Pirates admit 'rumblings' about Tabata's age
His birth certificate and passport say outfielder Jose Tabata was born Aug. 12, 1988, in Anzoategui, Venezuela. Yet, during a recent radio interview, general manager Neal Huntington admitted there are "a lot of rumblings" that Tabata might actually be in his mid-20s.
In Latin America, record-keeping can be spotty, especially when it comes to youngsters with excellent baseball skills. The New York Yankees investigated Tabata's background in 2005 and, satisfied he truly was 16, signed him as an undrafted free agent.
The Pirates are not publicly disputing Tabata's age, and yet ...
"All of the documentation he has used to obtain his visa from the U.S. government and his passport from the Venezuelan government indicates his reported age is accurate," Huntington said in an e-mail to the Tribune-Review. "Apart from unfounded speculation, there is nothing to indicate his age any different than reported. My point is that while we have reason to doubt his reported age, it is a non-issue to us."
Even if Tabata should have three or four more candles on his birthday cake, he's still considered a top prospect. But how good he is, to a degree, does depend on his age.
Last year, Tabata played in 93 games — includuing 32 at Triple-A Indianapolis, where he hit .276 with three homers and 10 RBI.
A 21-year-old who's set to begin his first full season at Triple-A is considered precocious. But for a 24-year-old, it's considered a typical career path.
New, improved Milledge
During a Q&A session at PirateFest, a fan asked if Lastings Milledge had gotten a bad reputation because of distorted media coverage. Milledge, who was unaware there were three reporters listening nearby, did not take the bait.
"I think I brought a lot of it on myself," Milledge said without hesitation. "I didn't take the game very seriously. A lot of things were handed to me. Now, I'm working harder and not taking anything for granted."
Milledge's seemingly heartfelt answer drew a long round of applause.
Major League Baseball's schedule-maker can be quite unkind to the Pirates.
They often have to make three separate trips to the West Coast, instead of playing the Dodgers, Padres and Giants in one or two swings. Three years ago, the Pirates touched every corner of the country — Seattle, Anaheim and Miami — on the same trip. MLB refuses to recognize the Indians as a yearly interleague rival, instead offering Pirates fans series after series against the White Sox and Royals.
Although Cleveland will visit PNC Park this season, much else remains the same. There's an epic trip — Houston, Milwaukee and Los Angeles — at the end of April, four trips to California, and an odd, two-game stint in Philadelphia.
An early draft of the 2010 schedule had the Pirates playing an interleague series against the Twins at their new Target Field. However, plans changed and the Pirates instead got a series in Oakland against the A's.
Now, the team must fly from Pittsburgh to Dallas (to play the Rangers) to Oakland and to Chicago (to play the Cubs). Adding another time zone and a few hundred miles makes for a more tedious trip.
One thing working in the Pirates' favor is their strength of schedule, at least when it comes to non-division opponents.
This season, the Pirates' will play 83 games outside the NL Central. That includes 15 interleague games.
The 2009 winning percentage of the Pirates' 2010 non-division foes is .502. That places them in the middle of the pack in the NL Central, as far as strength of schedule.
The NL Central, of course, is a unique case because it is the only division with six teams, which means it has fewer non-division games. The way to fix that imbalance is to move one NL Central club to the AL West, creating six five-team divisions. But that's a topic for another day ...
All is forgiven
It seems the Pirates and Klement's Racing Sausages will remain forever ... wait for the bad pun ... linked.
The Milwaukee Brewers are holding an online auction, with the prize being a Valentine's Day visit from one of the famous sausage mascots. Also included in the package are two club-level seats to either the April 26 or 27 games at Miller Park. The Brewers' opponent those days is, of course, the Pirates.
Maybe it's a kiss-and-make up attempt by the sausages, one of whom was bludgeoned by ex-Pirate Randall Simon in 2003.
Around the horn
» Huntington was succinct when asked why the Pirates failed to sign Dominican free agent Miguel Sano. "I didn't get it done," Huntington said. "It's my fault. I hold myself responsible."
» Garrett Jones wants his "walkup" song — the tune you hear when he goes to the plate at PNC Park — to be something upbeat. "I want to use something people will get into," Jones said. "I might go with that new Miley Cyrus song, 'Party in the USA.' "
» Huntington drew some gasps with this evaluation of supposed phenom Bryce Harper, who has been projected as the No. 1 overall draft pick this June: "We like Bryce Harper, but I can't tell you right now he is in our top 10," Huntington said. "I feel sorry for the guy because he has to live up to being the next LeBron James." Huntington added that the Pirates' evaluation of Harper is not yet complete, and — Scott Boras or no Scott Boras — they will take him if he's the best player available. The Pirates have the second overall pick.
» The Pirates were interested in free-agent lefthander Hisanori Takahashi, but have fallen out of the running. Takahashi was 79-66 over the past 10 years with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese Central League.