Bucs Minor League Notebook

Wardell Starling

News,notes and quotes from around the Pirates minor league system. Who's hot and who's not. A look at the Triple A Indianapolis Indians, the Double A Altoona Curve, the Single A Lynchburg Hillcats and Class A Hickory Crawdads.Advanced Rookie-League Williamsport Crosscutters and Rookie League Bradenton Pirates.

The Indians (40-34) have won two in a row and five of their last seven, but have only a half-game lead over Toledo in the International League West Division. Indianapolis' game Sunday against Richmond was rained out and will open a four-game series at home against Rochester beginning Monday.

Rajai Davis has had a season to forget for the most part, but he may finally be coming out of his year-long slump. Davis is in the middle of a season-high 10-game hitting streak in which he is batting .286 (12-for-42 with six runs scored. For the season he is hitting just .259 in 67 games and could be a casualty when the organization evaluated its 40-man roster after the season.

Tom Gorzelanny hasn't had much to show for in the win column this season - he's only 5-5 despite a stellar 2.53 ERA in 15 starts - but he will get a call up to pitch in Pittsburgh this month. Gorzelanny has been selected to play in the MLB Futures Game on July 9 at PNC Park as part of the All-Star Game festivities. It may also be a precursor to a September call-up as both Zach Duke and Ian Snell pitched in the game last year.

Mike Connolly is not on the Pirates 40-man roster, but if he's going to make a move he'd better do it soon. The 24-year-old left-hander was Pittsburgh's 19th round pick in the 2000 draft and is getting his second taste of life in Triple-A, but after a 2-4 showing in 2005 after his promotion from Altoona, he is 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA after allowing six earned in four innings in his only start after a Double-A recall this year.

The Curve (44-30) have lost three of their last five and remain in second place, four games behind Akron in the Eastern League Southern Division. They will finish their three-game series against the Aeros before returning home for three against Bowie.

Wardell Starling wasn't impressive in his Double-A debut Tuesday - he was rocked for four runs on seven hits in three innings in a no-decision - but he fared much better Sunday against first-place Akron. Starling, the 23-year-old taken in the fourth round of the 2002 draft, pitched five scoreless innings of three-hit ball to pick up his first win with the Curve in a 3-0 shutout.

Outfielder Vic Buttler is making a name for himself hitting triples - he has a team-record 13 this season that is the most in professional baseball - but he's not just a three-bag man. Buttler is currently third in the Eastern League with a .321 average, but he's being overshadowed by Akron third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff who is hitting a blistering .428 in 50 games before going on the disabled list June 16 with a hamstring injury.

The Hillcats (1-4) have begun the second half the same way they finished the first, with a losing record. Lynchburg has lost four in a row and was in a 3-3 tie with Myrtle Beach Sunday before the game was suspended by rain. They will head to first-half champion and first-place Wilmington for a three-game set beginning Thursday after the Class-A all-star game.

Neil Walker was not selected to play in the Carolina League All-Star game Tuesday, that honor went instead to shortstop Brian Bixler, Wardell Starling who has since moved up to Altoona and Nyjer Morgan, but will play in an all-star game this season. Walker, the Pine-Richland High School alum who the Pirates took with their first-round pick in 2004, will head home to play at PNC Park in the MLB Futures game on July 9.

First base is a crowded place in the Pirates organization, with Sean Casey in the majors, Brad Eldred the heir-apparent in the DL, but Steven Pearce is making a lot of noise that could be heard in Pittsburgh. The eighth-round pick in the 2005 draft is hitting .278 with seven homers and 25 RBI in 30 games since being called up from Hickory on May 26.

The Crawdads (1-3) have lost three of their first four in the second half of the season and are right where they finished the first half, under .500 and near the bottom of the standings. They are tied with Delmarva for last place in the South Atlantic League Northern Division and are already 2.5 games behind first place West Virginia.

Andrew McCutchen made the most of his South Atlantic League all-star appearance when he went 1-for-3 with a run scored in the North's 4-0 win. Teammate Brett Lillibridge, however,went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and hit into a double play while Steve Lerud went 0-for-1 with an RBI.

Brad Corley may be in Lynchburg by the end of the year if he keeps hitting like this. The Pirates second round pick in 2005 is batting .304 with eight homers and 47 RBI and could be a viable candidate to be pushed through the system.

The Crosscutters (2-3) are currently in last place in the Pickney Division of the Class A Short-Season New York-Penn League. They will host Auburn for three games beginning with their home opener on Monday.

Alexander Peralta languished for two years at Bradenton in the Gulf Coast League but is showing that it has been time well spent. The 21-year-old undrafted free agent is leading the Crosscutters with a .357 batting average in his first three games.

Through its first five games this season Williamsport is one of four teams without a home run and has just seven extra-base hits this season.

The Pirates (3-2) are currently tied with the Reds and Twins for first place in the South Division. They will play at the Reds today at noon before a two-game set with the Red Sox.

Jared Keel didn't waste any time signing with the Pirates after he was taken in the 31st round this year and he's already making an impact. The third baseman from Troy State is 9-for-17 (.529) with three RBI in his first five games as a professional.

Matthew McCullen didn't get a signing bonus when he was drafted this year, but he's showing promise out of the bullpen for the Pirates. The Western Carolina alumnus and 1,130th player taken in 2006 is 1-0 with a 0-0 ERA in two relief appearances and hasn't allowed a hit

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