Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable #18

Question #1:
Will the 2007 edition of the Pittsburgh Pirates be the best team to take the field since 1992?


Mark from Pirates Journal:

Unfortunately, no. The Pirates won as many as 79 games in 1997 when they finished second place, and I don’t see the Pirates winning that many games in what should be a tougher NL Central this year (with the Chicago Cubs’ spending spree). There is a ton of promise though. Adam LaRoche provides the Pirates with another solid slugger to go along with Jason Bay, and with guys like Zach Duke, Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny getting another year in the rotation under their belt, there are some things to get excited about. Just not right now. I think the Pirates will win around 72 games, although their bullpen could easily push them back down into the high 60s.

Matt from Wait ‘Til Next Year:

If the starting pitching stays relatively healthy and one or two offensive players have some unexpected success (such as Castillo, Bautista, Doumit, McLouth, etc.), then they will be able to put up 80-85 wins. If this does not happen, 2007 will look very similar to most of the other seasons I have seen since my ninth birthday. I will play the role of optimist as usual and predict the first winning record since that ’92 season.
Pat from WHYGAVS:
No. The rotation is young and talented, but not deep. The lineup is thin, even with Adam LaRoche on the team. Luis Matos might make the team for chrissake. The 2003 team had a great lineup with Reggie Sanders, Brian Giles/Jason Bay, Matt Stairs, a still good Jason Kendall, Craig Wilson, etc. Duke, Snell, Maholm, and Gorzo may be the best rotation since Drabek, Smiley, Smith and Tomlin (that’s actually ’91, not ’92), but if one or two of them gets hurt and BP Chacon and Youman enter the equation, things will get substantially worse, and fast.
Dave from Bucs Trade Winds:
No. The best team the Pirates have had, since they last had a winning season, underachieved so atrociously DL traded their best young player to the Cubs for a Hill of beans.
GM-Carson from We Should Be GM’s:
I’m not usually the optimist, but possibly because I’m becoming a father this year, coupled with the fact that I’ve been eating “special brownies,” I’m starting to think that the Pirates have a chance to suprise the crap out of the rest of the league. Adam LaRoche and a year’s experience from the remaining Pirates might be the magic this squad needs. The rotation will improve. The offense will improve. The bullpen is a slight downgrade, but youngsters could step up and make us forget all about Gonzalez. I look at the rest of the NL Central and see question marks everywhere, so the Pirates have the opportunity to step right into the fold. As far as being the best team since ’92, I have fond memories of the ’97 team, but I expect this team to eclipse them.

Steve from The Parrot:

No, but not totally due to the offense. The difference here is the starting rotation. I think the best Pirate team of the past fifteen years was the 1997 “Freak Show” team.
The 1997 rotation of Esteban Loaiza (4.13 ERA that season), Jon Lieber (4.49), Jason Schmidt (4.60), Francisco Cordova (3.63), and Steve Cooke (4.30) beats this year’s projected turn of Ian Snell (4.74 ERA in 2006), Zach Duke (4.47), Tom Gorzelanny (3.79), Paul Maholm (4.76), and Shawn Chacon or Tony Armas, Jr. (5.48 or 5.03).Offensively, 1997’s squad also has the edge over the 2007 edition–let’s use OPS to rank players who appeared in 100 games or more in the two seasons under discussion. Tony Womack (.700), Jose Guillen (.712), Jason Kendall (.825), Joe Randa (.817), Al Martin (.832) and Jermaine Allensworth (.679) qualify for ’97. The oldest player in this group is Martin at 29, so you can qualify this team as a youth movement, just like this year. In 2006, Freddy Sanchez (.851), Jason Bay (.928), Jack Wilson (.686), Jose Castillo (.682), Ronny Paulino (.754), Jose Bautista (.755), Jeromy Burnitz (.711) and Nate McLouth (.679) are the players to make the cut. Burnitz is gone, so throw his numbers out as a measure for this season. Bay and Sanchez are better than anyone who played on the ’97 team, but the rest of the current Bucs pale in comparison to the Pirates of ten years ago.
Also, no team has approached the “Freak Show’s” 79-83 record since ’92–if Pittsburgh matches or beats it this year, then we’ll talk.

Matthew from The Diamond Cutter:

Over the past 15 years the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and its fans have seen many difficult and agonizing seasons. Ever since that last playoff run of ’92, the Pirates haven’t put much on the field that can rival the group that has been assembled going into 2007. During this long dry spell there have been some very good players of today that got their starts in Pittsburgh. Guys like Jason Schmidt, Bronson Arroyo, Brian Giles and Aramis Ramirez all had their careers start to take off in a Pirates uniform. But while there were some very good individuals that made stops in Pittsburgh, I believe that this year’s group is better collectively than any that we have seen since that 1992 campaign.
Granted we are in a different era than the ’92 team, so it’s really difficult to compare things statistics, but we are able to take a look at the amount of talent on both teams. The 1992 team had players like Doug Drabek, Andy Van Slyke, Bob Walk and a smaller Barry Bonds. They were a group that played well as a unit.
The 2007 team is rich with young talent, possessing skilled bats like Freddy Sanchez, Jason Bay and newcomer Adam LaRoche, and young pitchers that are hoping to make the next step in Zack Duke, Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny. But the one thing that could set these two teams apart is the performance of their younger players. There are a lot of youngsters that the team is hoping will finally be able to blossom into a solid major league player.This group of players, with guys like Ronny Paulino, Ryan Doumit, Jose Castillo, Gorzelanny and Chris Duffy, will end up being the X-factor of the 2007 season. We know the Bays and LaRoches of the team will come through, but it’s how these young guys who will round out the roster perform that will determine just how good this team will be both now and into the future.
Question #2:
Moving Neil Walker to third base: Good, bad or ugly? Do you like the move?

Mark from Pirates Journal:
I think the move is a worthwhile experiment. If it doesn’t work, then Walker can always go back and catch. In the event that Ronny Paulino’s 2006 season was a fluke, Walker becomes the catcher of the future. If he takes to the position well enough, then it provides the Pirates with more infield depth. Freddy Sanchez will probably find himself back at second base in the near future if Jose Castillo has a rough year (and if Jack Wilson has anything to say about it). The only other prospect the Pirates really have who can play third is Shelby Ford, and while the Oklahoma State grad could move up the minor-league system pretty quickly, he’s still somewhat of a sleeper, is a couple of years away and primarily plays second base.
Matt from Wait ‘Til Next Year:
I think this is a bad move for the same reasons you will hear from many other folks around the Web. Walker may reach the majors more quickly as a third baseman, as the Pirates do not have much talent there (other than Freddy playing out of position). But he is a much more valuable prospect as a catcher. A 20-year-old third baseman in AA with a .752 career minor-league OPS is much less valuable than a 20-year-old switch-hitting AA catcher with the same career numbers. I personally believe that Ronny Paulino will be a solid catcher for several years. But I would not begin moving your top prospects around the diamond just because one player had a decent rookie season. There is nothing wrong with having more than one catcher in the system with major-league potential.
Pat from WHYGAVS:
I’m torn on this one. I thought from day one that Walker was picked more for PR than for anything else, being from Pine Richland and all. Despite that, the kid (heh, I can say that, he’s actually younger than I am) can really hit the ball. It is true that his bat is more valuable as a catcher and he’s got a much (much) higher ceiling than Paulino, but I also feel like if he comes up to the bigs and starts raking at the plate that there will be an immediate push to move him somewhere else on the diamond. Whatever the actual case, I’m glad they’re moving him now, at the start of AA, than stringing him along like Doumit and Craig Wilson, leaving him a positionless orphan in the National League.

Dave from Bucs Trade Winds:

Good, Bad or ugly? Yes.
The Good, we have another bat close to the majors. This move should keep Walker healthier by eliminating the squatting.
The Bad, Walker was a top prospect as a catcher. His low-minors power numbers do not even compare to another third baseman on the roster, Bautista. Right now, Walker is a below average offensive prospect at third base. This year will be his defining year as to how good of a prospect he really is.
The Ugly, Humberto Cota has just breathed a sigh of relief. His role as backup backstop has been solidified for a few more years.
Do I like the move? Yes. Paulino showed more home run power in the low minors than Walker has to date. Paulino has effectively blocked Walker for years to come in management’s eyes. Third base could not be more barren in the minors if you planned it that way. The best third base prospect, outside Walker, is currently a super-sub in Bautista. Bautista can move to right field, where he is adequate defensively and provides some additional power from the position, allowing Walker to man third even though Bautista has more raw power. Nady will likely be either trade bait or a fourth outfielder; my guess is he becomes the backup 1B/RF at this point. In a year or two the Pirates will be very deep in the outfield with Bay, Nady, Bautista, McCutchen, McLouth, Duffy, Doumit and a cast of AAA prospects with speed (Morgan, Davis, etc.).
GM-Carson from We Should Be GM’s:
I am indifferent to this move. If he can handle third base then it’s cool, if not, plug his butt back behind the plate or try him at first base or corner outfield. You ask the question “is Ronny Paulino really a stud,” but I think it should be is “Neil Walker really a stud?” I think Walker is going to be a dud as far as #1 picks go. Paulino had better minor league numbers and is already proving his worth in the majors.

Steve from The Parrot:

Probably good. Based on last year, the Pirates seem to be satisfied with Ronny Paulino as the everyday catcher for the foreseeable future. They have a hole at third–Jose Bautista is not the answer. Freddy Sanchez can play anywhere. Walker is a switch hitter with pop that can help the Bucs sooner at another position than later, stuck behind Paulino. So, why not? The team needs offense most, not another backstop. I hope it works and we see Walker at third in 2008 or 2009.
Matthew from The Diamond Cutter:
If the Pirates intend on sticking with Walker and not trading him, then yes, the best plan would be to probably move him to third base. A move from behind the plate may be good for this kid, who by all accounts is very athletic and is versatile enough to take on another position. This change of positions could be even more of a positive given the fact that the Pirates have virtually no one in their system at third base.
The 2007 season should be a better gauge at how the Pirates’ management needs to address this question. It will give them a chance to see how much farther along Ronny Paulino has progressed and maybe get a better idea of what kind of hitter he will be at the major league level. While he probably won’t end up hitting .310 again, I do think that a power increase isn’t out of the question. This year will also give them a chance to study Walker a bit more closely. Walker definitely hasn’t impressed anyone after his first 1,000 plate appearances as a professional, posting .286/.324/.428 career numbers. He has also shown no patience at the plate with a 162/52 career strikeout to walk ratio. At this point, Walker needs to work on his plate discipline in order to show that he’s worth his #1 pick status, let alone to get a chance to play at the major-league level.
This especially rings true considering the fact that mega-prospects Jered Weaver, Billy Butler, Stephen Drew, Josh Fields and Philip Hughes were all drafted after Walker and have all shown great progress through the minors (and some into the majors). This puts added pressure on the club’s 2004 first-round draft choice and is leaning more and more towards it being yet another wasted first-round pick.
For now I think the Pirates should use the old “wait and see” approach to Walker’s future. It’s too early to determine whether or not he will ever be ready to take the next step. But the way things are going at the moment, if Walker doesn’t develop a little more at the plate, which position he’s going to play won’t be the Pirates’ biggest issue.

Author: Randy Linville

Randy is currently living and thriving in suburban Dayton, OH with his wife and two kids. He was raised in Cincinnati, OH and attended Anderson High School. He went to Miami University (Ohio) and received a degree in Paper Science Engineering from MU. He is a devout Christian and a pop culture buff. He coaches his son’s baseball and basketball teams and his daughters softball and basketball teams. Randy has been a Pirates fan since the late 1970s and has fond memories of the 1979 World Series team. He began blogging for Most Valuable Network in 5/2004 after stumbling across a help-wanted sign for a Pirates blogger. He wrote for Pittsburgh Lumber Co. until the site merged with Pirates Prospects in 2/2011.

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