As long-suffering Pirates fans, we are desperate for some sort of hope. With an awful major league team, that hope generally resides in the minor leagues. Last year, the 22-year-old Andrew McCutchen made a sparkling major league debut after his June promotion. A few weeks ago, former first round pick Neil Walker was recalled from Triple-A and has been the team’s best hitter in his brief time with the squad. Now Brad Lincoln and Jose Tabata, the first of three prospects labeled by some as “The Big Three” before the season, have joined the team. With Pedro Alvarez knocking on the door, it is easy for us as fans to get caught up in the excitement of these potential tides of change.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with being excited. There is legitimate talent arriving in Pittsburgh, something that has not occurred in many years. But it is important to keep our expectations reasonable, especially after witnessing a classic debut by a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Lincoln and Tabata are good prospects, but neither is Stephen Strasburg. Just because McCutchen, and Walker in a smaller sample, have made impressive debuts does not mean that every top prospect will make a seamless transition to major league baseball.
Tabata is having a nice season, but that is in the context of being a 21-year-old at Triple-A. Minor League Splits has his 2010 Major League Equivalency (MLE) OPS right around .700. He has stolen 25 bases in 31 attempts, but I am not convinced that will convert directly to stolen bases at the major league level. Tabata has above average speed, but he is not an absolute burner. It seems that fans are expecting him to have an arrival similar to that of McCutchen in 2009. That is just not going to happen. I am optimistic about Tabata’s future, but I do not see him providing anything more than some mostly empty batting average right off the bat.
Lincoln’s strikeout rate has been about average in the minor leagues, and will likely decrease at the major league level. He is also a fly ball pitcher, which could lead to big home run totals. His upside is that of a number three starter. In other words, Paul Maholm. He will be a useful pitcher, but he will not be a prototypical ace. Lincoln will definitely experience some rough patches this year, so prepare yourself for it.
All that being said, sit back and enjoy tonight’s game. The Pirates will be a slightly better team with Tabata and Lincoln on the roster, and the duo is part of the reason for cautious optimism regarding the next few years. In a perfect world, we will see the makings of a winning team start to come together over the final four months of the season.
Since we have two guys making anticipated debuts tonight, I am planning to live blog the game. So check back around 6:45 PM for that.