Friday, March 8, 2013

2013 Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates
(2012: 79-83, 4th Place NL Central)
(2013: FC Prediction: 2nd Place NL Central)

The Pirates started out on fire last year, but as the year went on, they begin to fade.  A complete September collapse dropped them to 4th in the division and fans are still wondering when this team is actually going to win.  Will 2013 be their year?? Well Chris sure thinks so.  While all 3 of us had them finishing higher than last year, Chris went out on a limb to pick the Pirates to win the Central, so if you disagree, take it up with him, not me.

Andrew McCutchen is the heart and soul of the Pirates.  The guy can do everything on the field and is even your cover athlete for the 2013 version of MLB The Show for PS3.  After him, the Pirates have a lot of names you've probably not heard of, but these guys can definitely contribute.

Let's find out who these guys are:

After coming over from the Yankees last year, AJ Burnett was awesome in the rotation.  He has the stuff to be a front end starter, so if he stays healthy this year, look for more success.  After him, you have a couple of solid arms in Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald.  Wandy is a consistent left hander while McDonald provides a bit more upside and less consistency.  After that, the Pirates have Jeff Karstens and Jeff Locke.  Neither of them are great starters and are back end of the rotation guy at best.  This is where the Pirates might struggle this year.

Closer Joel Hanrahan is now gone, so the closing duties will be taken over by Jason Grilli.  Grilli was great last year in a setup role, but I dont necessarily trust him as a closer.  He doesn't really have the lights out stuff that a closer should have but he should be serviceable back there.    Mark Melancon will be the primary setup man for Grilli and he will be supported by guys like Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, and Jared Hughes.  The Pirates have lost quality names in the pen like Hanrahan and Brad Lincoln to trades, so these youngsters will have to step it up this year.

The Pirates top two prospects are pitchers and they can't get the big leagues soon enough.  Both Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon have the makings of top notch starters in this league and have already had some seasoning in the minors.  Best case scenario, Cole takes one of the bottom two spots in the rotation this year, while Taillon take the other one in 2014.

The Pirates have some big time pop in the lineup, even if you probably haven't heard of the guys providing it.  Third baseman Pedro Alvarez can be one of the better power hitters in the game, but he needs to raise his average a bit.  Clint Barmes will play short, and while he doesn't provide much with the bat, he is a reliable guy to throw in this lineup.  Enough can't be said about second baseman Neil Walker.  He has been among the most consistent second baseman in the league the past few years with the bat and the glove.  First baseman Garrett Jones also provides a lot of pop from the left side of the plate.  At catcher, the Pirates brought in Russell Martin, who should provide some stability for them behind the plate.

In left field, the Pirates have Starling Marte.  Marte proved he belonged late last year, showing some power as well as the speed to steal some bases.  He needs to make more consistent contact if he wants to keep the job in left.  The man with the dreads, McCutchen will play center. The guy is a MVP caliber player and you don't have to worry one bit if he will produce or not.  In right, the Pirates acquired Travis Snider.  Snider is a former top prospect who has mashed at AAA, so maybe a change of scenery will help him adjust to the big leagues.

The Pirates don't have much in terms of hitting prospects.  Shortstop Alen Hanson and outfielder Josh Bell have a ton of potential, but you shouldn't expect to see them until 2015.  If the Pirates need to improve their lineup, they will have to do it through trade, not through late season call ups.

There are definitely a couple of pitchers who have a chance to make this roster off of the non-roster invite list.  These guys include Vin Mazzaro, Jose Contreras, and Jonathan Sanchez.  I look for Sanchez to make a run at the rotation.  He has proven before that he can be a good Major League starter, he just needs to cut down on the walks.  With a strong Spring, look for Sanchez to make this club.

While I really like the lineup for the Pirates, especially the addition of Russell Martin, I just don't see enough pitching, both in the rotation and in the pen to keep up with the Reds and Cardinals.  The Pirates should score runs, but even the ace of the staff, AJ Burnett is a big question mark.  With that many question marks, including a blah starting rotation and a bullpen without a proven closer, I just don't think 2013 is the year for the Pirates, even if Chris does. 

He's a star on the field and on Twitter, so go follow Andrew McCutchen, @TheCUTCH22