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.
So most of this week I’ve spent working on some of the behind the scenes stuff for this site, so that we can be full speed ahead come opening day. But at the same time, I don’t want to completely ignore the spring games that are being played each day now.
One week is in the books, and the Buccos already have 4 wins, not counting the Manatee rout. They had 7 real spring training wins all last spring. Does this guarantee wins come April? Of course not. But it can’t hurt, especially when you are teaching a team how to win. So winning at any time is better than losing any time in my book. And being 4-3 so far is just fine. More importantly though, we should look at individual performances so far this spring, and that is the intent of this article today.
Leading the offensive attack in the first week of spring is the guy who should be our rock this year, Pedro Alvarez. Pedro is off to a .357 start, with three doubles and a triple despite no long balls just yet. In a funny spring quirk, he is leading the team in hits, doubles, triples, RBI and total bases, but not home runs. He also has a team high 4 k’s so far.
Jose Tabata is also off to a good start, hitting .417 with 5 hits in 12 at bats. But despite taking more pitches, our possible leadoff man did not draw a walk yet this spring and all five of his hits are singles so far. T-Bats does have 2 stolen bases during the first week. Legend (Garrett Jones) had a decent start to spring with 3 hits (2 doubles) in 10 at bats so far, while Andrew McCutchen is one of the few Buccos to go deep this week as one of his 3 hits in 14 at bats (.217). Neil Walker went 3 for 12 with a triple during the week (.250) (though Walker just singled against the Phillies as I am writing this) and likely starting catcher Chris Snyder was 4 for 7 and a walk for a decent start to the exhibition season. Newcomer Lyle Overbay also has a home run as one of his two hits in 10 at bats during the past week (.200), though also just singled against the Phillies to make it 3 for 11 (how about that for up to the minute batting average stats?).
Some guys struggling so far include starting shortstop Ronny Cedeno (o for 11 so far) which is disappointing to see, but something to keep an eye on over the next few weeks. Matt Diaz is also starting a little slow with one hit in 12 Pirate at bats this year. Well, until just now, like Walker and Overbay, as he just singled as well to move to 2 for 13 on the season. Three straight hits for the Buccos I’m typing about right now in today’s game. No such luck for Garrett Jones who ended the first inning and stranded a couple of runners.
But back to spring’s week in review. No real surprises or strong starts from guys needing a big spring to make the team. Corey Winberly is 0 for 8 despite some early hype. Andrew Lambo is 1 for 4 and Alex Presley 1 for 6.
On the pitching side of things, both Brad Lincoln and Charlie Morton are off to good starts, each giving up one earned run on three hits in five innings. Lincoln has 2 K’s while ChuckMo has 1. James McDonald has two scoreless innings under his belt, while Paul Maholm gave up 2 runs on 4 hits in his two inning outing. Ross Ohlendorf gave up 1 run in an inning and two thirds, and Kevin Correia had a couple of runs in his first start as well as two more today in his first inning, but he did settle down today with 4 k’s (so far) today to have a team high 5 K’s on the spring season. Nobody else is really standing out one way or the other, except maybe Mike Crotta having tossed three scoreless innings so far in the past week.
Defensively, Ryan Doumit has given up 2 stolen bases on 2 attempts, which was a major issue last year, which Chris Snyder gunned down the lone steal attempt against him. Doumit also has been charged with two passed balls this week. As a team, the Pirates only have three errors in these first seven games, one each from Josh Fields, Gorkys Hernandez, and Josh Rodriguez, none of which likely to break camp with the Pirates.
So, while not to take too much of this too seriously at this point in the season, it is a first look at even a small sample size of what we might see in 2011. The biggest thing I noticed is the lack of surprises so far, and I am very curious to see if anyone steps up with one of those big springs that force the team to consider adding them to the roster, lineup or rotation. I’ll check back with an update like this each week of spring, and also capture the final spring statistics to keep them for next year and throughout the season so that we can see what these numbers do or do not mean in the grand scheme of things once we have the 2011 season in the books.