Catching up with the Pirates: Where have you gone Andy Van Slyke

To help prime us for our current series against the Pirates, I sat down with one of the best Pirates bloggers around, Pat Lackey, from Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke?
The Nats Blog: How do you feel about the Pirates number two overall pick in today’s draft?
WHYGAVS: I like it a lot. Jameson Taillon was pretty much universally agreed to be the number two talent behind Harper, as 6’7″ high schoolers with mid-90s fastballs and four good pitches are pretty rare. It’s a big risk and he’ll require a big bonus, but the Pirates have to get as much talent as they can in the draft and Taillon is just the sort of big-ticket arm that the system can use.

The Nats Blog: A year ago next month the Nats and Pirates swapped Lastings Milliedge and Joel Hanrahan for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett, at this point are you happy with what you’ve got for what you gave up?

WHYGAVS: Lastings Milledge has struggled a lot at the plate with the Pirates, but honestly, I’m still pretty happy with the trade. Morgan was never going to be worth more than he was last July and the Pirates already have a center fielder that’s much better than he is in Andrew McCutchen. I’m disappointed Milledge hasn’t panned out, but it was a risk worth taking. With the relievers, I know Burnett’s been pretty good for the Nats, but Hanrahan’s been excellent for the Bucs and much better than his ERA has indicated.

The Nats Blog: Nyjer Morgan had a great second half with Washington last season, but has struggled so far this year. Is this more of the Nyjer we should come to expect moving forward?

WHYGAVS: Nyjer’s a great athlete and fast as hell, but he’s never really been that good at taking routes to the ball in the outfield (the reason the Pirates had him in left field last year was that he didn’t look good at all in center in 2008) or stealing bases, despite his speed. He made some strides in the outfield last year, but I’m not surprised to see his UZR come back to earth a bit this year.

WHYGAVS: I do think he’s capable of being a little better at the plate than he’s been this year, but he’s obviously not a .350 hitter like he was for the Nats last year. He’s a great guy and a decent player, but not really a whole lot more than that.

The Nats Blog: What’s your take on Matt Capps? He seems to have stretches of greatness followed by stretches of god-awfulness. Any theory for why?

WHYGAVS: Capps doesn’t really have any secondary pitches. He throws his fastball pretty hard and he’s got great control, but his slider isn’t that great and his changeup is pretty much non-existent. He just doesn’t have the stuff to be a closer, I don’t think, and is probably better served in a seventh and eighth inning role when the manager can control his matchups a little better. When the slider isn’t working well, all he’s got is a fastball and a flat breaking pitch and he gets hammered. It happened with the Pirates last year and it’s happening with the Nats now.

The Nats Blog: When can you see the Pirates being competitive again?

WHYGAVS: If absolutely everything breaks right, they might not be as bad next year as people expect. Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln join the team tonight and with Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker already up, Pedro Alvarez waiting in the wings for a homestand (presumably), and guys like Tony Sanchez and Rudy Owens and Bryan Morris rising pretty quickly in High-A and Double-A, the Pirates are going to have a much different, younger look in the next 12 months. It’s probably still going to be until around 2012 when all these guys make it and get settled in, but I really do believe that things are getting better quicker than some people might believe.

The Nats Blog: What’s up with the Pirates mustaches?

WHYGAVS: The Bucs lost a bunch of games and so they pulled up their socks and all grew mustaches for team unity or good luck or some such thing. Hey, why not?

Catching up with the Pirates, Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke?

To help preview the coming series against the Pirates, The Nats Blog sat down with Pat from Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke (WHYGAVS), one of the top Pirates blogs on the net.

Here’s what he had to say.

The Nats Blog: Nyjer Morgan has been a great addition to the Nationals for the last 25 games. The centerfielder has put up lines of .389/.416/.484 with 37 runs in that stretch. You of course got to see a much larger sample size of Morgan’s abilities, what are your thoughts on him?

WHYGAVS: Morgan is a great guy and he’s a fun player to watch, but I still don’t think he’s a viable long-term lead-off hitter. Way too much of his offensive performance is tied up in batting average and I think in that regard, he’s much closer to the .277/.351/.356 player than the one you’ve seen the last month. The upside of it for the Nationals is that you can justify playing a player with that kind of bat if he has a good glove in center. The Pirates didn’t have room for him there with Andrew McCutchen emerging. As long as the Nats don’t fall captive to the idea that speed = leadoff hitter, I think Morgan can be a nice player for you guys.

TNB:  The Pirates have been extremely busy this month with trades, how do you feel about the direction the Pirates are taking?

WHYGAVS: I couldn’t be happier. Neal Huntington took over what was essentially a 67-70 win team late in 2007 that had practically nothing in the minor leagues besides McCutchen and maybe Brad Lincoln, who was recovering from Tommy John surgery at the time. In the two years since, he’s torn down the Dave Littlefield construct and added players with talent and potential by the boatload; Jose Tabata, Tim Alderson, Jeff Clement, Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernandez, Ross Ohlendorf, a passel of lower minor-league pitchers, and yes, Lastings Milledge have all arrived by trade while Pedro Alvarez and others have arrived through the draft. It may result in poor short-term results for the Pirates, but it’s the only way to be viable in the long-term. 

TNB: Who do you feel will be ready to compete sooner, the Nationals or the Pirates?

WHYGAVS: I may be a bit biased here, but I really do think it’s the Pirates. I look at the Nationals and see a team that’s where the Pirates were prior to 2007; ownership asserting itself too strongly on the front office, and a kind of directionless approach to player development and acquisition. Until the Lerners back off a little bit and until a full GM is hired, I can’t see things moving in the right direction for the Nats, even if you manage to bring Strasburg into the fold (sorry!).

TNB: What do the Pirates need to do to be successful this series?

WHYGAVS: They have to hit. In their past five games, the Pirates have scored 0, 0, 2, 2, and 0 runs. With that kind of output, they’re not going to beat anyone.

TNB: Any players we should keep our eyes on?

WHYGAVS: McCutchen is a ton of fun to watch. It’s hard to believe, but I think he’s actually faster than Morgan on the base paths and he’s up to full speed seemingly two steps out of the batter’s box. Charlie Morton, who should be pitching Sunday or Monday (the rotation is a bit in flux with yesterday’s addition of Kevin Hart) has a very good, live fastball and a great curveball. And to be honest, despite all the bad things I’ve heard, I’m really interested to see what Milledge does with his fresh start after he went down to Triple-A Indianapolis and hit .333/.425/.433 in his short stint there.