2011 Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates


Next up on BRM’s season preview is the Pittsburgh Pirates. While we know of the 18 consecutive seasons without posting a .500 or better record, things may ab out to be turning the corner.

For the first, and only time, I’m going first. Here’s my read on the Bucs.

I really wanted to put the Pirates out of the cellar. I wrestled with it, too. But while the Bucs have so much young talent in the field with Andrew McCutchen. Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez, the starting pitching scares me. A lot. I’m just not seeing it. If the Pirates can get some good starting pitching and make the game a seven inning affair, they could make things interesting.

What will be interesting is to see who manager Clint Hurdle decides on as the closer, Evan Meek or Joel Hanrahan. Meek may get a chance to win the job. Either way, this 1-2 bullpen duo could be among the league’s best. Honestly, it will be a matter of just getting to them.

I have no real concerns with the offense and not anything major with the defense. Again, the Pirates need starters. James McDonald, Ross Ohlendorf, and Paul Maholm just won’t cut it…for now. If McDonald can get through the “learning curve” and Maholm can be steady, that’s 2 of 5. What about the other three. People talk about Ohlendorf’s 1-11 record (which if you look at the secondary numbers, he wasn’t near that bad), but that still leaves 2 more. There is help on the way, but maybe not for a year or two.

As I said, considering what Pittsburgh has within their system, things could be back in a couple of years. I know, a couple of years. You might be thinking the others talent will be gone by then. It is, after all, in the blood, right? Not so fast. For one, I do not see the Bucs trading any of this talent. Second, people were kind of saying the same about the Reds a few years ago.

And how does Alex view the Pirates in 2011?

Andrew McCutchen will have a monster season. McCutchen is a five-tool player who is as talented as they come. Coupling Pedro Alvarez with McCutchen is a great foundation for the Pirates to build on. With Garrett Jones, Lyle Overbay, and Neil Walker also in the lineup, the Pirates should have a nice offensive ballclub in 2011.

James McDonald is talented, and should have a nice season, but he will still go through a learning curve, and pitching remains the achilles heel of the Pirates ballclub. If they can start to develop or sign some pitching, the Pirates future may actually begin to look bright. 2013 is the year that I see the Pirates as putting enough pieces around McCutchen and Alvarez to begin to compete.

Until then the Pirates will be nothing more than an occasionally streaky team.

John gives us his perspective.

One of three clubs in the Central with the manager either in his first full year or first year entirely. Clint Hurdle has a nice uphill battle, but he has a great situation in place. Like the Astros, offense is not the problem, pitching is. They’re still two solid starters away from being contenders, but the rotation that they have will produce some decent outings. Their 2010 numbers aren’t truly indicative of what they are capable of doing, look for the enthusiasm of the new manager to lift them to performing well beyond many individuals’ expectations including some of their own.

Key players include Andrew McCutchen, Lyle Overbay and Pedro Alvarez. If they get to the end of games in close situations, the lack of a true closer is going to hurt big time. If they win more than 20% of close games, I’d be extraordinarily surprised.

And finally, Justin’s here along with his player to watch on the Pirates roster.

The Pirates made an effort in the offseason to improve depth with veterans behind their up-and-coming trio of Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and Jose Tabata. Unfortunately, it could be wasted money since the core could be a year or two away from breaking out. Also, that veteran depth happened to be the pupu platter of Lyle Overbay, Matt Diaz, Kevin Correia, and Scott Olsen. Overbay provides a starter after last year’s demotion of Garrett Jones. The most of Pittsburgh success will come mainly through the development of the younger players and at this point free agents provide a stop gap.

Player to Watch

Neil Walker, 2B

The 24 year-old 2004 first round pick of the Pirates got his shot last year at second base after being called up in May. He made the most if it, finishing the 2010 season with 110 games played and a line of .296, 12 HRs and 66 RBIs. Neil Walker is burned into my memory mainly because I was very impressed by the butt kicking I got in fantasy baseball late last season after a buddy picked him up and he caught fire. Walker shows some decent pop for a second baseman, even showing it throughout his minors’ career averaging 12 home runs a year. This is at a premium at the second base position and the Pirates may have themselves a legitimate second baseman for some time ahead.
We all can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the Pirates. Some of us like them more than the others, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. We all recognize the lack of a decent starting rotation, but we all also like the young talent already at the big league level with more in the pipeline.