Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable, 06/24/2008

Question:
At what point do you expect the Pirates to field a championship-caliber team? Will the team’s top prospects (McCutchen, Walker, Pearce, Alvarez, etc.) be enough to take them to that level?

Mike from Hyzdu Headquarters
This is something that I have pondered at length. I think when looking at the future we may be looking at 2010-2011 until the big league club can be competitive. Will they be a World Series contender by then? I don’t think so, but you can never tell. I would think that in 2-3 years we will have brought in Alvarez, McCutchen, and Walker among others to fit in with any holdovers, McLouth and Doumit come to mind, from this current team. By then I would think we would see some competitive baseball being played in Pittsburgh.
I think we can all agree that if there is not some upgrade or addition to the pitching staff, we will never contend. I could see a lot of the position players that are in the organization stay here, but not so much for the pitching. We need more depth if we ever hope to contend. I would think that this will be one position that management looks to in any future transactions.
The variable in the equation is who gets added to the organization that we do not know about right now. Will there be some free agent signing? Will there be some blockbuster trade? A transaction like one of those will most likely change the scenario for better or for worse.
But as far as getting the organization to a point that things are all running smoothly, I think we are looking at 5 years. It is going to take a good long while to stock the farm system. Once the system is comparable with other contending teams, then we have got something going here.
It will be awhile to see a real team start to take shape in Pittsburgh. I think it may happen sooner than one might think, but it will take longer to really get the organization on good solid ground.
Nancy from Sandlot Swashbucklers
Andrew McCutchen isn’t hitting like a top prospect should be. He started off slowly, but had his batting average up to .200 by mid-April. He got a little better, up to .279 by the end of April, and hit .304 in May, with an extended hitting streak. As soon as the streak was over, though, he had a slump. Now he’s back to .285. With the inconsistent hitting, and high number of strikeouts (14 in April, 24 in May, and 12 already in June) and relatively low number of walks (14 in each of April and May, 5 in June), he doesn’t look like what you’d want in a lead-off hitter — though that’s where he has been hitting for most of the season. His speed on the base paths is excellent, but it requires him to get onto the base paths first. If the Pirates don’t plan to use him in the lead-off spot, maybe that won’t matter as much. It’s my impression that he does better when Nyjer Morgan is around — they seem to feed off one another. In the outfield, McCutchen is very close. With his speed and timing, he gets to almost everything, including balls going into the deep part of left-center field, the no-man’s-land of Victory Field. McCutchen could be called up at the end of 2008 and do ok, and he’d be able to play for the Pirates in 2009 without falling on his face, but it will be a little longer before he’s really ready to be championship quality.
Walker has made great improvement at third base, and by 2009, you probably won’t be able to tell he hasn’t played there all his life. His hitting needs work, though. He started the season slowly, then hovered around .200 for weeks. After some extra work with hitting coach “Bam Bam” Meulens, the average went up to .220 and hovered there. Because his “personal” strike zone is larger than the plate, he often reaches for outside pitches rather than take balls — resulting in few walks but more strikeouts. He’s averaging 19.5% strikeouts/at-bats this season, and that has been up to 23% in June. He should have a better average and while he leads the team in homers (11), he should be hitting for even more power. Walker could be ready for Pittsburgh by the end of 2009, especially if he can turn the power on, but it will be longer before he’s ready to be the Big Competitor.
Steve Pearce started the season playing exclusively in right field, working diligently to learn the new position. He’s an ok outfielder but just ok. He has not made a lot of errors, because he doesn’t get to the balls to even try for the tough plays. His speed is so-so for an outfielder, but he does not seem to have the instinct and timing that allow good outfielders to get the jump on the ball. (When Ryan Doumit moved to the outfield, he “got it” much more quickly. He also had Chris Duffy tutoring him — he was Duffy’s personal project.) At first base, though, Pearce is ready now. Soft hands, good instincts. Pearce has a .269 average, but there’s more to that story. Prior to June 2nd, Pearce was hitting .259, and had been playing right field and occasionally DH’ing. Since June 2nd, Pearce has played 12 games at first base. In those 12 games, he has gone 18-for-44 (.409), and has been hitless in only one game. He’s also hit 6 doubles, 3 of his 8 homers, and 11 of his 41 RBI. Since June 2nd, Pearce has played 6 games in right field, and in those games, he’s gone 2-for-23 (.087), with a double and a 2-run homer. It’s clear to everyone watching him that he is much more relaxed and comfortable at first base, though when asked this weekend “Would you rather be at first base or in the outfield?” , he answered, “I’d rather be in the lineup. I don’t care where I play.” So — if Pearce can stay mostly at first base, he can be ready for Prime Time in 2009.
Pedro Alvarez — well, if you don’t sign the contract, you can’t play. There must be some happy medium where he can balance out his and his agent’s desires for the greatest compensation ever, and the understanding that he needs to get onto the field before he can get to the big leagues.
Jesse from Raise the Jolly Roger!
I think that the Pirates could have a championship caliber team in 2010. The current major league team is not going to get it done. I really think we need to get rid of Bay for some pitching. McCutchen could come up and Alvarez could replace Bautista. We will have other prospects coming up too. That is why the magic number ,in my opinion, is 2010.
Matt Bandi from Pittsburgh Lumber Co
The Pirates are going to need quite a bit of luck to build a contending team within the next couple of years. The limited minor league talent that is approaching the Major Leagues will need to become productive starters. Andrew McCutchen remains a top prospect, and should become a fixture in centerfield for the Pirates. But Neil Walker and Steve Pearce, while they have good potential, are large question marks at this point. Walker is hitting just .226/.265/.442 in 265 at-bats this season, and Pearce is at just .265/.317/.447. Pearce has to improve quickly, as he is already 25. All three of these players are very vital to the team’s future. In addition, Pedro Alvarez must sign soon and then live up to the hype.
The Pirates will also need a contribution from an unexpected source. One or two of their marginal prospects must step up their performance and become a staple in Pittsburgh. Some names to watch are Shelby Ford, Jamie Romak and Jason Delaney.
Neal Huntington needs to make very smart trades before July 31. The Pirates have many holes on the roster, and only limited players of value to use as trade bait. Huntington must spin Jason Bay and Xavier Nady for help at middle infield, starting pitcher, etc, etc, etc. That will take intelligence and quite a bit of luck. An ill-advised trade of either player could really set the franchise back.
Finally, some of the younger players in Pittsburgh have to continue to perform. Nate McLouth must continue to hit well enough to become a productive left fielder once McCutchen arrives. Ryan Doumit must stay healthy, continue to perform offensively, and improve behind the plate. Matt Capps needs to remain a steady closer.
Obviously, a lot needs to go right for the Pirates to take the next step in the near future. The chances of everything working out are slim. Most likely, the Pirates will be competitive, but will not be a playoff team until the new regime has a chance to build the farm system through the draft. The team is entering a rebuilding period that will probably last about five years.

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One Response to “Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable, 06/24/2008”

  1. gerry Says:

    Agreed on the rebuilding, but through trades and FA, Billy Beane reloaded in a year, and remains in contention during the process. Quite a feat. The good news is the current Pirates are not in last place and contended really well vs. NYY tonight. That must have felt good. This record means re-building blocks and valuable players to trade are already in place. Let the building begin, again, this time in earnest.


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