Pittsburgh Pirates: Minor League Notebook - 8/03

<b><u>NASHVILLE</u></b> <br><br> <b> LEAVING TOWN</b> <br>When Kris Benson was traded to the New York Mets Friday, it left a hole in the Pirates pitching staff.

Because of that hole, Pittsburgh released struggling third baseman Chris Stynes and called up reliever Mark Corey from the Sounds.

As the Nashville closer, Corey was 1-2 with a 3.66 ERA and 15 saves, but with Jose Mesa in the bullpen, he will most likely take over the middle relief role performed by Ryan Vogelsong, who will fill Benson's spot in the rotation.

CODA FOT COTA?

In eight games of his rehabilitation assignment in Nashville, catcher Humberto Cota is batting only .259 and his average has dropped like a stone every day he's been in the minors.

In his first two games, Cota was 4-for-8 with a homer and two RBI, but since then he is 3-for-19 (.158) with no extra-base hits.

Because the Pirates have some decisions to make on the 40-man roster after the season and the fact J.R. House will be spending the last 2 ½ months of the season in the majors, it is likely Cota - in the final year of his contract - could lose his spot.

STEW FINALLY HEATING UP
Cory Stewart missed more than a month after hitting the 15-day disabled list for a left intercostals strain, but the 24-year-old lefty is finally getting back on track.

Stewart won for the first time in eight starts when he struck out six in five innings in a win over Edmonton, but the problem with him has been durability. He has averaged only five innings in his 12 starts. The second worst of any Nashville hurler with more than 10 starts (Josh Burnett, 4 2/3).

TRADE DEADLINE DEMOTIONS
Nashville sent utilityman Scott Sheldon to Altoona Saturday. Sheldon was batting just .253 in 27 games with the Sounds. He was signed as a free agent on June 16.

The Sounds will also have the services of outfielder Tony Alvarez, who was returned to Nashville Saturday by the Pirates.

He was 7-for-28 with a double, a home run and six RBI in 14 major-league games this season.

ALTOONA

KEP ON TRUCKIN'
Curve second baseman Jeff Keppinger was the "other' player the Pirates sent to the Mets in the Benson deal. He hit .334 (108-for-323) with Altoona with one homer and 33 RBI in 82 games. He represented the Curve at the Double-A all-star game.

But Keppinger was never really on the Pirates radar, not with young infielders Bobby Hill, Jose Castillo and Abraham Nunez in the majors along with Freddy Sanchez, the lynchpin of the Jeff Suppan deal with Boston last year, sitting at Triple-A.

"You never have enough players and prospects, so your always looking for more," Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said. "But when you look at the strengths of an organization, and we had what could be viewed from our end as a little bit of an excess. We certainly don't have too many excesses, but trading someone there where we had strength made sense."

Sheldon will temporarily move to third as rookie league infielder Donaldo Mendez was called up from Bradenton to take Keppinger's infield spot. Altoona has two infielders, Yurendell DeCaster and Kevin Nicholson, who will play for their respective nations in the Olympics.

ON THE MATT
The key to the Benson trade may have been 22-year-old pitcher Matt Peterson, who was 6-4 with a 3.27 ERA in 19 games, 18 starts, with Binghamton this year. The 2000 second-round pick of the Mets was one of the team's most highly rated prospects before the season began.

"He's sill fairly young, he's been successful throughout his career and he's a right-handed pitcher that falls into the group of stars that we have high hopes for," Littlefield said. "I would anticipate, with his pitching at Double-A this year, that he's be scheduled to go to Triple-A next year because you're always open-minded and there will be opportunity for players."

Peterson is scheduled to make his first start with the Pirates organization Wednesday when Altoona travels to Akron, but there is little chance of his moving up to Nashville by season's end.

"I think with where he's at with his experience and his age, this is the right place for him," Littlefield said. "We had a lot of people say the same thing after they had seen him this year."

LYNCHBURG

WAY DOWN ON THE FARM
The Hillcats pitching staff is among the leaders in the Carolina League…if you start from the bottom.

Nick Gravelle is tried for the league lead with nine losses, and tied for third with 13 home runs allowed. On the positive side, he's fifth in the league with 112.1 innings pitched.

The Hillcats 3.87 ERA is third best in the league, but Gravelle's 4.49 ERA is the lowest of any current pitcher who has started at least 10 games.

HICKORY

ROLLING
Crawdads had an eight-game winning streak snapped this week in a loss to Lake County. If that weren't enough, first baseman Jon Benick leads the South Atlantic League with 24 homers, one ahead of teammate Adam Boeve, and in slugging percentage at .604, is third in the league with a .330 average and fifth with 75 RBI.

As a team, Hickory leads the SAL with a .274 average.

WILLIAMSPORT

DRAFTING UP
It's almost appropriate that shortstop Brett Grandstrand went to Coastal Carolina, near to Myrtle Beach. But when he moved north he brought his game with him.

The 382nd player taken in this year's draft is hitting .297 with two homers and 10 RBI in 21 games with the Crosscutters. He also leads the team with four sacrifice hits.

CAPPS OFF
While this year's draft class tries to make its mark, 2002 seventh round selection Matt Capps is making a bid to move up to Hickory next season.

Capps is 4-2 with a 4.60 ERA, but he the 20-year-old right-hander throws the ball over the plate. Opposing hitters are batting .317 against him, but he's only walked two batters, one intentionally, while striking out 22 in 43 innings.

BRADENTON

DUKES UP
Duquesne University's Daniel Schwartzbauer continues to light up the Gulf Coast League. The 1,222nd player taken this year is batting .343 with one homer, 10 RBI and a .410 on-base percentage.

His one drawback, he's made six errors in 20 games.

WALKING ON
Pirates first round pick Neil Walker continues to struggle with the wooden bats. In 30 games, he's batting only .263 with one homer and 11 RBI. He's has 10 extra-base hits, six doubles and three triples, but has only caught 13 games and has been used extensively as a designated hitter.

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