FanPost

A Look at the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates

Yesterday, I put up a FanPost talking about my newest series over at Beyond the Box Score, a look at how each organization's roster could stack up by 2013 using only talent already in the organization. That FanPost included the first installment, the 2013 Baltimore Orioles.

Well, here's the link to today's installment over at BtB: the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And here's the article itself:

Yesterday, I kicked off our newest series, a somewhat detailed look at how each organization's roster could stack up by 2013 using only talent already in the organization. And today we'll begin our look at the National League, starting off with a look at what kind of team Neal Huntington and company could be building in Pittsburgh.

As a healthy reminder, I'd just like to mention that these lineups DO NOT include any sort of speculated free agent, trade or draft acquisitions that could happen before the 2013 season, and one could almost be guaranteed that by the time that 2013 comes, each team will have acquired some new players through free agency, trades and/or the draft. That being said, these are still exceptionally useful looks at how the teams will look by 2013, so we can have a better idea of what kind of players each organization is lacking in, and which players they'll be more likely to target through free agency. Like, as commenter backtocali noted below, the Orioles could possibly look to sign a Prince Fielder-type to make the 1B/DH situation a bit easier to deal with, as he'd be an obvious upgrade on Snyder/Reimold and with so many young players presumably there should be a good amount of payroll flexibility, too. But for this exercise, we're sticking purely with players that are either in the organization already or have been drafted this year with a reasonable likeliness of signing (so yeah, there's no Zach Lee for the Dodgers. Sorry). Additionally, after the trade deadline I'll probably do a few posts covering how trades changed these outlooks, particularly on teams where impact prospects could be dealt or acquired.

Here's a link to yesterday's post on the 2013 Orioles, if you missed it. Otherwise, I think we're ready to take a look at what could be the first team with a record over .500 since 1992.

The Starting Lineup.

Catcher: Tony Sanchez, 2013 Opening Day Age: 24, Current level: Advanced Single-A (Disabled List)

The fourth overall pick from the 2009 draft, Sanchez wasn't quite considered a prospect of that caliber at the time of the draft, but the Pirates opted to save money by taking Sanchez in order to spend big in later rounds on high-upside high school pitchers.

It remains to be seen how that strategy will play out for the club, but thus far Sanchez has done nothing but impress. Always considered a solid defender behind the plate, most of the questions surrounding the Boston College product were based around his bat. Sanchez has done a good job of answering those questions though so far, including an impressive .314/.416/.454 line in 207 PA in Advanced Single-A this season.

Unfortunately for Sanchez, he's currently out indefinitely with a broken jaw after taking a pitch to the face (ouch!), but at the moment he's still clearly the team's most clear option for catcher long-term. Incumbent Ryan Doumit's contract includes a 2012 club option but that's something that the Pirates would likely decline; Doumit is already an awful defender and by 2012 the upgrade from Doumit to Sanchez defensively will presumably be huge.

Sanchez may not project as a star-quality player, but a quality defensive catcher that can get on-base with a little power is going to end up being one of the best everyday catchers in the league. Other possible candidates would be Doumit's current back-up, Jason Jaramillo, and Single-A catcher Ramon Cabrera.

First Base: Pedro Alvarez, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: MLB (Some reports that he's going back to Triple-A, though)

The second overall pick in the 2008 draft was always a lock to make this lineup, the real question was whether it would be at first base or third base. But frankly, his presence at first base is just as much because of the underwhelming options in the system as it's because of his sub-par defensive work as a third baseman.

Alvarez's potential as a hitter is no longer in question; his power is prodigious and he's ending up thriving at every level of the minors before landing in Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago. He still has his holes though, as his debut has shown. Beyond the well-known, massive platoon split (which he actually reversed in 2010, if nobody noticed), he's put up high strikeout rates everywhere's been along with his big power numbers, leaving some to wonder if he'll end up being a three-true-outcomes type of hitter.

Even so, Alvarez's star is one of the brightest on the team, as he's one of the few players in the system that you can truly point to as a potential impact bat. Even with a move over to first base, his bat should have little trouble playing there.

Second Base: Neil Walker, Opening Day 2013 Age: 27, Current level: MLB

This is probably one of the bigger surprises at this point in the season, as Walker came into the year as a below-average defensive third baseman with mediocre Triple-A performance over the course of the past three seasons. But the Pirates moved Walker, who was once the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft, to second base this season, and apparently something clicked offensively along with that.

A monster start in Triple-A (.319/.391/.564 in 163 PA) and the complete failure of Akinori Iwamura in the majors opened up the everyday job for Walker at the big league level, and he's grabbed a solid hold of it in his first 28 games. His defense at second is still clearly a work in progress, but his .295/.325/.464 line has been better than average, and there's reason to believe that Walker's defense should improve over time given his inexperience there.

ZiPS appears to be buying into Walker's performance, projecting a solid .329 wOBA from here on out. He may not be a star, but the emergence of cheap, solid everyday players like Walker will be tantamount as the Pirates try to build a winning roster. 

Third Base: Andy LaRoche, Opening Day 2013 Age: 29, Current level: MLB

I know, I know, this one isn't particularly likely. Frankly, at this point it wouldn't surprise me if LaRoche has lost his job as the Pirates' third baseman altogether. But given that Alvarez has one of 1B/3B locked up and my options essentially came down to LaRoche, Garrett Jones, Steven Pearce, Delwyn Young and Jeff Clement, it occurred to me that the defensive upgrade from moving Alvarez to first in favor of LaRoche would probably off-set the offensive improvement created by playing Pearce, Jones or Clement at first base with Alvarez sticking at third.

For all of LaRoche's struggles and disappointments, he actually put up a pretty solid 2.6 WAR in his Age 25/26 season, flashing a good glove and enough bat to be a useful everyday player, albeit not a particularly good one. Obviously he hasn't been the same player this season, as infield flies continue to eat him alive offensively and his glovework has taken a step back.

But he does appear to be young enough and talented enough to at the very least return to his 2009 level of performance, which would make him a solid regular, and as I noted with Walker, the Pirates desperately need those kind of players. Then again, I certainly see why someone would prefer Jones or Clement at first and Alvarez at third if you bought into one of those bats enough and considered Alvarez an adequate defender, which most believe he'll be at least in the short-term.

Shortstop: Chase d'Arnaud, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: Double-A

It took the Pirates a pretty long time to find a good shortstop prospect (sorry, I was never big on Brian Bixler...), but it appears that they finally have one in d'Arnaud. The Pepperdine product had an underwhelming short-season debut in 2008, but he emerged in 2009 with solid defense and a patient approach, leading to some very impressive results.

Splitting the season between Single-A and Advanced Single-A almost evenly, d'Arnaud finished the season with a .289/.393/.453 line. But most impressively, he put up a walk rate over 12% and a strikeout rate under 17%, along with 17 hit-by-pitches to boot. Those kind of on-base skills are always handy, but especially from a solid defensive shortstop with a little power (.164 isolated power) and speed (31-for-39 on steals) like d'Arnaud.

His offensive upside is pretty limited and some project him as just a utility infielder, although it's pretty easy to conceive a scenario in which he becomes a good regular. But in a system that's seriously lacking in terms of middle infield talent, d'Arnaud is by far the best prospect they have.

Left field: Jose Tabata, Opening Day 2013 Age: 24, Current level: MLB

Once a well-regarded prospect in the Yankees' system, Tabata was the centerpiece to the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade back in 2008, and has since taken hold of the Pirates' left field job. Tabata has always been an interesting prospect because of his hitting ability, but the doubt about his ability to play center field and his power potential left some questioning his status as a top prospect. 

Tabata may never be much of a center fielder, but luckily he won't have to be in Pittsburgh, and there's reason to believe that with the strides he's taken this season he'll have enough bat to be a pretty good everyday player in an outfield corner. Tabata has always been a hitter that's hit the ball into the ground a lot, which is part of why scouts worried about his power potential, and things have been no different in 2010. The real difference in 2010? Tabata decided to give stealing bases a try. In 2008-2009, Tabata stole a total of 29 bases in 198 games. In 2010, though? How about 25 steals in 53 games. Maybe Tabata realized that the power was never totally going to come, so maybe it's time to take advantage of what's apparently some pretty good speed on the base paths.

But when a hole opened up in the Pirates' outfield and Tabata was sitting pretty in Triple-A with a .323/.384/.442 line and all of those steals, Pittsburgh decided to hand him the everyday job and the lead-off spot in the batting order. Tabata has responded somewhat solidly, with a good K/BB ratio and quality defense in left field, although the power is clearly going to be sub-par for a left fielder. Either way, Tabata is looking like a good bet to be a Pirate for a long while.

Center field: Andrew McCutchen, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: MLB

By far the easiest selection on the roster, it'd probably be more useful to outline just how good McCutchen is already rather than give you any background on the Pirates' franchise player.

McCutchen is a fascinating player to watch, a rare legitimate five-tool center fielder whose harnessed all five tools while becoming one of the game's elite center fielders. McCutchen combines good hitting ability (.301 BA), plus power (.156 ISO) and plus speed (19 steals) with the tools to be a plus defender in center field, although his defense hasn't been graded too nicely by UZR thus far.

After putting up a 3.3 WAR in his debut 2009, he's on pace for a 4.3 WAR season right now, and that's with defensive marks that likely don't reflect his actual skill level. If you're either looking for the one guy in a Pirates uniform right now who might win an MVP one day or an elite-level center fielder, McCutchen is probably a good place to start.

Right field: Starling Marte, Opening Day 2013 Age: 24, Current level: Advanced Single-A (Disabled List)

Marte has a ways to go before reaching the 'Burgh, but once he gets there he could probably make his impression on the locals in a hurry. Described by John Sickels as having "uber-tools" before the season, Marte's upside is among the highest in the system, and he's likely to be a top-5 prospect within the organization coming into next season.

Known for blazing speed, Marte has spent time in both right and center field, but obviously right field is his most likely destination as long as Mr. McCutchen is around. A larger problem with Marte may be his health though, as he's likely to miss the vast majority of this season after having surgery to repair a fractured hamate bone last month. Obviously, if he loses that much development time, it makes it far less likely that he'll be able to make it to Pittsburgh by Opening Day 2013. But at the same time, he's a solid step above anyone else currently in the system, and there's still a good chance that he could make it by 2013 if he's healthy for all of 2011 and 2012. 

I just wasn't ready to put someone like Robbie Grossman or Lastings Milledge in this spot, although at this point it might be fair to say that Milledge has the inside track on keeping his job for now.

The Starting Rotation.

No. 1: RHP Jameson Tallion, Opening Day 2013 Age: 21, Current level: Unsigned first-round draft pick

No. 2: RHP Brad Lincoln, Opening Day 2013 Age: 27, Current level: MLB

No. 3: LHP Rudy Owens, Opening Day 2013 Age: 25, Current level: Double-A

No. 4: RHP Bryan Morris, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: Double-A

No. 5: RHP Tim Alderson, Opening Day 2013 Age: 24, Current level: Double-A

Clearly, getting some more pitching is something that this organization is going to have to address in the next couple years, although they did another nice job in the draft by landing two guys with ace-upside in Tallion and high school right-hander Stetson Allie. 

Tallion was a consensus top-3 pick in this year's draft thanks to easily the best raw stuff of any pitcher entering, including a fastball that can touch 98 and a mid-80's slider. Like with any high school pitcher, the 6-6 Tallion's command, control and offspeed stuff are all pretty raw, but few pitchers in the minors will be able to match his upside from the moment that he first takes the mound. He's by far Pittsburgh's best prospect now, and while it's not particularly likely that he'll be able to make it to the majors by 2013, let alone by Opening Day 2013, he's really the only guy in that system that could appropriately follow the No. 1 label.

Like Tallion, Lincoln was an elite pitching prospect coming into his respective draft, with the Pirates nabbing him with the fourth overall pick. He was considered one of the better pitching prospects in the game before being forced to have major elbow surgery, which effectively wiped out his entire 2007 campaign. Lincoln returned in 2008 with diminished raw stuff, and while he's never been able to regain what the injury took away from him in terms of velocity and movement, he continued his march through the Pirates' system while putting up good numbers. He's now established in the Pirates' rotation and has a 4.33 FIP in his first five starts. While his upside is now pretty limited, he seems like a good bet to be a consistent back-of-the-rotation guy for a while, and that should be pretty valuable to the Pirates for the next five years or so.

The lone lefty in the rotation, Owens wasn't really regarded as much of a prospect before a breakout full-season debut in 2009 split between Single-A and advanced Single-A. Due to underwhelming raw stuff he went mostly under-the-radar while spending 2007 and 2008 in short-season ball, but impeccable command has made him someone to watch since the beginning of last season. His K/BB ratio in his 2009 debut? How about 126 strikeouts versus 19 walks in 139 innings. I'll just toss those rates out there: 8.14 K/9, 1.23 BB/9, 6.62 K/BB. He's moved up to Double-A this season and while his respective rates K/9, BB/9 and K/BB marks of 6.60, 1.68 and 3.93 aren't as impressive, he's also seen significant improvement in his HR/9 thanks to a 10% increase in GB rate. If you like lefties that can really locate their stuff, then you'll love Rudy Owens.

As for Morris, he's essentially Neal Huntington's final hope for getting some premium value out of the Jason Bay trade. Drafted by the Dodgers 26th overall in the 2006 draft, Morris lasted just 59 innings in pro ball before going under the knife to have Tommy John surgery, missing all of the 2007 season. He returned surprisingly strong at Single-A to begin 2008, which led to his inclusion as a key piece of the Bay deal along with Andy LaRoche, Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss. The Pirates brought him up to Advanced Single-A Bradenton in 2009, and the results were underwhelming: a truly ugly 32/34 K/BB ratio in 80 innings. Morris did have an impressive 56% groundball rate to fall back on, but a K/BB ratio below 1 is ugly no matter how you slice it, especially from a 22-year-old in the lower minors. But Morris appears to finally be back 100% in 2010, and after absolutely dominating at Bradenton to begin the season, he's continued to thrive at Double-A Altoona since being promoted. On the season he's got a 82/22 K/BB and a 52% GB rate in 93 innings, good for a spectacular 2.86 FIP. At 23, Morris isn't exactly young, but the mileage on his arm is pretty limited and he's already closing in on his career-high for innings pitched in a single season. That being said, Morris' performance this season has re-established him as one of the team's best pitching prospects, particularly if 2013 is the target date.

For the No. 5 spot, I kept waffling between Alderson, Nathan Adcock, Jeff Locke and Zack Von Rosenberg, but opted for Alderson because he seems to be the most likely to stick in a big league rotation by 2013. The first three were key names in respective trades for Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson and Nate McLouth, while Von Rosenberg was signed away from a commitment to LSU for $1.2M last summer after being picked in the sixth round of last year's draft. Von Rosenberg has easily the most upside of the four pitchers, but he's also just 18 and is by far the most raw pitcher of the group, too. Projecting him to not only make the rotation, but make it by 2013, would be a pretty tall order (despite the fact that I was willing to include Tallion on the roster). Then again, Von Rosenberg isn't at Tallion's level. As for Adcock and Locke, they both the performance in the minors but I'm skeptical about whether they'll be able to stick in a big league rotation. Adcock's raw stuff is pretty lacking, and while he has the build of a starter, there are a lot of question marks there. As for Locke, the rawness of his offspeed stuff is a serious issue, and while the numbers in Single-A are pretty awesome so far, he's also 22 and repeating the level. Alderson's decline in velocity over the years has been well-documented, but he still has great command and a good feel for pitching, so there's good reason to believe that he'll be able to make it in the back of a rotation even with a high-80's fastball. Then again, some people view Alderson as a borderline non-prospect at this point, so taking one of the other pitchers is certainly a reasonable and defensible thing to do.

Closer: Evan Meek, Opening Day 2013 Age: 29, Current level: MLB

I'm glad that I included the closer role in this series so I can talk about someone like Evan Meek. In case you've missed it, Meek is currently showing off a 1.02 ERA in 44 innings with the Bucs so far this season. His peripherals don't quite match that kind of performance, which is borderline unsustainable for even the best relievers in history, but his respective FIP and xFIP marks of 2.62 and 3.08 indicate that Meek has truly emerged as one of the best relievers in baseball.

Always a hard-thrower, Meek's not only taken to throwing strikes these days, but he's seen a solid uptick on his fastball velocity, as it now sits consistently in the 94-97 range with an average velocity of 95.1 on the year. With the drastically improved command of his fastball, Meek has seen his BB/9 cut from 5.55 in 2009 to just 2.05 in 2010, all the while maintaining his above average strikeout and groundball rates. Meek isn't the closer yet because of the presence of veteran Octavio Dotel, and he may have to compete with Joel Hanrahan for the job going forward, as Hanrahan's under control through 2013, too. But Meek's pitched like a closer so far this season, and there's little reason to believe that he won't pitch his way into the role in the near future.

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