Saturday, April 3, 2010

2010 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview: Infield

The Pirates season is approaching fast and furious and if you are like me then you are ready and pumped for this year of Pirates baseball. This is going to be a turnaround year for the Pirates, we hope, in the quest for becoming a contender in a low market situation. Going into this season there isn’t too many question marks for the Pirates team in terms of position players and pitching staff. What is the real unknown is how these players will take to a full season in the major leagues and how they can segway into players such as Tabata, Alverez and Lincoln. Here is a little preview I have put together for the Pirates season and the second part will focus on the infield and how they will look to be just as strong as they were last season for the Pirates in 2010.

This years infield is going to be drastically different than the unit that started last season. The Pirates lost second baseman Freddy Sanches, shortstop Jack Wilson and first baseman Adam LaRoche for a team that finished first in the majors in fielding. Tack on the fact that catcher Ryan Doumit only played in 75 games last season. The only mainstay that is going to be back in the Pirates infield is going to be Andy LaRoche. It should be an interesting transition for the Pirates this year as they brought in both youth and vets to fill in those gaps.

Lets first start with the catching position. As it was noted before Doumit is a huge liability when it comes to staying healthy, he has only played in more than 100 games one time in the last five years. When you are looking at a 162 game schedule only playing in maybe half of those isn’t good. In 2008 Doumit was excellent hitting .318 in 465 plate appearances with 15 home runs and 69 RBI. If Doumit can stay healthy for 110-120 games he is going to be a very productive player. He is a good hitter, but only brings average catching skills so if he is not hitting then he does not bring much to the table. Hopefully Doumit can stay healthy because he will be mostly hitting out of the four or five hole in the lineup and the Pirates are going to need him to drive home some runs after Cutch gets on base.

Jason Jaramillo will serve as Doumit’s backup again this season after having a pretty solid 2009 campaign. As a rookie in 2009 Jaramillo hit .252 with 26 RBI in 63 games played, but more importantly he brought defensive stability to the backstop position. Jaramillo is a career .271 hitter in the minor leagues so don’t expect him to break out and go on fire this season but he is a nice asset to have with his defense. He is a capable hitter that will get the job done and should fit in nicely in the back up role with Doumit.

I think it is fair to expect the Pirates catchers to fair pretty average. If Doumit can get in 110 games like he did in 2008 then I think Pirate fans might be happy with his production. My only concern is that Doumit probably will be out of his element in the four spot. He is probably a good six hitter but he is forced to play bigger in the lineup that he really should be. Who else are you going to put in the four spot? Clement? In the present lineup I guess it could be a lot worse. Jaramillo will be a very good backup and we have already seen that he can fill in for Doumit when he goes down so that is somewhat comforting to know going into the season.

The corner infield spots for the Pirates are really going to be make or break for the infield as a whole this season. Andy LaRoche currently holds down the third base position for the Pirates to start the season. Some would categorize LaRoche as a bust so far in his stint with the Pirates. I am really not ready get that deep into it, but this year is going to be the big one for LaRoche. Last season LaRoche played in 150 games for the Black and Gold and hit a pedestrian .258 with 12 bombs and 64 RBI. The upside in LaRoche was that he was a better than average player in the final months of the season last year and was actually one of the best defensive third baseman in the league last season. Most of baseball is focused on offense nowadays but LaRoche brings a lot of defense after a very sloppy start to the 08 season. When Pedro Alvarez arrives in July to the Pirates lineup that will spell the end for LaRoche at third base and he will most likely have to find a different position to occupy if he wants everyday at bats. That could very well be second base, but only time will tell. If LaRoche shows up and can hit around .285 or so then it would help the Pirates and let Pedro sit a little more in AAA to refine his skills and not be forced to bring him up because LaRoche isn’t up to snuff.

The first base spot is really a crap shoot. Right now Jeff Clement is pretty much guaranteed the start at first base for the start of the season. Not really sure why that was determined but when you look at the Pirates infield players then you really understand that the Pirates hands were tied. We really don’t want to see Steve Pearce there any more than the rest of you. Clement can be best described as an unwritten book (how lame is that). He only has 75 major league games of experience and .237 average, seven home runs and 26 RBI to show for those games. Not really what you would call guaranteed starter numbers. Clement is going to have to really step up because Garrett Jones has played some first base for the Pirates and with outfielder Jose Tabata ready to come up into the majors that is going to mean that there will be four starting outfielders for three spots. Jones to first base is very likely unless he can play well enough to stay on the roster.

The middle infield is basically going to be a three way juggling act between new comer Akinori Iwamura, Bobby Crosby and Ronny Cedeno. Iwamura will most likely have the second base job wrapped in the bag. Iwamura was brought over from Tampa Bay when the Pirates sent over Jesse Chavez to the Rays. Iwamura will be an immediate upgrade from last year on the defensive end and it will give the Pirates a top of the order guy that they really haven’t had in a long time. In his three years with Tampa Bay he averaged .281 and he should be a very nice addition to the Pirates.

The shortstop position will be between Cedeno and Crosby and for the start of the season will be primarily be held by Cedeno. After Jack Wilson left the Pirates last season Cedno was the primary option at shortstop and did a fairly decent job and showed some good power. In 46 games for the Pirates last season he went deep five times and knocked in 21 runs. Althought he will not put up Derek Jeter numbers he is 27 years old so he is not a wash out by any means and with absolutely nobody in the system that is going to be the long term answer at short stop there should be no pressure on him to produce anything spectacular.

Crosby was awarded the American League Rookie of the Year in 2004 with the Oakland Athletics and comes to the Pirates after seven major league season. Crosby was signed to give some competition to Cedeno at the shortstop position and he should get every opportunity to earn some playing time. If Crosby wears #87 then he is easily the fan favorite and probably wins a starting spot for his clutch goal scoring. Right?

Lurking in the weeds is Pedro Alverez. Alverez will be a Pittsburgh Pirate at some point this season. Most of this will depend on how he handles AAA, but he should be alright considering how well he preformed when he went from A to AA. He will most likely play third base, which will really shake up the infield. I have had the idea in my mind that if Andy LaRoche can perform then he can move to a middle infield spot (2B) for the long term if they choose not to keep Iwamura. That might not happen but I guess only time will tell.

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