WHYGAVS Interviews Neal Huntington: Roster decisions and the Draft

This is part one of my interview with Neal Huntington; you can find the introduction and all the other parts here as they’re posted. 

WHYGAVS: I noticed Josh Fields hitting in both minor league games today. How much of the evaluation goes on more behind the scenes like this and away from the spring training games for a competition like the Pearce/Bowker/Fields/Marte decision?
Neal Huntington: It’s actually something we’ve done with a handful of guys this spring. Pedro did it the other day, Jones has done it a couple times now, Josh is here now, Garrett Atkins did it early in the spring, so it’s not really just the behind-the-scenes decisions guys, it’s a way to get a guy a lot of at-bats in one day. Maybe they were working on something three or four days before and it’s a chance to get out and get five, six, seven, I think we’ve had some guys get 12 at-bats bouncing back and forth from field to field. It’s a way to get a guy a lot of at-bats and yeah, in a situation where there is an evaluation in process it’s another eight or ten or six at-bats you can evaluate that player and his progess and what you think is in there as we go forward. 

Does Steve Pearce’s option figure into your decision making and does that hurt his chances to make the team?
When decisions are relatively equal, one of the things that gets factored in is whether the decision is reversible or irreversible. In some cases it helps the player that he’s on a roster, in some cases  it hurts the player that he’s on a roster. In Steve’s case, it’ll help him that he’s on the roster; the other guys are not on the 40-man roster, so where does our 40-man stand when we’re making the decision? But yes, the fact that he does have an option may work against him, but as we sit right now our focus is on taking the player that’s best for the role and if things are relatively equal than we start to factor in some of the other elements.

If James McDonald is still hurt on Opening day, is the fifth starter competition down to Brian Burres and Jeff Karstens? With the season starting on Friday, there’s less leeway with the rotation than in past years.
Yeah, we’ve only got two off-days in April so we’re going to need a fifth starer right out of the chute. Quite honestly, publicly our focus is on getting James healthy and we’ll make the public aware what our contingencies if we have to go there. Our belief and our hope is that we won’t have to go there. 
He’s throwing this week, then? (ed. note: this interview was Tuesday) 
He threw a bullpen Sunday and should be throwing another bullpen tomorrow and we’ll have a better feel from there where he is. After the first bullpen, he felt good

I’d like to move on to the draft. With you having the top pick, it’s been quite a topic of discussion during the off-season. Does your focus on pitching in the last two drafts affect the way you’re approaching this draft? 
Each draft is its own entity. We haven’t really focused on pitching the last couple of drafts, it’s more the way the boards come together and when our name was called we had a lot of pitchers on the board that we liked in the middle rounds. The last two drafts have been very pitching heavy drafts. This one is actually a pretty heavy pitching draft again. You’re always trying to get position players, but there’s two thoughts: one, you don’t want to reach too far down the board — if a pitcher is 57th on your board you don’t want to go to 97 just to get a position player because you’ve passed over some pretty good players that you could miss out on in the interim. The second thought is that if you have pitching, you can always trade it for position players. Pitching is the hottest commodity in the game and if you have a lot of it, it’s a very valuable resource and asset for you. So each draft is its own entity and the most important part of it is putting the board together and using it as the day unforlds. Greg Smith does a great job of managing the board and the players that we take are the best fit for us at each spot. 

With Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez in Pittsburgh with their arbitration clocks ticking, do you consider picking players that would fit well with them?You can’t pick for need in the Major League Baseball draft. You’ve got to take the best player available and we believe that we’ve got to always have the long-term viewpoint center stage. We’ve got to balance it with the short and middle term but we’ve always got to have the big picture decision in the center of our decisions.

I know this seems like a relatively small amount of discussion about the draft, but it feeds into a longer answer from Huntington about the state of “the big picture”  which will run first thing Monday morning. Same Bat-Time! Same Bat-Channel! 

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.