Category: Position Previews

2013 Expectations: Third Base

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

Pedro Alvarez

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

Josh Harrison

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

Brandon Inge

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

2013 Expectations: 2nd Base

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

Neil Walker

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

Ivan De Jesus

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

2013 Expectations: 1st Base

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

Garrett Jones

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

Gaby Sanchez

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

Clint Robinson

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

2013 Expectations: Catchers

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

Russell Martin

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

Michael McKenry

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

Tony Sanchez

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

Summary

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

Jones and the 1B/OF Glut

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Expectations: 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates

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

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

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

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

2012 Expectations: Front Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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