Friday, April 3, 2009

Reasons To Get Excited About the 2009 Pirates

When you are a Pirate fan, it can be a little bit difficult to get excited about another baseball season. Especially when there has been very little in the way of off-season change and the team that will take the field on Opening Day figures to be almost identical to the squad that was the worst team in baseball from last August onward.

So instead you have to look for little things and get excited about them and focus more on things like how future key players are progressing and other minor victories. With all that in mind, and with the start of the regular season just 3 days away, I compiled 10 the reasons that I'm excited about your 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates.

The potential return from another summer firesale- Jack Wilson and Adam LaRoche are both highly likely to be wearing different colored uniforms by August 1. It will be very interesting to see how Neal Huntington handles his second trade deadline, especially now that there isn't the same absolute desperation to add any sort of decent starting arms to the upper levels of the organization that there was last season. In addition, John Grabow, Matt Capps, and any of the established veterans on the roster are trade candidates and could at least fetch an OK return.

A Bounceback Year for Ian Snell- I'm calling it right now. Snell is in for a return to the 2007 form that made him such an intriguing player. I think he turns into a very solid number 2 starter behind Paul Maholm and would be a nice complement as a power pitcher behind Maholm's crafty routine.

Throwing a bunch of Starting Pitchers at the wall and seeing what sticks- For the first time in recent times, the Pirates have a decent amountof major-league ready starting pitchers. However, probably only 2 of those players (the aformentioned Snell and Maholm) are guys that good big-league teams would want on their staff. A key for the Pirates will be having at least 1 or 2 more guys develop into at least solid starters. Of the old hands in the organization, I am not on the Zach Duke bandwagon (nor is anyone on the entire planet I might add) as he just gets hit so hard. I also think Tom Gorzelanny is probably injured or has just flat lost it and so I'm not relying on him to make any sort of an impact in the near future. I'm intrigued by Ross Ohlendorf's ability to really throw the ball hard and I want to see more from Jeff Karstens, too. If one of those guys (more likely Ohlendorf than Karstens) turns in at least a solid season it would be big. There has also been talk about Daniel McCutchen since the Nady trade, and at some point this season we figure to see him in Pittsburgh.

Andrew McCutchen's Expected Arrival in Pittsburgh- For as long as I've been a Pirate fan (about 15-16 years), I can think of very few home-grown prospects who got the knowledgeable fans as excited as Cutch. Chad Hermansen was probably a bit more highly regarded (and I just threw up in my mouth a little bit), but let's hope this highly touted prospect turns out a bit better than the Hermanator. He has to be called up at some point this season. Whether that is in mid-May or July, Cutch will be a wildly exciting player for the fans to watch when he is finally wearing the big-league uni.

The minor league progress of star prospects Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, Bryan Morris and Brad Lincoln- This reason isn't for the casual fan or for the faint of heart. But for the real passionate Bucco fan it figures to be a very interesting subplot to keep an eye on these 4 studs. Most will dig only as far as the PG's little daily minor-league recap allows them to. Personally, that's not enough. I'll be checking up every day with the minor league sites, hoping Alvarez is tearing through the minor league system, hoping Tabata gives us a full season of the talent he showed last season, and hoping Lincoln and Morris deliver on their stud potential, as we could really use some stud pitching prospects in this organization.

The progress of intriguing prospects like Shelby Ford, Brian Bixler, Jim Negrych, Steve Pearce, Danny Moskos, Neil Walker, Robbie Grossman, Jamie Romak, Jordy Mercer, Chase D'Arnaud, Quinton Miller, Brian Friday, Matt Hague and Duke Welker- Again, not something for the casual fan. And that's especially so in this case. None of these guys can be considered elite prospects, but each of them has the ability to at least make the show some day, and the hope is that a few of them turn into starters at that level. As I said earlier, we especially need big-time pitching prospects in this organization, so if a Quinton Miller or Duke Welker or Danny Moskos could have a big year development-wise it would be a tremendous development for the organization.

Having fantasy baseball back- I know it certainly isn't everyone's cup of tea. But to me, fantasy baseball is without question the best fantasy sport going. It is way more intensive and way less luck is involved than in fantasy football, and it gives me an even bigger need to follow baseball all summer long even when the Pirates are 20 games out of first place. I've had all 3 of my drafts, and surprisingly ended up with 4 Pirates total on my 3 teams. That's actually more than usual, as typically Pirates go higher in at least 2 of my drafts because its mostly Pittsburgh-group of players. Doumit, McLouth, Snell (twice), and Capps are the guys I will have an extra rooting interest in.

A make-or-break year for Andy LaRoche- I know this is his first full season with the Pirates, but I really think this is Andy's only shot at cementing a place with the team. I still like Neil Walker and think he'll develop at some point, and Pedro Alvarez (though I think he'll switch to first) figures to tear through the system and be wearing the Pirates uni by mid-2010. With all that in mind, Andy needs to put up at least something in the neighborhood of a .265/.335/.460 in order to give himself a place in the Pirates' future. If he fails yet again, he'll be certainly given the dreaded "Quad A prospect" tag. Those aren't even great numbers. They're Edwin Encarnacion numbers, and that would be good enough for me.

The seasons of Nate McLouth, Paul Maholm and Ryan Doumit- All three had career years in 2008, and it will be very interesting to see how each fares in 2009. Personally, I'd guess that McLouth might regress a hair, but that Doumit will have an even better all-around season and that Maholm can be about as solid as he was last year.

The Draft- I know it's not a great reason, as there is at least a decent chance that the top pick might not play more than a handful of games in the system for the entire season, but with the Bucs sitting at number 4, I have to admit I am at least a little bit excited about adding another top-notch prospect to our system. Likely targets are probably 1B Dustin Ackley (a Scott Boras guy), RHP Aaron Crow (who held out last year and didn't sign with the Nationals), SS Grant Green, RHP Alex White and LHP Tyler Matzek. Obviously others will be in the mix by June, as well. I also am excited to see if the Pirates are able to get any other above-slot guys later on in the draft like they did last season.


Jonathan Bryant said...

I dunno if I see it for a bounceback year for Snell. Yeah he has some good stuff, but I don't think he has it mentally to put it all together. He seems like a true headcase to me.

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