Results tagged ‘ Travis Snider ’

Analyzing the 25 Man Roster

The Pirates essentially finalized their 25 man roster earlier today. Technically speaking there are still a few additional players in camp but all of them are expected to begin the season on the DL. Overall the roster is constructed in a very expected manner and while it is not how I would have went about doing it most of the decisions are at least somewhat understandable. There are always going to be people who complain about the fringes of the 25 man roster but at the end of the day those fringes really do not matter much, it is the core of the team and the overall depth (bench, bullpen and minor leagues) that will determine the fate of a team. The 5th starter, the 5th bench spot and the 7th reliever are not really positions that will dramatically alter the course of a team so the overreaction to the Pirates decisions on those roster spots is likely overblown. With all that in mind let’s take a look at how the Pirates roster looks headed into Opening Day.

C: Russell Martin

1B: Garrett Jones

2B: Neil Walker

3B: Pedro Alvarez

SS: Clint Barmes

LF: Starling Marte

CF: Andrew McCutchen

RF: Travis Snider

BN: Michael McKenry, Gaby Sanchez, Jose Tabata, John McDonald, Josh Harrison

SP: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeff Locke

RP: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux, Jeanmar Gomez

In reality the only players I would remove from the roster if I was in charge of its construction would be McDonald, Harrison (eventually Inge) and Gomez. In their place I would prefer to see Mercer, De Jesus and Morris. The other change I would like to see made is swapping Wilson and J Sanchez. Wilson is younger and in my opinion more likely to be able to contribute to the rotation for a few starts while Sanchez at this point is probably best suited trying to turn his career around as a lefty reliever. Even these changes though are for the most part temporary. When Liriano comes back I would most likely opt to bump Wilson from the rotation, when Karstens comes back I would most likely opt to bump Morris from the bullpen and I can even understand the argument for wanting McDonald over De Jesus. I don’t get Harrison or Inge over Mercer though. I know Mercer can’t play the outfield while the other sort of kind of can but the Pirates have enough options where they shouldn’t be considering playing infielders in the outfield anyway. The other advantage Inge has is supposedly power but people seem to forget Mercer has a little pop in his bat as well, it was just 2011 when he lead the Pirates minor leagues in home runs. Still arguments over the last bench spot are basically trivial and irrelevant. I don’t get why the Pirates need two (or even one) veteran middle infielders on the bench who can’t hit but in reality the difference between them and the other options is most likely negligible.

With that rather long disclaimer out-of-the-way I figured now was as good as time as any to take a look at the players the Pirates have opted to bring north.

Starting Infield

The starting infield is what we expected it to be all along. Russell Martin behind the dish will be counted on to provide solid defense and hopefully will produce somewhere in the vicinity of league average offense from the catcher position. The Pirates likely overpaid for him but if his superior pitch framing skills are actually real and not just a product of catching for guys like C.C. Sabathia then there is a chance he lives up the contract or maybe even provides some surplus value. I’m not expecting much in terms of offense from him but if he can be non horrible and provide the Pirates with an OPS around .700 I would take it.

Garrett Jones likely won’t be playing full-time at first base but assuming the Pirates actually stick to regularly platooning him this season he should get about 70% of the starts. Jones is here for essentially one purpose, to provide the Pirates with relatively cheap power. The rest of Jones’ game is fairly unremarkable from his defense to his baserunning but he is a fair hitter with plus power. That doesn’t make him a super valuable piece but it makes him an asset in the middle of the order. On the hot corner will reside Pedro Alvarez. Like Jones, Alvarez could probably benefit by sitting against some left handers but hopefully the Pirates give him a chance to prove his worth against them. Also like Jones, Alvarez is here to provide the Pirates with some power but unlike Jones, Alvarez has enough power potential where he could develop into an extremely valuable piece. Alvarez is going to strike out too much and not play the best defense at third but if he can show a little more plate discipline, draw a few more walks and continue blasting home runs he is going to have a lot of value.

Up the middle Neil Walker figures to get nearly every start at 2nd base and assuming Inge takes Harrison spot he better be starting everyday as the Pirates really won’t have a viable alternative on the 25 man roster. He had some back problems near the end of last season which bares watching but in reality any injury to him would really hurt the Pirates. It is unclear whether Hurdle plans to use him near the top of the order or more towards the bottom but given the fact he is one of the few Pirates players with a decent knack for getting on base placing him near the top (or eve at the top) of the order would probably be the wisest decision. Up the middle with Walker is Clint Barmes. Barmes’s value comes almost entirely from his ability to field the shortstop position very well but even so he is going to have to improve upon last year’s numbers to be of much use to the Pirates. Over the last 4 months of 2012 Barmes posted an OPS of around .650 and if he is able to do that for an entire season he won’t be the most glamorous shortstop but he will give the Pirates value.

Starting Outfield

The starting outfield is pretty much what we expected all along. There was a quasi competition for the corner spots but for the most part those were basically just made up as it was rather clear who should be the starters. In center field the Pirates will once again have their superstar Andrew McCutchen. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about him. He is likely one of the best 10 players in the game today and in order for the Pirates to have any chance of competing he will need to perform at a MVP caliber level. McCutchen did have a few flaws last year though and hopefully this season he will improve upon them. Last season he struggled stealing bases and was a little on the weak side defensively. Considering the rest of his game these are minor points of course but shoring them up would only make him more valuable.

In the corners the Pirates will use Starling Marte and Travis Snider. I expect to see both of them rested, especially Snider, on a fairly consistent basis but they will both get a long chance to prove themselves. Marte has plus speed and is a great defender so even if he struggles with the bat this season he is likely to still provide the Pirates with value. By no means is Marte’s bat weak though as he has the potential to possibly be the Pirates second best hitter this season behind only McCutchen. Marte is likely going to be forced into the leadoff spot a role he isn’t really suited for since he has some strike out issues but if he can maintain a high average and show any improvement in plate discipline he should be serviceable there. In the other corner will be Snider. He doesn’t have the speed or defense of Marte so he is going to have to hit to create value. People tend to think him hitting is less likely than Marte hitting well but in reality I think its a pretty even race. Snider has shown flashes in the past and comes with more power potential than Marte. The Pirates in order to have a shot at competing probably need one of these two to break out and become a true plus player and the other one will have to at least hold his own and be an average starter.

Bench

As I have previously stated the construction of the bottom of the bench really doesn’t matter a whole lot but the players near the top of the bench will likely get a lot of playing time so they will matter a good deal. The top player on the bench is likely Gaby Sanchez and he is expected to pick up the 30% or so of the starts that Garrett Jones doesn’t get at 1st base. Ideally Sanchez would bounce back to his 2010-11 form but that doesn’t really seem likely. In reality all the Pirates need him to be is a good bat against LHP and a good PH option off the bench two roles I think he’ll have no problem handling. Jose Tabata could potentially wind up in a similar situation to Sanchez only in right field. It is possible he winds up platooning with Snider and if that is the case he too will have to hit very well against left handed pitching. Tabata has the upside for more though. At this point he isn’t likely to develop into your traditional starting corner outfielder but he has very good plate discipline and that alone has the potential to make him a valuable asset atop the order. His speed although it has been questioned is still above average and his defense is probably around average as well. Tabata has the makings of an OBP first starting corner outfielder or a solid 4th outfielder. He is likely to be the second most important bench player.

The third most important bench spot and the last I see with much value will go to Michael McKenry. As the backup catcher he is likely to get at least 60 starts this season and will need to continue hitting as well as he did last season to provide value in those starts. His defense is decent but often overrated by Pirates fans but his bat can make him a solid backup catcher. The last two spots are currently slated to go to Harrison and McDonald but Inge will likely eventually assume Harrison’s role. In my mind the most important of these spots is the Harrison/Inge spot. This is supposedly the offensive first infield bench spot so whoever holds it down is going to have to actually you know hit at a respectable level. McDonald will serve as Barmes backup and though he is probably a touch worse both offensively and defensively his presence in the lineup for a day here or there shouldn’t really cause a noticeable difference.

Starting Rotation

Right now the Pirates rotation is a bit of mess. At the top of it the Pirates have probably one of the best one-two punches they have had in a while in AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez. Neither one is a true ace but both seem like fairly safe bets to put up solid numbers this season. At 36 and 34 years old respectively there is of course the chance that either Burnett or Rodriguez has reached the end of their rope as pitchers but with how both of them pitched last year it seems likely they probably have another year or two of value left in them at least. Behind them is James McDonald who si the ultimate wildcard for the Pirates. If there is a true ace currently in the Pirates rotation it is James McDonald. McDonald showed us in the first half of the season last year that he has the talent to be a number one starting pitcher but he showed us in the second half of the year that he isn’t ready to be that yet and possibly never will be. What James McDonald the Pirates get this year, potential ace, borderline #5 starter or somewhere in between will probably be one of the biggest factors in how the Pirates season winds up.

Rounding out the rotation are a pitcher who amazingly actually has a wider range of possible outcomes than McDonald and a pitcher who looks like a fair bet to be a solid a back end guy but who has yet to prove it at the major league level. Jonathan Sanchez is another wildcard in the Pirates rotation but he is even less likely to pay off than McDonald. If Sanchez can keep his control problems at a minimum he will have an excellent chance of being a solid middle of the rotation starter for the Pirates but if he can’t he will most definitely be a total disaster. The Pirates really can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be expecting much from him. If Sanchez can give the Pirates 3 or 4 non-horrible starts in the month of April without completely exploding then it should be considered a success. The other pitcher Locke is a different story. Locke pitched exceptionally well in AAA last season but in his short stint in the majors was the victim of a very unlucky high home run rate. Assuming the high home rate drops this season which it will almost assuredly do I’m fairly confident Locke can become a solid #4 starter for the Pirates and mange to keep them in almost every game. He isn’t the flashiest pitcher but his performance in AAA has earned him this shot.

Bullpen

The back of the bullpen will consist of Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes. These four actually make for a fairly solid quartet of arms. Grilli has been successful in a set up and middle relief role the last two seasons and will inherit the closer role this year. Melancon struggled last year in April and was sent down to the minors but when he returned to the majors he pitched pretty well The two of them , Grilli and Melancon, will likely be the Pirates 8th and 9th inning duo. By no means is this the best back end duo in the league but the tandem should be able to close out most leads that are handed over to them. Watson and Hughes were rather successful last season in their middle relief roles and will be counted on this season in later inning situations. Hughes will probably inherit the 7th inning role and Watson will continue being the top left handed releiver in the bullpen. The success of these two last year makes it fairly likely the adjustment should be relatively smooth.

At the front of the bullpen trying to bridge the gap to the back 4 guys will be Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux and Jeanmar Gomez. All 3 pitchers are capable of throwing multiple innings and all will likely be called upon to do so throughout the year. Wilson provides the Pirates with a second lefty and one who is more of a strike out pitcher. Leroux and Gomez will likely pick up most of the long relief duties. Both are out of options and one of them is likely to be released once pitchers began to get healthy so it will be sort of an extended competition for the duo. Leroux appears to have the more upside but Gomez has more major league experience. Leroux and Gomez are both fairly replaceable relievers so they will have to pitch well this season to remain with the team.

Final 25 Man Roster Prediction

With only 11 days left until Opening Day I thought it was time to take my final crack at predicting which 25 guys the Pirates will take north with them.

Catchers: Russell Martin, Michael McKenry

Both Martin and McKenry are healthy and appear ready to begin the year. There has been some talk about the Pirates looking for a catcher but I imagine that would only be as a depth option for AAA. These two have been locks to make the team since Spring Training began and nothing has changed that.

1st Base: Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez

Despite battling an injury early in the spring Jones now appears at full strength and should be ready to open the year as the Pirates regular 1st baseman. The plan all along this spring was to have Jones be the starter and for Gaby Sanchez to platoon with hm and pick up the starts against left handed starters. Sanchez has also been working out at third this spring and will hopefully be a viable alternative there.

2nd Base: Neil Walker

Fairly straight forward here. Walker is healthy and is the Pirates everyday 2nd baseman.

3rd Baseman: Pedro Alvarez

Again no rocket science here. Alvarez struck out a lot last season and has been struggling this spring but the Pirates have little choice but to let him have a shot at being an everyday or close to it 3rd baseman.

Shortstop: Clint Barmes, John McDonald

Before yesterday it wasn’t so clear just who would be backing up Barmes but the acquisition of McDonald clears things up quite a bit. Barmes will start on most days but when he needs a breather or is pinched hit for late in games McDonald will see some time in the field at shortstop.

Left Field: Starling Marte

Contrary to popular belief I don’t think Marte had a starting spot nailed down headed into Spring Training but from all reports he has looked great and his numbers have been solid so he will now undoubtedly as he should start the year as the everyday left fielder.

Center Field: Andrew McCutchen

Duh, who else would it be?

Right Field: Travis Snider, Jose Tabata

Some thought Sands or possibly Presley or even Hawpe may factor into right field mix at the beginning of Spring Training but it became fairly clear early on that the spot was Snider’s to lose and that in all likelihood Tabata would make the team as the 4th outfielder and split time with Snider in right taking most of the starts against left handed pitchers.

Starting Pitcher: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jeff Locke

Burnett, Rodriugez and McDonald have long been assumed and nothing from this spring changes that. The three of them will form the Pirates top 3 going into the season. The last two spots have looked like a bit of mess all Spring Training as Liriano hasn’t been healthy at all and Karstens really hasn’t been either. Locke hasn’t exactly separated himself from the pack but he was a favorite for a job headed into spring training and no one has really over took him at this point.

Bullpen: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, Chris Leroux

Things have gotten a lot less settled in the Pirates bullpen in the last couple of days. Grilli, Melancon and Hughes were all assumed to essentially be locks since the beginning and nothing has changed on that front. Also considered near locks were Tony Watson and Bryan Morris bu Watson has only pitched sporadicly and Morris apparently has an option remaining meaning he could start in the minors without the Pirates having to risk losing him. Leroux is out of options and has had a pretty strong spring so I expect the Pirates to keep him on the roster and not risk losing him.

For those of you not keeping track at home that is only 20 players meaning there are still 5 spots available. These are the 5 that I think still come with some uncertainty.

Bench (1): Josh Harrison, Brandon Inge, Alex Presley, Felix Pie, Brad Hawpe, Jordy Mercer, Ivan De Jesus, Jared Goedert

At this point there is only one bench spot remaining and all the above players still vying for it. With the acquisition of McDonald I assume Mercer and De Jesus are out of the running. Non roster invitees Hawpe and Goedert seem like long shots and are unlikely to make the team. That leaves Harrison, Inge, Presley and Pie. I would prefer to see the Pirates use this last spot on the best offensive player but knowing how Huntington and Hurdle like to construct a roster I think this last bench spot is likely to go to an infielder with some versatility so that eliminates Presley and Pie. This final spot in my mind is down to Harrison and Inge. To date Inge has shown nothing tha hints he would be an asset to this team so I expect the Pirates will opt to carry Josh Harrison as the final bench player.

Rotation (1):  Jeff Karstens, Kyle McPherson, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeanmar Gomez

Before his disastrous start yesterday I would have said McPherson would get the last spot if Karstens wasn’t ready to go but now I’m not too sure. I still can’t imagine any scenario in which Gomez gets the nod but the Pirates are keeping Sanchez starting and have to make a decision on him by the 24th. I think there are serious doubts that Karstens will be ready by the start of the season but right now I’m still inclined to say he will take the last rotation spot.

Bullpen (3): Bryan Morris, Tony Watson, Jeanmar Gomez, Justin Wilson, Ryan Reid, Mike Zagurski, Jonathan Sanchez

Although he still has an option remaining Bryan Morris remains in my opinion one of the Pirates strongest options for the bullpen so despite the fact there is now a chance he could start the year in the minors I still expect to see him as part of the bullpen on Opening Day. Watson has me legitimately concerned at this point and I am now leaning towards the idea of him not being ready by Opening Day and actually starting the season in the minors. I’m expecting the Pirates to carry two left handers in the bullpen to start the season regardless of Watson’s health so assuming everything breaks as I predict that leaves no room for Reid or Gomez and makes the final two spots a battle between Wilson, Zagurski and Sanchez. At this point I can’t see Sanchez making the team unless they opt to have him start in the rotation so my prediction is the final two spots will go to Wilson and Zagurski.

Roster

Lineup: Marte (LF), Walker (2B), McCutchen (CF), Alvarez (3B), Jones (1B), Martin (C), Snider (RF), Barmes (SS)

Bench: McKenry (C), Sanchez (1B-3B), McDonald (2B-3B-SS), Tabata (OF), Harrison (2B-3B-SS-OF)

Rotation: Burnett, Rodriguez, McDonald, Locke, Karstens

Bullpen: Grilli (CL), Melancon (SU), Hughes, Morris, Leroux, Wilson (LH), Zagurski (LH)

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.

Leading Off

Going into this offseason I identified to key areas in which I felt the Pirates needed to improve. The top priority was and should quite frankly near always be starting pitching depth. The Pirates worked on that this offseason by tendering Morton, resigning Karstens, (allegedly) signing Liriano and adding a few players like Jonathan Sanchez and Vin Mazzaro to serve as depth. The second area I pointed out was their lack of OBP and by extension top of the order and specifically lead off candidates. To address this the Pirate have done … well … nothing. Russell Martin was added and while I have heard some rumblings he might bat 2nd that really shouldn’t be an option except possibly against left handed pitching. So it appears the Pirates are going to try to address this problem internally. Let’s take a close look at the options:

The first thing we need to ask is what exactly does a team want in a leadoff hitter. The typical lead off hitter is viewed as someone who is fast and can steal bases but more importantly it is about getting on base and to a smaller extent making pitchers work. Since the primary goal of a leadoff hitting is getting on base I am going to focus most of this discussion of OBP but as a secondary number I will look at BB and K rates and finally as a third number I am going to look at stolen bases. Looking at those stats and comparing them to the league I get a very rough estimate that a good leadoff hitter should meet at least the following criteria: .330 OBP, 8-10 BB%, 15-20 K% (so 2:1 K:BB), 25 SB at a 75% rate. Those are reasonable estimates of minimum production teams would be expecting out of good leadoff hitters. So to compare the Pirates players to those standards I will use their 2013 ZiPS projections.

Russell Martin: .328 OBP, 10.3 BB%, 16.1 K%, 7 SB, 78 SB%

Michael McKenry: .297 OBP, 8.7 BB%, 24.8 K%, 1 SB, 50 SB%

Garrett Jones: .309 OBP, 7.7 BB%, 21.1 K%, 5 SB, 71 SB%

Gaby Sanchez: .324 OBP, 8.7 BB%, 14.6 K%, 3 SB, 75 SB%

Neil Walker: .328 OBP, 7.9 BB%, 18.5 K%, 8 SB, 62 SB%

Pedro Alvarez: .313 OBP, 10.2 BB%, 31.1 K%, 2 SB, 67 SB%

Clint Barmes: .289 OBP, 5.5 BB%, 18.7 K%, 3 SB, 50 SB%

Josh Harrison: .299 OBP, 3.7 BB%, 12.1 K%, 12 SB, 67 SB%

Jordy Mercer: .286 OBP, 5.4 BB%, 18.2 K%, 5 SB, 56 SB%

Chase d’Arnaud: .285 OBP, 6.4 BB%, 21.6 K%, 24 SB, 83 SB%

Starling Marte: .310 OBP, 4.3 BB%, 22.8 K%, 24 SB, 67 SB%

Andrew McCutchen: .369 OBP, 11.4 BB%, 18.0 K%, 23 SB, 68 SB%

Travis Snider: .310 OBP, 7.4 BB%, 22.7 K%, 9 SB, 69 SB%

Jose Tabata: .329 OBP, 7.9 BB%, 15.0 K%, 19 SB, 61 SB%

Jerry Sands: .304 OBP, 8.5 BB%, 25.0 K%, 4 SB, 80 SB%

Alex Presley: .308 OBP, 6.1 BB%, 18.0 K%, 15 SB, 65 SB%

Well as should have been expected no one met all the criteria listed and in fact no one at all met the 25 SB criteria. Since the Pirates do not have an ideal leadoff hitter (something we already knew) I think it is time to look at the best of the flawed options.

OBP > .330

Only one Pirates player projects to have an OBP over .330 and he is obviously the best choice to bat leadoff but the problem is he is the same guy who is the best choice to bat 3rd, 4th, 5th and well really anywhere in the lineup. With an ideally balanced lineup Andrew McCutchen is the obvious choice to be a leadoff hitter and if he can improve his stolen base efficiency he would be as near perfect a lead off hitter as one could make. However we all know he has more value to the Pirates batting in the middle of the lineup and driving those runs in than he does sitting atop the lineup, getting on base and ultimately staying on base.

OBP > .320

The Pirates have 4 players who have an OBP in the .320s and without an obvious choice to leadoff it would make sense that the player should come from this group. Those players are Russell Martin, Gaby Sanchez, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata. Looking at the secondary numbers I posted each of these players BB% and K% look fairly good as well as the BB% are at the very least near 8% and the K% for all of them is less than 20%. Where the divergence happens though is in the SB department, only one of these players, Jose Tabata is any sort of threat on the bases and while he does have the speed to swipe bases he like most other Pirates isn’t good at picking his spots. Still there is little doubt that outside of McCutchen the Pirates player best suited for the leadoff spot is Jose Tabata but there is a problem with that as Tabata’s 2012 struggles has made it very likely that he won’t be in the starting lineup. Gaby Sanchez is in a similar position as he is only expected to get consistent at bats against left handers. That leaves us with martin and Walker. In an ideal world where the leadoff hitter is determined only by the ability to get on base Martin batting lead off against lefties and Walker against righties makes a ton of sense as both players do a really good job getting on base against those particular handedness. In practice Martin is a catcher and catchers no matter how much they are suited for it rarely if ever lead off. I would not dismiss the possibility of Walker doing so however.

OBP > .300, BB% > 7.5%

Next up are 3 players who do not put up the best on base percentages but show a decent knack for working a count as shown by their projected BB%. These 3 players Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez and Jerry Sands. On the surface none of these 3 look like a leadoff hitter and when you dig a little deeper that becomes even clearer. Alvarez’s strike out rate is projected to be above 30% and his power bat is too valuable to have at the top of the order and he is better suited for a slugger role somewhere in the middle of the lineup. Similar to Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates count on Garrett Jones for his power and middle of the order presence. He doesn’t strike out a ton though and is actually has a fairly high OBP against right handed pitchers so using him at the top of the lineup against them shouldn’t be entirely dismissed. THe other player Sands faces a similar situation to Tabata as there is probably just not a whole lot of playing time to be had by him. Even so with a projected 25% strike out rate and a low OBP the top of the order probably isn’t a good place for him.

OBP > .300, BB% < 7.5%

There are 3 more players with a projected OBP above .300 but all of them do not walk a lot. They are Starling Marte, Alex Presley and Travis Snider. First I’ll deal with Travis Snider, he is a lot like Garrett Jones in that the Pirates are going to be expecting him to provide power but that his OBP is decent enough that using him near the top of the lineup can not be completely dismissed in the right situations. The other two players Starling Marte and Alex Presley fit the look of a traditional leadoff hitter. Both are speedy outfielders that can steal a base fairly well. However both have some OBP problems and Marte has a strike out problem. Presley is in the same boat as Tabata and Sands and in actuality is probably worse off so it is unlikely he gets enough playing time to be a real leadoff hitter candidate. Starling Marte appears likely to be the Pirates first choice as a leadoff hitter but his projected numbers show he really isn’t a good fit for that role. He can steal some bases but he will really work a walk and is projected to have a strike out rate more than 6 times greater than his walk rate.

OBP < .300

I have 5 other players listed above but they have even greater on base problems than the ones I have already discussed. McKenry is a solid backup catcher with a little power but he quite obviously has the OBP nor the speed to handle lead off duties. Clint Barmes is expected to be the everyday starting shortstop but that is more for his defensive prowess than anything with the bat. He quite simply should see nothing but the bottom of the order. All that leaves us with is the 3 primary candidates for the reserve infielder jobs in d’Arnaud, Harrison and Mercer. Each one has his strengths but none of their strengths are really getting on base. d’Arnaud is a decent enough base stealer but can’t hit well enough to get on base at a decent enough clip, Mercer is a solid defensive player but once again is lacking with the bat, and Harrison is a little better with the bat and is a decent base runner but lacks a true position and doesn’t have the plate patience nor the OBP ability to make any sort of leadoff hitter.

So what does all of this tell us? Quite simply that the Pirates are going to have to patchwork their leadoff spot and their top of the order. All things should be on the table. Players like Garrett Jones, Travis Snider, Russell Martin and Gaby Sanchez need to be considered for the top of the order even though they aren’t your prototypical choices. Neil Walker shouldn’t be pigeon-holed as a #2 hitter as he has the ability to be a competent lead off hitter at least against left handers. I am going to share my own ideas for lineups below and then discuss my rationale behind them.

vs RHP

Walker, 2B

Jones, 1B

Cutch, CF

Alvarez, 3B

Marte, LF

Snider, RF

Martin, C

Barmes, SS

vs LHP

Tabata, RF

Martin, C

Cutch, CF

Alvarez, 3B

Marte, LF

Sanchez, 1B

Walker, 2B

Barmes, SS

In my lineup against right handers I am having Walker lead off because he is the Pirates best OBP man against right handed pitchers outside of Andrew McCutchen. The second spot in my order came down to Garrett Jones and Travis Snider both of whom can post decent OBPs against right handers while providing a little pop but Jones is more proven in that regard and I want the younger Snider concentrating more on unlocking his power pontential rather than trying to set the table. The middle of the order I kept the same for both lineups as I think Cutch fits well in the 3 hole and that it is time for Pedro to get a real chance to inherit the clean up job. Marte is more of a run producer than a leadoff hitter so batting him 5th gives him a oppurtunity to do and if he develops he could possible move up to the 3rd spot which would allow Cutch to inherit the lead off spot. Rounding out the lineup I have Martin and Barmes who I hope will at least be competent. If Martin sits McKenry can just slide right into the 7th spot.

In my lineup against lefites I start with Tabata as I am not ready to give up on him quite yet and feel it would be for the best to sit Snider against left handed pitching. Outside of McCutchen, Tabata is clearly the player that best profiles as a leadoff hitter so this will give him a chance to audition for that job. The second spot came down to either Martin or Sanchez and I went with Martin because I feel Sanchez brings a little more power lower in the lineup and I feel that Martin’s track record of posting a high OBP against lefties is just a touch better than Sanchez’s. The middle of the order stays the same as I want those guys to try and establish themselves. I dropped Walker the whole way down to the 7th spot because when he is forced to bat right handed he really struggles. I wouldn’t mind seeing him swapped with Sanchez though and batting 6th. And of course Barmes rounds out the lineup. When Martin sits move Sanchez up to the 2 spot and insert McKenry in Sanchez’s spot.

My lineups may be a little unconventional but I feel they make the best use out of what is the poor assortment of top of the order candidates the Pirates currently have in their stable.

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.

How Should the Pirates Proceed?

The Pirates have made a few moves so far this offseason but the team is by no means complete. Logically this raise the question what should the team do next? Well I figured this was as good a time as any to take a look at where the team as constructed stands.

Catcher

Starter: Russell Martin

Backup: Michael McKenry

Depth: Tony Sanchez, Ramon Cabrera, Ali Solis

Outlook: The Pirates have a solid starter in Martin who will hopefully put up average numbers for the position and a decent backup in McKenry they know is ready to step up and take a good chunk of playing time should he be called on to do so. In addition the Pirates have two solid prospects in Sanchez and Cabrera waiting at the AAA level and added Solis to serve as emergency depth just like Eric Fryer did last season. In an ideal world you would like to see the Pirates add a veteran 3rd catcher, much like Jose Morales last season, but in all likelihood what you see is what you are going to get here and that really isn’t a bad thing.

Infield (2B/3B/SS)

Starters: Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes

Backups: Brock Holt, Josh Harrison, Chase d’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer

Depth: Anderson Hernandez, Jared Goedert

Outlook: The Pirates have two of thier key regulars in Walker and Alvarez manning 2B and 3B respectively. At the other starting positions Clint Barmes provides a great glove but a weak bat so in an ideal situation looking for an upgrade over him would be on the agenda. In the real world immediate upgrades at the shortstop position are hard to come by so the Pirates should be looking for a replacement for Barmes in 2014 and beyond. The bench provides an interesting cast of characters who can play all 3 positions but not one of them is a proven commodity. Keeping two of them on the major league bench would be a bad idea so the Pirates should be exploring the market for a backup at these positions. As far as depth is concerned the Pirates have a couple minor league veterans should an emergency arise.

Outfield (1B/OF)

Starters: Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Travis Snider

Backups: Clint Robinson, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley

Depth: Matt Curry, Matt Hague, Jeff Larish, Felix Pie, Darren Ford, Adalberto Santos

Outlook: The Pirates have a lot of talent in the 1B/OF department but also a lot of question marks. At 1B Jones and Sanchez has the making of a good platoon but the Pirates are shopping Jones which is the right move considering his contract situation and the year he is coming off of. The Pirates shouldn’t trade him for nothing but a good return such as a shortstop for 2014 and beyond needs to be taken if offered. In the outfield the Pirates have one of the best players in the game in McCutchen and two young unproven players in Marte and Snider. Ideally you don’t want both players starting in the outfield to begin the season but once again this isn’t an ideal world. The Pirates should be considering bringing in a more proven outfielder but I understand the reasons they may choose not to do so. As far as the backups go Robinson provides the Pirates with an interesting fall back choice should they be successful in trading Jones. It would be risky to go into the season with him and Sanchez manning 1B but it might just be worth it. As the roster is currently constructed Presley and Tabata figure to fight for one bench spot. Presley is the more prototypical 4th outfielder but Tabata has the OBP skills the team is missing and since he is a righty would be able to spell Snider against tough lefties. Between those two the Pirates should have a solid 4th outfielder. As far as depth the Pirates have two solid prospects in Curry and Santos waiting in the wings and have a plethora of minor league depth to call upon if needed.

Rotation

Locks: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald

Competing: Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, Vin Mazzaro, Rick VandenHurk

Depth: Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, Phillip Irwin, Brandon Cumpton, Brooks Brown, Zach Stewart, Chris Leroux,

Outlook: Burnett and Rodriguez look like solid pieces of the rotation. They are getting up there in age but the Pirates have little choice but to move ahead with them. McDonald is a big question mark but with all the positives he showed last season the Pirates agin have little choice but to move on with him as part of the rotation. Following those 3 the Pirates have a handful of players who look like non-horrible candidates to start the season as a 5th starter but in no way should two of them be counted on to begin the year. The Pirates absolutely have to look to acquire another starter who is a lock for the rotation. I believe this is the most important thing left to do. I would also like to see a more major league testes starter brought in on a minor league contract to compete for the 5th spot. Locke and McPherson would be solid 5th and 6th starters to begin the season but as 4th and 5th starters with little behind them the Pirates have a big hole. The rest of the players competing will ideally be reduced to bullpen roles or AAA depth. As for the depth the Pirates have a mixture of solid prospects, minor league vets and bullpen arms capable of making a start if needed. Aside from that there is Morton who will hopefully be back mid season and Cole who will hopefully be polished enough to make his debut by mid season. Those two will hopefully being to boost the rotation come the middle of the year.

Bullpen

Locks: Joel Hanrahan, Jared Hughes, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris

Competing: Chris Leroux, Vin Mazzaro, Justin Wilson, Rick VandenHurk, Zach Stewart, Chad Beck, Duke Welker

Depth: Victor Black, David Bromberg, Erik Cordier, Mike Zagurski, Ryan Reid

Outlook: The bullpen is a mess right now. The Pirates are considering trading Hanrahan a move which they should consider but the value is likely to be low so if they don’t get something worthwhile he could always return and be the anchor for the pen. Outside of him Hughes, Watson and Morris look like sure bets to be part of next year’s bullpen and all of them should be solid. Next up is a large number of players competing for those final bullpen jobs. Its really anyone’s guess as to who will get them and to be honest the Pirates should feel perfectly comfortable with 2 arms coming out of that group. Serving as depth should injuries mount is a typical assortment of minor league depth and Victor Black who looks like a good back of the bullpen prospect. If he shows improved control he could be a quick addition. If Hanrahan is traded a proven bullpen arm or two should be added but even if he remains the Pirates should probably look for one anyway.

What They Need To Do?

1) Acquire a starting pitcher who can pitch a lot of quality innings.

2) Acquire a starting pitcher who will be able to compete for the 5th spot and provide depth in AAA

3) Keep their minds open to all possible trades especially Hanrahan and Jones

4) Look for a future replacement for Barmes at SS

5) Acquire 1 or 2 solid bullpen arms

6) Continue to stockpile bullpen options for the final 2 spots

7) Acquire a good utility player capable of playing the middle infield to improve the bench

Moves that Would be Made in an Ideal World

1) Acquire a veteran 3rd catcher to serve as depth in AAA

2) Acquire a proven 1B/OF so Marte and Snider don’t both play everyday

3) Acquire an immediate upgrade at the shortstop position

4) Acquire 2 young pieces to the starting rotation which would allow the possibility of moving Burnett or Rodriguez

5) Acquire 2 or 3 good arms for the bullpen

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: Right Field

Jose Tabata: Tabata just barely receive the most playing time for the Pirates this season in right field over Garrett Jones. Everyone knows Tabata started the year off poorly posting a wRC+ of 53 in April and 71 in May but what most may not realize is that he rebounded rather nicely posting a 109 wRC+ in June, 84 wRC+ in August and 143 wRC+ in September (for full disclosure in July his wRC+ was only 5 but that only included 5 PA so I’m ignoring it). In April, August and September Tabata didn’t receive regular playing time; he received only 168 PA combined during those 3 months so that is also something to consider. Anyway moving on from how he performed on a month by month basis Tabata received a lot of criticism this season for not trying which I don’t believe has any merit but it is worth noting. My opinion is his perceived not trying was related to his hip injury and there I fault him and management for not sitting him down to rest it. Either way it is clear to me that Tabata appeared to perform his best this season when relegated to part-time duty and that is the role I see him going forward. Like Tabata or not the one thing you can’t deny is that he has a good knack for getting on base which is something this Pirates club sorely needs. The Pirates currently are heading into next season with 4 internal options four internal options for the corner outfield and with 3 of them being 25 or younger the chance for hopefully 1 or 2 breakouts is still there. My expectation for Tabata is that he will start off next year on the Pirates bench platooning with Snider in RF and also spelling Marte in LF. When he is in the lineup because of his on base skills the Pirates will have little choice but to bat him lead off. As a final note before I give him a grade I will once again urge the Pirates to find a base stealing instructor not just for Tabata but the entire team. Overall Grade: C

Travis Snider: When looking at the Pirates roster and the performances of the player’s this past season it is easy to conclude that the corner outfield spots will be the easiest to upgrade this offseason. While that is true in theory the Pirates have 3 young players who they kind of have to give a shot at winning the starting jobs so blocking them with veteran free agent signing isn’t the way to go. Top on the list of young corner outfielders needing a chance to prove himself is Travis Snider. Snider was brought over this season at the trade deadline and before getting injured and then oddly rested and not rested nearly every other day was actually performing quite well. The Pirates handling of him after his injury is one of the oddest decisions they made this past season and I have yet to hear a good reason for it. Putting that aside though we saw some flashes from Snider this season and he has a good bit of power potential in his bat so not giving him a chance to build on that is probably something the Pirates shouldn’t do. I expect we will see Snider as the starting right fielder next season but the Pirates will have someone maybe Tabata or maybe an outside acquisition ready to step up should he falter. Overall Grade: C+

Top Prospects

Josh Bell: Bell was a big story last year after the draft but is sort of now and after thought due to an injury he suffered that caused him to miss almost the entire season. There just isn’t a whole lot to dissect here with Bell. He got off to a bad start in A ball but seemed to be rebounding some when the injury stuck and sidelined him for the season. Bell has a ton of power potential in his bat and is still fairly young so he is definitely still a top prospect but as for this season all that can really be said is it was a lost year of development. Bell will likely remain in A ball next season and he will no longer be that young for the league (he’ll still be a little young but basically right around age appropriate) as he was a little older than most high schoolers when he was drafted in 2011.

Adalberto Santos: Santos is a very interesting case. He doesn’t have the power of a corner outfield nor much of a pedigree but he has just hit at every level he has played at. Santos suffered a knee injury in AA last season but his 340/425/433 slash line in 238 AB there is still impressive. Santos probably doesn’t have the power needed to be an everyday starter in the majors but his ability to hit could make a very intriguing bench player for the Pirates. In addition to player the outfield corners with the Pirates Santos also played a good bit of 2nd base in 2011 although curiously the Pirates didn’t play him there this season at all. Going forward Santos looks like someone who could develop into a nice bench bat for the Pirates. I expect he will open next season in AAA as the starting outfielder at one of the corner positions.

Tyler Gaffney: The Pirates drafted Gaffney in the 24th round in this past draft and the only thing really of note about him was that he was the backup running back at Standford and some people thought he wouldn’t sign for that reason. Gaffney signed relatively quickly and was sent to A- where he started off hot and continued that for nearly the whole season. His line of 297/483/441 is really quite remarkable for a 24th round draft pick. The high OBP needs taken with a grain of salt though as it was fueled by an unbelievably high HBP rate; he was hit by a pitch roughly once every 7.5 PA or to put it another way more frequently than once every other game. Gaffney played primarily RF this season but did move over to CF when Barnes got injured. His great start to his pro career could cause the Pirates to be aggressive with him and send him to A+ but I expect them to be a little more cautious and start him A ball possibly in center field.

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