Lefty McThump's target - larrysphatpage/Flickr.com
Two winters ago the Pirates began their search for Lefty McThump. To supplement the right-handed core of a batting order featuring Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez and Xavier Nady, Dave Littlefield would scour the market for a first baseman or corner outfielder with pull power to right field. The idea was that a big, left-handed bat would take aim at Clemente's Wall and dunk several baseballs each season into the Allegheny River.
Eventually, Littlefield shipped closer Mike Gonzalez and top shortstop prospect Brent Lillibridge to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for first baseman Adam LaRoche and outfield prospect Jamie Romak. Coming off a .285/.354/.561 2006 season that saw him bash 32 home runs and drive in 90 with Atlanta, LaRoche fit the description of Lefty McThump. The first baseman followed up on a mediocre initial campaign in Pittsburgh with the second best season of his short career in 2008.
Littlefield stopped with LaRoche, though. Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit were battling for playing time. His farm system boasted only two projectable players capable of hitting from the left side--Neil Walker and Shelby Ford--and both are switch-hitters with no success above Double-A. The first left-handed hitter he selected in the 2007 draft was Bobby Spain, taken with the team's 19th round pick.
Last fall, Neal Huntington inherited a farm system of questionable quality and depth. He was tasked with modernizing an organization, and I believe he's succeeded in doing just that in his first year at the helm of this Pirate ship. His interest in players with power potential is clear, but one question remains after examining the bats he's acquired to date:
Waivers: Kevin Thompson, OF; Josh Wilson, IF; Ray Olmedo, SS.
Free agency: Chris Gomez, IF; Luis Rivas, IF; Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B; Craig Wilson, 1B.
Trade: Jason Michaels, OF; Ryan Mulhern, UT; Jose Tabata; Brandon Moss, OF; Robinzon Diaz, C.
Draft: Pedro Alvarez, 3B; Jordy Mercer, SS; Chase D'Arnaud, SS; Robbie Grossman, OF; Benjamin Gonzalez, SS; Jeremy Farrell, 3B; Matthew Hague, 3B.
Where is the left-handed power?
Of those 19 hitters acquired by Huntington in his tenure as Pirates GM, just five hit from the left side of the plate: Alvarez, Grossman (switch), Mientkiewicz, Moss and Olmedo (switch). The three youngsters all have appeal, but it's surprising that there hasn't been a stronger emphasis on balancing the Pirate system's right-handed lean. Until, perhaps, now?
Saturday Dejan Kovacevic reported that the Pirates are eyeing two power-hitting types in their negotiations with the Detroit Tigers over Jack Wilson. Infielder Jeff Larish and outfielder Matt Joyce, both young, left-handed bats, are believed to be in Huntington's sights.
Joyce seems to be highly regarded by the Tigers, but Larish, a first baseman blocked by Miguel Cabrera, seems attainable. Recently ranked by Baseball America as Detroit's No. 5 prospect, Larish's scouting report discusses his strengths:
Larish's greatest asset is raw power to the pull field. Though there's virtually no load with his hands, he can crush fastballs over the inner half of the plate.
While Charlie and Pat don't seem interested in Larish, I think that he's the kind of player I'd like to see Huntington target more often in trade talks. His price tag wouldn't be terribly high, and his new home ballpark would play to his abilities 81 times each year.
Baseball America said that Larish is a polarizing figure among scouts, and that could hold true for Pirate bloggers, too. Whereas others might see an aging prospect still in search of his breakout season, I'm open to the idea of finding the next Lefty McThump at a discount.
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