Kipper : #Pirates GM Neal Huntington Answers Some Questions Of Ours At Pirates FestBy Kipper @pghsportsforum
Now, we move on to discussing some of the stuff we had discussed with Neal Huntington (Frank Coonelly will be my next Blog Post). I almost feel as if I am late to the game getting the chance to talk with Neal Huntington. I know various other Bloggers have had the chance. I've listened to him on the Rumbunter Podcast multiple times. I've heard him in radio and T.V. interviews and at Pirates Fest I saw him taking on Q&A's. The one thing I can state about Neal Huntington is that, talking to him privately, you get the same guy you hear on Television and Radio. He likes to talk and he admits it. We could've talked to him longer but we knew there were others that wanted a chance to speak with him so we acted graciously.
We touched based on a few things with Neal Huntington, the first and I thought most interesting response was from a question we asked him about the young pitchers ; Justin Wilson, Kyle McPherson etc... (I don't not have the audio so the responses from Neal Huntington are just based off my memory and not an exact word for word).
Kipper & Steelreign : It's great to meet you and talk to you in person. We've had to chance to hear you on the Rumbunter Podcast a few times..
Neal Huntington throws out a chuckle and says that "the guys at the Rumbunter Podcast seem to bring out a side of him that's rarely seen". He went on to discuss how "it's such a relaxed environment doing something like that (Podcast)" than probably dealing with the media.
Tom can pay me later for plugging his site and podcast :D . Something very important here and I was having a discussion about this on Google+ is that the Pirates organization is given little to no credit and acknowledgment with regards to it's connection with it's fans. The Pittsburgh Steelers have absolutely none which is to be expected with their immense popularity. You'll hear every positive struck up like it's gold about the Pittsburgh Penguins organization doing Student Rush, players delivering tickets to houses, handing out pizza's to fans waiting in line and the Big Screen outside the arena for Road Playoff games, but what do they do for the Bloggers and Social community? Back when the Consol Energy Center was being constructed supposedly the Pittsburgh Penguins invited Bloggers to attend and tour the facility. From the couple of pictures i saw, only The Pensblog seemed to have received this memo. The Pittsburgh Penguins were the example. Their connection to your youth was and is excellent and they created the example.
The Pittsburgh Pirates fan connection is outstanding. It has trumped the Pittsburgh Penguins in just about every single way (except wins and Championships over course). However we're not talking about that, we're talking about how each organization makes themselves available to the public. How many fan created Pittsburgh Penguins Podcasts interview Ray Shero or David Moorehouse? What accessible public function is there that anybody can attend where Bloggers and fans can sit down and interview players in an intimate setting? Where anyone can discuss privately with the GM and Team President? Heck, we saw Bob Nutting, briefly talked to him and got pictures taken. He's considered somewhat of a "ghost" in Pittsburgh, but what yearly event could a member of the public do that with Mario Lemieux or Ron Burkle? Even when the Pittsburgh Penguins were terrible they weren't any more accessible to the fans. I'd give anything to meet Mario Lemieux again with something more than being armed with a pager.
There's a bit of perspective to think about when you see my typing about conversing with Neal Huntington or Charlie Wilmoth at Bucs Dugout discussing how they were able to talk with Neal Huntington for an hour or so after Pirates Fest ended and the Janitor's were out in full force. When you listen to a Podcast and you hear your common fan interviewing and talking it up with the Pirates GM, President, Coaches and Players, that is truly a rare treat. It's a rare treat in Pittsburgh and it's a rare treat nationally amongst any sports team. Something I feel has been overlooked in Pittsburgh but deserves to not be taken for granted. A bit of credit certainly goes out to Tom Smith at Rumbunter who I know wanted the Pittsburgh Pirates to become more socially connected with it's fans and the public. What direct involvement he had, I'm not sure but the Pirates certainly have become very socially connected.
Kipper & Steelreign : What are the chance of the young pitchers like Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Kyle McPherson & Jeff Locke making the MLB Roster and even competing for that #5 spot?
Neal Huntington mentions that "every one of these guys will have a shot for the bullpen". He didn't necessarily mention any one pitcher more than the other. I was hoping for that since in a way it signals perhaps a favorite without him coming out and saying so. Neal discussed looking into Free Agency to see what type of deal might be out there as well to strengthen the depth that we have. However the most interesting response was when he discussed Justin Wilson specifically and discussed him as a possible future starter. He stated that "the Pittsburgh Pirates were moving towards a more oldschool approach" or that they "want to get to where you bring up these guys from AAA and stick them in the bullpen and graduate them from the Bullpen to a starter". He went on discussing how that was the way they used to handle pitchers years and years ago and that the Pirates were looking into this approach, especially since they have so many good young capable arms, but few Starting Rotation possibilities right now.
I believe it is an interesting approach. Rather than send these guys into the Lions Den at the MLB level in the starting rotation, you let them earn their way by working in the bullpen but you also develop a side of their Major League game without the added pressure. You get them used to the Travel at the MLB level. You get them used to the different ballparks, the extra involvement with film and players at the MLB level. You give the players a level of comfort first and then promote them.
Kipper & Steelreign : You just picked up Clint Robinson who I found interesting. He's hit for power at the upper levels of AAA and bats around .300 every year and appears to have been blocked by Eric Hosmer. Do you see some sort of hidden potential there? Catching Lightning in a bottle like Garrett Jones or other teams seem to do with our guys?
Neal Huntington never said anything positive or negative about Clint Robinson. He mentioned that "there was a lot that they liked about him and that he was a very low risk, high reward type of player that they are going to give a chance to show them what he can do". I went a bit further and mentioned that I knew that Clint was old for a prospect at the age of 27 however there seems to be this age in Baseball, a prime age where players seem to "get it" and whether they put an emphasis on it. I mentioned Jose Bautista, Brandon Moss, Jason Schmidt etc... Neal Huntington mentioned "the age of 26-29" when I started talking about those guys and said that "they do look at the age. Sometimes you can't get them when you want them but the potential is there. You hope for it to come out sooner and sometimes it doesn't". He then mentioned Brandon Moss and said "of course that was our luck".
I'll probably touch on this subject in the upcoming weeks or month with regards to players age but when you talk to Neal Huntington, he really seems to know a little bit about everything, as if it's difficult to sort of stump him. To his credit and the credit of his staff, Neal Huntington looks at pretty much everything. While one can question what he uses more or less of to come to his conclusions, you can't question the amount of work Neal puts into researching players and knowing as much about them as possible. It's the scout in him that allows for this. At times I feel like Neal Huntington the Scout is talking rather than a Management guy. We all remember Dave Littlefield. I never conversed with him but we remember his interviews. They were dull, void of information and generally came across as "Management Speak". Neal Huntington is the complete opposite as he said to us "for better or worse".
Kipper & Steelreign : Does it bother you that all 20 years of this Organization's failures seem to be associated with you? The media is in a constant attack mode against you guys but they seem to forget what terrible shape this organization was in when you guys took over for the former regime. You guys have been building from the dirt up..
Neal Huntington "See you guys get it". First words out of his mouth. I wish I could remember the exact words he used but he told us that another GM told him upon taking the Pittsburgh Pirates job that he was "nuts". That Neal Huntington "was better off staying at his position in Cleveland than he was taking the Pirates job".
People do tend to forget the state this organization as a whole was in back in late 2007. An imbalanced MLB roster of aging vets the team had little to no control over. Nothing at the higher levels of the minors that was ready to graduate to the MLB roster. The Pirates employed one of the fewer number of scouts in all of Baseball. They blatantly ignored the Latin America and International Drafts and markets despite having Rene Gayo on the payroll in Latin America. The Dominican facility was finally being built after years of neglect. Where other organizations may have been bad like the Pirates with regards to their success at the MLB level, the Pirates were behind the curve in some many other areas beyond the MLB level that the idea of a quick turn around was never realistic.
Kipper & Steelreign : I appreciate what your doing with the team and the direction you're taking with the team, but I have to ask you how do you deal with people like Smizik and Dejan?
Neal Huntington "Well frankly we ignore them. We have to do things a certain way and stick with it. We can't let them dictate and make decisions we have to make".
I don't believe that they are able to truly ignore the noise from the media. They had to face it during the Questions and Answer portion at Pirates Fest and then afterwards where Frank Coonelly discussed the unfair nature of how the organization is treated by the Tribune Review in a radio interview (which I personally completely agree). It's impossible to ignore but there's no doubt that they do indeed try and it has to be difficult to not just throw up a middle finger because let's face it, when someone ticks you off you really don't want to be Politically Correct even though you have to.
What's most important here is that they don't make decisions based on what the media says or the fans say. They shouldn't. Fans and the media have always pretend to be an equal or more in terms of knowledge and neither are. It doesn't mean that the media and fans are going or should quit trying but utilizing a sense of logic and common sense suggests that the fans and media aren't qualified for those jobs. If they were, they'd be in them. Columnists possess the same opinion we have. Some of their opinions are built on lesser knowledge than what some of us possess but nobody should forget that people like Bob Smizik didn't get a degree in Sports 101. He's a former school teacher. Folks like Dejan Kovacevic, got a degree in how to properly construct sentences and paragraphs, not Sports. There's Zero amateur, college or pro sports coaching, scouting, management and playing to go along with his opinions. His opinions on anything sports related is about as valuable as mine and yours yet the common public tends to forget this when they take in what the media says. They take to heart and belief too much of what these opinionated columnists say, often forgetting that they can question these opinions but question why one would or should believe them in the first place. Their voice is only louder than yours, not smarter.
So it's always refreshing to know and hear sports management types not caving in to public pressure and opinion and sticking to their guns and doing THEIR JOBS, not the jobs that us opinionated nobodies think they should be performing.
One side note that isn't directly related to this but was at the top of my head. During the Q& A at Pirates Fest, Neil Huntington mentioned that they had hired an Assistant Hitting Coach - Jeff Branson in case anyone missed the announcement. It was first brought to the public's attention as far as I knew, at Pirates Fest.
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