With the 25-Man roster set, and assuming no trades will be made, let’s go player by player and review the expectations for each guy this season.
C – Ryan Doumit: Doumit had a breakout season last year, batting .318 with 15 homers in 431 at bats. Simply put, Doumit needs to stay healthy, and prove that performance wasn’t a fluke.
1B – Adam LaRoche: The story on LaRoche has been the same almost every year of his career. He’s a .182 hitter in April, and after April he combines for a .289 average. LaRoche would really help the Pirates if he started off strong this season, specifically in April.
2B – Freddy Sanchez: Freddy hit .271 last year, but that was mostly due to a .226 average in the first half. He hit .346 in the second half, showing us that he’s still the Freddy Sanchez of old. For the 2009 season, anything consistent and above .300 will do.
SS – Jack Wilson: In the last three years Wilson has hit in the .270 range twice, and in the .290 range once. In his career he’s only been above .290 twice. The Pirates need him to maintain his solid defense, but could probably use one of those .290 hitting years this season. Chances are we’ll see .270, which isn’t horrible considering the defense.
3B – Andy LaRoche: LaRoche needs to live up to his top prospect billing. I can see him hitting for a .270 average with 20+ homers if he finally breaks through in the majors. The solid Spring Training hitting is encouraging. Let’s hope he carries that over to the season and becomes the exact opposite of his 2008 performance.
LF – Nyjer Morgan: Morgan’s time will probably be short in Pittsburgh, with Andrew McCutchen expected to be up this season. While he’s in the lineup, Morgan will be batting leadoff, which means he needs to maintain his career .306 average and .355 OBP from the leadoff position. If he can also successfully steal bases, that would be a big plus.
CF – Nate McLouth: He hit for a .284 average in 2007 once he started receiving regular playing time. Last year he hit for a .276 average in his first full season. Like Doumit, he needs to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. I’m confident that it wasn’t a fluke.
RF – Brandon Moss: Moss hit for a .295 average in 78 major league at bats with Boston in 2008, after hitting .280 in 25 at bats in 2007. He only hit two homers with Boston in 2008 during his time in the majors. After being traded to the Pirates he hit .222 in 158 at bats, but showed solid power with six homers, which displays 20 home run power over a full season. If he can combine the Boston and Pittsburgh efforts, he’ll be a .280/20 HR hitter, which is my expectation for 2009.
1B/OF – Eric Hinske: The Pirates need Hinske to not only provide leadership, but also to provide some power off the bench, with good production in his occasional starts.
OF – Craig Monroe: If Monroe can return to his 2003-2006 numbers (which we saw a glimpse of in Spring Training) the Pirates will have a steal.
SS/3B – Ramon Vazquez: Vazquez has struggled in his career against left handers, but has shown some power and a decent average against right handers. He needs to show that wasn’t just a product of playing in Texas.
C – Jason Jaramillo: In my opinion, Jaramillo was added as the backup catcher for his defense. He needs to live up to his hype as a strong defensive catcher.
SS – Luis Cruz: I’m guessing Andy Phillips will hold this role by the end of April, but until then Cruz can provide some solid infield defense in the late innings to keep Wilson or Sanchez fresh.
SP – Paul Maholm: The Pirates have seen countless starters breakout, only to flop the next season. Maholm needs to prove that he’s not the next in line. The encouraging news is that he had a great Spring Training. The not-so-encouraging news is that he had a .273 BABIP in 2008. The average pitcher is closer to .300, which means Maholm might have been a bit lucky last season.
SP – Ian Snell: Snell had a breakout season in 2007, with a 3.76 ERA, but flopped in 2008 with a 5.42 ERA. I chalk it up to bad luck. He had a .338 BABIP, which is incredibly unlucky. For reference, his BABIP in 2007 was .295, which is closer to the average pitcher. I expect a bounce back season from Snell, and the Pirates really need it.
SP – Zach Duke: In his career, Duke has a 4.39 ERA. Take out his 2005 success and he has a 4.82 ERA. His problem is that he’s not consistent. Last year Duke posted a 3.88 ERA through June 1st. He posted an 8.21 ERA from June 2nd through August 22nd. He finished the season with a 2.67 ERA in his final five starts. The Pirates need him to eliminate that horrible stretch in the middle.
SP – Ross Ohlendorf: I chalk Ohlendorf’s struggles in 2008 up to being in the bullpen in New York, and to bad luck. The Yankees converted him to a reliever in 2007, continued that in 2008, then sent him down to get stretched out. He made 12 starts at AAA, with a combined 3.65 ERA. He made five starts in the majors with a 6.35 ERA, but had a very unlucky .375 BABIP. His arm is fully stretched, and he looked good in Spring Training. The Pirates need him to convert his AAA stats to the majors this year.
SP – Jeff Karstens: Karstens was decent for the Pirates last year, with a 4.03 ERA. He’s kind of like Duke in that he’s inconsistent. He had five starts with a combined 1.64 ERA, and four starts with a combined 8.35 ERA. The Pirates either need him to be consistent, or they need someone like Virgil Vasquez, Daniel McCutchen, or Tom Gorzelanny to step up if Karstens fails.
RP – Tyler Yates: Yates simply needs to cut down on the walks. In 2008 he had a 7.73 K/9, but a horrible 5.03 BB/9 to go with it.
RP – John Grabow: I don’t trust Grabow’s 2008 production, for reasons listed in this post. Hopefully I’m wrong and Grabow has a solid 2009 season as well. Chances are Grabow will be traded this season, and a solid performance will help the Pirates maximize their trade return.
RP – Sean Burnett: Burnett was solid against lefties last year, with a .171 BAA. He was horrible against right handers, with a .328 BAA. With Grabow’s days possibly limited in Pittsburgh, the Pirates need Burnett to emerge as more than just a LOOGY. His Spring Training wasn’t encouraging.
RP – Craig Hansen: Basically the same story as Tyler Yates.
RP – Donald Veal: Hopefully the Pirates can hide Veal on the roster all season, using him in mop-up roles, or non-pressure situations. It would help their rebuilding a lot by keeping him in the system. A great performance by Veal will certainly help matters.
RP – Jesse Chavez: I think Evan Meek will eventually take over this spot once he proves he is healthy. Meek was last year’s Rule 5 pick, and is one of the Pirates’ top relief pitching prospects this year. A solid season could put him in line to be the closer of the future. Something similar to his 2.40 ERA at AAA last year would be great.
CL – Matt Capps: Capps was reliable in his first full season as a closer last year, posting a 3.02 ERA and an 0.97 WHIP. However, Capps is only under contract through the 2009 season, and eligible for arbitration in 2010 and 2011. Chances are he would cost around $10 M combined for those two seasons, which leads me to believe that this could be the final year for Capps, especially if Meek steps up.
Next in the 2009 Pirates Preview:
What trades will we see this season?