract with teams during the offseason. Be careful not to confuse 'Minor League contract' as meaning that he will only play in the Minor Leagues.
Essentially, by signing Monroe (or anyone else for that matter) to a Minor League deal, it doesn't lock the Pirates down to pay Monroe a specific Major League salary all season. In other words, if the Pirates don't believe he is one of the best 25 players at the end of Spring Training, they can cut ties without still being financially responsible. You'll remember with the Matt Morris ordeal last season that if a Major League player is cut from the team, the team is still required to pay his salary.
Regardless of the type of contract he signed, Monroe has a strong chance at making the team as the fifth outfielder since he would complement the other four outfielders as the lone right-handed bat in the group. If that's the case, then the Pirates will add him to the Major League roster and pay him a Major League salary.
Thank you, Jenifer. We appreciate your good work in covering the Bucs. My question is: When do you think that we might see Brad Lincoln in Pittsburgh?
-- Lou Z., Youngstown, Ohio
Thanks for the kind words, Lou. When I talked with Pirates farm director Kyle Stark over the winter, he said that Lincoln's performance last season put him in position to possibly start the season in Double-A. (Lincoln went 5-5 with a 4.65 ERA, six walks and 46 strikeouts in 11 games at the low Class A level in 2008. He then went 1-5 with a 4.75 ERA, 11 walks and 29 strikeouts in eight games at the high Class A level). Even if Lincoln starts the season back at high Class A, he'll be in Double-A Altoona before year's end.
That said, Lincoln should easily be in Triple-A during the 2010 season, and a Major League debut as a September callup that year is certainly a possibility. If not before, I would imagine that Lincoln will be in Pittsburgh in 2011.
I was wondering what ever happened to the kid everyone called "Big Country." He had super power but just did not get done at the Major League level.
-- Rick T., Pittsburgh
"Big Country" was the nickname belonging to Brad Eldred, a sixth-round Draft pick by the Pirates in 2002. Eldred appeared in 74 big league games with the Pirates, but he hit just .199 and struck out 93 times in 236 at-bats.
Eldred became a Minor League free agent after the 2007 season and signed a Minor League deal with the White Sox. He didn't make Chicago's Major League club at any point last season and hit just .244 in Triple-A. Appropriate for his nickname, though, he did hit 35 home runs. This offseason, Eldred signed a Minor League contract with the Nationals.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.