Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Pirates Column at Long Last

I haven't done much, actually anything, with the Pirates since firing this blog back up, and because they finally did something worth analyzing this offseason, I figured now would be a good time to take a look at them, so here's a little breakdown of their newly full 40-man roster as it stands after yesterday's additions.

Strangely, with the addition of Steve Lerud, the Pirates now have a stunning 5 catchers on their 40-man roster, a number that can't possibly last. And even worse, only 1 of these guys is actually a legit major league catcher.

Ryan Doumit- Doumit obviously enters the 09 season with the starting catcher job in hand following a breakout 2008 season when he finally was able to stay (mostly) healthy. He fully displayed the dangerous bat everyone had been expecting for years with a .318 batting average, a .357 OBP and a .501 Slugging Percentage. For those of you less statistcally inclined, he also had 15 home runs and 69 RBI's. All impressive numbers for the usually paltry catcher position. Doumit still needs work on his defense, but developed that aspect some as well as the season wore on. There's no reason why he shouldn't be able to be a building block for this organization for the foreseeable future.
Raul Chavez
- Chavez was one of the more surprising names to appear on the Pirates roster for most of the season. He proved to be an okay backup, but will be 35 on Opening Day, so surely the Pirates are looking elsewhere for Doumit's backup. It seems the Pirates like a few other, younger catchers on the roster, so I'd be surprised to see Chavez survive the winter on the 40-man, even though he did spend more time with the big club then these other options.
Ronny Paulino-
Fat Ronny will never cease to drive Pirate fans crazy. He continued to be wildly underwhelming in his limited time with the big club last season, and was thus demoted. He proceeded to declare war on AAA pitching, but in true Fat Ronny fashion, just as he was showing promise and it looked like he might be getting his act together, he got hurt and missed a significant amount of time. Unfortunately, I kind of doubt he'll be taken off the 40-man, as he has definite potential, and teams are always willing to take chances on 27 year old catchers, even if they do waddle as much as they run.
Robinson Diaz- I would peg this guy as the most likely opening day backup for 2009. The Pirates seem to like Diaz, who is only 25, and if there is any hope for getting Fat Ronny forever off the Pirates radar, it lies with this kid.
Steve Lerud- I was a little surprised by this addition to the 40-man roster. I know most teams are desperate for catcher help, but this kid is 24 and just had his first at-bats above the A level this past season with a whopping 146 AA at-bats. In this AA stint, he batted just .233 and struck out an alarming 42 times to go with just 4 home runs. He does have okay power potential, and the stats look okay as a fielder, but what in the above stats make the Pirates worry that they could lose him in the Rule 5 draft? Maybe they know something I don't (well, I'm sure they know a lot of stuff I don't) but this raised a serious eyebrow for me.

The Pirates currently have 8 infielders on the 40-man, but 1 (Jack Wilson) figures to be dealt, 2 clearly aren't major-league ready yet (Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez) and 3 have major questions regarding whether they are capable of being everyday or even platoon type players for the coming season (Andy LaRoche, Luis Cruz, and Brian Bixler). So what I'm saying is that we should definitely expect to see some additions to the infield in the next month or two.

Adam LaRoche- Let's pray to the baseball gods that the elder LaRoche finally has the rules of the regular season explained to him by someone, and that he isn't under the continued delusion that the months of April and May are some sort of extended spring training. If he can't put together even a decent April and May, I fear the Pirates will be buried in the standings before he wakes up.
Freddy Sanchez- Similarly, the Pirates need a full season of Freddy Sanchez at his full powers if they are going to stay competitive. Sanchez had a rough 2008 after signing a hefty extension in the offseason. His OBP was a downright abysmal .298, and his slugging was an embarassing .371. He was one of the least productive everyday infielders in Major League Baseball, and if this continues, that contract is going to end up looking like a horrible, horrible mistake. Still, Freddy had some health issues last season, and if he can rebound back to the .300 hitter with lots of doubles and a handful of home runs that he was in the previous two seasons, then the Pirates will at least have a steady bat in the order, something that could go a long way in a season where the offense figures to be tough to come by for the Pirates. It's worth noting as well that Freddy will be 31 in about a month, and if these injury issues continue, it may be time to start looking at a succession plan for that 2B spot.
Jack Wilson- Most everyone who was still following this team at the end of the season (all 34 of them) seemed pretty certain that Jumpin Jack Flash played his last game as a Bucco in September. I tend to agree with this assessment, but it is worth noting that there has been almost nothing on the hot stove about Wilson thus far. Still the offseason is just getting warmed up, and Wilson, soon to be 31 and with a relatively clean bill of health, figures to have several more solid seasons in him. Of course, it's wildly unlikely that any deal offered for Jack will even approach the ridiculously favorable offer the Tigers made to Dunce Littlefield two seasons ago when they offered up the talented youngster Jair Jurrjens, who is now fresh off a 13 win 3.68 ERA season. Grrrrr...
Andy LaRoche- If the end of last season is any indication, the younger LaRoche will likely be all but handed the opening day 3B job the moment he arrives in Bradenton. I'm not even critical of this approach, as there really isn't much else in the works for that position right now, but I think the strange Jose Bautista trade will end up haunting the Pirates a little bit. I like Andy and think he will develop into a solid 5 or 6 hitter, but I am a little concerned that the apparent lack of competition at his position might hinder his growth a bit, at least until Pedro Alvarez or Neil Walker are ready to challenge him.
Brian Bixler- Bix is now 26 years old and is probably running out of chances to develop into even a utility infielder for the Pirates. He had an alarmingly terrible .423 OPS last season, and in his 106 at-bats, he struck out more than twice as much as he got a hit (36 to 17) a statistic that nearly made my jaw hit the floor. But if Jack Wilson gets dealt, I think Bixler and/or Luis Cruz become a near lock to make the Opening Day Roster, unless a significant addition is made as well. I see this season going one of two ways for Bix: Either he figures out how to hit major league pitching and carves out a niche as a middle infielder capable of being a stop gapper, or he struggles again, is written out of the Pirates future plans and develops the dreaded AAAA player tag. Unfortunately, after watching him last season, I'm betting on the latter.
Luis Cruz- Cruz was something of a surprise, and if he can show the same kind of progress early in the season that he displayed throughout last year, he will officially pass Bixler as the best young middle infielder in the organization. He is a little more than a year younger than Bixler as well, and while his numbers after being called up in September weren't good, they at least demonstrated the ability to cope with major league pitchers, as he struck out just twice in 67 at-bats, and his OPS was far superior to Bixler at .547, though this number isn't
exactly encouraging, either.
Pedro Alvarez- It appears as though Pedro has instantly become the top prospect in the Pirates organization, passing a few long-heralded prospects like Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata. It seems unlikely though that Alvarez will figure into the major league club's plans for 2009. The Pirates have made it clear that they will not hesitate to advance Pedro, but it figures to be tough for him to make enough strides to make anything but a September call-up appearance. Still though, few players in the organization will have their stats more closely watched by the fans.
Neil Walker- It wasn't that long ago that Walker was considered to be probably the number two prospect in the Pirates organization, behind only Andrew McCutchen. Now, after a 2008 season in which Neal Huntington worked deliriously to acquire prospects and Walker struggled mightily in AAA, he is probably on the outskirts of the top 10 in the organization. It also hurts his future prospects that he plays the same position as the aforementioned Alvarez and LaRoche, two guys whom the current management clearly hold in high regard. Of course, at 23, it's far too early to give up on Walker, and many guys have trouble making the adjustment to AAA, so Walker's play early in 2009 should tell us a lot about the kid. I think his numbers improve a good deal this year, and after spending all of 09 putting up solid numbers in AAA, he re-establishes himself as a nice prospect for the Buccos.

Rather bizarrely, the Pirates currently have as many outfielders on the 40-man as catchers- 5. And one of those 5 in Brandon Moss figures to be out for the beginning of the season. What I'm trying to say of course is that adding at least 1 or 2 outfielders this offseason appears to be a near certainty.
Nate McLouth-In an otherwise hideous looking major league outfield, McLouth is the only thing resembling competence. He's coming off a breakout season with the bat, and while basically everyone was critical of his Gold Glove selection, he proved he is at least capable of playing the spacious center field in PNC Park. It will be interesting to see how he manages being a focal point of the team for the coming season.
Nyjer Morgan- Nyjer put up some surprisingly solid numbers at the end of 2008, and with the rest of the outfield an absolute mess, he figures to get a long look in spring training for the Opening Day roster. I think it's asking for trouble to have him starting, but I certainly think he's earned the chance to be a fourth outfielder.
Brandon Moss- If Moss is somehow healthy by Opening Day he is certainly assured a starting spot, but that sounds like its a coin flip, at best. He showed promise last season, but the knee injury that caused the surgery is a rather serious one it seems, and there is a chance he might not even be ready to do any work outs on it until spring training rolls around, which would certainly cause him to stay behind in Bradenton.
Steve Pearce- After obliterating just about every other pitch that came his way in 2007, Pearce predictably came crashing back down to earth in 2008. He was mediocre in both AAA and in the major leagues, and the lone bright spot for him was that he finally was able to develop something of a power stroke at the major league level with 4 home runs in 109 at-bats. If Moss is out, as expected, then Pearce will likely be given a shot as at least a part-time player.
Jose Tabata- Tabata looks to have gotten his head on straight after some serious questions were raised during his time with the Yankees. He is only 20 and has as much raw talent as any player in the organization. He also looks to be surprisingly close to being major league ready for a 20 year old. I don't think we'll see him in the majors this season outside of a late season call-up though, as McCutchen figures to be first in line among the younger prospects to get a shot.

The Pirates boast 22 pitchers on their 40-man roster, and most figure to be given a chance to win a spot on the big league roster at some point this season. This is the most depth the Pirates have had here since the '92 squad was disbanded, but the quality still looks lacking at the top.
Jimmy Barthmaier- Barthmaier struggled last season in his limited time in the majors, and he turns 25 before they report to spring training. The minor league numbers he put together were promising, so he certainly won't be discarded even though the Pirates have added a ton of starting arms.
Denny Bautista- Bautista was an intriguing addition in-season. He has a live arm, and while he definitely had some struggles as a reliever, he has talent, and will be one of a number of guys in the mix for middle relief spots.
TJ Beam- Beam is similar to Bautista, and assuming both remain on the 40-man, he will similarly be fighting with others in spring training for the open bullpen spots.
Sean Burnett- After a number of injury beset seasons, Sean Burnett looks like he has found his place with the Pirates, as a middle relief, lefty specialist. He is still quite young, just 26, and is still growing into the relief role, so he figures to get better as time goes along. His end of season numbers won't knock your socks off, but he demonstrated a solid knack for the bullpen, and his emergence enables the Pirates to deal a guy like John Grabow if they get a good offer.
Matt Capps- Capps' 08 season was derailed by injury. He put together solid numbers and somehow still had 21 saves for the season. He is the unquestioned opening day closer, but rumors about trades have been circulating about him for years.
Jesse Chavez- It seems highly likely that Chavez will be among the first guys to be taken off the 40-man roster whenever the Pirates start adding a player or two through the free agent market or trades.
Dave Davidson- I would have bet that Davidson would not have survived this past season on the 40-man roster, as he is 24 years old, a reliever, by all accounts has very mediocre stuff and spent an entire season in AA, meaning he is likely going to spend all of the coming season in AAA, at best. I think a few of the journeymen will be removed from the roster this offseason before Davidson, but he's on the edge of being considered a prospect, and it wouldn't surprise me much to see him purged sometime in the future.
Jason Davis- Actually wasn't terrible last season in his limited time in the big leagues. Certainly wasn't anything special, either, and there is definitely a chance he is designated, but I think he has at least a decent chance to stick out the offseason on the 40-man because of his ability to start, be a long reliever, and pitch in middle relief. If the Pirates have to rely heavily on him their season is certainly in trouble, but he's not a bad guy to have around in a pinch.
Zach Duke- Barring a miraculous spring, it's probably safe to assume that the Duke will start 2009 in the minors, and if the Pirates have it their way, there will be no reason to hurry him back to the big leagues. He certainly has more than enough ability to be a back of the rotation type starter, and will only be 26 this season, so there is no reason to give up just yet, but the depth the Pirates have acquired at starter, and likely still will acquire this offseason, will allow them to have him do his learning in AAA rather than in the bigs.
Phil Dumatrait- His performance last season before the season ending injury was among the most surprising performances of the 2008 season. His season long numbers are mediocre at best, but he definitely showed enough flashes of potential to merit serious consideration somewhere in the Pirates plans, and at 27 he is young enough that he still can be refined somewhat under the watchful eye of Joe Kerrigan. He could definitely be an X factor for the coming season.
Tom Gorzelanny- The biggest flop of the 2008 season for the Pirates ended the season with a very appropriate ERA of 6.66, the (sort of) number of the beast. Gorzo just needs to forget about this past season, and listen to literally everything Joe Kerrigan tells him while forgetting everything Jeff Andrews taught him. At 26, there is a chance that the one-time potential future ace of the Pirates could well end up starting off in AAA to prove himself.
John Grabow- This guy has been rumored in about 500,000 trades over the past couple of years, and one of these days one might just happen. Until then, he will be a steady presence in the bullpen.
Craig Hansen- The young flame thrower had a rocky go of it after being dealt from the BoSox at the trade deadline. Despite the rough time, expect Hansen to be given every opportunity to win an opening day spot in the bullpen, as he has probably the best stuff of anyone in the mix for the few open slots.
Jeff Karstens- Karstens practically lit the world on fire his first two starts in the Burgh, and then absolutely fell off the face of the earth from then on. The true Karstens is probably somewhere in the middle. To me, he looks like a 4/5 starter, which means he is the same as just about every other starter in the mix for an Opening day slot, save Paul Maholm and Ian Snell. I think he will get a starting job simply because he can be an effective innings eater and is a solid presence.
Paul Maholm- Maholm was far and away the best pitcher on the roster for the Pirates in 2008. I, for one, could not have really been more surprised by that development. His 206 innings and 3.71 ERA were stellar numbers in an otherwise disastrous rotation, and he enters spring training as the only sure thing in the starting rotation.
Evan Meek- Many people who watched Meek early last season might want to throw up a little bit when they hear that he is in the mix for a bullpen spot, but I tend to disagree with those folks. Granted Meek was wretched last season in Pittsburgh, but he showed promise after being re-acquired and shipped to the minors. I'm not sure he opens the season in Pittsburgh, but I think we see him playing on the North Shore at some point this year, and I think he could be a useful arm in the pen for the Bucs.
Ross Ohlendorf- Ohlendorf was initially viewed as the best pitcher acuired in the Nady trade, but was quickly overshadowed by Karstens. After watching him in his 5 late season starts in Pittsburgh, I'm not so sure I see the appeal here. He does seem to have decent stuff, and can definitely put some zip on the ball, but his stuff just seemed very hittable to me. I don't know if his off speed stuff was struggling or he was still having difficulty re-adjusting to being a starter, but I am nowhere near sold on him. He will be in the mix for a starter spot, but I wouldn't bet on him, unless last season was just an example of too many things changing around him for him to succeed.
Romulo Sanchez- At 6'5 and 260 pounds, Sanchez is one of the biggest people in the organization, and I'm not sure that's a good thing. He seems to have Jimmy Anderson's disease (AKA he could stand to drop a few lb's). Still, he wasn't bad in his limited time in the bigs last season, so he'll get a shot for a middle relief spot.
Ian Snell- Similar to Tom Gorzelanny, 2008 could not have been much more disappointing for Snell. A year ago, most viewed Snell as one of the better young right-handers in the National League. Now? He's not even a lock to have a spot in what figures to be one of the least talented starting rotations in baseball. The flashes were still there for Snell, and I think he will figure some things out this season and re-establish himself as at least a middle to top of the rotation guy. I also think that, despite what Neal Huntington and others say, there is no way the Pirates stick Snell in Indy to start the season. The guy is way too good for that.
Jeff Sues- Few people in baseball would view a 25 year old reliever with a serious injury history who just reached the AA level in the past half-season as a legit prospect. The Pirates are not just any organization, though, and they named Sues their minor league pitcher of the year. Yowza. I really don't have anything else to add here, as I know little about this guy.
Ronald Uvedio- Uvedio is probably the biggest unknown on the entire 40-man roster. He is young (just turned 22), and has made only a brief appearance above Low A ball. Still, he demonstrated excellent control and has solid stuff. As a reliever, he certainly could have been a candidate to be snagged in the Rule 5 draft, so it makes sense that he was added.
Tyler Yates- Yates was one of the Pirates' best options early in the season in the bullpen. He clearly wore down as the season went along, though, as JR just went to the well with him too often. He demonstrated enough stuff and ability that I think there's little question he is a top set-up candidate entering the '09 campaign, though, no matter how painful parts of his '08 may have looked to some Pirate fans.

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