The Pittsburgh Pirates have not finished with a winning record since Mark Wahlberg was Marky Mark. The Pirates have not had a winning season since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were products of New York City sewers and not space aliens like Michael Bay would have you believe. The Pittsburgh Pirates last finished with a winning season when I was two years old. After a promising first half of the 2011 season, the Pirates once again faltered. Will 2012 end differently or will it be more of the same for the Bucs?
Projected Position Players
Catcher – Rod Barajas (Michael McKenry)
First base – Casey McGahee (Garrett Jones)
Second Base – Neil Walker (Josh Harrison)
Third base – Pedro Alvarez
Shortstop – Clint Barmes (Yamaico Navarro)
Left Field – Alex Presley
Centerfield – Andrew McCutchen (Nate McLouth)
Right field – Jose Tabata
The Pirates have long believed they have a franchise player in Andrew McCutchen. A true five tool center fielder in the second tier of center fielders behind the likes of Matt Kemp and Jacoby Ellsbury. The 25 year old only has three seasons under his belt but has been incredibly consistent during that time. He has registered at least 570 at bats over the past two seasons. While his average dropped from .286 in his first two seasons to .259 last season, his OBP only dropped .001. He set career highs with 23 homeruns and 89 RBI. If McCutchen can get his average back up around .300 he could develop into one of the most lethal bats in all of baseball.
Another first round pick has also impressed over his short time in Pittsburgh has been second baseman Neil Walker. Despite only playing in 286 games over three years, Walker has put the league on notice that he is here to stay as a switch hitter with some pop. Over the past two seasons, Walker has averaged 12 homers with 74 RBI, 66 runs, 33 doubles and 3.5 triples. At 26, he still has plenty of time to grow and if he can reach the 20 homerun plateau in combination with raising his average from .273 back up around .296 he will be seen as an elite level second baseman.
The Pirates have perpetually been picking in the top five, ten, or fifteen in the first round to no avail. In 2001, the Bucs selected John Van Benschoten with the eighth pick over players such as David Wright, Dan Haren, Dan Uggla, and Ryan Howard. In 2002, the Pirates had the first overall pick and selected your favorite player Bryan Bullington ahead of B.J. Upton, Zach Greinke, Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels, and Matt Cain. 2003 was filled with many teams making mistakes in the first round including Pittsburgh who selected lefty Paul Maholm with the eighth pick. Ian Kinsler, Jonathan Papelbon, Michael Bourn, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Adam Jones, and Brian Wilson were all notables taken after Maholm. The team the Pirates COULD have had is starting to get depressing. 2004 and 2005 were hits with Walker and McCutchen. The tides began to turn for Pittsburgh. 2006 may have hurt most. Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum were notables to go in the top ten. With the fourth pick, Pittsburgh took Brad Lincoln.
Pedro Alvarez was the Pirates first round pick (2nd overall) in 2008. He belted 16 homeruns in 95 games during his first major league season two years ago. Last season Alvarez took a major step back and looked more like the Bullington’s of the world instead of the McCutchen’s. In order for the Pirates to turn it around they need their farm hands to come through for them. Despite owning one of the most beautiful home fields in all baseball, Pittsburgh is not a free agent destination. Unless you are counting guys at the end of their road, no one is looking to leave Boston or New York to play for the Pirates. The front office needs to hope Alvarez pans out before they go back to the drawing board.
Projected Rotation & Bullpen
SP – Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, Kevin Correia, Charlie Morton, A.J. Burnett
RP – Jason Grilli, Tony Watson, Evan Meek, Chris Resop
CL – Joel Hanrahan
James McDonald seems like a legitimate major league pitcher after some quality starts last season but the Pirates’ “good” is sadly still brewing in the minor leagues. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are the highly touted pitchers coming up in their system. Not only do they need these guys to be studs, they need them to be the Pirates 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. Cole & Taillon were first and second overall picks respectively over the past two drafts. If they hit, the Pirates will have themselves two top of the road starters to compliment their offense. Cole possesses a mighty fastball while Taillon has an above average heater (93-97 mph) with a plus curveball. Pitching is everything in the MLB and if the Pirates want to get out of their 19 year rut it will rely heavily on these two pitchers in the coming years.
A.J. Burnett will be left alone for this piece, the guy could actually have a decent season depending on how he recovers from his orbital injury he received when he was practicing bunting. But let’s move on. Let’s look back on the pitchers the Pirates passed on. Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren, Zach Greinke, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Jonathan Papelbon, and Brian Wilson. While the Pirates could not possibly have all of these pitchers, they could have a rotation with Haren, Hamels, and Kershaw with Brian Wilson in their pen. Haren has the second most wins in baseball since 2005. Hamels and Wilson have World Series rings. Kershaw just won a CY Young with one of the most impressive season’s we have seen in some time. As much as Pittsburgh needs their offense to come through. As much as Pittsburgh needs Cole and Taillon to come through. The Pittsburgh Pirates need their scouts to come through. A miss here and there is certainly excusable. But the Pirates missed so frequently at the top of the first round at the beginning of the decade it is obvious why they haven’t finished above .500 since 1992.
It looks like year 20 below .500 is inevitable. While the Pirates have some players, Clint Hurdle’s club just does not have enough fire power on the mound to get this team to 82 wins. When Cole and Taillon arrive, the Bucs will be that much closer. Until then, McCutchen and Walker are the show while Jose Tabata and Alvarez continue to develop. This team is still a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket and those sandwiches wont be coming out of the kitchen until at least 2013.