As written in the article previous to this, things could be very bad in PNC Park this season. And you know what? That’s the most encouraging sign in Pittsburgh in quite awhile. The new regime in Pittsburgh, led by Neal Huntington, has begun extracting value from the assets remaining from Dave Littlefield’s time in Pittsburgh. This has provided a host of players that could contribute to a successful Pittsburgh team in the future: Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Gorkys Hernandez, Tim Alderson and more.
Slowly and deliberately, the Pirates are building something. If you squint and project generously, there is quite the offensive core coming together. It starts with a pair of potential stars: Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. You’ll see a lot of teams ahead of the Pirates on this list whose ranking is largely owed to the presence of a superstar. These two have that potential. McCutchen could push 4-5 wins above replacement this season, and really looks to be successful at every phase of the game.
Pedro won’t be that successful from a fielding perspective, and will have to be +25-35 with the bat to match McCutchen’s potential. I think we can certainly project the low end of that scale, making Pedro the Robin to McCutchen’s Batman. And as Dave mentioned in the Padres review yesterday, a good team needs a few superheroes.
Around them you’ll see a series of unexciting, but low-floored prospects that could contribute to a winner. Tony Sanchez, the team’s budget-conscious first-round pick last year, is a great example. The team believes he is a plus defensively to go along with a league-average hitter – that’s a 2-3 win player. Or how about Chase D’Arnaud? Here’s a guy that scouts are saying could be average defensively (+0), stick at shortstop (+7.5), live in the two hole (+20) and ride his patient approach to a ~.360 wOBA (+15). And you have Tabata, who is no longer a projectable middle of the order star, but a great contact hitter that could hit .300.
If you didn’t notice, that’s getting close to a full lineup of players: C Sanchez, 1B Jeff Clement, MI D’Arnaud, 3B Alvarez, LF Lastings Milledge, CF McCutchen, RF Tabata. I think it works, and it’s going to be under team control until 2015 or so.
But then you get to the pitching staff. and things aren’t so optimistic. The group that pitched in the Major Leagues last season is about replacement level. You might like Paul Maholm, or believe in the Ross Ohlendorf sinker, but generally, these aren’t the guys you win with. The first-round picks the team put together in the decade don’t really help. Dan Moskos has fallen off the radar, and while Brad Lincoln had an encouraging return from Tommy John surgery, his stuff no longer inspires faith below a 4.00 FIP.
You can feel the Pirates beginning to sense the discrepancy between the offense and pitching staff, as they spent seven figure bonuses on two players in last June’s draft: LHP Colton Cain and RHP Zack Van Rosenberg. Both are years away from the Major Leagues – their peaks should be after some of the hitters above have moved on – but it does show a recognition from the front office.
The Pirates drew some criticism last year for drafting Tony Sanchez, a low upside player, so high in the draft. But I think this front office knows its talent and understands what it needs. If ownership is patient with Huntington’s strategy, and McCutchen and Alvarez blossom as expected, the Pirates are ahead of the curve in competing once the aging St. Louis and Chicago rosters drop off. But they need pitching, and they need lots of it.
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