As Pirate fans, we have seen it many times before. A young, quick outfielder begins receiving considerable playing time in the second half of a lost season and excels. The team and its fans believe they have found their future centerfielder. The following season, this player flops and the process starts all over again. It has happened many times in the past decade.
In 2000, it was Adrian Brown. From August 7 through the end of the season, Brown hit .311/.378/.407. After that strong finish, Brown was the starting centerfielder when the Pirates opened camp in the spring of 2001. However, a shoulder injury limited him to eight games in early April. On May 18, he had season-ending surgery. In 2002, Brown hit .216/.284/.298 in 208 at-bats and was released following the season. Brown would accumulate 62 more Major League at-bats through 2006.
It was Tike Redmans turn in 2003. After August 1, he hit .330/.374/.483 in 230 at-bats. However, he fell to .280/.310/.374 the following year. Redman was off the roster after the 2005 season.
Chris Duffy might be the best example of this phenomenon, as he has accomplished the feat twice. After a short time with the Pirates early in 2005, Duffy was brought back up to the team in July. In 32 games, he hit .350/.395/.433 and played the outfield well enough to bring up conversations of Andy Van Slyke. Again, it seemed the team had a leadoff hitter it could count on for the future. However, Duffy found himself in a terrible slump in the spring of 2006. That carried into the regular season and, with his numbers stuck at .194/.255/.276 on May 14, the Pirates sent him back to Triple-A. As we all know, Duffy decided to return to his home in Arizona instead. After coming to the conclusion that he did in fact wish to continue playing baseball, Duffy reported to Indianapolis. He immediately began hitting and returned to the Pirates on August 1. After a slow start, he got hot again, hitting .315/.380/.413 after August 11. He struggled again in 2007, hit the disabled list on June 28 and has yet to return.
When Duffy was injured, it freed playing time for Nate McLouth. McLouth has taken full advantage of his opportunity, hitting .262/.360/.507 with 11 home runs in 225 at-bats since June 29. Thus, we have a dilemma. Do we allow ourselves to be sucked into believing again, or do we discard McLouths small sample size success and continue counting the days until Andrew McCutchen makes centerfield his own? This subject was brought up a few times in Dejan Kovacevics PG chat on Monday:
Gregg: What did McLouth do to get benched? He’s hit 265/372/525 since July 28th. He sure looked like the starting CF (until McCutchen is ready).
Dejan Kovacevic: There is a clear urgency on management’s part to see as much of Morgan as possible. Nothing more to it. From there, you have Nady, Bay and Pearce out there, too, so corner time is limited. One would imagine that McLouth has made a strong impression. If he has not, the Pirates will want to compare his power numbers from the left side to those of other center fielders. It is quite the luxury to have one of those, especially from the left side in Pittsburgh.
New_GM: Lots of talk recently about Morgan’s defense, how worried should Bucco fans be he’s hitting about .200? I say very worried. Emil Brown. Adrian Brown, Jermaine Allensworth, Tike Redman, Chris Duffy and now Morgan. Is it deja vu all over again?
Dejan Kovacevic: You know … I cannot think of anything less fair than attaching Morgan or McLouth or anyone, for that matter, to the sins of center fielders past. It is your choice whether or not to believe in curses, obviously, but each of these two players already has shown you something that none of the above did.
Dejan apears to believe in McLouth, and I would have to agree with him. I have always been a fan of McLouths, and I can honestly say that his success this season has not caused me much shock. His patient approach at the plate is very refreshing for a Pirate fan to see, and, as Dejan points out, he has some useful pop in his bat.
Personally, I would be very comfortable sending McLouth into centerfield on opening day in 2008, at least until McCuchen is ready to take over. Of course, some might refer to me as a fool. It would not be the first time I have been deceived.