The Pirates improved by leaps and bounds in 2012, managing to stay in the Wild Card race for most of the season. It’s far too early to say the Pirates may actually make the post-season after a 20 year absence but this is a much improved team that continues to tweak its roster for the upcoming season.
Thus far the Pirates have lost Kevin Correia to free agency and traded closer Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox. In the meantime, they have picked up Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, and Russell Martin to add some established veterans to their very young team. They are also reportedly on the hunt for another mid-level starter, either through free agency or trade. Let’s take a look at what the Pirates will look like come Opening Day. For the purposes of this preview we will assume the Liriano deal goes through.
2012 Team Rankings:
Runs: 23rd Overall
Batting Average: 25th Overall
ERA: 13th Overall
WHIP: 14th Overall
Catchers: Russell Martin, Michael McKenry – Grade: B
The Pirates brought in Martin from the Yankees, signing him to a two-year, $17 million deal in November. Martin is a reliable veteran but not a great hitter by any stretch. Last season he batted a career-low .211 but did his a career-high 21 homers. He is definitely an upgrade over Rod Barajas though and a great guy to have behind the plate.
McKenry is a solid up-and-coming catcher who shares Martin’s inability to bat over .230 but did hit 12 home runs in 275 at-bats last season, giving the Bucs some good pop behind the plate in 2013.
Jones established himself as a reliable first baseman in 2012, batting .274 with a career high 27 home runs and 86 RBI. He can also play some outfield if the Pirates want to push Sands into the lineup.
Sanchez failed to develop real consistency with the Marlins but did hit 19 home runs in 2010 and 2011 and drove in a combined 163 RBI over those two seasons. At 29, he still has the potential to be a good MLB hitter if he can get it together.
The Dodgers sent Sands to the Red Sox in the blockbuster Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett deal last season and the Sox sent him to the Pirates in the Joel Hanrahan deal. The 25-year-old is a highly regarded prospect who showed serious potential as a .290, 30+ HR, 90+ RBI guy in the minors and could make a serious push for a spot after driving in 107 runs in 119 minor league games last year.
Walker has proven to be a very reliable second baseman over the last three seasons. Since 2010, he is averaging .282, 13 HR, 73 RBI, and 65 R per season and should continue that trend in 2013.
The 25-year-old Harrison played all over the field in 2012 but batted just .233 in 249 at-bats despite having a .300+ career average in the minors. He is projected as a low-strikeout, low-walk, speedy infielder who can definitely pile up the doubles and triples.
Barmes bat was severely underwhelming in his first stint with the Pirates as he batted .229 with 8 HR, 45 RBI, and 34 R.
Mercer has been a solid looking all-around shortstop in the minors but one that doesn’t overly impress in any category. The shortstop position definitely remains a weak spot for the Bucs.
Third Base: Pedro Alvarez, Chase d’Arnaud, Josh Harrison – Grade: B-
Alvarez is a former top-10 prospect who finally played a full season in 2012. While he hit 30 HR and drove in 85 RBI, he batted just .244 (around the average I expect for him going forward) and scored just 64 runs. He is a strikeout machine and while he looks like a good power hitter his 180 strikeouts in 525 at-bats have to alarm you.
Chase d’Arnaud isn’t a great hitter either but brings a lot of speed to the Pittsburgh bench.
Marte is a top prospect, signed by the Pirates out of the Dominican when he was 18. He batted over .300 in 464 minor league games (despite heavy strikeouts) and has solid pop and speed but won’t dominate in either category. Still, he looks like he could make a very nice addition to that outfield.
McCutchen seems to only get better. In 2012, he hit career highs in average (.327), home runs (31), RBI (96), and runs (107). He also stole 20 bases and plays a great outfield. He has the potential to be the next Matt Kemp but this is probably around his ceiling.
Snider only played 60 games in 2012 and has never played over 82 games despite coming up back in 2008. A former top 10 prospect, Snider has struggled to stay healthy and in the majors. His MLB average (.248 career) is nothing like his .308 career average in the minors. He strikes out a ton, he hasn’t found the power stroke he was expected to have in the majors, and leaves a lot to be desired—but his potential still has the Pirates hopeful.
Presley and Tabata are both average outfielders with solid speed but haven’t been able to hit well in the majors yet.
After two seasons with ERAs over 5.00 for the Yanks, Burnett made a strong comeback in 2012 going 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. I learned a long time ago not to trust Burnett to be the same pitcher from season to season. At best, Burnett will likely be a high-3s or low-4s ERA guy who struggles with walks and consistency in 2013. He will also be 36.
The Pirates brought in the very reliable Rodriguez in a mid-season trade with the Astros. Since 2008, Rodriguez has been consistently averaging 11 wins, a 3.48 ERA, and 1.28 WHIP. He isn’t spectacular but can be relied on to keep you in the game almost every time out.
I really like McDonald, a former top prospect in the Dodgers organization. He went 12-8 with a 4.21 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 2012 and continues to improve.
For whatever reason, the Pirates thought it’d be wise to give Liriano a two-year, $14 million contract this off-season. Yes, he has shown signs of talent but with a 15-22 record since 2011, to go with a 5.23 ERA and 1.48 WHIP (and a strikeout:walk ratio below 2:1), I don’t see how they can justify that signing. (note: the deal has yet to be finalized)
Neither Locke nor McPherson have played enough major league innings to make a judgement on them but both failed to stay consistent from season to season in the minors. I would say McPherson is definitely the better of the two though. The Pirates are considering acquiring a mid-level starter which would definitely help.
Grilli will need to fill some big shoes as he replaces Joel Hanrahan as closer—but the 36-year-old vet has looked better for the Pirates in the last two seasons than he ever did elsewhere with a sub-3 ERA and sub-1.20 WHIP over the last two seasons.
Melancon and Rick van den Hurk will look to bounce back from rough 2012 seasons while Wilson, Morris, and Watson are all very young and inexperienced and tough to rely on.
Team Grade: C+
Fearless Prediction: 81-81, 4th in NL Central