Monday, February 18, 2008

Pittsburgh Pirates '08

Today begins my other passion, Pittsburgh Pirates baseball. Yes, the official pitchers and catchers work outs have begun. Again, I have very high hopes for the Pirates, but will wait before making predictions for the Pirates until we have a better idea of their lineup.

The reasons for my high hopes revolve mainly around the departure of Jim Tracy the now former manager. This new manager, John Russell, is a mystery. I have to admit that it was depressing when they hired him. He has no real track record on which to be judged, so that may still turn into adulation. However, Tony Pena was available, and I thought it would have been better to go get the former Pirate standout who does have previous managerial experience and has been learning with the Yankees for a few years now.

Still, the line up for the Pirates looks good. Jason Bay will probably not bat 50 points under his career average again. Ronnie Paulino showed a lot of life at the end of the season, and hopefully he will be back up to a .300 hitter in his third year, and hopefully improved defense. Freddie Sanchez started this past season hurt and basically had his Spring training during the Pirates games in May. He now has a long term deal in his back pocket and should be able to be an MVP type player. Xavier Nady, despite a few injury problems, did exactly what you would expect of him. He hit about his career average of .275. If more people were on base in front of him, his RBI’s would be higher. And Adam LaRoche might actually put together an entire season of being good. He starts every year off ice cold. Hopefully this year he can at least keep the cold start to hitting above .200. I am not counting on much from him, but his bat will heat up with weather and he does provide long ball power. The constant question mark of center field may finally be answered as well. Chris Duffy, Nate McClouth, and Nyjer Morgan will all compete for the starting job in center with the runner up earning a spot on the roster and the loser going to the minors. I think that Duffy and McClouth were greatly misused by Jim Tracy as their speed was never taken advantage of, and Nyjer’s late season call up ended with a man hitting nearly .300 and making highlight real grabs in the outfield. If he wins the starting spot, I will be overjoyed. I fully expect McClouth to earn the back up spot, and Duffy (who is recovering from an injury to start off in the minors). Duffy will be traded before the season is over as the outfield is crowded considering the top prospect, McCutchen, in the organization will probably be called up in September to play center. Third base is still a hole, but Neil Walker may be ready by mid season, and that would turn that position around.

This year the bullpen will be almost totally new. That makes it a question mark, but also makes it hopeful. The best of the best were kept, such as closer Matt Cappas and set up man Desmond Marte both had ERA’s under 2.50. John Grabow probably has a safe spot in the bullpen, but the last four spots could be open. With Grabow and Marte both being lefties one would think that Franqueils Osario and Evan Meek have the inside shot at making the team. Meek is a ground ball pitcher with a big fastball making him very intriguing. Jonah Bayliss and Josh Sharpless played some with the club last year and are in the mix as is Japanese Masumi Kuwata who started strong last year, but ended up in the minors. Hector Carrasco and Jaret Wright were invited to camp and are veterans of other clubs. However, I am hoping for a youth movement. Shawn Chacon, Tony Armas, and Solomon Torres are all mercifully gone, and there is no need to replace them with aging veterans when so many young guns are in the organization. If too many of the older guys make the team, it will be a bad sign for the organization. In addition to about a half dozen other young arms vying for spots in the bullpen are big time starting prospects John Van Benschoten and Bryan Bullington. The starting five appears to be set with Matt Morris as one of them (I am less than thrilled with him). It would make sense that one of these guys deserves a shot at being the long man from the pen.

It will be a fun Spring Training to watch with so many open spots on the team. The bullpen competition will be strong, and the back up first base position is up for grabs as is the third string catcher spot. The starting center field spot as well as back up utility infielder, which brings with it the heir apparent title to aging Jack Wilson. The Pirates ought to be able to compete in a still weak NL Central. If they cannot, expect wide spread trades and changes.


Barbara said...

I don't follow baseball, but my husband is a life-long Pirates fan. He and 2 of his siblings make an annual journey to Pittsburgh for a game. I hope, for him, that the Pirates have a great season!