The Pirates were gracious enough to invite some bloggers into the Buc Social VIP area at PirateFest today. At noon, Tom (RumBunter), Charlie (Bucs Dugout), Richard (Saber Bucs), Steelreign (Pittsburgh Sports Forum), and I had the opportunity to talk with new Bucco catcher Chris Stewart.
Stewart, a California guy, just got into town and is getting settled with his wife and two kids. It’s his first time ever in Pittsburgh, but he’s looking forward to the new setting. Stewart said, “I’m excited…There’s a community feel with Pittsburgh that my wife and I enjoy.”
Stewart said he would’ve loved to stay with the Yankees, but is excited to get going with the Pirates. He mentioned that it’s nice coming to a legit, contending team. That’s refreshing to hear from a fan’s perspective, after so many years of bad baseball here in Pittsburgh.
He’s also excited to play with Russell Martin again. In 2012, Martin started 116 game behind the plate for the Yankees, while Stewart started the other 46.
A main talking point was his ability to frame pitches, or “steal strikes.” Like Martin, Stewart is among the best defensive catchers in all of baseball. Both catchers were among the top pitch framers last season.
On the new rule banning home plate collisions, Stewart said he’s a traditionalist and doesn’t like seeing many changes to the game. At the same time, he’s all for protecting catchers, so it’s a tough call. Stewart was on the Giants in 2011 when Buster Posey suffered a season-ending injury in a collision; that play seems to be the catalyst for the rule change.
Stewart seemed like a smart, genuine guy who can be a good addition to the Pirates’ clubhouse.
We talked a bit about the starting rotation – how Edinson Volquez and others fit in – and Huntington preached the importance of depth: “Every time we’ve thought we had a surplus somewhere, that surplus dissipated quickly. And in some cases, that surplus becomes a deficit overnight.” With Liriano, Cole, Morton, Locke, Rodriguez, Volquez, possibly Burnett, and others on the way, NH said that “it will work itself out.”
When I asked him about how Gregory Polanco and Andrew Lambo are progressing in winter ball, he said, “Andrew (Lambo)… getting some work at first base, just as an option there if need be. We’d like to give Andrew a shot and see what he can do – a 24-year-old who hit 30+ home runs in the minor leagues last year – not getting a lot of love and we think some people have turned the page on him too quickly… the young man has grown up, he’s made some adjustments, and he’s in a really good spot.” If the Bucs choose an internal option to platoon with Gaby Sanchez at first base, Lambo would be the guy.
Clarifying his comments from a few weeks ago, Neal said “If (top-tier free agents) are looking for top-tier dollars, they’re going to play somewhere else… We certainly paid market value for Russell Martin… so it’s not that we won’t pay market value when it’s appropriate.”
We were only supposed to talk to NH for about 15 minutes, but he kindly took more questions and stayed for about a half-hour.
Both Stewart and Huntington gave us great insight – thanks to them for taking our questions. It was nice meeting some of the bloggers and putting names with faces. Huge thanks to Terry, head of Pirates’ social media, for making this happen. This was an awesome experience and I’m glad I got to take part in it.