Results tagged ‘ Alex Presley ’

News and Notes

Not much happening today. But I thought a general post to catch up on some recent news would be a good idea.

Brad Hawpe who has been receiving an inordinate amount of playing time has been released from camp. That means according to my projection there are 5 players left in camp for the last bench spot: Josh Harrison, Brandon Inge, Jordy Mercer, Alex Presley and Felix Pie. To me it comes down to Harrison and Inge and I think considering Inge’s health issues that Harrison has the upper hand.

Tony Watson pitched an uneventful 1-2-3 inning today so it appears more likely that he will be ready for Opening Day which would displace Mike Zagurski from my projected roster. Zagurski hasn’t looked good recently anyway and probably shouldn’t make the team.

Jeff Karstens is scheduled to pitch tomorrow and as long as things go right he has a chance of being ready to be part of the rotation to start the season. If Karstens joins the rotation he would displace Sanchez or Locke from the rotation. That displacement could result in the displacement of Ryan Reid/Jeanmar Gomez or even Justin Wilson from the bullpen. In addition to Karstens possibly being ready by Opening Day it sounds as if Francisco Liriano may be about a month behind that.

As Spring Training winds down the Pirates camp roster now sits at 36 meaning there are still 11 cuts to be made. I’m expecting that we will see some early next week and the roster will really begin to round into shape. The roster battles as I see them are down to Harrison/Inge for the last bench spot, Locke/McPherson/Sanchez/Karstens for the final two rotation spots and Wilson/Gomez/Reid along with the losers of the rotation battle fighting for the final two bullpen spots. All of this assumes Watson is healthy and the Pirates decide to carry Leroux and Tabata which all seem rather likely.

On the site this week I am planning to conclude my expectations series with a look at the non-player parts of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The final three parts of the series will be the coaches, the front office and the team as a whole. Keep an eye out for those. In addition to those I will have a few more season preview pieces. Finally I’ll be attending the Pirates last exhibition game of Spring when they play their AA affiliate on Saturday March 30th. It should be a fun experience and I’m looking forward to providing a recap of the game both from the major and minor league perspective.

In the meantime I have recently updated my Top 20 Hitting and Top 20 Pitching prospects. Check them out. For the record I update them about two or three times a month during the season and I am planning on providing some details on the top prospects in the near future.

Why Does Marte Get A Pass?

One thing that has really been bothering me about a lot of Pirates fans this offseason is this insane idea that the Pirates are good in left field with Starling Marte but really should have looked for a better option in right field. The fans are quick to dismiss Snider, Tabata, Sands and Presley and I’m not really sure why they do so especially considering they are willing to accept Marte starting. Taking Presley out of this discussion for a moment all the players are still young at 24 or 25 years old and all of them including Presley have very similar production at the major league level. Just look at their career wOBA at the major league level.

Marte: .316

Tabata: .317

Snider: .316

Presley: .314

Sands: .313

Marte doesn’t stand out in that crowd and as I stated he is not noticeably younger than the rest of the group either since Marte is 24, Tabata is 24, Snider is 25, Sands is 25 and Presley is 27. Perhaps other ratios have been better like his ability to steal bases (SB%) or his home run ability (AB/HR).

Marte: 70.6 SB%, 33.4 AB/HR

Tabata: 62.3 SB%, 97.5 AB/HR

Snider: 72.0 SB%, 30.1 AB/HR

Presley: 63.3 SB%, 41.7 AB/HR

Sands: 50.0 SB%, 55.3 AB/HR

Well finally we may be getting somewhere Marte’s rates are clearly better than 3 of the other 4 players but the other player has him beat on both accounts. Snider so far in his career has been a more efficient base stealer and has hit home runs on a more regular basis. So once again this doesn’t explain why Marte is held so far above the rest of the corner outfield mix. Let’s look at something else, perhaps Marte has been good in some areas of Pirates weaknesses most notably plate discipline. Below are the career numbers for each players in terms of K% and BB%.

Marte: 27.5 K%, 4.4 BB%

Tabata: 14.7 K%, 8.1 BB%

Snider: 26.7 K%, 7.8 BB%

Presley: 19.2 K%, 5.1 BB%

Sands: 23.9 K%, 10.4 K%

Marte definitely stands out here but that is for terrible reasons as he has the highest career K% and lowest career BB%. Obviously at this point the reason Marte gets excluded from this list of question marks is not because of what he has done at the major league level because it is essentially indistinguishable from the rest of the crop. So perhaps Marte was definitely more highly touted than the rest or had a stronger showing in AAA. Below are the highest ranking each player received by Baseball America going into a season and each player’s career OPS at AAA.

Marte: 73rd, .847 OPS

Tabata: 27th, .767 OPS

Snider: 6th, .976 OPS

Presley: NA, .851 OPS

Sands: NA, .914 OPS

Marte looks to be right about in the middle of the pack as far as pedigree goes. So right now I’ve concluded that Marte has not been markedly better than any of the other players at the major league level nor does he really have a much better pedigree than the rest so the question remains why are Pirates fans giving him a free pass while criticizing the rest?

To be honest with you I’ve known the answer all along. Quite simply it’s for the same reason fans can go from not liking Jason Bay (when he was originally acquired) to getting mad when he is traded away. Pirates fans, and sports fans in general, have a very short attention span. They are only ever concerned with the flavor of the month and only want to focus on the most recent data set. This is obviously not true of every sports fan or every Pirates fan but for quite a decent amount it is the case. Marte was better than either of those 4 players in 2012 and has less major league experience so therefore he is better than the rest and has the most room to improve or so the logic goes. There is course plenty wrong with that logic but it is essentially how the casual or I might even go so far as saying average sports fan thinks. In theory there is nothing wrong with it but in practice it leads to situations like this where a group of 5 players (or 4 if you want to discount the older Presley) have nothing discernible separating them but one is held head and shoulders above the rest of the group because he is the new guy on the scene.

The truth is any of these guys, with the possible exception of Presley, has what it takes to break out and become a starting corner outfielder in 2013 and conversely all of them could just as easily fail and be relegated to bench duty or even AAA by season’s end. We are dealing with a group of players that up until this point have been league average offensively in their career. I will add a plus here for Marte as he probably has the highest floor of the bunch as his strong defense and plus speed is likely to make him at least a solid 4th outfielder even if his bat and plate discipline never develops. Then again Marte isn’t too dissimilar from another outfielder the Pirates have in camp who I didn’t even bother mentioning until right now, Felix Pie. He too was once a highly regarded prospect with a lot of tools who just couldn’t cut it.

Look this writing isn’t meant to be critical of Marte. I like him and I think he has the potential to be a very strong outfielder for the Pirates going forward but let’s just say I’m a bit more realistic here. In my opinion Marte should absolutely make the 25 man roster but so should Snider and Tabata. I discount Presley because of his age and I opt to hold Sands back because his strong AAA showing has all come in the PCL so for me there is indeed something for him to prove in the International League. Marte, Snider and Tabata though have nothing left to prove at the AAA level and deserve the chance to see what they can at the major league level. It is true Tabata and Snider have gotten longer looks than Marte already but doesn’t that say something about their talent if they have already received long looks in the majors despite being roughly the same age as Marte? I think people tend to forget that point, Tabata, Snider and Sands aren’t players in their late 20s just looking for one last chance to break out, they are players in their early to mid 20s looking to become established just like Marte is trying to do. Ideally the Pirates would have two established corner outfielders but the truth is they don’t. Less ideally but still preferable to the current situation they would have one and would let the other battle it out for playing time in the other but again they don’t have that either. I’m not asking Pirates fans to be happy with what the Pirates have, all I am asking is that they know what the Pirates have and that isn’t 4 question marks competing for 1 spot but rather 5 question marks competing for 2 spots.

2013 Expectations: Right 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.

Travis Snider

The Pirates current right field situation is a bit of a mess but as of now it appears Travis Snider has the inside track to become the everyday starter. Snider and the right field position as a whole is a big wildcard for the Pirates. The Pirates need to get some consistent production out of first base and need to do so while keeping Garrett Jones at first base. Snider has shown flashes of power in the past but didn’t really hit for much when he was with the Pirates. That could have been due to a hamstring injury he suffered soon after or to adjusting to a top of the order role or it could be the Pirates were working with his swing to make him less pull happy. Then again it could be a truly troubling sign and Snider’s power might not develop. Due to the discrepancy between the flashes Snider shown while with the Blue Jays and how he played in his short time with the Pirates it is difficult to say what just to expect from him in 2013. Snider could definitely flop or then again he could wind up being an above average right fielders. Projection systems have Snider all over the place from .715 OPS to an 8.13 OPS. I found when things seem this uncertain that the truth usually falls somewhere in between. So I’m expecting Snider to be worth about 1.5-2.0 WAR and post a slash line of around .260/.320/.440.

Jose Tabata

Tabata is sort of a puzzle to us Pirates fans. In 2010 Tabata had a strong rookie season and the following year his numbers were still decent but not as strong and then last year his performance fell off a cliff. Tabata’s build makes him susceptible to leg problems and that has proven to greatly affect his game. When healthy Tabata has the look of being the thing this Pirates team is most missing and that is a true top of the order hitter. Tabata’s performance in 2012 is often harshly criticized as it should be but from June to the end of the year he posted a .362 OBP with the major league team. It was a relatively small sample but a number that good on a team this starved for base runners can not be so easily dismissed. Tabata is out of options and has quite a few years left on his contract so it appears likely the Pirates will keep him in the majors and let him serve as a 4th outfielder and compliment to Snider in right field. Unless Tabata really shows something in his limited playing time and/or Snider struggles in right field he is not likely to get a chance to win back his starting job but he could still be a valuable asset for the Pirates coming off the bench. Tabata has some speed and on base skills which could nicely compliment the Pirates heavy tilted power lineup and his right handiness could compliment Snider should he struggle against left handed pitching. For this year it is difficult to say what Tabata may do. He could revert to his April/May form or he could build off his moderate success in the second half of last season. I’m thinking Tabata’s true talent level lies somewhere near where his 2011 performance which means I’m expecting a slash of something like .265/.345/.365 from him in 2013. He won’t get much playing time so I see his overall value being about 1.0-1.2 WAR.

Jerry Sands

Sands was one of the main pieces the Pirates acquired in the Hanrahan trade this past offseason. He has shown flashes of power in the past and has been an average major league hitter during his brief stints in the show. At AAA he has been a masher but that was in the PCL, an offensive paradise. With Snider and Tabata both being out of options it appears unlikely Sands will make the major league team out of Spring Training but the Pirates and Sands could probably benefit from him having some time in the less hitter friendly International League anyway. Sand will undoubtedly be a part of the major league club at some point this season but the performance of those in front of him as well as his own performance in AAA will go a long way in determining when he makes it and how much he plays. Sands also has played first base in the past so I would expect him to be considered an option there should the need arise. On the major league level I’m not expecting to see Sands until the middle of the season and while here hopefully there will not be a need to give him much playing time. In AAA I think its predictable Sands will not hit as well as he did in the PCL but I still expect a solid showing from him. I don’t think he’ll get a ton of playing time in the majors but I think he will show the Pirates enough that they will plan on him being a part of the 2014 squad.

Alex Presley

Presley is the 4th outfielder battling for playing time in the outfield and he is probably the most versatile of the bunch as he can handle center field and is probably a better option for left field than the other three players listed here. He has the look of a very solid 4th outfielder but unless the Pirates opt to carry 5 outfielders, a possibility I’m not dismissing, he is likely to begin the season in AAA. The Pirates could certainly use Presley on the major league bench as his left handed hitting could be a big plus as would his ability to play center field and his speed. Ideally one of Snider or Tabata will step up this year freeing the Pirates to trade the other one and Presley will take the 4th outfielder role but that is unlikely to shake out for a while. I’m fairly confident Presley will be with the major league club for a decent amount of time this season. In fact I’m expecting him to receive probably close to 150 PA. As for how well he will produce I tend to agree with the Steamer projection system which has him tagged at a .262/.313/.415 line with a 0.4 WAR. I think Presley should be right around that this upcoming season.

The Final Bench Spot

One aspect of the game the Pirates have struggled with a lot in past seasons is production, both offensively and defensively, from the bench. Pirates pinch hitters hit well below league average and with a team that isn’t exactly full of superstars this is a big problem as production is essentially needed from everyone. Well as we sit here more than two months away from opening day we have a good handle on 4 of the Pirates 5 bench spots.

Michael McKenry

McKenry will definitely start the year as the backup catcher and if he can replicate his performance from 2012 he will be a very good asset off the bench and should even allow the Pirates to rest Martin on a fairly regular basis.

Gaby Sanchez

As things stand right now Sanchez will likely platoon with Garrett Jones at 1B but since Jones will take up the lion’s share of the playing time he will usually be on the bench. At the very least he is a good right handed stick for the bench and he has the upside of returning to his 2010-11 form and returning to his average major league 1B form.

Jose Tabata

It appears as if Travis Snider is going to get first crack at starting in right field which means the out of options Jose Tabata will be relegated to the bench. It is possible Tabata will receive some playing time in the OF especially if the Pirates sit Snider against lefties but he appears likely to be the usual 4th outfielder. He has shown some decent OBP skills in the past and if he can refind his stolen base ability he could be an interesting option, otherwise he is probably just another averageish bench player.

Josh Harrison

Although the Pirates technically have Jordy Mercer and Ivan De Jesus who will be competing with Harrison I find it difficult to believe the Pirates will not keep Harrison in the majors. Harrison gives the Pirates a very flexible player who can play 2B, 3B, SS and even a little RF. He isn’t really a good hitter but he has shown some decent contact skills so he does have some value.

The last spot basically comes down to another middle infielder on the bench, which is how the Pirates usually go or another 1B/OF type who will give the Pirates a better bench offensively. Mercer and De Jesus are the top candidates should a 2nd middle infielder be carries and Sands and Presley appear to be the top candidates should another 1B/OF be carried.

There are pros and cons to carrying either one but I think considering how Ciriaco (2011) and Mercer (2012) were wasted on the bench the Pirates need to strongly considering carrying a better offensive option and of the two main candidates the left handed Alex Presley appears to be the best option as the 4 people I previously have mentioned are all right handed. Another option I think the Pirates should strongly consider is bringing in a middle infielder from free agency but with my preference for him to be a left handed batter the only two real options appear to be Adam Kennedy or Kelly Johnson. Johnson has gotten little interest in the free agent market and if the Pirates could convince him to come be part of the bench and an insurance policy for Walker’s back he could be the perfect addition to the Pirates bench. Johnson would need to be willing to try to be a little more versatile than just 2B as he would probably be asked to dust off his OF glove and maybe even take some reps at 3B. Kennedy on the other hand plays 1B, 2B and 3B and would be another decent add although his bat is a little weak. Johnson would provide some power for the bench and Kennedy would probably be not much more than an average left handed bench stick.

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.

The Corners

The Pirates appear pretty set up the middle and there is little to talk about there. Sure the Pirates could seek upgrades but right now they seem content with what they have. A Martin and McKenry tandem behind the plate should provide adequate production, maybe even major league average offense and major league plus defense. Clint Barmes should continue to provide great defense and will hopefully rebound from last season and put a non-horrible OPS somewhere in the .650-.670 range. Not great but adequate. The other two up the middle players Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker are of course key cogs in the Pirates machine.

All of this leaves the corners as the part of the lineup that will determine how well the Pirates do offensively this season. The only certainty appears to be Pedro Alvarez who should once again be manning 3rd base. Even with him there are questions about whether he is ready to hit cleanup and if he can handle left handed pitching well enough to not need platooned. Outside of Alvarez the next closest thing to a certainty is Garrett Jones. There is some speculation he may get dealt before the season begins but right now I doubt that will occur. It seems to be a little unclear whether Jones will be playing 1B or RF and how much he will be allowed to face left handed pitching. Logic seems to suggest he will platoon at 1B and be largely protected from left handers but only time will tell.

With those guys out of the way we are left with a very interesting assortment of players. The Pirates have some prospects who may be ready to help at some point this season, some depth players of varying levels who may at some point get a chance to prove themselves and 5 players fighting for what will likely be 4 positions out of Spring Training.

Prospects

There are only two real prospects who look like they may be ready to significantly contribute to the major league team some time this season. They are Matt Curry at 1B and Adalberto Santos in the OF. Neither is a great prospect but both have shown some ability and could possibly become solid major leaguers. Curry hasn’t shown the ability to hit for as much power as you’d like from a 1B and his defensive ability limits him to the position but even so should Jones be traded for any reason the Pirates would probably consider giving Curry a shot if he shows he can handle AAA pitching. Santos is a slightly different breed. Like Curry he doesn’t profile to hit for much power but throughout his minor league career he has shown a good ability to just plainly hit. With a good showing in AAA anything is possible but it appears Santos may be limited to a bench role and with a little bit of versatility (he has also played 2B) he could be a decent option. The remaining prospects include players such as Quincy Latimore and Andrew Lambo who are probably actually closer to minor league depth at this point but either one could enter into the corner OF, or in Lambo’s case maybe even 1B, equation with a good showing in AAA. It is not a certainty that either will start the season in AAA though. The only other possibility for a corner player would be Alex Dickerson, who will be making his AA debut, but he would need a few very hot months to even realistically enter the conversation.

Depth

The Pirates have numerous depth options who could be called upon should injury or ineffectiveness arise. Jeff Larish and Matt Hague seem to be the most uninteresting of the group. Larish is coming off a poor 2012 campaign and Hague as we saw last year is limited in what he can do. The Pirates did bring in two minor league outfielders who it wouldn’t be shocking to see get a chance at the majors some time this season in Felix Pie and Darren Ford. Ford is a pure speedster and Pie is a once top prospect who has fallen from grace. Both have some talent and either one might be called up if the Pirates sense a need. The last depth player is actually technically still a prospect in Clint Robinson. Robinson has never really gotten a chance to prove himself at the major league level but has hit exceptionally well in the minor leagues. Defensively he is limited to 1B but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as he has shown some decent power and surprisingly even has shown good plate discipline. Should Jones be traded or forced to play extended time in the outfield expect Robinsons to get the first crack at the 1B job.

Major League Options

The Pirates have 5 major league options who figure to be fighting for 2 starting spots and two bench spots. Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley and Gaby Sanchez will enter this spring fighting for playing time. Marte appears likely to start the season as the everyday LF but he has no track record and while he was respectable in his brief minor league stint last season it would not be crazy if the Pirates felt he could benefit from some time at AAA. Snider as things stand right now figures to be the starting RF but his spot appears to be in a little bit more jeopardy than Marte’s. Snider performed well immediately after coming over at the trade deadline but struggled after getting injured. It is not quite clear what the Pirates plan to do with him. He is out of options so he will surely make the team but he could be relegated to bench duty should the Pirates opt to start Jones in RF. Jose Tabata is coming off a disappointing season but actually finished the 2012 season rather strongly which gives some hope that he is back to being the Tabata we seen in earlier seasons. As a right handed hitter Tabata figures to probably make the team as the 4th outfielder and platoon with Jones or Snider in right field. If his performance at the end of the season was a sign that he has turned things around Tabata could quickly regain his starting job in RF as his ability to leadoff is something the Pirates are sorely missing. The last outfielder of the group is Alex Presley. Presley has an option remaining so the Pirates will likely use it and send him back to AAA to start the season but he will be given a chance to show what he can do. Presley looks like the prototypical 4th outfielder who can do a little bit of everything but doesn’t really stand out in any area. His skill set is probably better suited to a 4th outfielder role than Tabata’s but given the facts he has an option left and that of Snider and Marte it is most likely that the left handed hitting Snider will need a platoon partner he is probably below Tabata on the depth chart. The last option is Gaby Sanchez. As things stand right now Sanchez appears slotted to be Jones platoon partner at 1B. As someone who has consistently hit very well against lefties that is probably a good position for him. If Sanchez performs well he could be given a chance to start everyday at 1B which would force most likely Snider out of the lineup.

Recap

The four corner positions are likely to have a huge impact on the Pirates this season. With Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones the Pirates hope to have some stability and certainty at 2 of the 4 positions but the other 2 remain rather big question marks. The Pirates are undoubtedly planning to give Marte and Snider the two highest upside players of the bunch a chance to fill those question marks but should they fail the Pirates do have some other alternatives who will hopefully step up and take advantage of the opportunity. Assuming the Pirates actually do add a good starter for the middle of the rotation is is my opinion that the performance of the players I have discussed is what will decided whether this team once again finishes below 500, makes the playoffs or anything in between.

An Interesting Offseason

Neal Huntington and the rest of his front office are about to enter a very interesting offseason and it will be an unusual one for the Pirates. The Pirates enter this offseason with no glaring holes on their roster. Before anyone jumps on me there are many places that look like they could use some suring up but there are none that look like the big gapping holes we seen last year at catcher and shortstop. The Pirates will no doubt look to sure up some of these sof spots but the question becomes which ones. The Pirates do not have the resources or frankly the roster spaces needed to try and beef up every soft spot. The Pirates will almost certainly bring in a catcher to compliment McKenry and do something with the roitation and as always we are likely to see some work done to the bullpen. So putting those aside for the moment where else will the Pirates find it necessary to dedicate their resources to.

Of the other 7 positions on the field the Pirates appear set at 2B, 3B, CF and 1B/RF (whereever Jones plays). Thats leaves three positions which could use some work. The Pirates have Barmes at shortstop and he is great defender but the Pirates can’t afford another year of his weak bat but Barmes did show some positive signs near the end of the season. There is little doubt Barmes will be back as the starter but what will the Pirates do as a backup plan? Will they stick with Harrison and Mercer or pursue other alternatives? In my mind this should be a no brainer the Pirates need to bring in some sort of backup plan and looking at free agency the best bet in my mind is Macier Izturis but we shall see what the Pirates Front Office decides to do.

This leaves LF and 1B/RF as soft spots for the Pirates. Brining in extra support seems like a no brainer but its not that simple. The Pirates have Marte, Snider, Tabata, Presley and Sanchez all vying to fill these roles. It may be easy to say just to move on from some of these guys but the Pirates might not see it that way. Marte, Snider and Tabata are all young outfielders (Marte and Tabata will play next season at 24, Snider at 25). Sanchez is the most established of the bunch having two good seasons on his record. Presley is probably the easiest one to ignore here but he has an option remaing and has the look of a good 4th outfielder which has some value. The Pirates front office absolutely has to be thinking of bringing somebody in to serve as a backup plan should Marte, Snider and/or Tabata falter. I mean Jones can do that but then that sort of makes the backup plan Sanchez and how much faith do you want to put in him coming off a down season?

For my money how the Pirates handle the quintent of Marte, Snider, Tabata, Presley and Sanchez is the most intriguing part of the Pirates offseason. It seems like a fairly safe bet the Pirates will do something at catcher, the rotation and the bullpen and whether they add a bench middle infielder or continue with the young players probably has little overall impact but what the Pirates choose to do here could reshape the team. I think the most likely sceanrio is the Pirates stand pat with Marte in LF, Snider in RF, Tabata on the bench, Presley in AAA and Sanchez serving as a platoon partner for Jones and the backup plan but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Pirates go a different route. Tabata with the good OBP skills he has shown in his carrer could warrant another look as the leadoff hitter. Marte with his plate discipline issues could warrant more time in AAA. Sanchez could show something that suggests he is back in 2010/2011 form which would probably force the Pirates to start him at 1B and send Jones to RF. The Pirates could opt to send Jones to RF and acquire a 1B. The Pirates could opt to bring in a leadoff hitter and play him in the outfield leaving only one starting spot availabe to these five.  The Pirates could even opt to trade one or two of these five or who knows maybe even non-tender Sanchez or Presley. There is a hundred ways the Pirates front office could play this and how they choose to do so is likely the largest unknown variable that will shape the 2013 team. The other additions will of course matter as well but I think we have a reasonable idea of how the Pirates will likely handle those situations. Here, I don’t think we really do. It should be fun to follow this offseason.

Position Recap: Left Field

Alex Presley: The Pirates received very little production from left field this season ranking 29th in most offensive categories. The man manning the position the most frequently this season was Alex Presley. Presley was solid in the field but looked completely lost at the plate at times. He did finish the year on a fairly strong note but his overall performance did nothing to stop the perception of him being a 4th outfielder. Overall Presley posted a .683 OPS which while not terrible is disappointing coming from a starting corner outfielder. Presley also didn’t run too much stealing only 9 bases and being caught 7 times. The bottom line really is that Presley just didn’t look like a major league starting outfielder this season which is fine of course as he could still carve out a nice career as a backup but the Pirates needed more from him this season. Outfield spots figure to be tight next season and the Pirates may even bring in another option to complicate matters farther. Due to his left handedness it is not impossible for Presley to make the roster out of spring training but right now I would expect him to start the year off in AAA. Overall Grade: C-

Starling Marte: For most of the second half of the season it was Starling Marte playing left field and while he wasn’t spectacular in his rookie season he held his own and posted a respectable .737 OPS. In itself that still isn’t good enough for a corner outfielder but due to his youth and relative lack of experience hopes are high that he can improve upon those numbers. Marte also showed off his good defense and great arm this past season and was probably one of the Pirates most effective base stealers swiping 12 bases on 17 tries. Marte was miscast as a leadoff hitter most of this season as he simply doesn’t have the plate discipline needed to make him an effective top of the order hitter but he has enough power potential and other talents that he could develop into a nice 5 or 6 hitter. Due to the Pirates woes in the corner outfield and Marte’s relatively good performance this past season it is difficult for me to imagine that he won’t be next season’s opening day starter in left field. Marte deserves a fair chance at establishing himself as a fixture in the Pirates lineup for next season and as far as this season is concerned he played about as well as you should realistically expect from most rookies. Overall Grade: B

Top Prospects

Mel Rojas: When it comes to the outfield I’m not going to stick strictly to positional basis as most lower level outfield prospects at least play center field. Instead I just took my top 9 outfield prospects and moved them to fit positions. Rojas is a center fielder by trade but he had a poor showing in A+ this season so I don’t expect he’ll be moved up to AA and with Gregory Polanco coming to A+ next season he won’t remain in CF so for now I’ve moved him over to left field. Rojas was selected in third round in 2010 and was seen as raw when the Pirates drafted him but with a very high upside. He was not viewed as someone who would add a lot of power but the other 4 tools were and to some extent still there. After 2.5 seasons in the minor leagues Rojas has progressed very little and I suspect you’ll see quite a few analysts giving up on him now which is a justifiable move but I still like his talent and am going to give him one more season before I completely drop him for the prospect radar. For the record he did have a few positives this season as he played a very good defensive center field and was decent on the base paths. However he continued to show poor plate discipline striking out 107 times while only walking 35. For the type of hitter he is that is never going to work. Rojas as stated earlier will probably stay in A+ to start next season but will have to slide into a corner outfield position to accommodate for Gregory Polanco.

Willy Garcia: Garcia is the one guy on my list who actually played extensively in left field this season, though he did split his time pretty evenly between LF and RF. Garcia fits the traditional profile of a corner outfielder meaning he has decent but not great speed, plays solid defense, has a plus arm and has some good power in his bat. Garcia displayed all those things this season but unfortunately was very inconsistent with them, having some good hot stretches followed by doing essentially nothing for long stretches of time. Overall he hit for good power belting 18 home runs and played overall solid defense in the outfield but plate discipline and a tendency to swing and miss made his season rather poor overall. Garcia has the talent to break out and turn into a legit power hitting corner outfield prospect but he didn’t do it this season. There are still obvious holes in his game that could be exposed in A+ so the Pirates may choose to hold him back in A ball and have him work on those things. He is still fairly young and will be playing all of next season at 21 years old so he won’t really be old for A ball either.

Harold Ramirez: Ramirez was signed out of Columbia last season and it was assumed he would start the year in the DSL but the Pirates aggressively pushed the 17 year old to rookie ball in the states. Ramirez had a leg problem at the beginning of the season which caused him to miss the first month of rookie ball so by the time he started playing fellow 17 year old Latin American signing, Elvis Escobar had already taken over CF so the Pirates had Ramirez split time between LF and RF. He got off to a good start but struggled to close out the season in August. Unlike the other two prospects I discussed here Ramirez didn’t show bad plate discipline striking out only 20 times but he also didn’t walk much either. Ramirez is a very quick outfielder and has some power potential, his defense is solid enough to stay in center field but his lack of arm strength will probably put him in a corner eventually. Obviously at 17 Ramirez is still very raw. His showing this season while it doesn’t jump off the page as being great was fairly respectable for a 17 year old in his first year in the United States. Ramirez will probably play next season in Jamestwon for the Pirates new A- affiliate.

Pirates Offseason Needs

Heading into this offseason the Pirates seem to have a lot of positions set on the 25 man roster but that obviously doesn’t mean that there are not spots that could and should be upgraded. Trying to upgrade these positions the same ways as in year’s past (signing middling free agents) is probably not the best way to solve these problems as is evident by the failures of the last several years. So a new direction is needed and that could possibly include trades, NRI signings, Rule V draft, internal solutions, international signing, etc. My preferred strategy for the Pirates this offseason is to be minimally active in traditional free agency and instead focus on finding players through other means. Still free agency can not be entirely ignored and the idea of going for just one upper level free agent should also be considered. With all that being said I have found six positions that the Pittsburgh Pirates would be well served to upgrade. So in no particular order the positions are:

1. Starting Pitcher

2. Bullpen

3. Catcher

4. Shortstop

5. Corner Outfield

6. Bench

Now I will go over the type of player I believe the Pirates should be looking for at each position and I’ll give the best fit of the available free agents and where necessary I’ll give an example of the type of player the Pirates should look to acquire via a trade. Again I’ll reiterate I’m not necessarily advocating acquiring these players just giving an example of the type the Pirates should be looking for.

Starting Pitcher: The way I see it the Pirates have only AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez locked into the rotation to begin next season. James McDonald should also probably be in there some where but his end of the season struggles make him a question mark. Karstens is the other obvious candidate but he has durability/injury issues. The rest of the candidates, Locke, McPherson, Leroux, VandenHurk, Wilson, etc seem best suited for 5th starter or depth duty for now. So with three question marks of some variety in the rotation starting pitcher is an obvious need. In fact if the Pirates decide to go the route of one decent sized free agent signing I hope it is in the rotation as a Gavin Floyd or Edwin Jackson type could do a lot to help stabilize the rotation. However I am advocating different strategies this season so a trade for a good starter would be a good thing to consider as would a signing of a high upside risky pitcher. For example the pitchers I see fitting into this category are Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana and Scott Baker. All 3 of those pitchers have a ton of upside and could get a reasonably large sum in free agency but conversely all 3 have significant faults which could drop their respective prices making them prime targets for the Pirates.

Bullpen: The only two players who should be considered near locks for the Pirates bullpen are Jared Hughes and Tony Watson. I also expect Bryan Morris and Chris Leroux to be part of the pen but they aren’t guarantees but we will say the Pirates are looking for 3 players to fill out the pen. Hanrahan of course is someone who could take one spot but I think the Pirates will and should trade him, hopefully doing so fills one of the other holes. Resigning Grilli should be another move the Pirates consider but I wouldn’t go with a big salary for him, I think my max would be 2 years at 4 million per season. To fill the other spots I think the Pirates should do what they have done the past few seasons which is scour for players like Jose Veras or Juan Cruz or even select someone in the Rule V draft. Waiver claims and low-level trades could also work. It is always difficult to predict which relievers will be available for low salary contracts or NRI but some names I like are Kyle Farnsworth, Randy Choate and Jon Rauch. Internally guys like Justin Wilson, Duke Welker and even Chris Resop are candidates to fill out the bullpen.

Catcher: Let me start by saying unequivocally that Rod Barajas should not be brought back at any price. Now as for McKenry he is a decent part of a catching tandem but give him anymore than 90 starts and I have a feeling things won’t be looking so good. So obviously some help is needed for him. Eric Fryer and Tony Sanchez are the internal options but Sanchez could use more time in AAA and Fryer well just isn’t that good. There are bound to be some available catchers that can be acquired via a trade such as Hank Conger and the Pirates should seriously consider that route but if they want to go the free agent route there is a pretty decent free agent market for catchers. Napoli is obviously the best available but is not someone the Pirates should ideally locate a lot of money to. Other catchers such as Russell Martin, Kelly Shoppach and David Ross make sense as well. I wouldn’t rule out a trade here but I think I would prefer going after a catcher like Shoppach and using the trade resources to go after some of the other needs.

Shortstop: Clint Barmes wasn’t as bad this season as most Pirates fans would lead you to believe. He had an awful April and May but was exactly what the Pirates should have expected to get the remainder of the season. With all that being said Barmes production shouldn’t have locked down the shortstop job for next season. The Pirates could look at free agency for an answer but the pickings are slim. Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta headline the class but Peralta may not even reach free agency and Drew is coming off a season argubly worse than Barmes. Still something needs to be done to address the shortstop problem because at the very least another solution is going to be needed in 2014. If the Pirates choose to go the trade route I hope they look for someone who has good on base skills and could hit near the top of the lineup. Players like that are rare from the shortstop position and are usually pretty expensive in terms of salary and what it would cost to acquire them via trade. One name that sticks out to me who by all accounts isn’t available but I imagine could be for a good offer is Jed Lowrie. Lowrie can play good defense and has consistently put up a good OBP. If the Pirates can acquire a shortstop in that mold that is the way to go otherwise when considering the options available through free agency sticking with Barmes and adding in more Jordy Mercer to prepare him for 2013 is probably the way to go.

Corner Outfield: The toughest need to really explain. Let me start by saying I am assuming Garrett Jones will split time with Gaby Sanchez at 1B meaning he will only play in the outfield sparingly if at all. If the Pirates decide to make him a OF the need for a corner outfielder greatly diminishes but the need for a 1B to compliment Gaby Sanchez increases, however I’ll ignore that possibility for now. The Pirates production from the corner outfield this season sans Jones was awful. The Pirates received the 2nd worst offensive production from LF this season and were only marginally decent in RF thanks to Jones playing there about half the time. This would seem an obvious spot to upgrade but yet it isn’t. The Pirates have 4 players vying to man these two positions with 3 of them being 24 years old (1 of the 3 will be 25 for all of next season). The Pirates have a ton of youth and potential to fill these 2 positions in Marte, Snider, Tabata and Presley but not much actual success to go on. I would assume Marte has got to be given a chance in one corner due to the fact he has the highest upside of the bunch and had the best season of the four last year. The other spot is where the need comes into play Snider will be playing next season at 25 years old and Tabata will be playing most of it at 24 years old. The two of them look like they could make a decent platoon in RF but with the uncertainty in LF this is not something the Pirates should count on. If the Pirates wanted to make a big splash for an offensive player this is where they should do it. A player like Angel Pagan makes a lot of sense as he could come in play a OF corner and hit atop the order. However due to the youth and potential the Pirates have here I’d rather see a big splash investment go to the pitching side and this be solved with a less splashy option. I envision the type of addition that makes the most sense is a veteran outfield who has good on base skills and who wouldn’t mind being a 4th outfielder but is capable of being a borderline starting option. The two players in free agency that best matches this description are Juan Pierre and Reed Johnson, however I am not too enthused about either of them. Just to give an example of the type of player I’m talking about I’ll mention David DeJesus. Now I doubt the Cubs will actively be looking to move DeJesus but a player like him capable of playing all 3 positions in the OF and maintaining a .340+ OBP is exactly what the Pirates should be looking for. If they can’t find one and they don’t choose to make a big splash I think the best option is to play Marte in LF, have Snider and Tabata platoon in RF, have Presley available in AAA and be open to using Jones in the outfield once again. That may not seem like a great option but neither is bringing in a middling free agent.

Bench: If there is one theme to what the Pirates need to do this offseason it is they have to get deeper. Deeper in the rotation, the bullpen, the lineup, the minor leagues and the bench. This past season the two Pirates who received the most pinch hit appearances were Josh Harrison and Jeff Clement. Both of them struggled and Clement for one shouldn’t be back. Going into next season the Pirates bench figures to include a backup catcher say McKenry, T Sanchez or an outside addition, Gaby Sanchez, a young middle infielder say Mercer, Holt or Harrison and a 4th outfielder say Snider, Tabata or an outside acquisition. That leaves one final spot which this past season belonged to Harrison. Harrison should absolutely be given a chance to win a spot on the bench but only the reserve middle infielder job. The Pirates should allocate some resources to improving this spot with offense being a key focus. Just looking at free agency the Pirates could choose to go for a pure pinch hitter and sign a 1B like Jason Giambi or Carlos Lee. Or since they seem to have a desire to carry at least 4 middle infielders at all times a guys like Maicer Izturis or Adam Kennedy could be pursued. Or they could carry 5 outfielders on the roster (which with Jones on the team seems like overkill) and get a player like Austin Kearns, Raul Ibanez or Reed Johnson. The other option is of course to go with a Mike Fontenot or Jeff Baker type who can play all over the field but that would likely sacrifice offensive production. It is very difficult to speculate on who else the Pirates may be able to acquire here so I’ll just leave it at that but something needs to be done to improve the Pirates bench.

The Pirates Bench

Something has been bothering me about the Pirates for the last few weeks but I figured in time it would play itself out but so far it has not. The make up of the Pirates bench really confuses me. Currently it has the backup catchers McKenry, one of Presley, Jones or McGehee depending on the SP and 3 middle infielders. Now call me crazy but I really don’t see the need or rationale for carrying 3 middle infielders on the bench. Ideally you would like to really have only one but I can understand keeping two. The Pirates bench is no doubt a weak spot right now and there are three ways to fix it.

1.) A direct trade aimed to help the bench. Pretty straight forward target a bench player in a trade

2.) Acquire a starting player which in turn will push current players (McGehee and Presley) to the bench.

3.) Call up help from AAA. There isn’t much down there but Clement looks ready to help and if an outfielder is needed Hernandez and Tabata await in the wings.

My preference is to acquire a corner outfielder which would push Presley to the bench and push Jones and McGehee back to their platoon with Jones getting the majority of the playing time and McGehee being a bench bat. To make room for this extra player I would send Harrison or Mercer to AAA. In addition I would also like to see Jeff Clement called up to add a little pop to the bench. He could start an occasional game at 1st when we wanted to go lefty heavy but would primarily just be a PH. He would replace Sutton. This would leave a bench of:
C: Barajas/McKenry (I’m in favor of making this a 50/50 split)

CI: McGehee

MI: Mercer (or Harrison)

OF: Presley

PH: Clement

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