Archive for March, 2012
When the Pirates traded away minor leaguer Brooks Pounders, along with Diego Goris, on the eve of the Rule 5 draft last December, the initial thought was that the Pirates were losing not only one of the best named pitchers in the organization, but someone that we had hoped would be a pretty good pitcher for the Pirates someday. Anytime there is a trade when you aren’t familiar with the person coming in return, you tend to think that you are losing out on something. And when that someone was a 2nd round pick just a couple of years ago, it makes you wonder why the team is bailing on him already. After all, you can never have too many arms in the system, and although Pounders wasn’t really a power arm, he did have a K/9 rate of just under 10 last season. Plus we added in a 21 year old infielder in Goris, who had never played anywhere but the Dominican Summer League, and you start to expect to have gotten something significant back in return.
The book on Yamaico Navarro was that he is a decent offensive infielder who has glove issues. And so far in spring training, Navarro has been as advertised with the bat. He is hitting .366 with a .934 OPS through 41 at bats, with 1 HR, one triple and a double. He has only 5 strikeouts and is coming off of a four hit game yesterday against the Astros, with a 3 hit game in the books from a couple of days prior.
Defensively, he has been adequate as well, committing only 1 error so far in spring in over 84 innings of manning multiple positions, mostly second base. But Navarro has also played SS, 3B, LF and RF in the 20 games of spring training to date. He did commit 8 errors in Omaha last year after getting traded to the Royals (from Boston for Mike Aviles), but it appears that he has shown steady if not spectacular improvement in the defensive category.
Navarro is looking more and more to have a decent shot to make the Pirates opening day lineup as a utility infielder, although much depends on what happens with Pedro Alvarez and who will be needed as backup infielders. You would have to think that Josh Harrison has a pretty good shot at that spot as well, though I would like to see him play every day in Indy and not fall into the utility role as I think Harrison could be an every day player in the majors. It seems like Navarro could very well end up as an everyday player as well, and his defense, especially at shortstop, will likely determine whether or not that happens. But so far this spring, his offense brings something to the table that we haven’t seen often before, and that makes it fun to keep an eye on.
Well, not being able to get to Florida this year for spring training, I was forced to defer more and more content on this site until the real opening day, not too far from now. But in following Pirates baseball as closely as I can without physically being in Bradenton- and that is still close enough to be considered a sickness by most people – I wanted to write about a few of the only true position battles that exist with the opening of the 2012 regular season only a couple of weeks away.
First, let’s knock out the regulars that have no true competition, either for playing time or a roster spot.
CF Andrew McCutchen
2B Neil Walker
SS Clint Barmes
RF Jose Tabata
C Rod Barajas
SP Erik Bedard
Those six guys we know will be on the field on opening day against the Phillies, barring anything unexpected like an injury.
LF Alex Presley
Presley is hitting .349 at the moment, with one home run and four stolen bases. He does only have one walk so far, and patience is something that the Pirates would desperately like to see from Presley if he is going to hold down the job as the every day LF. Still, Presley is as close to a lock to be the opening day LF as there is.
Now, the rest of it gets a little bit messy. And of course, it all starts with Pedro Alvarez. Currently nursing a sore left knee, Pedro has been abysmal so far in spring training. He is the one guy that absolutely needed a strong spring to show that he has taken steps to belong on a major league roster. But he is hitting .133 thus far, with 13 K’s in 30 AB’s. He has definitely not looked like someone that should be thrust into Pittsburgh on Opening Day. I have a gut feeling he is going to be left behind in Florida to get in some extra work, and a DL spot is a likely location for Pedro to start the season. I can’t imagine him getting thrown to the wolves against Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in a couple of weeks.
[UPDATE] GM Neal Huntington said yesterday that Alvarez will not be sent down. I’m not buying it. My prediction is still a DL stint, but if he comes back and strikes out 3 out of every 4 at bats the rest of the way, I sincerely doubt that Pedro will be playing 3B on opening day.
With Halladay, a right hander, on the mound on Opening Day, it is quite obvious that Garret Jones will be in the lineup to face him for the Pirates. My assumption is that Garrett will play 1B, while his presumed platoon-mate, Casey McGehee, will be on third base for the opener.
So my stab at the Pirates 2012 Opening Day lineup goes something like this.
1. Alex Presley - LF
2. Jose Tabata - RF
3. Andrew McCutchen - CF
4. Neil Walker – 2B
5. Garrett Jones – 1B
6. Casey McGehee – 3B
7. Clint Barmes – SS
8. Rod Barajas – C
9. Erik Bedard - P
And off the bench, the Pirates will have these guys to play with…
C Michael McKenry
OF Nate McLouth
INF Yamaico Navarro
INF Josh Harrison
DL – Pedro Alvarez
Josh Harrison has been very good at the plate, hitting .520 in 25 spring at bats so far. And with Pedro potentially starting the year on the DL or just sent to Indy, Harrison is needed to back up McGehee at 3B. So I think he breaks camp with the Pirates. Navarro has been very impressive as well offensively, as well as defensively, and his versatility will earn him a spot on the 25 man roster as well. Fort McKenry and Nate McLouth are both pretty well set in their roles as backup catcher and 4th outfielder, respectively.
Still hanging around:
1B Jake Fox
1B Nick Evans
1B Matt Hague
C Eric Fryer
Personally, with the way the whole Pedro thing is going to play out, I think it is time to put the 1B platoon on the back burner for a bit. Both Jones and McGehee are both going to be on the field a lot together, especially against right handers. Both Nick Evans and Jake Fox were brought in with the expectations of perhaps filling in that last roster spot, and grabbing some playing time at 1B against the lefties. But Nick Evans is hitting .087 so far this spring, 2 for 23. And even though one of those two hits went for a home run, he has also hit into 3 double plays already this spring and has struck out 7 times. Not very many good at bats coming from him, and I would think he is close to being sent to Indy. Jake Fox is hitting a bit better, at .318 and 2 HR’s. Although he’s hit into a team high 4 double plays this spring, he probably has the upper hand at this point for the last roster spot.
The guy that many people, including myself, would like to see get that spot is Matt Hague. Hague leads the team in home runs this spring with 4, and is hitting .424 overall. Some people think that Hague needs to go to Indy to play every day. But he did that last year, and did very well, leading the International League in hits with 165 while hitting .309. He’s a guy that has never hit lower than .293 at any level, going back 5 minor league stops since 2008 and 4 years of college before that. Jones hit .243 last year, while other 1B Lyle Overbay hit .227 and Steve Pearce hit .202. So I think the Pirates could definitely use some hitting at 1B. I’m still going with Jake Fox for opening day, but I think Matt Hague is not far away this year, despite starting in Indy.
#1 Erik Bedard
#2 Jeff Karstens
#3 James McDonald
#4 Kevin Correia
#5 Charlie Morton
DL – A.J. Burnett
RP - Chris Resop (RHP)
RP - Chris Leroux (RHP)
RP - Juan Cruz (RHP)
RP - Daniel Moskos (LHP)
RP - Jason Grilli (RHP)
Setup - Evan Meek (RHP)
Closer - Joel Hanrahan (RHP)
There is still a lot up in the air in the bullpen. I envision them going with a 12 man staff to start the year, with A.J. Burnett opening the year on the DL to get in some work after missing time from his broken orbital bone injury. I think the one left handed spot in the bullpen is going to have to go to Daniel Moskos after having a pretty decent spring. Tony Watson is a strong possibility, but he’s really been getting rocked this spring, has a minor league and I think the Pirates decide to see what they have in Moskos instead.
Hanrahan is the anchor to the bullpen, and I’m going all in on Evan Meek being back close to normal and healthy this year. I give the other four spots to Chris Resop, Jason Grilli, Chris Leroux and non-roster Juan Cruz, who arguably has been the best in the pen this spring for the Pirates, giving up a total of 1 ER on 3 hits and only one walk in 7 innings, with 5 K’s and a stellar .136 batting average against.
It will be more interesting once Charlie Morton is officially declared ready to go and A.J. Burnett is back, as that means Kevin Correia is likely headed to the bullpen (if not traded) to take away one of those spots from someone. With the way the schedule works out, and with Morton and Burnett both progressing ahead of expectations, I could see Kevin Correia starting the year in the bullpen, which would probably bump a guy like Leroux out of the picture altogether.
Though I don’t entirely like all of my picks here, and do prefer to see Hague head north with the team at this point, I am ok with my projected 25 man roster. After all, it is important not to put too much stock into spring training numbers. Heck, Lyle Overbay hit .368 with 4 HR’s last year in the spring, and we all know how that worked out. But this is my projection of a 25 man roster for opening day, along with how it will change once Burnett returns to the rotation.
News worth staying up late for on a Sunday night, Pirates All Star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen just signed a 6 year, $51.5 million deal to remain with the Pirates at least through the 2017 season, plus a club option for the 2018 season at a realistic $14.75 million.
The importance of this signing cannot be understated, as getting this done sends a message to fans and other players around the league that this Pirates are finally committed to putting a winning product on the field. Now with two thirds of it’s outfield settled for the next 6 to 8 years, after Jose Tabata signed the 6 year deal with 3 club options last season, the Pirates can turn to other areas of focus for development.
All those people who joke around and ask how much longer until Cutch is a Yankee are going to have to come up with some new material.
Cutch will be in Black and Gold for a long time. And that, fellow Bucco fans, is great news tonight.
Let’s Go Bucs!
And I’ll bet the farm that they win. And lose. Yes, the Fighting Manatees are no longer on the schedule to kick off spring training, so the Pirates open the Grapefruit League season with a Black vs. Gold intrasquad scrimmage. Pitchers for opening day of spring training are Jeff Karstens and Kevin Correia, and the two teams are divided up fairly evenly.
In early action, GoBuccos.com favorite Michael McKenry drive in the year’s first run with an RBI single scoring Matt Hague, and the black team leads 1-0 at the time of this article being written. So no, we shouldn’t take too much into the actual performances of today’s game. But when Jeff Karstens strikes out Pedro Alvarez looking, you can’t help but wonder if it is “same old Pedro” or “Is Karstens the second coming of Greg Maddux?”. We’re all hoping for the latter, but at least we have baseball to analyze.
For those that have subscribed to MLB.TV’s package of watching baseball on the web ($124.95, probably worth every penny), the Buccos first game on that feature is Monday night at 7:05 when you can watch a split squad take on the Baltimore Orioles. Is it a sickness to be pumped for that game?