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 third part will focus on the outfield and how will the youth develop and be the probable strong suit of the team.
The starting outfield is set for the Pirates for the beginning of the season and there really is no argument about who it is going to be. Lastings Milledge will man left field, Andrew McCutchen will patrol center field and Garrett Jones will handle the short porch in right field.
The Pirates got Milledge when they traded Cy Young and Willie Mays, I mean Sean Burnett and Nyger Morgan, to the Nationals last season. Milledge was labeled as a problem child during her terms with the Mets and the Nationals. That was the big knock. All Milledge has done for the Pirates is show that he has the potential to be a very good player. Last season Milledge hit .291 for the Pirates, and while he did not show the power numbers that some may like from a corner outfielder (4 bombs in 220 at bats) that is the least of my worries. I would rather have Milledge hit .300 and only hit 10-15 home runs than have him hit .250 and hit 25 home runs. Maybe I am in the minority but I would rather him get on base. Milledge will only be 25 this season and he still has a lot of room for improvement, which is good because he could be a part of this team for a while and be a very valuable asset.
Andrew McCutchen is the future of this team. You can talk about Pedro and Brad Lincoln all you want but McCutchen is the best baseball player to come through the Pirates system in like 15 years. This kid has all five tools and he could be a superstar. McCutchen was the 11th overall pick in the 2005 draft and came to the Pirates about half way through the season last year. After 49 games at AAA Cutch was called up after Nate McLouth was traded to the Braves. He did not disappoint. Cutch got 433 at bats and hit .286 with 12 homeruns, 54 RBI, 22 stolen bases and nine triples and he didn’t even play a full season. Cutch was batting out of the leadoff spot but he has flashes of power, see August 1, 2009. McCutchen is scary good at the plate and is no slouch in the field either. He has speed to burn and it translates into getting to a ton of balls in the gap and rarely letting balls hit the turf behind him. What do you expect from McCutchen this year? Hard to say. If we can get what we got from him last season then I would be more than happy with that. He was more than I expected last season and really wouldn’t be surprised if he took a little dip in some production this season. That is not saying that I don’t have faith in McCutchen but it is just that there will be growing pains and when you are learning to be a full time guy at the major league level you are going to have some struggles. It is normal. If I had money to burn I would buy his jersey. Just sayin.
Garrett Jones will man right field, to start, for the Pirates in the 2010 season. Last season Jones was a monster. In his rookie season at the age of 28 Jones just blew up. In only 314 at bats Jones hit 21 home runs and drove in 44 runs. Jones was in the Twins minor league system for 11 seasons, five at the AAA level before he was basically given to the Pirates and he made the most of his opportunities. Would it be realistic to think that Jones is going to swat 35 balls out of the park this season? Probably not, but a solid 20-25 home runs should silence the critics who say that he was just a one hit wonder. Jones doesn’t have the defense that you aspire out of a right fielder but that could change if Jones is moved to first base.
Off the bench the Pirates have Ryan Church who should be a nice addition to the outfield. The Pirates signed him as a free agent after splitting time between the Mets and the Braves. All told Church played in 111 games last season and hit .273 with four homeruns and 40 RBI. Church is a very serviceable outfielder that will be a great addition off the bench for the Pirates. As I stated above I can see the Pirates moving Garrett Jones to first base and that opens the door for Church to play some ball in right field. John Raynor was picked up as a rule five pick this season and will come off the bench also. Raynor has no MLB experience and hit only .257 last season for AAA New Orleans in the Marlins farm system.
Another option for the Pirates this season is going to be calling up Jose Tabata part way through the season. The Pirates got Tabata from the Yankees when they sent Marte and Nady to over there. Tabata is a highly touted prospect that fell out of favor in New York but he supported a .293 average last season between AA and AAA. I am very high on Tabata and he will play right field when he comes up to the Pirates this season.