Archive for the ‘ Position Previews ’ Category

2012 Expectations: Front Office

I am going to set this up a little different than the 13 past posts, instead of talking about individual people I am going to take the front office on a s a whole and list a few things want them to accomplish by season’s end. Think of it as something like a checklist if you will.

1. Sign Andrew McCutchen to an Extension. This one should be pretty obvious, McCutchen is the face of the franchise and the front office needs to find some way to buy out at least 1 but preferably two free agent seasons. McCutchen is the type of a player you can build a team around and the Pirates are finally at the point where they can start thinking that way.

2. Find a Long Term Solution for 1st Base. I don’t care how they do it, trade, draft or from within but somebody has to emerge as the long term answer at first base. This position represents the Pirates biggest hole going forward and the time to try and fill it is now. Getting a first baseman would give the Pirates a bat to pencil in to the middle of their order and that is something this team desperately needs. As a side note if this happens to become Pedro Alvarez then switch the position need to third base because the team need Alvarez plus another bat.

3. Overcoming Restrictions and Finding a Way to still have a Good Draft. There is probably no bigger obstacle facing the Pirates front office this season and beyond then continually to draft effectively. The draft is the Pirates best chance of acquiring impact pieces and missing on first round picks can be disastrous to the franchise. The front office needs to hit on the first round pick and find, draft and sign good players in the later rounds.

4. The recent 1st round picks need to step up in a big way. The success or failure of this front office is highly dependent on the success of their 1st round picks: Alvarez, Sanchez, Taillon and Cole. All four of these players must step up this season and show signs of being able to perform at or near the level they were thought to be able to at the time of their drafting.

5. Some over-slot signings need to make a step forward. The recent strategy of this front office has been to spend big in the draft and sign players to over-slot deals. As of yet none of the over-slot players has really broken through. This is the season where some of them must do that. Just to throw out some names, Josh Bell, Zack Von Rosenberg, Coloton Cain, Zach Dodson, etc. Also included in that group is last year’s breakout start Robbie Grossman, he needs to show he can produce in AA.

6. Come trade deadline time moves need to be made that will have a quick impact on the major league team. Sounds confusing I know but what I am saying is if the team happens to find itself in the race like last season players need to be brought in to help for the stretch run. Should the team find themselves out of it the front office needs to explore trading players like Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens and Alex Presley but not for players in the low minors but rather for major league ready players playing in the majors or AAA. Positions to look for could be C, 1B, SS or SP.

7. Long term answers for the rotation must emerge. Another very simple thing. The Pirates have good options long term for the rotation in Taillon and Cole but after this season Bedard and Correia will be gone leaving the Pirates with holes in the rotation. Some players from the group of Morton, McDonald, Owens, Locke, Karstens or even Morris, Wilson or MPherson need to step up and look like they can be counted on to help the rotation in 2013. If not pitchers need to be brought in via trade who can do so.

8. On the field success. The last thing I will be looking for when it comes to judging the front office this season is how the team performs on the field. We have come to the time where improving the minor leagues is no longer enough. To be judged as being successful this season there must be signs of improvement with the major league product. This is not to say the team must break the 500 mark but an improvement on the 72 win mark is a necessity. Should the team fail to do so it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which this season could be judged as a successful one for the Pirates front office.

2012 Expectations: Coaches

Manager, Clint Hurdle: There are three main things I am hoping to see from Hurdle this season: 1) Smarter small ball management, 2.) Smarter bullpen management and 3.) Success from his own personal hitting projects. By smarter small ball management I am meaning he needs to better utilize the speed he has at the top of his lineup and bunt less often. With Tabata, Presley and McCutchen likely at the top of the Pirates lineup Hurdle needs to run aggressively but smarter. As for the bunts last season Hurdle did it with so much frequency that it became frustrating and a bit or a running joke; when the situation calls for it Hurdle should still absolutely call for a bunt he just needs to be more selective this season. Now as for the bullpen usage this mainly deals with his use of his closer. Some people advocate using Hanrahan in late game crucial situations instead of solely the 9th inning but I want to see Hanarhan stay primarily in the 9th inning role but I want to see Hurdle show flexibility and occasionally be willing to bring Hanrahan in during the 7th or 8th inning if the game is close and the situation critical. Also if Hurdle is going to stick to his no pitching 3 days in a row he needs to be more selective before sending out pitchers, i.e. if Hanahran pitched the day before he should not come to mound to close a game in which the Pirates have a 3 run lead. The final thing I want to see from Hurdle is for his personal hitting projects of Alvarez and McKenry to show success in the majors, being honest I am really indifferent on McKenry (it would be nice to see and all) but Alvarez is the key here.

Hitting Coach, Gregg Ritchie: There is only one thing I want to see from Ritchie this season, at least one person under his tutelage needs to step up and take his game to the next level. The Pirates really had no single hitter last season who exceeded expectations, that needs to change this season. I am not including Alvarez in this because I see him more as a project for Hurdle than Ritchie but somebody like Tabata, Presley, Walker, etc has to play better than what everyone is expecting. I actually think this is critical and failure to do this could end up costing Ritchie his job.

Pitching Coach, Ray Searage: The goal for Searage is to continue doing what he did last season. Bottom line the pitching staff for the first four months performed remarkably and all Searage really has to do is help that continue and maybe get it to extend throughout the entire season. I will mention a few tasks I will like to see him specifically address. 1.) Get Morton more confident throwing pitches other than his sinker, 2.) Help McDonald get deeper into games, and 3.) Tweak Burnett’s delivery, grip, something to make him lose a few mph of his changeup. Those three tasks along with continuing last season’s success and building off of it is what I am looking for this season.

1st Base Coach, Luis Silverio: In addition to being the 1st base coach Silverio will also serve as the outfield coach and the base running coach. I think his most important role this season is going to be base running but it would also be nice to see the outfield reach its full defensive potential. As for base running Silverio has to better train the Pirates base stealers like Tabata, Presley and McCutchen to make them more aggressive and smarter. I want to see the Pirates be smart and aggressive on the base paths this season and Silverio will have a big role in that.

3rd Base Coach, Nick Leyva: Leyva is also the club’s infield coach and he will have his work cut out from him there. The Pirates should get good defense from Barmes but the platoon of Jones/McGehee, Walker and Alvarez are not the strongest fielders. Leyva will have to work to get McGehee comfortable at a relatively new position and he will need to try and get respectable defensive performances from Walker and Alvarez. I want to see the infield defense be average or better this season. As for his role as 3rd base coach I had no real problem with how he decided to send runners last season so hopefully he just keeps up his work and maybe gets a tad more aggressive.

Bench Coach, Jeff Banister: To be honest I am not really sure what responsibilities Hurdle has delegated to Banister. A bench coach’s role is to help the manager with the day to day activities. Since I really do not know what Banister is responsible for it is tough to say what to expect from him but since he does assist Hurdle the same goals I gave to Hurdle apply to Banister.

Bullpen Coach, Euclides Rojas: The bullpen coach has a very similar role to the pitching coach but mainly works with the relievers. One job away from the relievers I am hoping Rojas partakes in is using his past experience with Burnett to help Searage form a relationship with Burnett. As for his work in the pen I think his two most important tasks this season will be working with Meek to help him regain his form and working with the left handed relievers to try and solidify that shaky spot in the Pirates bullpen.

Bullpen Catcher, Hebarto Andrade: I really have nothing to add here. As the bullpen catcher Andrade basically serves as an assistant to Rojas and is also responsible for throwing batting practice. During the winter months Andrade also serves as a catching instructor for the Venezuela winter leagues so maybe he will be able to Barajas and McKenry out in some capacity.

Coach, Mark Strittmatter: Strittmatter will serve as the pitchers hitting coach, work with the catchers and also help Ritchie and Hurdle with the hitting program. A lot of what I assigned to Hurdle and Ritchie applies to him but I would also like to see some improvement from the Pirates pitchers in terms of hitting. The pitchers will obviously never hit great but even so last season the Pirates pitchers were 100 OPS points below the National League average and that is not acceptable.

Strength & Conditioning Coach, Brendon Huttman: A new addition to Hurdle’s staff Huttman will take over a role that no one actually filled last season; the Pirates did have someone responsible for strength and conditioning but that was not his full role. Obviously the goal for him is to help avoid a repeat of last season’s major injury collapse down the stretch.

2012 Expectations – Minor League Pitchers

Much like I did with the hitters I decided that since I have already covered the Pirates top depth options and top prospects I would give a generally overview of the position and highlight a few off the radar players. Since pitching is really only one position I decided to break down the players into three groups: upper levels (AA and AAA), middle levels (A and A+) and lower levels (SS and Rk). For the time being I have ignored international pitching prospects but for those of you who want information there the top three pitching prospects likely to play in the DSL this season are Martires Cadet, Yunior Montero and Oderman Rocha. This is the last player preview piece of my 2012 expectation series; I hope everyone has enjoyed it. I will now being moving on the coaches and front office. Thank you to my readers.

UPPER LEVELS (AA and AAA)

Aaron Pribanic: Pribanic was acquired in the Jack Wilson trade and is the last of the three pitchers acquired remaining in the Pirates system. He is a sinker ball pitcher and does not project to be much more than a 5th starter of bullpen arm but he is probably the most advanced of the all the upper level pitchers I have yet to cover. Pribanic should be in line to move up to the AAA rotation but it is going to be a little crowded there so chances are he either works out the bullpen in AAA or remains in AA. Either way I am not expecting too much from him; he is your typical depth prospect and will likely remain that way. Depending on the health of the people above him he may or may not get a shot at the majors this season.

Aaron Poreda: Poreda was one of four players taken by the Pirates in the Rule V draft; he along with two others were taken in the minor league draft. Of the four players Poreda is the one who is the most intriguing to me. He profiles as nothing more than a reliever but since he is a lefty with good stuff he has the makings to become a decent back of the bullpen option. He will probably start the year in the AAA bullpen and while I don’t expect him to excel there he has the makeup of a player who could surprise some people.

Phillip Irwin: Irwin’s situation is very similar to Pribanic’s. Both players are finesse pitchers that pitched respectably albeit not greatly in AA last season and could be in line to move up to AAA but due to the lack of space will probably either end up in the AAA bullpen or the AA rotation. I think Irwin will remain in the AA rotation and while he is nothing to get too excited about he has good eough control that he could one day develop into a decent major league option.

Nate Baker: Of the four upper level pitchers I am discussing here I think Baker has the highest upside. Baker has always been a little old for the level he was playing in (at 24 and in AA this season that will remain the case) but he has consistently pitched well putting up very solid numbers. He is a left handed pitcher and has decent velocity in the low 90s; he isn’t a high end prospect but could end up a decent middle of the rotation option. This season in AA will be a big test for Baker and I think he will handle it well and put up another very solid season.

Summary: The Pirates top two minor league levels are filled with depth veterans and good but not great prospects. There is no one is AA or AAA that project to be top of the rotation options but the trio of McPherson, Owens and Locke should provide the Pirates with good rotation depth. The Pirates also have a lot of decent veterans who will probably start the season in AAA and serve as roster depth such as Juan Cruz, Shairon Martis, Logan Kensing and Jo-Jo Reyes. The good mix of young pitchers and veterans should provide the Pirates with a good stabilizing force this season should multiple injuries arise.

MIDDLE LEVELS (A and A+)

Zack Von Rosenberg: Von Rosenberg was the highest thought of prep arm the Pirates took in the 2009 draft. Throughout his career he has performed respectably but not up to his expectations. He did finish strong last season though which should lead to some optimism for this season. Chances are he will move to A+ this season and despite the fact he is probably the Pirates 7th or 8th best starting pitcher prospect he is going to likely be only the 4th highest regarded on the A+ staff. The Pirates A+ affiliate plays in a very hitter friendly park and Von Rosenberg’s underwhelming performance so far point to him not living up to what he was at first billed but his strong finish last season and young age means it is still possible for him to have a breakout. I think that breakout season comes this year.

Zack Dodson: Dodson is likely going to round out what will have to be one of the most interesting minor league rotations in baseball. Like Von Rosenberg, Dodson was one of many prep arms taken by the Pirates in the 2009 draft; he didn’t come with the pedigree of Von Rosenberg but Dodson’s performance to date has pretty much matched Von Rosenberg’s. He is not much of a strikeout pitcher but rather a ground ball pitcher. I like his arm and I think one day he could make a viable back of the rotation candidate but as for this season I see him struggling in A+.

Victor Black: Black was yet another pitcher taken by the Pirates in the 2009 draft but unlike the previous two I discussed he was taken out of college. Baseball America had him rated the 50th best prospect in the draft but he has not lived up to that billing. As of right now it appears his days as being developed as a starter are over but he still has the potential to become a very effective reliever. Black will likely be promoted to A+ this season and pitch out of the bullpen; the Pirates probably want him to get innings so expect it to be a long inning role instead of a back of the bullpen role. He has the stuff to make a good reliever so I think early on he will be successful although I could see him fading as the season goes on.

Trent Stevenson: Yet one more prep arm taken in the 2009 draft, Stevenson was taken not because he was viewed as a polished pitcher but rather because of his high upside. Stevenson hasn’t put up good results thus far but that was to be expected as he was really a project that was going to take a few years to develop. He really struggled in A ball last season, actually getting demoted to short season ball where he continued to struggle. At this point Stevenson is a long shot to make it to the majors but his high potential still makes him worth watching. Stevenson will likely be in A ball this season and due to his high upside will be on the more intriguing arms there. This is a huge year for Stevenson as if he finally puts it together he can start being viewed as a legit prospect but on the other hand another setback will all but eliminate the head start he got by coming straight out of high school. Personally I see him struggling again this season.

Summary: The keys to the organization rest with the pitching in the middle levels. Earlier I previewed the Pirates top 6 starting pitcher prospects and 4 of them will likely start the year pitching in either A or A+ ball. This is the Pirates most talent rich part of the organization and to a rather large degree the future success or failure of the major league rests heavily on the shoulders of these pitching prospects. The group is headlined by Cole and Taillon but the supporting cast of Von Rosenber, Cain, Kingham, etc can also be quite valuable. For the many prep arms drafted by the Pirates in 2009 this is a huge year for them and we will likely start to see some separation between the prospects and the non-prospects.

LOWER LEVELS (SS and Rookie)

Clay Holmes: The Pirates drafted Holmes in 9th round of last year’s draft and apparently thought very highly of him as they gave him a 1.2 million dollar signing bonus. Holmes is ahead of most high school pitchers because of his advanced fastball which he already throws in the low 90s. The rest of Holmes’ pitches are underwhelming making him a bit of a project but he definitely has the highest upside of any of the handful of prep arms taken by the Pirates in the last draft. He will likely start the year pitching in short season ball when a player is at this point in his career it is nearly impossible to predict how he will pitch so I will just add that he will probably struggle some but it will hopefully show some positive signs.

Others: I was going to break down the rest of the intriguing pitchers in the lower levels individually but in reality they are in one of two boats either they are prep arms getting their first real taste of pro ball or they are international prospects coming to the states for the first time. The Pirates really don’t have any intriguing international guys moving up but Andy Otamendi and Clario Perez appear to be the best of the bunch. Last year was Otamendi’s first season of pitching in the DSL but he performed very well and has likely already earned a promotion to the states. Perez on the other hand spent 3 seasons in the DSL but finally pitched well enough last season that he appears ready for a shot at rookie ball. The intriguing prep arms the Pirates selected last draft, in addition to Holmes, are Colten Brewer, Tyler Glasnow, Jake Burnette and Jason Creasy. Glasnow and Burnette appear to be the best prospects of the bunch but in reality all 4 of them will be starting from the same spot. All 4 players have decent velocity but lack some control; it is possible all of them will start in short season ball but I expect the Pirates to break them up and start one or two in rookie ball.

Summary: The lower levels for the Pirates have two elite pitching prospects in Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia but outside of those two prospects the Pirates also have a good compliment of prep arms like the ones I have discussed above. The international ranks have developed a few options for this season but no one who really stands out. Last season the Pirates had Nick Kingham break out from the lower levels and it is very possible they will have another pitcher do the same this season. Who will it be? That is really anyone’s guess but my money is on Holmes or Glasnow. The state of the Pirates lower levels is not really uncommon as pitchers who are throwing in the lower levels tend to be more projects than legit prospects but hopefully the good mix they have coupled with Allie and Heredia will take a step forward this season and set the Pirates up with another wave following Taillon and Cole.

2012 Expectations: Minor League – Hitters

Since I have already covered the Pirates top depth options and prospects at each position this piece and the corresponding pitcher one will focus on the overall state of each position in the minors and will focus on one under the radar player I have yet to discuss.

Catcher

A lot of people view the Pirates minor league catching depth as a weak spot but I view as something stronger than that. The Pirates have a high end prospect in Sanchez and good depth guys in Fryer, Cabrera and Paulino. The rest of the catcher position will be handled by fringe prospects like Jonathan Schwind and organizational players like Kris Watts and Charlie Cutler. The most intriguing of the other minor league catchers is Samuel Gonzalez. Last season was Gonzalez’s first in the states and the Pirates pushed him aggressively to short season ball where he performed very well. Headed into this season the biggest question surrounding Gonzalez is likely his age as he is 23 years old and has not played in A ball yet. The Pirates could opt to push him to A+ but due to the catching backlog I expect him to go to A ball. Through his pro career Gonzalez has shown both good offensive and defensive skills but since he was playing at an advanced age in the lower levels this season is a big test for him. I’m honestly not sure what to expect from him but I think his age is playing against him so I would not expect too much.

1st Base

The Pirates have an array of intriguing 1B prospects but they lack any true impact prospect. The lack of that impact player makes this a truly weak position for the Pirates but hopefully somebody will make a step forward this season. Outside of the players I have previously covered the Pirates first base position will be manned by fringe prospects like Calvin Anderson and Justin Howard. There is one other player though who is very intriguing and as far as prospect status is concerned does not rank to far behind the Pirates top three at this position. That player is Jose Osuna. Osuna made his state’s debut last season and absolutely dominated rookie ball; he was so effective that despite being 19 the Pirates very well may consider sending him to full season ball to start the season. Due to the lack of other options I do think the Pirates will try to have Osuna make that jump but my expectation is that it will take him some time to adjust and he will initially struggle but will rebound and finish with a respectable season.

2nd Base

For the most part second base is a position lacking true prospects because most of the better options move to 2nd from a position such as shortstop. However as I previously shown the Pirates have some decent prospects at second base and considering most true prospects will ultimately come from other positions, that is all an organization is probably looking for. Outside of Cunningham, Holt and Ngoepe the Pirates have two interesting guys in Adalberto Santos and Dan Gamache. Gamache was drafted last season and will be making the transition from 3rd base to second base this season. The more intriguing of the duo I mentioned, Santos is a combination 2B/OF and will should start the season in AA. If Cunningham is moved up to AA Santos will likely mainly play OF but if he is held back as I expect Santos will receive the majority of the playing time at 2B in AA.

3rd Base

Third base is probably the Pirates weakest position from a prospect position. I have already covered the semi intriguing guys in Navarro, Gonzalez and Avila but the Pirates will man the remaining openings with far less interesting guys like Jeremy Farrell and Yhonathan Barrios. Barrios is still young enough where there is a chance he could put things together but that is probably a long shot. On the flip side this season is likely Farrell’s last chance and in fact he may not even be able to find a regular spot in the minors. The only truly intriguing 3B prospect left (possibly even in the whole organization) is Dilson Herrera. Herrera received the second largest international signing bonus (behind only Heredia) from the Pirates in 2010 and played in the VSL last season. He performed well and will likely move up to the GCL this season. I believe by the time the season ends Dilson Herrera will be the Pirates top 3B prospect (unless a 3B is drafted early). This isn’t to say he will be a great prospect but he will be the best of a bad lot.

Shortstop

The Pirates are relatively weak at shortstop. The foursome of Mercer, Maggi, Hanson and Nunez I have already covered all have something interesting about them but outside of them the Pirates lack somebody who even has a skill set worth getting excited about. A second baseman I covered like Holt or Ngoepe may see time at shortstop this season but both of them project better long term as 2B. The Pirates will likely have any remaining opportunities at shortstop filled by organizational guys like Benji Gonzalez, Kelson Brown and Kirk Singer. It is really tough to find anybody to point here there is the duo of Jorge Bishop and Jodaneli Carvajal but neither of these players has shown anything defensively that makes one think they will remain at the position. Since I have to pick someone I’m going with Carvajal because he showed good speed and hot for a respectable average last season. If Hanson is pushed to A ball it is possible Carvajal will assume the shortstop job in short season ball. I really don’t expect much from him but hopefully he surprises me.

Outfield

I have already covered 9 outfield prospects for the Pirates, even though one of them Exicardo Cayones has been since traded. Of the remaining prospects it is tough to find anyone who doesn’t like they are organizational depth or minor league filler. The most promising of the group in my mind is Candon Myles but with Cayones no longer in the system I went back and used Myles as my 9th prospect. The remaining lot includes guys like Quincy Latimore and Rogelios Noris who have huge power potential but lack any other tools. There are those who like Gregory Polanco, Rodarrick Jones and Taylor Lewis but in my opinion they are a year away from being considered for the ones to watch. Harold Ramirez and Elvis Escobar are probably the two most intriguing players I haven’t mentioned but these two were just signed last season and will likely spend multiple seasons in the DSL. I usually do not follow prospects until they reach the states so instead I am going to go with Daniel Grovatt. Grovatt put up strong numbers in A ball last season but was a touch old for the level. He doesn’t profile as much and since he was drafted out of college he probably needs to quickly show that he is for real so a good showing in A+ is probably necessary for him to be considered a legit prospect. He showed some good skills last season so I am actually expecting him to have a surprisingly good season this year.

2012 Expectations: Bull Pen

LOCKS

Joel Hanrahan: After a terrific season last year as the Pirates closer Hanrahan will once again be the team’s closer. There is no reason not to expect another great season from him. As the anchor of the bullpen Hanrahan should be in line to finish out most of the Pirates’ wins. I would not rule out a midseason trade though because the price of relievers is very high right now and if the Pirates find themselves out of it by the deadline shopping Hanrahan to a contender in need of a late inning reliever would make a lot of sense because they could potential acquire a long term solution for 1B or SS.

Chris Resop: Some thought Resop would be non-tendered but I am happy the Pirates decided to bring him back. Resop’s ability to post high strike out totals makes him good at coming into jams and getting out of them with little damage; I’ve always consider this the fireman role of the bullpen. For most of the season Resop did quite well in this role but he faded as the year went on nonetheless I expect him to return to this role and do fairly well in it.

Jason Grilli: Signed in the middle of last season from the Phillies Grilli came in and did very well. The Pirates choose to bring him back this season and he will be the team’s second highest paid reliever. Grilli has shown the flexibility to pitch late in games, pitch multiple innings and to do some mop up work if necessary. I see Grilli taking on the role of the utility pitcher; this means he will pitch in any and all situations. Grilli is really a non-descript relief pitcher but he seems to mesh well with this team so his respectable performance should be enough to warrant him a spot on the roster for most of the season.

RIGHT HANDED OPTIONS

Evan Meek: Meek will likely get the first crack at the set up role but due to his injuries and inconsistent play last year coupled with the facts the Pirates have a lot of bullpen options and Meek has an option left he is not a lock to make the team. I think last year was a fluke year for Meek and I expect him to make the team and regain his form this season. A healthy effective Meek would make the idea of trading Hanrahan a little easier to swallow or should the Pirates find themselves in a competitive position it would give them a terrific shut down duo for the 8th and 9th innings.

Chris Leroux: There has been some talk about stretching Leroux out to become a starter but I don’t see it happening. Chances are Leroux would have to be sent down to the minors for a while to work as a starter and with no options remaining he would need to be waived for that to be possible. With all that being said Leroux is not a lock to make the team. The Pirates have a lot of good options available and with being out of options he provides less flexibility that most of the people he is competiting with. He is a definite borderline player; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start the year in the bullpen or be waived, it could go either way. My prediction is that Leroux will make the bullpen and pitch well but not really do enough to distinguish himself and he will be removed from the roster at some point during the season.

Daniel McCutchen: As of right this minute McCutchen is probably the favorite for the long relief job. Should the Pirates bring in another starter as is rumored the job will likely go to a current projected starter like Kevin Correia. This could leave McCutchen on the outside looking in but with an option remaining he should definitely remain on the Pirates 40 man roster and be called upon some time this season. He might even be called upon to make the occasional spot start this season depending on the health and performance of the Pirates top starting options. There is nothing that wows you about McCutchen but his ability to give multiple innings out of the bullpen makes him a nice option to have around.

Jared Hughes: Hughes came up late last season and pitched pretty well but he is probably a long shot to make the major league roster at this point. He seems to be another pitcher in the same mold as Grilli, Resop and Leroux he can strike people out and his control while a little shaky is good enough to make him a solid relief option. The Pirates will probably call upon him at some point this season and I see no reason why he won’t be a serviceable middle reliever.

Juan Cruz: I believe Cruz is the Pirates answer for replacing Jose Veras. Before signing Cruz the Pirates had Evan Meek and a bunch of other intriguing arms to fill the set up role but what they didn’t have was someone with experience doing it who they could call upon should no one step up and take the role. Cruz gives the Pirates that; he will be the fall back option for the Pirates 7th and 8th inning roles. Cruz is on a minor league contract so he doesn’t have to make the team and very well might not but it is good the Pirates brought him in just in case he is needed. I would really like to see Cruz make the team but unless Meek starts out in AAA I just do not see a spot for him. Probably at some point this season Cruz will get his chance with the Pirates and if so I expect him to put up similar numbers to what Veras did last season.

LEFT HANDED OPTIONS

Tony Watson: Watson is probably the Pirates best option for a left hander out of the bullpen meaning he will likely make the team out of spring training. On the other hand Watson is not a complete product and could definitely use more time in the minors. When pressed into duty last season Watson performed admirably and with no other clear cut options he deserves a chance to prove himself. I am not expecting a great season from Watson but he seems like a serviceable lefty; if one of the below guys or someone else can step up it would be great for the Pirates to get him back to AAA. As it is I see Watson having a serviceable year as the top lefty in the pen and pitching a lot of situational matchups.

Daniel Moskos: Moskos may be the Pirates second best left handed option for the bullpen but he could use AAA work even more than Watson could. With their abundance of right handers I doubt the Pirates will choose to carry two lefties but if they do Moskos has the inside track to be the second lefty. Whether Moskos makes the team or not he is going to be asked to play a role in the majors at some point and I see it going quite well. I have always liked Moskos as a potential late inning left handed reliever and while that will never make him worth the 4th overall pick it should make him a useful player. I predict Moskos will begin to take some late inning situational time away from Watson by the end of the year.

Jo-Jo Reyes: The Pirates signed a slew of depth left handed relievers and I am not going to spend much time of any of them but the one I find most intriguing is Reyes. He has started in the past and has basically only been a passable spot starter but he has shown a good knack for getting lefties out meaning a bullpen role could be good for him. I think he has a chance to make the roster out of spring training but I don’t see it. I am not expecting much from Reyes but I believe he can be a decent reliever if he is needed.

Doug Slaten: Slaten is the definition of a lefty specialist; he is horrible against righties but does well enough against lefties that he still manages to keep a job. Hurdle likes two lefties in the bullpen so Slaten has a chance to make the major league roster but I don’t see it happening. If needed he would be fine if used in a LOOGY role but anything more than that could be scary for Pirate fans.

Brian Tallet: Even with the Pirates lack of left handed options Tallet stands little chance to make the team. I imagine he is here as sort of a last resort back up plan. Chances are Tallet will not play in the majors this season but by some chance he does we shouldn’t expect much. I imagine the Pirates will try to find him a spot in AAA but even that could be tough to do.

TOP PROSPECTS

Stetson Allie: I have not given up on Allie as a potential starter but it looks as of now that the bullpen is the safer bet and that he will probably be working in that role this season. He has only been pitching for two seasons so of course he is raw I’m not sure why anyone expected anything more from him. Allie has a huge upside but is probably as far away from the majors as the younger Luis Heredia. I think Allie will show progress this season but it will likely be back in short season ball so it won’t exactly send his prospect status soaring. The potential is still very much there though.

Justin Wilson: Wilson could return to starting this season but due to his control issues I see his best fit as the bullpen. When you combined that with the fact the Pirates are light on left handed relievers Wilson could see time in the majors as early as the beginning of this season if he is needed. There were reports of Wilson hitting 99 mph out of the bullpen last season; that would be fantastic from a left handed reliever but I think more realistically we will see him consistently at 95-96 which will still be good. I expect Wilson to get some time in the pen later this season and as long as his control isn’t plain terrible I think it will go rather well.

Bryan Morris: A lot of people have given up on Morris but I haven’t. I see him as the heir apparent to Joel Hanrahan. Would that be a good return for the Jason Bay trade? Well of course not but it would still be great if he could turn into a good closer and I think Morris has the makeup to do just that. Should the Pirates opt to trade Hanrahan (and I think that depends on their contender status this season) I see Morris assuming the closer’s role by the end of the season.

Jeff Inman: Inman has a big upside and is probably easily one of the Pirates most talented pitching prospects. The problem the man can’t stay healthy. He has been in the system 3 years and has thrown just 40 innings. Inman was once considered a starting prospect but at this point I don’t see any way possible he remains a starter. He could have a future as a reliever pitching limited innings but even that would require him to stay healthier. Considering his low inning workload I would be surprised to see the Pirates start him above A+ but he could find himself in AA at some point. If he manages to stay healthy I can see him putting up very good numbers but that is a very big if at this point.

Duke Welker: The Pirates protected Welker from the Rule V draft this offseason, considering they had quite a few options they could have protected it shows they must think rather highly of Welker. He does have good stuff for a reliever and appears to have the making of a late inning reliever but for some reason I just don’t have a strong feeling about him. I see Welker struggling as a reliever in the majors but I don’t really know why, it is really just a hunch. Anyway Welker should start the season in AA but if he does well he is a candidate for an early promotion to AAA. He could even have an impact in the majors this season but I don’t see that happening.

Zac Fuesser: Fuesser is my second left handed pitching prospect on this list. He appears destined for a relief spot even though he did start 11 games last year and pitched over 100 innings. With so many other pitching prospects around him Fuesser has mainly been used in a piggy back role meaning he pitches but only after a more highly thought of prospect gets his work in. He will be in A+ this season and with a stacked starting rotation he will probably get little consideration there but could be called upon often as a long reliever. Fuesser’s true development as a reliever probably won’t start to next season when the prospects start to separate themselves from the filler but the fact he is left handed gives him a respectable chance at making an impact in the majors at some point.

POSITION OVERVIEW

Summary: For 2012 the bullpen appears to be fairly strong. My only real concern about it is that it will be overworked but hopefully the Burnett acquisition will alleviate that some. The Pirates have a good mix of right handers but are really lacking left handed options at the moment. The relievers are by no means a lock to be effective but I think considering the number of options the Pirates have available it is pretty safe to assume they will be able to find a mix that provides them with good stability this season and that is really all you can ask from a bullpen. For next season the Pirates have an intriguing mix of young pitchers who are coming up in relief roles that should allow the Pirates to cut loose some of their more expensive middle relief options. As far as long term goes it is always difficult to know exactly what pitchers will end up relievers but it appears as if the Pirates should have some options and chief among might be a fireball closer in Stetson Allie (although we should hold out hope he ends up starting).

2012 Expectations: Starting Pitchers

STARTERS

Erik Bedard: Signed this offseason to a 1 year 4.5 million dollar contract Bedard instantly becomes the Pirates most talented pitcher. Bedard’s “stuff” is that of a high end number #2 starter but he comes with the downside of a long injury history. From 2008 through 2012 Bedard only pitched 164 major league innings of baseball. He is coming off a 129.1 innings performance from last year though. It would be foolish to expect a full season of work from Bedard but if the Pirates can get similar numbers from last season (20-25 starts; 8+ K/9: 3.6 ERA) he would be well worth the price they paid for him and that is basically what I am expecting.

A.J. Burnett: Burnett, the newest addition to the Pirates staff. His acquisition has been much debated during the week long process it took to acquire him. Some say he has lost it others expect him to rebound. Me? I think the Pirates could have gotten him for less but I think he will prove to be worth the price they paid. I don’t see him becoming a top of the rotation starter but I can see him pitching 180-200 innings, striking out nearly a batter an inning and having an ERA in the low 4s. His ability to eat innings will greatly help out the Pirates bullpen and by all accounts I’ve heard he works well with young pitchers so the Pirates have that going for them. Above all he adds depth and that is much needed.

James McDonald: McDonald is coming off what appears to be a poor showing in 2011 but in fact he did end up pitching better than his numbers indicate. After missing mostly all of spring training due to injury McDonald struggled to begin the season in April but rebound nicely posting an ERA below 4 for the months from May-August. I see McDonald being the Pirates breakout pitcher this season. This does not mean I see McDonald becoming an ace but rather I see him pitching 180 innings while compiling an ERA of around 3.80 and a strike out rate near 8 K/9.

Charlie Morton: Last year’s surprising breakout star finished the season with worse numbers than one would have expected. His season wasn’t bad by any stretch but he did struggle going down the stretch and especially had trouble getting lefties out. Coming into this season the main concerns about Morton is sustaining his success and improving against left handers. I have little doubt that he will succeed in doing both this season but to what extent? I don’t see him regressing to his 2012 numbers and I do see him improving against left handed hitters but on the flip side I see right handed hitters faring better against him and I see him slipping mildly. There is an injury concern here to start the season but I see that becoming a non issue by May. I do not see great things from Morton but I see a solid season with an ERA around 4.00.

Jeff Karstens: Ah, Kartsens. What to say about him? He is everyone’s pick to seriously regress this season and while that probably will happen I think most people are going a little too far with it. Karstens can pitch, always could, he is the type of guy you want on your staff either as a back of the rotation starter or as a utility pitcher in the bullpen. I see no way he keeps his ERA below 3.5 again this year but I don’t see him bombing out of the rotation. I must admit Karstens is a favorite of mine and I have always been rooting for him with that being said my outlook is not just based in that but rather his performance. Karstens got lucky last season but his xFIP was still 4.00; that isn’t great but that isn’t horrible either. I see Karstens falling back to earth and settling in as the Pirates #5 meaning an ERA in the 4.20 range.

DEPTH

Kevin Correia: Correia started the season on a hot streak last year, leading the league in wins through the first few months. He was the face of the new found Pirate road warrior approach at the beginning of last season. Truth be told he is not as good as he started last season and we seen that in his late season collapse but he is also not as bad as his late season collapse. All offseason Pirate fans have been talking about getting him out of the rotation and with the acquisition of A.J. Burnett it appears the Pirates have done that. However Correia is still going to be counted on to start a lot of games. Injuries and underperformance are all going to come into play and force the Pirates to send someone else out to the mound. Correia has an option left  but due to his experience would have to give his consent to be sent to AAA, he may give it knowing staying with the Pirates is his best chance at starting but if he doesn’t he would make a good long man / spot starter out of the bullpen. I expect another replacement level year.

Brad Lincoln: Once a highly regarded pitching prospect Lincoln has fallen from grace but he still appears as if he could be a useful player. Coming in is as a depth starter once again, Lincoln will almost assuredly find himself called upon sometime this season, possibly even early on. He comes with a little upside but at this point Lincoln looks like little more than possible a very solid #4 starter. Lincoln should start the season in AAA and while he doesn’t need any more experience there he will be there for major league depth purposes. Lincoln will get a chance to prove himself this season and I think he will do a respectable job. He won’t post great numbers but I see an ERA in the 4.5 area. He will pitch well enough to give the Pirates some confidence in him possibly making one of Karstens/Morton/McDonald expendable.

Jeff Locke: Despite the fact Locke came up late last season for a cup of coffee in the majors Locke is still a work in progress and needs more time in the minors. Locke appears to have a very limited upside at this point but conversely his floor looks like a back of the rotation starter, meaning there is value in him. To me Locke appears to be something of a Paul Maholm-lite. Once again I see nothing spectacular coming from Locke but if called upon he should do a respectable job in the majors.

Rudy Owens: Owens entered last season as the prospect that appeared closest to major league ready but after a strong first two months Owens hit a rough patch and was passed up by Jeff Locke. Owens is still a talented pitcher and could very well help the Pirates at some point this season but it is apparent he still has some work to do. He has a higher upside than Locke but he also comes with slightly more risk. I have always been a fan of how Owens pitching and I see him coming through with a strong season in AAA and getting a chance in the majors. By the end of the season I could see him passing both Locke and Lincoln on the depth chart.

Others: If the Pirates need another starter outside of the ones I discussed hopefully it will be late enough in the season that a prospect like Kyle McPherson is ready. If not the Pirates will likely be forced to turn to a pitcher like Daniel McCutchen, Jo-Jo Reyes, Daniel Cabrera or Shairon Martis. McCutchen I will discuss amongst the relievers as he is likely to start the season there either in the majors in AAA. Reyes will also probably be given a chance to win a bullpen job because of the Pirates dearth of left handed relievers but he has been a barely passable spot starter so the Pirates could turn to him if needed. Cabrera is probably well past his time of usefulness but if he shows something down in AAA he too could be in a line for a spot start. The most intriguing of all the last ditch starting options available to the Pirates is Shairon Martis. Martis will begin the season having just turned 25 and actually has a little bit of upside. He pitched respectably in AAA in 2010 and was pretty good in AA last season. Martis will probably be nothing more than a spot starter but his slight upside makes him the best bet to be promoted should the need arise.

TOP PROSPECTS

Gerrit Cole: Cole is universally considered one of the Pirates top 2 prospects. He has yet to throw a major league pitch but due to his pedigree and the fact he is coming out of a high profile college Cole is expected to move through the system quickly and make an impact on the majors some time during the 2013 season. As for the 2012 season it appears Cole will start the season in A+ but it is my thinking that it may just be to have him skip the early season cold weather in Altoona. I would not be at all surprised and in fact I am expecting Cole to be promoted to AA around Memorial Day. Expectations are high for Cole this season I do not think he will disappoint.

Jameson Taillon: Taillon is the other prospect who is universally regarded as one of the Pirates top two prospects. He is a similar player to Cole but is a behind him in his development because he came out of high school. There were questions last year about how the Pirates handled Taillon in A ball last season but I think they did the right thing by just easing him to pro ball; this is the season where they need to loosen the reigns a little bit. Like Cole, Taillon will likely start the season in A+ but unlike Cole a quick promotion to AA is probably not in the cards. The Pirates are likely going to take it a little slow with Taillon and let him spend most if not all of the season in A+. I think Taillon is going to have a good season but I think his overall line is going to disappoint people, as I have said before the Pirates A+ team, the Bradenton Marauders play in a hitter friendly stadium so I expect his numbers to suffer slightly.

Luis Heredia: Heredia might have the highest upside of any Pirate pitching prospect but at 17 years old he is very raw and very far from the majors. His numbers last year may not look too impressive but if you stop and consider the fact he was essentially a high school sophomore pitching in a pro league they begin to look fairly good. The Pirates are going to proceed cautiously with Heredia so expect him to start the year in extended spring training and then be assigned to short season ball. Short season ball is usually where just drafted college players go so the level of competition he will see there should be a good test for him. At this stage in his development it is too early to say what will be a successful season just by statistics alone but nevertheless I am expecting a good showing from Heredia in short season ball this year.

Kyle McPherson: Of all the Pirates top pitching prospects McPherson is the closest to being major league ready. After putting up very strong numbers in A+ last year McPherson was promoted to AA and continued to pitch well. His upside is not as high as the other top pitching prospects but his close proximity to the majors makes him the safest bet to make an impact in the majors. McPherson will likely start the season in AAA and could be ready for the majors by mid season. I don’t expect him to put up dominating numbers from the start but I see him settling down as the year progresses and putting up a solid season. The Pirates have a few other options in Owens and Locke who will likely get a chance before McPherson so I don’t expect to see him in the majors until September.

Nicholas Kingham: Often overlooked Kingham was the Pirates 4th round pick in the 2010 draft. At the time he was overshadowed by fellow draft picks Taillon and Allie however that changed last season when Kingham put up dominating numbers in short season ball. After last season’s strong showing Kingham is now considered a borderline top 10 prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. He will likely start this upcoming season in A ball and it will be interesting to follow him and see how he performs. Kingham has a good bit of upside and could one day develop into a top of the rotation starter but he still has a good ways to go in his development. There is no reason to assume his numbers last year were not legit so I am expecting a strong showing from Kingham this year and I could see him as a candidate for the Pirates minor league pitcher of the year.

Colton Cain: Cain is one of the many high upside project-able high school arms the Pirates took in the 2009 draft. At the time he was drafted he was considered by most to be the second best of all the arms but his performance since joining the organization has vaulted him over Zack Von Rosenberg and he is now the most highly regarded prospect of the group. Cain will likely move up to A+ this season and along with the rest of the pitchers the Pirates took in his draft class this could be a very telling year in whether Cain is a legit prospect or nothing more than organizational filler. My expectations is for Cain to post a good season; it won’t be enough for him to appear as a top prospect but enough for him to look like he could be a solid major league contributor one day.

POSITION OVERVIEW

Summary: This year’s Pittsburgh Pirates rotation is probably the best the team has had in a few years. There is no true ace amongst the Pirates options for this season but there are no obvious black holes either. I think the best way to sum it up is the Pirates starting rotation will scare no one, opposing fans or Pirate fans alike. While it seems possible this year’s rotation will be the best in a long time for the Pirates, brighter days are ahead. The Pirates minor leagues are filled with quite a few high upside pitchers and if just a few of them reach their potential the Pirates will have a dominating rotation in the years come. In summary the Pirates rotation is improving and there is little reason to think that it will not continue to improve; this is one of the Pirates biggest strengths.

2012 Expectations: Right Field

STARTER

Jose Tabata: After starting the 2011 season as the everyday left fielder Tabata will shift over to the right field starter for the 2012 season. Considering his idol is Roberto Clemente the fit seems to be a perfect match. Typically right field is reserved for power hitters but obviously Tabata does not fit that description. Instead the Pirates will rely on him for his speed, on base skills and defense. Tabata will likely be the leadoff hitter this season and I expect him to fare whether well in that role. We should see a little more power from Tabata this season, I’m saying 8 home runs and I expect him to also post a solid OBP in the .360 range. If Starling Mart earns a promotion this season it could ultimately push Tabata in to a time share with Presley in right field but that would be a good problem to have and is not worth worrying over now. Tabata won’t put up the production of a typical right fielder but he will still be valuable to the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates.

BACK UP

5th Outfielder: I’m not sure who will fill the role but the Pirates are going to employ a fifth outfielder to begin the role. There is an outside chance it might a traditional route with Gorkys Hernandez or Brandon Boggs filling the role but I doubt that will happen. It could also be by carrying an extra infielder like Yamaico Navarro or Josh Harrison who has experience in the outfield. If the Pirates went this route they could let Navarro or Harrison serve as the 5th outfielder or they could have Garrett Jones handle that role. My guess is that the Pirates will let Nick Evans and Jake Fox battle for the last bench spot. Both of these players have experience in both the infield and the outfield and could serve as a platoon partner with Jones at 1B if McGehee is needed to platoon with Alvarez at 3B.

TOP PROSPECTS

Josh Bell: The best power hitting prospect in the Pirates’ system is Josh Bell. Drafted in the 2nd round last season and given a huge signing bonus much is expected of Bell this season. He will likely start the year in A ball and will be watched closely to see if he can put up dominating numbers. Seeing as this will be his first real taste of pro ball it is tough to know just what to expect from Bell but considering all we have heard about him it is not out of the question to think he will put up a very solid line in A ball and maybe even a promotion to A+ by the end of the season. Overall I am expecting him to be a legit candidate for the Pirates minor league hitter of the year.

Andrew Lambo: Once a highly regarded prospect, Lambo’s status has dropped considerably. Last season Lambo started in AAA but was demoted back to AA due to poor performance. After being demoted Lambo put up strong numbers in AA and should once again get a chance in AAA. At 23 years old he will amazingly still be a little on the young side for AAA. Even though he is young this season could still be his last chance to step up and prove himself. He does have some power potential and if he managed to put it together it would be a nice bonus for the Pirates. I however am not expecting such a turnaround from Lambo but hopefully he will do something in AAA to at least showcase himself as a somewhat valuable asset.

Willy Garcia: As of now Garcia looks more like a center fielder but he profiles to add power and since I already had three center fielders listed I decided to shift Garcia to right field. He may or may not ultimately end up in a corner but for now I am assuming he will. Garcia had a strong debut in the states last season and is the best of a group of toolsy outfielders the Pirates have in the lower levels. He should start the season in short season ball and I am expecting a strong showing from him.

POSITION OVERVIEW

Summary: None of the Pirates current options for right field fit the description of the power hitting slugger for the middle of the lineup. This does not mean the Pirates do not have good options for the positions though. For this season anyone from the group of Jose Tabata, Alex Presley and Starling Marte could do a good job handling the duties. For the short term future those same guys could fill the role or prospects such as Andrew Lambo or Robbie Grossman could handle the position. Like stated earlier none of these options fit the typical description but they all have the potential to be solid contributors and to hold down the position down. For the long term the Pirates have Josh Bell to handle the right field position and unlike the Pirates short term options he does fit the traditional mold of a power hitting slugger. Like the other two outfield positions, right field appears to be fairly settled both in the Pirates’ short term and long term plans.

2012 Expectations: Center Field

STARTER

Andrew McCutchen: The face of the franchise. As anyone who is reading this probably knows McCutchen is hands down the best player on the Pittsburgh Pirates. There is absolutely no reason not to expect another great season from him. In fact with a hopefully slightly improved offense around him his numbers should even be better. The sky is really the limit for McCutchen; it should surprise no one if he was to put up an OPS over .850 this season all while playing stellar defense in center field.

ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH

Brandon Boggs: The Pirates signed Boggs to a minor league contract this offseason and while I do believe it contains a clause that he can go to Japan if he doesn’t make the major league roster I expect him to spend at least some time in AAA. Boggs will be given a chance to make the major league roster but that seems like a remote possibility at this point. He can play any outfield position and will likely either serve as the starting RF or 4th outfielder (depending on where Lambo is placed). Essentially he will serve the role as the veteran OF in AAA who will only be called up in an emergency situation to cover a rash of injuries. So really not much is going to be expected of him this season.

TOP PROSPECTS

Starling Marte: With all due respect to Josh Bell and Tony Sanchez, Starling Marte is the best position player prospect in the Pirates system. After putting up a strong season in AA in which he started to show a little power Marte will start this season in AAA and will face high expectations. He is still a little raw with some strike zone discipline problems that need to be corrected but Marte has the potential to be a McCutchen like outfielder. With the exception of plate discipline Marte does everything well and if he can fix that one last issue he could be in the majors as early as June but due to the Pirates rather strong outfield situation he will probably be given more seasoning in AAA. I am expecting a big season from Marte including a very solid major league debut in August or September.

Gorkys Hernandez: Hernandez is often overlooked in the Pirates system but he still as a lot of potential. He is the best defensive outfielder the Pirates have in the majors or minors and he has terrific speed; his problem is that he is a weak bat. Hernandez will probably be given a chance to win a bench role in Spring Training but the signing of McLouth greatly diminishes his chances. So he is likely to start off in AAA and with Marte there as well he will probably split time with Marte between LF and CF. At this point unless his bat greatly improves Hernandez looks like nothing more than a 4th outfielder but with his good speed and defense he can be successful in such a role. I am expecting Hernandez to have a solid season in AAA and get a chance in the majors at some point. He won’t have a great showing because of his bat but the rest of his tools will make the favorite for the 4th outfielder job in 2013.

Mel Rojas Jr: Rojas is another one of the Pirates fine outfielder prospects who has 5 tool potential. He was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft and while he hasn’t put up eye-popping numbers he has shown progress during his pro career. Rojas is very raw and is just a project at this point but he has a high ceiling and could become a very good major league outfielder one day. As far as 2012 is concerned Rojas will likely be the starting CF in A+ and since he will be playing in a good hitting environment this would seem like the logical year for him to take a big step forward and I expecting just that. Rojas should have a big year this season in A+ but I expect the Pirates to be conservative with him and leave him at that level basically all season.

POSITION OVERVIEW

Summary: The Pirates have no position that looks more set for the present and future than center field. Andrew McCutchen is a legitimate All Star in center field and will hopefully be in Pittsburgh for a long time to come. Should for some reason McCutchen not be in Pittsburgh long term the future still looks fairly bright with Starling Marte waiting in the wings. Having both of these guys in the same outfield would be amazing and hopefully we will see this some time this season. Outside of the strong duo of McCutchen and Marte the Pirates have great depth with Hernandez, Rojas and even some others I did not list. The immediate and long term future of the Pirates as a whole is uncertain but at center field it looks nearly as bright as it could possibly look.

2012 Expectations: Left Field

STARTER

Alex Presley: In my opinion Alex Presley is the key to the Pirates having a top notch outfield this season. After surging through the minor leagues the last two seasons Presley got his first real chance last season and did not disappoint. In addition to the speed, defense and contact skills we all expected he even showed a little bit of power with a slugging percentage of .465. Presley has the speed and the defensive skills to make patrolling the Pirates rather large home left field no issue at all. The question is rather is his bat sustainable. I this point I can’t think of a reason not to expect it to be; I see him hitting for a line of roughly .280/.340/.450. That would make him a very solid left fielder. If Presley does reach my projection he (and Tabata and McCutchen) will give the Pirates a very strong outfield and top of the batting order.

BACK UP

Nate McLouth: McLouth will be the backup for all three outfield spots but I believe he was signed primarily as an insurance policy in case Presley’s magic ride ends. For this reason I am considering him a left fielder for this season. There is no reason to expect McLouth to return to his 2008/09 but I think a return to his old stomping grounds will allow him to improve on his past two seasons numbers. McLouth will assume the 4th outfielder job, the Pirates had him penciled in for all along and I think he will succeed in such a role. McLouth has a good speed/power mix which I think will prove to be a perfect combination for his new lesser role with the Pirates.

TOP PROSPECTS

Robbie Grossman: Grossman made a huge splash last season with a great showing in A+ ball. He quickly rose into the Pirates top 10 prospect. Grossman will likely mostly play CF in AA this year but he profiles best as a corner outfielder hence his inclusion as a left fielder prospect. Now the questions are how will Grossman adjust from moving to a hitter friendly park to a pitcher friendly park, how will his hammate injury affect him and how we he handle the brighter spotlight that will be on him? He has the pedigree of a guy who should be a rather successful player. However with all those factors working against him I think Grossman is going to take a step back this season. I don’t see him having a horrible season in AA but it won’t be near the level of what people are expecting. I think his hammate injury and the jump in the level of competition will be the two largest factors limiting him.

Wes Freeman: It wasn’t to the extent of Grossman but Freeman had his only little breakout season last year. Like Grossman, Freeman will likely be spending most of 2012 in center field but long term he appears to be a better fit for a corner spot. Freeman had a few disappointing seasons in 2008-10 and was likely on his last chance last season when he made his big strides forward. It should be noted that his breakout came in short season ball so he still has a long way to go before he can move into the top prospect crowd. This year should be Freeman’s first full year in full season ball and while I like how much he has progressed I know he is still a project who will probably struggle initially. I think we will see encouraging signs late in the season but I think this is going to be a relatively rough season for Freeman.

Candon Myles: Myles was drafted as a high school senior in the 12th round. He received a decent signing bonus amount of 125K so the Pirates must think fairly highly of him. He received limited playing time (6 AB) in rookie ball last season and considering he is only 19 he will likely either repeat rookie ball or play in short season ball. Myles best tool is his speed and he loves to use it on the bases. He has a small stature so he doesn’t project to hit for much power and probably is best suited for center field. I am listing him as a replacement for Cayones and because he is the remaining outfield prospect I am the highest on. I am expecting a very good season from Myles but since he is so young and at such a low level his prospect status will not be affected much.

POSITION OVERVIEW

Summary: One of the Pirates organizational strengths is the outfield and left field is no exception. In the short term Alex Presley will man the position and there is no real reason to think that his play will not be at least acceptable. The Pirates also have a few interesting prospects who project best as left fielder in Grossman and Freeman. Some fans may be concerned by the lack of power the Pirates have coming from left field but to be honest in recent seasons left field has been becoming less and less of a power hitting position. With Presley (or Tabata), two good prospects and the chance a CF could slide over the Pirates should have no real problem filling the left field position for 2012 and for the short term future.

2012 Expectations: Shortstop

STARTER

Clint Barmes: The Pirates biggest (at least monetary wise) free agent signing this offseason has been Barmes. Given a 2 year, 10.5 million dollar contract there is no question the Pirates overpaid to get him to come to Pittsburgh. However a lot of Pirates fans have taken this to mean that Barmes is a bad player and not an upgrade over Cedeno, this is simply not true. On the defensive side it is a close call with Cedeno probably having the better talent but Barmes not having the mental lapses. However on the offensive side it is not even close, Barmes brings far more to the table than Cedeno. My prediction is that Pirate fans will be slightly disappointed with his performance but it will be what should be expected. His OBP will be right around .300 and his slugging percentage will be in the .370-.390 range. His defense should be excellent and greatly assist the pitching staff.

BACK UP

Gustavo Nunez: Taking by the Pirates in the Rule V draft Nunez will likely get the first crack at the backup middle infield job. If he makes the team he will likely play a similar role to what Ciriaco did last season, meaning he will be barely noticed and only make the occasional appearance. His bat is poor and will make a non-viable option on the bench for this reason alone he will hopefully not stick too long. Nunez does have good defense and has had success in A+ ball but it is rather obvious he isn’t major league ready. Since the Pirates have no real option at SS in AA it would be nice if they could work out a trade with the Tigers but short of that I don’t see him having much of a future with the Pirates.

ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH

Chase d’Arnaud: Coming off a disappointing major league debut last season d’Arnaud will likely start off in AAA. With Barmes, Nunez, Navarro and Harrison all likely in front of him on the infield depth chart (to start the season at least) d’Arnaud will likely not see time in the majors until later on in the season. He has the talent to assume the starting SS job by the end of the year but will have to improve on a few areas before receiving that chance. I don’t know what it is about d’Arnaud he appears to have all the tools to become a solid MLB starting SS but for some reason I just don’t see him developing into that. He will likely get another chance in the majors some time season but I once again foresee a disappointing campaign.

TOP PROSPECTS

Jordy Mercer: On the flip side of my pessimistic view of d’Arnaud is my optimistic view of Mercer. Having led the entire Pirate minor league system in home runs last season Mercer would be quite a nice power bat to have at the usually offensively challenged shortstop position. Mercer’s defense at short is definitely good enough to allow him to stick there and with the potential of his bat he could become and above average starter at shortstop. I see a nice season in AAA from Mercer this season. I see him putting up similar numbers in AAA this year to what he did in AA last year, meaning a .268/.329/.487 line.

Drew Maggi: This is a big year in Maggi’s development. He has yet to put up a great season although he does a few solid ones. He has played mainly shortstop but he is actually more of an athlete than a shortstop and could ultimately end up as a center fielder. Maggi has good speed, gap power and is fairly sound defensively (though his game does need some work). He profiles as a Chase d’Arnaud type player and his value will be greatly impacted by this season’s performance. Being in a hitter friendly park Maggi has the potential for a great season. I expect Maggi will have a good season but not quite good enough to be viewed as a legitimate shortstop prospect.

Alen Hanson: Hanson made his US debut last season and put up strong numbers in the GCL. It was a little surprising to see him get so much playing time at SS considering Barrios and Carvajal were at the level and were more highly regarded. However his performance justified the Pirate’s decision and in fact he performed so well there is a though he could skip short season ball and go straight to A ball. I don’t see Hanson as quite polished enough for that level and since I have Ngoepe repeating the level there really isn’t an open spot for him. Hanson should start the season in extended spring training and could be sent to A ball later on but I see him going to short season ball and I actually think he will do quite well there. The low level performance won’t be enough to vault him up the rankings but it will allow him to become a little more known.

POSITION OVERVIEW

Summary: Shortstop is a weak position for the Pirates and although they have a few intriguing options down in the minors no one player stands out. Barmes will hopefully prove to be solid enough for the Pirates this season and hopefully one of d’Arnaud, Mercer, Navarro or even one of Nunez or Holt steps up and takes the future shortstop position. The Pirates really need to find a shortstop of the future and if it doesn’t come from this group of players it could be a long time before any other candidate emerges. The 2012 season is going to be an important year for the Pirates in terms of the sho

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