Archive for the ‘ Position Previews ’ Category

2013 Expectations: Top of the Rotation

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

AJ Burnett

Burnett, who has already been named the opening day starter, is the clear unquestioned leader of the Pirates staff. Burnett isn’t quite as effective as your typical number one pitcher but is a significant upgrade from the number one starters the Pirates sent out there just a few seasons ago. Headed into last season he was coming off two rough seasons for the Yankees but he rebounded nicely compiling a very strong seasons. The Pirates and I’m sure fans are all hoping he can repeat his 2012 success in 2013 but realistically that doesn’t seem very likely to me. Burnett is getting up there is baseball years at 36 years old and while his 2012 season was nice he tailed off towards the end of the year. His campaign in 2012 did not appear to be exceedingly lucky so expecting a complete collapse back to his 2010-2011 years is probably unrealistic as well but still his 2013 numbers are likely to be worse than his 2012 ones. Last season Burnett managed to keep his walk rate below 3.0 BB/9 innings something he has rarely done in his career. I see Burnett still being a very strong rotation arm for the Pirates but the walks will likely increase and that will have the snowball effect which cause regression to set in. I’m seeing an ERA in the upper 3s, say around 3.90, a WHIP in the 1.30-1.35 range and strike out and walk ratios around 7.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 respectively. Last season Fan Graphs had him pegged as a 3.4 WAR player and he won’t reach that level in 2013 as I see him around a 2.5 WAR player with a maximum of a 3.0 WAR player.

Wandy Rodriguez

Rodriguez has already been names the second man in the rotation and I think the Pirates will benefit from having for the entire season. Rodriguez has seen his strike out rates slip in the past few seasons and that coupled with his age of 34 years old is a definite red flag. Still he has managed to keep his numbers fairly steady and there is reason to believe he will continue to do. He isn’t a true #2 starter like the Pirates will be counting on him to be but he is a durable arm who should give the Pirates a lot of solid innings and that in itself has a lot of value. Rodriguez has been transforming himself the last couple of seasons from a power pitcher to more of a finesse one and he has been fairly successful and my expectation is that he will continue to be fairly successful. Overall I see a Rodriguez posting an ERA not to dissimilar to Burnett’s ERA. His ERA should be in the high 3 range around 3.8-3.9, his WHIP should remaining fairly steady around 1.30 and I see his strike out rate improving slightly to around 6.5 K/9 and his walk rate remaining strong at about 2.7 BB/9. Overall I see him having about the same value as Burnett meaning he should be about a 2.5 WAR player. I would say Burnett’s maximum performance for 2013 is better than Rodriguez’s but Rodriguez is probably the more dependable of the two meaning he has less of a chance to fall of a cliff this year.

James McDonald

Now we are not really in the top of the rotation but McDonald certainly has top of the rotation stuff. No single player was a better microcosm of the Pirates successes and failure in 2012. When McDonald was riding high so were the Pirates and when he fell apart the Pirates did as well. He is the ultimate variable for the Pirates pitching staff in 2013. His strong first half to the 2012 season suggests he could be the top of the rotation arm the Pirates need but his late season collapse suggests he could just be another AAAA arm. Chances are his value will fall somewhere in between. The last two seasons have seen McDonald post the exact same ERA of 4.21 so when predicting an ERA for 2013 it is hard not just to say that is about what he will do again in 2013 but then again there is such a wide array of possible outcomes for McDonald that it is impossible to know just exactly what he will do in 2013. Personally I’m expecting a more consistent pitcher who will pitch slightly better than his overall results from the last two years. The numbers won’t be a whole lot better but I think they will be better. Taking a stab at his statistics I think he’ll have an ERA around 4.10, a WHIP in the 1.30 range and ratios around 7.7 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 respectively. I think overall this will make him a nice middle of the rotation arm and that he should be worth approximately 1.5-2.0 WAR for the Pirates in 2013.

Francisco Liriano

If there is a bigger wildcard for this pitching staff than James McDonald it is Liriano. Liriano, like McDonald, could wind up just about anywhere from Cy Young contender to a complete mess. There is also the added intrigue of the broken right arm which will likely cause him to miss the first month of the season. Still if you are looking for a high upside guy Liriano is most certainly that. All the projection systems I’ve seen seem to think he will do fairly well in Pittsburgh and by that I mean keeping his ERA in the high 3s to low 4s. In reality I don’t have the slightest clue what to expect from Liriano, however I will add I don’t see him completely blowing up and I think he’ll at least be a solid back of the rotation option for the Pirates but of course I’m hoping for more. I think on the low end we’ll see a 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 4.6 BB/9 type of seasons from Liriano and on the high end I think we could see a 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 type season from Liriano. I tend to think the low end has a better chance than the high end though. So lets split the difference and lean towards the low end and call for a 4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 type season. I’m thinking that should put him somewhere in the vicinity of 1.5-2.5 WAR so again let’s go down the middle leaning toward the low side and call it 1.8 WAR.

2013 Expectations: Left and Center Field

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Andrew McCutchen

The Pirates super star. Instead of asking what should we expect from him it might be better to ask what we shouldn’t expect from him. And what we shouldn’t expect is a repeat of last season. It is going to be very difficult for McCutchen to have as good as of a 2013 as he did a 2012 but at the same time I wouldn’t say it is impossible for him to do better. I’m not quite sure we have seen McCutchen at his best yet but even so just with the variation one expects from year to year 2012 will be a very difficult one to top. Make no mistake about it we should expect McCutchen to continue to be one of the best players in the game and I have great confidence that he will continue to do so. He is a rare and special talent and us Pirates fans are lucky to have a player of his caliber on our club. No other franchise has a player quite like him. Now as for what is a reasonable expectation from McCutchen this season. I see a solid 6.0 WAR season with more consistency and improved defense being a fair projection for our superstar. As far as a slash line goes something in the .290/.370/.480 ranges feels like a nice conservative estimate with something like .310/.380/.520 being a bit more optimistic projection. Bottom line here is that we should expect Andrew McCutchen to continue being well Andrew McCutchen.

Starling Marte

With the possible exception of Pedro Alvarez and of course Andrew McCutchen no player will have a greater impact on the success or failure of the Pittsburgh Pirates than Starling Marte. As I have previously stated the Pirates desperately need a second true impact hitter and while Alvarez appears to be the most logical choice to become that, Marte isn’t far behind as the Pirates second most realistic option. Marte no doubt has a huge upside and in fact at is very best may be near the level of Andrew McCutchen with less bat and more glove, however it is unfair to expect that from Marte during his first full year. It is fair though to expect Marte to be a very valuable player though basically just because of his speed and defense alone. Just those aspect alone couple with a mediocre performance at the plate probably makes Marte a 2.0-2.5 WAR player. In reality we should expect to see some offensive value from Marte though and that likely bumps him up into the 3.0-3.5 WAR range with the potential for more. As far as his overall game is concerned I think we should reasonably expect to see great defense out of left field and a legitimate threat on the bases. His high strike out rate and relatively low walk rate means he might not be too effective in the lead off role the Pirates appear to plan to use him in but the value is still there. As for a slash line it is difficult to say just what to expect but as a floor a .260/.310/.420 line seems reasonable to me. Couple that in with about 1o home runs and 20 steals and the Pirates have themselves a very dynamic player with the potential to do much more.

Felix Pie

The Pirates have plenty of other outfielders but they are all involved in what is the right field mess. Some of the right fielders are bound to spend some time in left field and will probably be the first called upon to do so should poor performance or injury become an issue but the only other player I feel comfortable calling a left or center fielder right now is Felix Pie. Pie was signed to a minor league contract this offseason and in a lot of other years would have a reasonable shot at winning a bench job with the Pirates. This year his chances are essentially none and it would in fact be a little surprising to see him in a Pirates uniform at any point in 2013. Right now the expectation for Felix Pie has to be that he will go to AAA and serve as depth and probably split time between left and center field. Pie is a very talented player that just hasn’t reached his potential. There is a very small chance, almost non-existent, that he finally puts it together this season and gets promoted bases on his talent alone but that would be a bit of a miracle.

Infield Bench Battle

One area that causes me great concern regarding the Pirates is in the depth they have for the infield. The starters Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Clint Barmes are all fairly healthy individuals and their play is fairly solid at least in some aspects. However behind them the Pirates really do not have a whole lot. Traditionally two infielders get bench spots on the Pirates to begin the season and I am expecting that to be the case again this season. Once again this crop is fairly unimpressive but there appears to be five players with a legitimate chance of winning one of the bench jobs available. I thought it would be a good idea to review each players strengths and weaknesses and analyze why there is a reason for concern with each player.

Josh Harrison

Josh HarrisonHarrison is probably the most familiar of the 5 to Pittsburgh Pirates fans as he has been part of the Pirates bench for the last five seasons. He is a player who is easy to like because of his all out style of play. During the 2012 season we even were introduced to his mother on the Pirates broadcasts as she watched him play in games in his home town Cincinnati, he reaction when he got hit probably was something a lot of mothers can relate to. Harrison is an interesting player as he is a free swinger and he will really go deep into the count which means he walks a small amount of time but also means he doesn’t strike out very often. As for the other aspects of his game he is a contact hitter with limited power, has probably slightly above average speed and is a below average fielder. It is really a mix bag with Harrison.

Strengths: Harrison can play all over the field, logging innings last year at 2B, SS, 3B and the corner outfield. He is difficult to strike out and is very good at putting the ball in play. He has experience with the Pirates and appears to be a player Clint Hurdle likes. In addition his base running is fairly good and he can steal the occasional base.

Weaknesses: Although Harrison has played all over the field the only position where he looks even semi-decent defensively is third base. His inability to work counts causing his walk rate to be low which in return negatively affects his OBP. He is a contact hitter but the contact he makes is often of a weak variety as he doesn’t possess much power.

Overall: Harrison has a great chance to be a part of the Pirates bench this season because of his familiarity with the Pirates coaching staff, his ability to play several different positions and the simple fact he is on the 40 man roster. On the flip side the Pirates should consider going another direction because there is nothing Harrison really does that makes him stand out. With the exception of his ability to not strike out Harrison is at best average in every other aspect of the game. The ability to play multiple positions is a plus but his inability to play them well or even decently negatively effects his value. Overall the Pirates could definitely do worse than Harrison but should try to do better.

Jordy Mercer

Jordy MercerMercer is probably the best defensive shortstop of this group and is also one who should be familiar with Pirates fans as he was drafted by the Pirates in 2008 and has remained in the organization ever since. He spent a rather significant amount of time in the majors last season but got very few at bats as Clint Hurdle gave him the Pedro Ciriaco treatment and he was mainly glues to the bench. Offensively it is difficult to get a read on just what Mercer will be able to do in the major leagues but in the minors he has been adequate with the bat. Mercer’s strike out and walk rates for his minor league career appear to be roughly average and he does seem to have at least a little power in his bat as he led the Pirates minor leagues in homers in 2011. Defensively speaking Mercer has only played 2B, 3B and SS but he plays those positions fairly well. As for the other aspects of his game he has about average speed and really doesn’t try to steal many bases although he will occasionally sneak one in there. At this point Mercer is sort of an unknown with a high floor and low ceiling.

Strengths: Mercer’s best strength is his defensive ability as he is the only one of the five candidates who is capable of even being an average defender at the shortstop position. He does have a few other pluses too though as he is probably one of the safer bets to not be completely useless on the bench and has shown at least some power in the minor leagues.

Weaknesses: The biggest weakness with mercer is that it is really not known how is bat will translate. He has struggled in his very limited sample in the majors but that came over quite a long-span with very inconsistent playing time. He also doesn’t have the ability to play the outfield although with all the Pirates options that shouldn’t be a large concern.

Overall: Like Harrison, Mercer’s strongest case for making the team is quite simply his familiarity with the coaching staff and his presence on the 40 man roster. He also has the additional benefit of actually being able to handle the shortstop position at a good level although with an all glove guy like Barmes starting on most days that is less of a concern than it would be otherwise. I currently have Mercer as my second infielder on the bench but I feel that his position is a lot less secure tha Harrison’s. I feel Mercer is probably the safest choice of this group as his glove will at least give him some value but his lack of experience may wind up hurting him.

Brandon Inge

IngeThe Pirates signed Inge to a minor league deal this offseason and because of the new CBA he will be able to opt out if he is not placed on the roster by late March. Of the 3 players I consider on the outside looking in when it comes to battling for the two bench spots I believe Inge has the best chance of winning one. Inge is clearly on the downside of his career but was still a valuable player to the Athletics last season and could still have some value for the Pirates. Offensively speaking he is a below average player who strikes out a fairly high amount and walks roughly an average amount. He is not a contact hitter but does hit for some power. Defensively his primary position is 3B and he has spent the majority of his career there although he has logged innings at 2B and in the corner outfield and was a catcher when his career began so he could probably serve as the emergency third option at that position which is a plus. He is a very good defender at 3B and ahs shown himself capable at the other positions. Baserunning wise he is below average and he really isn’t a threat to steal any bases. Inge is a veteran and has been around the league a long time and has more experience in the majors than his other four competitors do combined.

Strengths: Inge’s best strength and what separates him from the other four is his experience. He has been in the majors for several seasons and has been a part of winning clubs so a pressure pinch hit situation is less likely to get to him than any of the other players. He also would provide the Pirates with a little power off the bench and would provide them with possibly an adequate option to rest Alvarez against tough left handers and to pull him for defensive purposes late in games.

Weaknesses: Unlike the other four players Inge has no experience at the shortstop position meaning the Pirates would only have one bench option capable of playing that position if they kept Inge. He has also been on the decline the past few seasons and is a threat to bottom out this year. Defensively speaking last year was the first time he spent any time at 2B and before that he hadn’t played a position outside of 3B since 2008.

Overall: Inge isn’t on the 40 man roster and because of that he has a slightly uphill climb to make the team. I still give him very good odds but I think he starts behind Harrison and Mercer entering Spring Training. Inge is also a player this coaching staff is not familiar with which puts him at another disadvantage. His lack of flexibility in the field will also likely play against him. However the Pirates, specifically Clint Hurdle may see some value in his experience and because of that he has a chance to make the bench. Inge has also expressed a willingness to work on other positions outside of 3B so his flexibility issue will be slightly reduced. Inge could be a decent veteran presence on the bench but his declining numbers in recent years are cause for concern.

Ivan De Jesus

Ivan DeJesusDe Jesus was acquired by the Pirates as the fourth piece in the Hanrahan trade. Pretty much him and Brock Holt are just consider after thoughts in the deal and are considered to roughly cancel each other out as neither one projects to be much more than utility infielders. De Jesus is a relatively inexperienced major league player but he does have some considerable time in at AAA. He definitely has some upside but it is difficult for me to see him as anything other than a utility player at this point. De Jesus has put up some good offensive numbers in AAA but that very well may be a by-product of the PCL as those numbers have yet to translate to his limited MLB sample size. De Jesus offensive game is predicated around contact as he does not hit for much power and is just an average runner. His strike out rates have been high in the major leagues but they have been right around average to a little above average in the minors. His walk rates have been all over the place from very good to below average throughout his career so it is probably safe to assume he has about average plate discipline. On the defensive side he was originally a shortstop but injuries moved him to 2nd base and he is probably unable to be a regular shortstop now although he is probably capable of being a fill in for a game here or there. His defense in the majors has been poor but that is a small sample. Overall he is probably roughly an average fielder.

Strengths: The best asset De Jesus has going for him is that he is probably the best hope amongst the 5 bench candidates to be a solid two-way player. His defense is at least serviceable at shortstop and around average at 2B and 3B and his bat has shown potential in AAA. De Jesus is not the best player in any particular aspect but he also isn’t the worst and he probably balances out to have the best mix of any of the five competing.

Weaknesses: De Jesus biggest strike against him is that he hasn’t had success in his limited major league opportunities and that like Harrison there is really nothing he does above average. He has the skills to be a nice balanced utility player but without something to make him stand out it could be difficult for him to get noticed. So his biggest weakness is not a particular flaw but a lack of a true strength, essentially its a double edge sword.

Overall: De Jesus has only very minimal experience in the corner outfield meaning he is essentially limited to strictly infield duty but once again that shouldn’t be a real issue. As of right now he appears to be the Pirates fourth choice amongst the bench infielder candidates but he has opted to skip the WBC in an attempt to move up the chart and I think that is certainly doable. De Jesus isn’t on the 40 man roster, doesn’t have an out clause and has had little success in the majors in the past; all of that is working against him making the bench out of spring training. On the other side De Jesus has some potential with the bat and really lacks a glaring weakness in his game and when combined with his ability to handle shortstop better than Harrison and Inge it gives him a certain appeal which could allow him to find a home. If he doesn’t make it out of spring training there is a chance he could see Pittsburgh some time this season but that would be far from a guarantee.

Chase d’Arnaud

Chase d'ArnaudPirates fans are probably familiar with Chase d’Arnaud from his time with the Pirates in 2011. He was a bit of a fan favorite at the time and was seen as a spark plug for the offense while he was up in the majors. Truth be told though he really didn’t play all that well. He is a weak hitter and a below average fielder but yet he might have the highest upside of all the players listed. What sets d’Arnaud apart from the rest of this crowd is his plus speed a weapon that if he would ever be able to utilize correctly could make him a solid major league player. With the bat he displays very little power but has shown an ability to maintain a decent average in AAA. His strike out rates are right around league average which is probably a little high for a speed guy like him and his walk rate is also probably about average. Defensively he has played 2B, 3B and SS and he is below average defensively at SS although he is good enough that a team could get by with him there for an extended period of time and at the other positions he is right around an average defender. He has a small sample of major league plate appearances and has mostly struggled in that time. Currently he appears to be a distant fifth in the battle for the final two bench spots but if he can show he is capable of hitting decently his speed could make for a great asset off the bench for the Pirates.

Strengths: As I’ve already said d’Arnaud’s best asset is his speed. He is probably the Pirates best base stealer and would be a nice player to have for pinch running situations. He also has the ability to play shortstop decently well and would be a perfectly adequate backup option defensively especially considering its an all glove player in front of him. Outside of his speed and ability to play shortstop d’Arnaud also has the advantage of being on the 40 man roster and having played for Hurdle. He did provide a certain spark while he was here in 2011 so with a solid spring it is possible Hurdle could consider that as a factor.

Weaknesses: d’Arnaud has many weaknesses but mainly it is his poor hitting that hold him back. If he could show himself to be even a decent hitter he has enough athleticism that he could be a solid contributor. Also working against him is his shaky defense at shortstop. d’Arnaud right now is a very one-tool specific player and that is usually a poor fit for most benches. He is going to need to show a more complete game in order to have any chance.

Overall: I would very much like to see d’Arnaud win one of the bench spots as his speed would be a nice weapon to have available on the bench. The fact that he is a shortstop, albeit a below average defensive one, is another reason it would be nice to have him around. Right now he is probably the longest shot of all five competitors but I think it is close enough that a strong spring performance could vault him into the conversation. His game right now is almost solely dependent upon his speed and that isn’t going to be enough; he needs to make an effort to be well-rounded and most importantly make some strides with his bat. If d’Arnaud proves capable of carrying over his average from AAA to the majors he could make for a solid bench player or maybe even a decent starter. If d’Arnaud does not show any improvements in his game during spring training he will head back to AAA and unless he shows something there he is going to be a candidate to be taken off the 40 man roster and would likely only see Pittsburgh as a pinch runner in September.

Overview

I thought a good way to summarize everything from above would be to rank the five players on a few different skill aspects.

Power: 1. Brandon Inge, 2. Jordy Mercer, 3. Josh Harrison, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Ivan De Jesus

Average: 1. Josh Harrison, 2. Ivan De Jesus, 3. Jordy Mercer, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Brandon Inge

Contact: 1. Josh Harrison, 2. Ivan De Jesus, 3. Jordy Mercer, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Brandon Inge

Plate Discipline: 1. Brandon Inge, 2. Ivan De Jesus, 3. Jordy Mercer, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Josh Harrison

Speed: 1. Chase d’Arnaud, 2. Josh Harrison, 3. Jordy Mercer, 4. Ivan De Jesus, 5. Brandon Inge

Base Running: 1. Chase d’Arnaud, 2. Josh Harrison, 3. Ivan De Jesus, 4. Jordy Mercer, 5. Brandon Inge

Shortstop Ability: 1. Jordy Mercer, 2. Chase d’Arnaud, 3. Ivan De Jesus, 4. Josh Harrison, 5. Brandon Inge

Defense: 1. Jordy Mercer, 2. Brandon Inge, 3. Ivan De Jesus, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Josh Harrison

Versatility: 1. Josh Harrison, 2. Ivan De Jesus. 3. Chase d’Arnaud, 4. Jordy Mercer, 5. Brandon Inge

Experience: 1. Brandon Inge, 2. Josh Harrison, 3. Chase d’Arnaud, 4. Ivan De Jesus, 5. Jordy Mercer

Potential: 1. Chase d’Arnaud, 2. Jordy Mercer, 3. Ivan De Jesus, 4. Josh Harrison, 5. Brandon Inge

Finally I would like to give the percent chance I think each has of making the team. Now remember there are two open spots and the Pirates are probably going to give both of them to two infielders but there is a not impossible chance they opt to go with a 5th outfielder instead of an additional infielder. Since there are two spots the odds add up to 200% and these numbers are really just my best estimate as of now. I have no real knowledge of the situation, it is pure speculation.

Josh Harrison: 75%

Jordy Mercer: 40%

Brandon Inge: 30%

5th OF: 25%

Ivan De Jesus: 20%

Chase d’Arnaud: 10%

2013 Expectations: Shortstops

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Clint Barmes

Barmes had a rough offensive season for the Pirates in 2012 but what most people don’t realize is that he was actually on terrible for the first two months of the season. From June 1st to the end of the season Barmes slash line was .255/.306/.344 good for a .650 OPS. Now that is still a bad line but given his strong defensive play it is an acceptable level. Barmes is not going to wow anyone with his bat but if he can be a .650 OPS hitter while providing excellent defense from the shortstop position he is a valuable player to have around. In 2013 I expect Barmes to continue to be a strong defender for the Pirates and I expect to see his offense have a slight uptick. I’m not sure he’ll reach the .650 OPS level I set from him but something in the area of .235/.295/.345 for a .640 OPS feels about right. Again I’m not trying to pretend that is great production it is below average even from a shortstop but Barmes game is not about offense. Last season with his glove alone Barmes was worth 2.1 WAR according to baseball reference and his UZR/150 was 15.3. Bottom line Barmes is an excellent fielder and should continue to be so in 2013. With his good glove and a bat that is non horrible it is reasonable to expect Barmes to be somewhere around a 2-2.5 WAR player in 2013.

Jordy Mercer

I currently have Mercer projected as my 5th bench player but there is a good chance he begins the year in AAA. I tend to be a little higher on Mercer than most actually believing the Pirates should be giving him a fairly significant number of starts at shortstop this season. Barmes’s contract is up after this year and Mercer appears to be the only internal option who has shown some offensive and defensive ability. Mercer isn’t as good a defender as Barmes and isn’t a great hitter but he did lead the Pirates minor leagues in home runs in 2011 so he does have a little bit of power. Even if he doesn’t make the team out of spring training Mercer will almost definitely be with the team at some point in 2013 but I fear he will be seldom used much like he was last season. Mercer is an intriguing player who I believe has what it takes to be a passable starting shortstop for a year or two but I don’t believe the Pirates view him that way. My expectations for Mercer is that he’ll get about 125 PA this season mostly in a utility role off the bench and really won’t be able to do much with those limited opportunities.

Chase d’Arnaud

I’m really rooting for d’Arnaud to somehow win a bench spot this spring training. He is the one player in the Pirates organization that seems to have some definite idea of how to steal a base. Others like Marte are decent at it but get caught too much for the speed they have. d’Arnaud’s speed off the bench would be a great asset for the Pirates in 2013 but in order to be able to carry him on the bench he needs to show that he can hit at least a little bit. d’Arnaud brought a lot of excitement when he was with the club in 2011 but really didn’t perform all that well. His speed is nice but his struggles both offensively and defensively made him a liability to play. If he can at least be respectable at the plate and average-ish in the field he would be a good 25th man to have because of the athletic ability he has. However I don’t think d’Arnaud can hit enough to hold down a bench position and due to that he is destined to return to AAA this season. Currently I have him slotted a distant 5th in the 5 person battle for the two infield bench spots and I don’t see how he claims one. He very well might get a short stint with the majors this season but I’m not expecting it to be as much more than a pinch runner. Hopefully he proves me wrong in AAA though as a guy with his speed could really help the Pirates bench.

2013 Expectations: Third Base

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Pedro Alvarez

Last season I called Pedro Alvarez the key to the Pirates season and in a sense he was. His 2012 campaign was vastly better than his 2011 one but still not a dominating performance so the Pirates performed better but still not good. Not much has changed in one year, Alvarez still appears to me to be the biggest key to the success or failure of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates need another impact bat in their lineup to go along with Andrew McCutchen and the person most capable of being that impact bat is Mr. Alvarez. It is difficult to say just what we should expect from Alvarez in 2013. He is a big power guy with a big strike out problem and those types seem to see a lot of fluctuation from year to year. Still I’m reasonably hopeful that Pedro will take another step forward and continue to grow as a hitter and all around player. I think we will see his ratios improve as I expect to cut down slightly on his strike outs while taking more walks. THese will not be vast improvements but I expect to see Alvarez drop his K% below 30% and possibly even get it down into the 28% range and I see his walk percentage eclipsing 10% and maybe even approaching 11%. These are not dramatic shifts but if they occur it will help Alvarez improve. The biggest test with Alvarez will be whether or not he can improve upon his long cold stretches, by improve I don’t mean have them disappear but have them not be so bad. It is ok if he goes two weeks and is a .600 OPS player but it’s another thing if he goes two weeks and is a .350 OPS player. Defensively I think we all know what to expect from Alvarez he will be a below average third baseman but I suspect he will continue to play passably enough where talk about him moving to 1st base can be delayed another season at least. On the power side I am expecting to see Pedro increase his total of 30 home runs from 2012 but only slightly finishing with somewhere between 32-35 home runs. All in all I see Pedro being a solid 3.0-3.5 WAR player for the Pirates in 2013 and I see him posting a triple slash of approximately .240/.325/.475.

Josh Harrison

Harrison plays all over the field but the only position he really looks comfortable at defensively is third base. He is officially competing for a bench spot but seeing as he has been the on the team the last two seasons he appears to be a player Hurdle likes so I expect him to once again be a part of the Pirates bench. In reality the Pirates need to be doing better than Harrison on the bench. He is a decent guy to have around in AAA but last season he led the Pirates in pinch hit appearances and that should not happen. Harrison has little power and is weak defensively so his value comes from his contact skills and since he only hit .233 last season he had essentially no value at all. Harrison doesn’t walk but on the plus side he tends to be hard to strike out. He is a free swinger who usually makes contact. I’m hoping Harrison sees a drop in playing time but considering the Pirates really don’t have a lot of other quality middle infield bench options I suspect he will still get around 250 PA in 2013. I expect Harrison will see an improvement in his average and get it up to around .250 which should at least give him some value to the Pirates. Despite my dislike for Harrison I expect we will see a slightly better year from him in 2013. Assuming he can get his average and walk rate up his versatility could make him a semi-decent bench player assuming the Pirates don’t use him as the top bench option. Like I said I expect he’ll receive around 250 PA but that is too mcuh, ideally he’ll be limited to around 150-175 and if he is and he posts a .250/.300/.350 slash line he could be an ok 25th man. Bottom line what I’m expecting from Harrison is non-horrible 25th man production but playing time deserving of a more important bench piece.

Brandon Inge

Inge appears to be Harrison’s main competition for a bench spot. In theory both players could make it but since neither really plays shortstop, at least play it well, I think it is an either or situation. Inge brings to the table better defense and a little more power than Harrison but isn’t quite as versatile having spent almost all of his playing time at third base. Now he does have some time in the outfield corners, a few innings at second and was a catcher not all that long ago so he does have some versatility. As of now I don’t expect Inge to make the team and as he appears to be in the declining portion of his career that isn’t a bad thing. If Inge were to make it I could see him providing similar value to what Harrison would albeit in a different way. Realistically if he were to make the team a line of .220/.280/.350 would be a fairly good estimate taking into account his recent seasons. Value wise there isn’t much difference between Inge and Harrison but skill wise there is. Inge has an out clause in his contract if he isn’t on the roster by late March, I’m not sure if he will use it or not but if he doesn’t I would assume we would see Inge playing third base down in AAA for most of the season.

2013 Expectations: 2nd Base

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Neil Walker

Walker gives the Pirates one of their most stable positions. Assuming he is healthy he is a good bet to start at least 140 games and likely more. Last season Walker put up numbers relatively similar to the two years before; he hasn’t been able to regain the slugging percentage he had in his rookie campaign but the rest of his numbers have remained relatively close. For that reason Walker is becoming a known commodity and there is a level of production that we should all be able to reasonably expect from him. Defensively Walker has been steadily improving and as of now is probably around a league average defender and that is a pretty safe estimate of what he will likely be in 2013. For his overall game Walker has the look of a very solid secondary piece who will usually post a 3-3.5 WAR. His offensive numbers suggest something around .275/.340/.420 can be reasonably expected. There have been no indications that Walker is ready to take a step back from this production nor does he appear to be a candidate to move to the next level of production so for 2013 I am expecting Walker to continue to be an above average second baseman.

Ivan De Jesus

The only other player I feel worth discussing who I consider his primary position to be second base is the newly acquired Ivan De Jesus. De Jesus will have a chance to make the major league squad but right now I have him on the outside looking in so he will more than likely begin the season at AAA. I expect him to at some point this season get a chance at a bench role with the Pirates and I am actually expecting him to handle it quite well. I see De Jesus as a slightly better version of Josh Harrison. He has shown a willingness to at least occasionally take a walk, has put up some decent offensive numbers in AAA and is from all reports a sound defender capable of handling shortstop for a limited amount of time. It would not surprise me one bit to see De Jesus get a chance with the big league team and stick as a utility infielder. As for an upside higher than that, I just don’t see it. He has no aspect of his game that particularly stands out. I’m not expecting to see much of De Jesus in 2013 but I do expect him to hold his own and be a decent bench option in the limited opportunities he does get.

2013 Expectations: 1st Base

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Garrett Jones

I think it is a fair assumption to say the year Jones had in 2012 was more an outlier than something we should expect from him going forward. Make no mistake if the Pirates properly hide him against most left handed pitching this year Jones can still be a valuable player and an important contributor but the chances of him slugging over .500 again and belting 27 home runs are probably slim. Last season Jones ended up splitting his time between first base and right field but with so many options for the outfield this season it is difficult to envision seeing him play more than a handful of games in the outfield. So defensively Jones should be able to concentrate fully on first base and in theory it should make him a little more sound. He is never going to be a great defender but I expect to see some improvement from him in that aspect. Another part of his game that is lacking is his base running as he is caught in some bad situation fairly frequently because of it. Improvements in these two areas, even minor ones, could go a long way to helping Jones recover some of the value he will lose from not being quite as productive as a power hitter. All of this is not to say I’m expecting a complete collapse from Jones as I still see him as a 1.5 WAR player who should hit about 20-25 home runs and with a reasonable control of how many left handers he faces post a line of about .250/.320/.460. If Jones can improve on other aspects of his game there is plenty of value in a platoon hitter like himself.

Gaby Sanchez

It is difficult to get a real feel for what Gaby Sanchez is. He put up two very solid seasons in 2010 and 2011 but was awful for the Marlins in 2012 and just about average for the Pirates during his time in 2012. Chances are he will not be as bad as he was in 2012 nor as good as he was in the two previous seasons. On the plus side Sanchez should primarily face left handed pitching and otherwise be a pinch hitter off the bench which should help make his offensive numbers appear a little better than they normally would. One thing Sanchez does have going for him is that he is a plus defender as first base which should allow him to spell Jones in late game situations for defensive purposes. There is still a chance Sanchez returns to his 2010-11 form but the Pirates should not give him a chance to show out at the beginning of the season. If he earns the chance as the season goes along with a strong performance in his role that is another story though. For now Sanchez seems like the perfect platoon compliment for Jones. He isn’t horrible against righties, mashes left handers and can play some good defense at first base. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Pirates try Sanchez some at third as well but if they do it will probably be a minimal amount. I’m expecting fairly good things from Sanchez this year as I see him as another 1.5 WAR player who should post a very respectable line of something like .260/.340/.410. Those numbers aren’t exactly setting the world on fire but from the small half of a platoon and main bench piece those are more than adequate. Also if the Pirates fall out of it by the trade deadline I could see them dealing Jones and giving Sanchez a full time look at first base.

Clint Robinson

Robinson appears to be Garrett Jones insurance. I’m of the belief that the Pirates were waiting to get a good offer on Jones and were willing to deal him if the price was right and if that happened Robinson would have gotten a chance to replace Jones on the roster but probably would have had to split playing time with Sanchez a little more evenly than Jones will. However Jones wasn’t dealt so that means Robinson will likely start the year in AAA and with Matt Curry also there I can see him spending most of his time there as the DH. I expect that he will reach the majors at some point this season but it is difficult to forecast when and even how successful he will be. He has shown some good power in the minors but that doesn’t always translate to the majors but on the plus side he has also shown some good plate discipline and that has a better chance of translating. Still I can’t see Robinson getting much playing time at the major league level and his lack of experience makes it tough for me to believe that if he does get any significant time that it will be anything much greater than replacement level. There is some potential here but I think it is highly unlikely Robinson gets a chance to show off that potential unless Jones is either traded or gets injured.

2013 Expectations: Catchers

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Russell Martin

What can we expect from the Pirates big free agent splash of the 2012-13 offseason? Martin should undoubtedly be a better backstop for the Pirates than Rod Barajas was in 2012 but that is setting the bar a little low. Over the last 3 seasons Martin has seen his K% rise and his OBP drop every season. Even at the age of 30, these are worrisome signs as catcher typically age a little faster than most other players. Martin has kept a fair amount of value over the last two years despite the increase in his K% and decline in his OBP because of his increased power, notably in the form of his home runs. Unfortunately some of those were likely a byproduct of the hitter friendly Yankee stadium he played his home games in. On the positive side though Martin was a little unlucky last season with a low BABIP of just .222 so there is reason to believe his average and by extension OBP will rebound some in 2013. Defensively Martin is solid but not spectacular; he is noted as a good pitch framer and if one trust those metrics he should be a nice boost to a Pirates pitching staff that routinely had borderline calls go against them. Martin’s offense overall has been around league average for a catcher the last few seasons and it is not unreasonable to think he can stay at or at least near that level for 2013. As far as throwing out would be base stealers Martin is nothing special in that area, posting a 24% caught stealing rate which is almost identical to what Rod Barajas posted in 2011. The Pirates are said to be reworking their strategy of not having pitchers focus on runners at all so that should Martin and really all Pirates catchers some in 2013. Bottom line I’m expecting Martin to give the Pirates roughly average production both offensively and defensively from the catching position. I see him settling in as about a 2.5 WAR player while posting an OPS in the area of .700 (.325 OBP, .375 SLG) and throwing out roughly 18-20% of base stealers

Michael McKenry

McKenry had a fine offensive season in 2012 fueled by a surprising display of some power. The solid offensive showing and the fact that h e was only terrible at throwing out would be base stealers (as opposed to historically awful) made it a little surprising he did not assume more of the starting catcher role as the season wore on. McKenry was the Pirates best catcher in 2012 but make no mistake he is not a starting catcher. McKenry’s surprising power surge in 2012 was more likely a result of a small sample size than it was of any real breakout. Despite the fact that McKenry’s offensive numbers are likely to regress in 2013 he should still remain a solid backup catcher as he is a good defender and can hit at least a little bit. His defense is overrated by some segments of the Pirates fan base but it is very solid. Overall the Pirates should still feel comfortable using McKenry on a semi-regular basis in order to ease the burden put on Martin. I expect McKenry will likely receive around 50-70 starts in 2013 depending on Martin’s health and the performance of the catchers behind him on the Pirates depth chart. I’m expecting McKenry to receive around 200-250 PA this season, while being roughly a 1.0 WAR player and posting an OPS of approximately .670 (.300 OBP, .370 SLG).

Tony Sanchez

This upcoming season should see Tony Sanchez make his major league debut. He has the reputation of being a strong defender with a questionable bat but some power. Sanchez is the Pirates third catcher and will likely be the first player called up from the minors should an additional catcher be needed. It is difficult to say just how much he will play in the majors this season because Martin and McKenry have shown to be relatively healthy players and a reasonable expectation is that neither of them should perform poorly in 2013, meaning Sanchez may have to wait a while before ultimately getting a chance to make an impressions. I have Martin pegged for between 90-100 starts and McKenry ticketed for anywhere from 50-70, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for Sanchez. My predictions for the other two catchers leave about 10-20 starts for Sanchez as a max so I am not expecting him to get a ton of time in the majors but he is going to have to make good use of the small window he receives. Sanchez will start the year in AAA and I’m expecting to hit better there although still not great. I see him in AAA posting a slash line of roughly .260/.340/.400. To some that may sound optimistic but I feel that is rather reasonable. I’m also expecting him to show some strides defensively as that is what will really carry him. In the majors I’m expecting him to struggle in the limited chances he gets I could see him being about a .3 WAR player and posting a .220/.280/.340 stat line in his limited opportunities.

Summary

To summarize I’m expecting Russell Martin to be roughly a league average catcher both offensively and defensively for the Pirates, I’m expecting McKenry to see a drop off in his offensive production but still be a respectable backup catcher and I’m expecting Sanchez to have a solid showing at AAA but struggle in his limited big league opportunities. For 2013 the catching position for the Pirates looks around league average to me and in reality if they can get that it will be a significant improvement from where they were last season.

Jones and the 1B/OF Glut

At the start of the 2012 offseason the Pirates had a glut of utility infielders on the 40 man roster. They resolved this issue fairly quickly by waiving Gustavo Nunez and trading Yamaico Navarro and Borck Holt. However now they face another glut of 1B and corner outfielders. The Pirates have 8 players vying for 5 positions in the majors in Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez, Clint Robinson, Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley and Jerry Sands. Robinson, Marte, Presley and Sands all have options remaining so there isn’t necessarily a need to clear any of these players out but with the possible exceptions of Robinson and Presley there are reasons to believe the Pirates will want to start the rest off in the majors.

None of this means the Pirates have a surplus at these positions as the only 2 proven commodities they have are Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez. The Pirates glut is with unproven players and they are going to have to roll the dice with at least a few of these options. There has been some speculation that Garrett Jones could be traded but I’m not really sure I see the benefit of that. Snider and Tabata would probably share RF duties and Marte would likely start in LF which would leave Sands and Sanchez to share 1B duties.  Since both Sands and Sanchez are right handed a time share between the two wouldn’t be practical. Sands is limited to 1B and the OF and Sanchez most likely is limited to 1B so there isn’t even really enough positional flexibility here for one to be used purely as a reserve. Sands could possible be used as a bench player but with 4 OF on the roster his presence would not really be necessary.

Another option could be a trade of Jose Tabata or Gaby Sanchez. These make more sense as it would free up a spot for Jerry Sands to platoon with either Travis Snider or Garrett Jones. However the Pirates would likely be selling low on either player and that is something they should probably avoid in almost all circumstances. So this leaves Marte, Snider and Sands as the other options. I would think the Pirates wouldn’t flip Sands or Snider since they just acquired them and Marte appears to be nearly untouchable.

So all of this leaves us with 6 players competing for 5 major league jobs and it makes little sense for the Pirates to send any of the 6 away in a trade. So what are they going to do? Well I wouldn’t have a problem with keeping the depth and starting Sands in AAA but I’m not sure the Pirates are going to do that. So the next most likely scenario would be trading Tabata or Sanchez. However neither probably has much value so the idea of trading the one player with a lot of value in Garrett Jones comes back up. From a position of roster makeup that may not make sense but from a position of getting fair value in a trade no other option makes sense. It is a bit of a conundrum the Pirates have themselves in and I’m not really sure what the plan is going forward. I would think Sands is not going to start in AAA but for that to happen someone is going to have to be dealt and of all the options only Jones has value but again moving him doesn’t make sense as it leaves only two right handed hitters or 1B making a platoon impossible and keeping one as a bench option troublesome.

The Pirates are likely just about done making moves this offseason but this is the one area left with the biggest question mark. They have plenty of options but not many proven ones. All of the players have significant upsides but at the same time it wouldn’t be hard to imagine any of them including Jones struggle in 2013. The Pirates have themselves quite a puzzle here and it should be interesting to see just how they go about trying to solve it.

2012 Expectations: 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates

As the 15th and final part of my preview series this piece is supposed to serve as a bit of summary and an overall review of the team. The 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates have very few areas which can be viewed as a definite strength but they also have few which can be considered an absolute weakness. The Pirates roster consists of a few plus players, a few weak spots, a few spots that should be around league average and a few more which are truly wild cards for this season. It is really difficult to get a good feeling about this year’s Pirate team because of all the question marks like Pedro Alvarez, Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett.

This season’s Pirate team could be the one that ends the 19 year losing streak or it could be one that loses 95 games. So many question marks and so many uncertainties make this a very interesting season. For once Pirate fans have a little bit of real hope headed into this season, that isn’t much but it is an improvement over the past seasons. I hate to pin it all on one player but if the Pirates have any chance at all of making a run towards 500 and possibly … gulp … competing for a playoff spot they are going to need Alvarez to break out this season. I have covered previously what I am expecting from him so I will not get into that here but it is rather clear to me that he is the key.

The question still remains though what should we expect from the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates? Should we be looking for a contender? A team that breaks the streak? An improvement on last season? Merely avoiding regressing from last season? Or what about a team that just doesn’t appear to be terrible? I think reasonably we have the right to expect the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates to be better than last season and I think we can reasonable expect the team to play well enough to not get blown out to often. We should see solid pitching and will hopefully have a few everyday starters emerge to boost the lineup.

All that leaves us with only one last piece of business, how good will the Pirates be this season? As I said earlier I see an improvement over last year but I do not see them breaking the .500 mark. They will probably once again finish 4th in the central division but for some reason I do have a feeling that the Brewers are in for a rough season this year so 3rd may not be out of the question. Finally I am going to give my final prediction of the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirate’s record and my prediction is 77-85.

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