Pittsburgh Pirates 2011 Half-Season in Review

Normally this is the time of the season where we’d look back at the beginning of the season and determine what went wrong.  To do this, I’d take a look at my pre-season preview article, and provide an update on each topic.  That usually gave a good idea as to what went wrong with the team.  That wasn’t the case this year.

The Pittsburgh Pirates finished off their first half with a huge win over the Chicago Cubs yesterday, winning 9-1 to move to 47-43 on the season.  To put that in perspective, they didn’t win game number 47 until September 7th last year.  The Pirates currently sit a game back in the NL Central, trailing the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals.  Rather than looking at the veterans the Pirates will be trading away, Pirates fans are looking for the veterans that the team can acquire to help their playoff chances.  Playoff chances!  Five months ago, the debate was “will they lose 100 games”.  Now, the debate is “will they add a guy like Carlos Pena?”.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the pre-season questions and thoughts, and see where we are at on July 11th.  I looked at this a few weeks ago, but that was just to give an idea of how surprising the team has been this year, rather than to focus on the pre-season thoughts.

19. Will the catchers stay healthy and be productive?

The Pirates have two catchers making a combined $10.95 M, although they’re receiving $3 M from Arizona for Chris Snyder, so the total amount comes out to $7.95 M.  That’s still a lot of money to be spending on two players who are far from a guarantee, and who both are big injury risks.

Chris Snyder has already caught the injury bug this year, starting off the season on the 15-day disabled list with a back injury.  The injury shouldn’t keep him out long, although it does put Ryan Doumit in the starting lineup.  Snyder is better than Doumit defensively, and neither player has been strong with the bat.  At his best, Snyder is about a .775 OPS guy.  Meanwhile, Doumit had a strong year in 2008, but has yet to repeat those numbers.  His primary value comes with the bat, although the bat has been pretty disappointing the last two years.

For the money that they’re spending, the Pirates need one of these two catchers to step up.  They either need Snyder to get healthy, play strong defense, and hit for a .775 OPS, or Doumit to stay healthy, return to his 2008 hitting form, and play respectable defense.

UPDATE: The catchers didn’t stay healthy.  In fact, Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit are both out for an extended period, and third string catcher Jason Jaramillo is injured in AAA.  The Pirates cycled through Dusty Brown and Wyatt Toregas.  They’re now using Michael McKenry, who they added in a minor trade from the Boston farm system, and Eric Fryer, who hadn’t played a game above the high-A level coming in to the year.  McKenry has been a big surprise, and is a key reason they haven’t fallen apart behind the plate, despite missing their top three guys.

As for Snyder and Doumit, they should both return in August, and both were performing well prior to their injuries.  If they can return with that same performance, it would be a huge boost for the Pirates, especially if they’re still in contention.

18. Will Chris Resop be this year’s Evan Meek?

In 2009, Evan Meek had a decent season, with a 3.45 ERA in 47 innings, along with an 8.0 K/9 and a 5.6 BB/9 ratio.  Heading in to the 2010 season he was viewed as a potential late inning reliever, although the Pirates brought in some options that ended up putting him in a low pressure role.  Meek responded by putting up a 2.14 ERA in 80 innings in 2010, along with a 7.9 K/9 and a much improved 3.5 BB/9 ratio.

After being claimed off of waivers in 2010, Chris Resop had a 1.89 ERA in 19 innings with the Pirates, along with an 11.4 K/9 and a 4.7 BB/9 ratio.  Like Meek, Resop comes in to the year with questions about whether he could take the next step and be a back of the bullpen option.  Also like Meek, there is a little bit of caution being exercised over the legitimacy of Resop’s numbers.  It would be a big boost for the Pirates if Resop did take that jump to the next level this year, and emerge as a late inning relief option.

UPDATE: This is an issue of contention.  Resop has been great this year.  In fact, if you look at Resop’s numbers, and look at Joel Hanrahan’s 2010 numbers, you could make a strong case that both pitchers are putting up similar results.  Resop gets criticized when he struggles, and seems to get ignored when he comes up with a big outing.  That’s the life of a reliever.  It’s a “what have you done for me lately” position.

Among qualified relievers, Resop has the 11th best K/9 ratio this year, with an 11.48 K/9 ratio.  He’s been great as a late innings reliever, especially when combined with Jose Veras.  That’s been a huge help for the Pirates, with Evan Meek missing a lot of time this year.  In each case, there are questions about whether they can close, with many people suggesting they don’t have what it takes.  Ironically, those same questions surrounded Joel Hanrahan last year, and even before this season.

17. Can Kevin Correia return to 2009 form?

Kevin Correia had a breakout season in 2009, with a 3.91 ERA in 198 innings, along with a 6.5 K/9 and a 2.9 BB/9 ratio.  He started off the 2010 season with similar numbers, but in May 2010 his brother died in a tragic accident.  After the accident, Correia’s numbers took a free fall, and he never bounced back for the remainder of the season.  He ended up with a 5.40 ERA in 145 innings, along with a 7.1 K/9 and a 4.0 BB/9 ratio.  The Pirates gave him a two year, $8 M deal this year, hoping that he could return to that 2009 form.

UPDATE: So far, Correia has been exactly the pitcher we saw in 2009.  He’s currently got a 4.01 ERA, and while his strikeouts are down, his walks are also down.  He is benefitting from a ton of run support, which has led to 11 first half wins, and an All-Star selection as a replacement for the National League.  At this point he is looking like one of the biggest free agent steals of the off-season.

Maholm has a 2.96 ERA in the first half.

16. How consistent will Paul Maholm be?

Paul Maholm has been a bit of a mixed bag the last few years.  In 2008 he had a good season, with a 3.71 ERA, despite a poor start to the season in the first month in a half.  Maholm had a 5.11 ERA after his first ten starts, spread across 61.2 innings.  From that point forward he finished the season on a strong run, with a 3.11 ERA in 144.2 innings.  In 2009 he was inconsistent all year.  He had two months with an ERA close to 3.00 (April and September), two months with an ERA close to 4.50 (May and August), and two months with an ERA over 5.50 (June and July).  In 2010 he had a 4.03 ERA on the season, following his July 18th start against Houston.  In his final 13 starts following that, he put up a 6.81 ERA in 71.1 innings.

Maholm has been almost a lock for 31-32 starts the last three seasons.  The Pirates just need him to be consistent in those starts in order to get the maximum value out of him.

UPDATE: Maholm has been outstanding this year, and capped off his first half with a strong outing, allowing one run on four hits in 7.2 innings, with no walks and eight strikeouts.  Maholm has a 2.96 ERA in 121.2 innings this year.  It was around this time last year that he bottomed out, struggling for the final two and a half months.  There are signs that Maholm is a candidate for a regression, with a low BABIP and a low HR/FB ratio.  That leaves the question about his consistency open.  He’s been very consistent so far, although maintaining that in the second half is extremely important.

15. Can Lyle Overbay follow up on his Spring Training success?

Lyle Overbay is strong defensively at first base, but he’s coming off a poor year at the plate, which saw him hit for a .243/.329/.433 line in 534 at-bats.  That raised some questions as to why the Pirates gave him a $5 M deal to be the everyday first baseman.  This Spring, Overbay was on fire at the plate.  Spring Training stats are hardly a good indicator of regular season success, so we can’t assume that we will see the same performance out of Overbay the rest of the 2011 season.  However, if he can have a season similar to his 2009 season, when he hit for a .265 average with an .838 OPS, he might be able to give the offense a boost behind the top young hitters that make up the top of the lineup.

UPDATE: Overbay has been a disappointment this year, with a .240/.311/.358 line in 296 at-bats.  The average and on-base percentage aren’t far off his 2010 totals, which was considered a poor year.  However, he’s lacked power, and his defense hasn’t been as sharp.  He has been hot lately, going 11-for-26 at the plate in his last seven games.  However, only one of those 11 hits has been for extra bases.  That’s a sign of how much he’s struggled this year, when a week full of singles makes his value look like it’s going up.

14. Are Ross Ohlendorf’s struggles a sign of things to come?

Ohlendorf had a horrible Spring, and I pointed out last week why his struggles should be a concern.  In short, Ohlendorf has been lucky the last two years, and if he doesn’t do something to cut down on his fly ball rate (mainly, if he doesn’t stop trying to overpower the ball), he could find himself with a big regression this year, and possibly out of the rotation by the end of the season.

UPDATE: We haven’t really answered this question, mostly because Ohlendorf has been out for most of the season with an injury.  In his place has been Jeff Karstens, who has been phenomenal, posting a 2.55 ERA in 98.2 innings this year.  Karstens looks like a candidate for a regression, although he’s shown legit improvements, with a decent strikeout rate, and a lower walk rate.  His success now raises an interesting second half question: when Ohlendorf returns, should he return to the rotation?

13. Can Joel Hanrahan close?

Joel Hanrahan had an amazing season last year, with a 3.62 ERA in 69.2 innings, along with a 12.9 K/9 and a 3.4 BB/9 ratio.  At the end of the season he was moved in to the closer’s role, and struggling a bit, with a 4.13 ERA and two blown saves in eight attempts.  That wouldn’t be a concern, except that he struggled as the closer with Washington in 2009, with a 7.71 ERA in 32.2 innings, which was enough to get him removed from the closer’s role.  The Pirates have Evan Meek as a backup in case Hanrahan struggles, but it would be nice to see Hanrahan have success in the role, which would leave Meek as a strong set-up man.

UPDATE: It’s funny that this was a question as recently as the week before the season.  Now, Hanrahan is viewed as one of the top closers in the game, and the thought of trading him for a huge return is seen as a crazy thought.  That thought is seen as crazy, because we are now getting the “Resop and Veras can’t close” comments, which are the exact same comments we got about Hanrahan when he didn’t look like the best closer in the league during the last two months of the 2010 season.

12. Are there any players on the 40-man who can be the next Neil Walker?

Last year, Neil Walker came in to the season looking like a busted prospect, with no future outside of a utility infielder.  One year later he’s the second baseman of the future, all due to a massive rebound season in Indianapolis.  If I had to pick one candidate on the 40-man roster to be the Neil Walker of 2011, it would be Gorkys Hernandez.  Hernandez is already strong defensively, and has some speed.  Also, like Walker, Hernandez started hitting in the final months of his previous season, which largely went unnoticed, since it was buried in his poor overall stat lines.  This isn’t guaranteeing that Hernandez turns things around, but he’s young enough, talented enough, and looked to be turning the corner last year in Altoona, before breaking his finger and ending his season.

UPDATE: It’s too early for any definitive statements, although in the early sample that we’ve seen, Alex Presley could be this guy.  After dominating the AAA level, Presley has a .362/.426/.596 line in his first 47 at-bats this year.  He’s obviously not this good, but how good is he?  We’ll get back to that in a bit.

11. Will Charlie Morton finally put it all together?

The big story this Spring has been the performance of Charlie Morton.  A lot of talk has focused around his sinker, which is being credited to a new grip, taught to him by Michael Crotta.  The Pirates lack pitching, and there are little to no expectations on Morton to contribute to the team long term.  It would be a big boost for the team if he carried his Spring success over to the 2011 season and finally put things together, which would allow him to be a fixture in the rotation for at least three more years after the 2011 season.

UPDATE: It’s too early to say that Morton has completely turned things around, but he’s been one of the best stories of the year.  His 3.80 ERA is right in line with his advanced numbers.  He’s due for a regression with his home run per fly ball ratio, although he’s not allowing many fly balls, so the regression shouldn’t hurt him too much.  The big question is how consistent Morton can be.  He’s struggled a bit in June, and has dealt with some issues with the effectiveness of his sinker in recent starts.  Considering he was throwing the pitch about 80% of the time or more early in the year, that could be a problem.  The pitch has become a make or break for his success.

Presley might be this year's version of Walker.

10. Will a long term outfielder emerge from AAA?

The Pirates have three outfield prospects in AAA to start the 2011 season, and a long term opening in right field in the majors.  None of the outfielders in AAA (Andrew Lambo, Gorkys Hernandez, and Alex Presley) really stand out as guarantees to make the majors, although each has a shot at being a starter.  I wrote about the three a few weeks ago.  If I had to pick one who has the best chance of making the majors this year as a starter, it would be Lambo.

UPDATE: Heading in to the year, Lambo and Hernandez looked like the best bets to emerge as a starting candidate, mostly because of their previous top prospect status, combined with Presley looking like a possible one year wonder.  Now we’ve gone from Presley’s 2010 success being doubted, to his 2011 success in the majors so far being doubted.  Let’s consider his last two years:

-He hit for a .350/.399/.533 line at the AA level

-He combined for a .316/.370/.480 line in 564 AAA at-bats, including a .336/.389/.500 line this year

Anyone else would be getting top prospect status with these numbers.  Presley obviously struggled in high-A, and his size is a concern with some people.  But at what point do you focus on the numbers?  He’s put up some amazing numbers in the upper levels, and is off to a great start in Pittsburgh.  If Andrew Lambo or Gorkys Hernandez put up those numbers in AAA, we’d be arguing whether they’re the top prospect in the organization.  If they followed that up with the great major league start we’ve seen from Presley, we’d be putting them in future lineups through the 2017 season.  It’s too early to call Presley a long term answer, but he looks like a strong bet with his performance the last two years.

9. Will a long term shortstop option emerge?

Just like the outfield, the Pirates have a spot open for the long term at shortstop, and while they have a few options in the upper levels, they don’t have anyone who has stepped up to claim the role.  Ronny Cedeno will start off the 2011 season as the starter, although he could be on a short leash if his inconsistent play continues.  He also has an affordable option for the 2012 season if he manages to have a good season at the position.

Behind Cedeno, the Pirates have Rule 5 pick Josh Rodriguez, who looks like a potential utility player more than a starter.  They also have Pedro Ciriaco in AAA.  Ciriaco is possibly the best defensive option in the entire system at the position, and could be the leading candidate to take over for Cedeno if he does struggle again this year.

Prospect-wise, the Pirates have Chase D’Arnaud and Jordy Mercer.  Both players are talented, although they’re each coming off a down year.  D’Arnaud hit for power, got on base, and displayed good base running skills, but struggled hitting for average in 2010.  Mercer hit for average, but struggled with his power and plate patience skills, making his average an empty one.  Those two are the best options in the upper level to emerge as an all-around long term option at shortstop, although neither player is a guarantee.

UPDATE: The Pirates have seen two shortstops step up their performance.  Chase d’Arnaud had success in AAA, and has gotten the call to the majors, where he is now replacing Ronny Cedeno while Cedeno is on the disabled list.  Jordy Mercer is hitting for power again, even more-so than the power we’ve seen from him in the past.  However, Cedeno’s defense has been good this year, and he’s actually been somewhat consistent with it.  The defense has been enough to keep him in the lineup as the shortstop for the time being, and his option in 2012 looks like a strong possibility at this point, even with two upper level shortstops knocking at the door.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as d’Arnaud has struggled in his brief time in the majors, and Mercer has seen some struggles in his first few weeks in AAA.  If Cedeno keeps this up, it could be a good thing, as it will allow the Pirates to be patient with their top shortstop prospects.

8. The Matt Diaz/Garrett Jones platoon

The Pirates decided to platoon Garrett Jones and Matt Diaz this year in right field, after Jones demonstrated issues hitting left handers in 2010.  If we look at their career platoon splits, and assume 700 combined plate appearances between the two players over the course of the 2011 season, at a 66%/33% split between Jones and Diaz respectively, we get the following output from the right field position:

700 PA, 641 AB, .300/.364/.508, 29 HR

That looks good in theory, although the reality is that Jones won’t see every at-bat against a right hander, and Diaz won’t see every at-bat against a left hander, so this is sort of the best case scenario for the platoon.  Still, anything close to that would be huge, and would amount to very cheap production, as the combo of Jones and Diaz is costing the Pirates about $2.5 M.

UPDATE: Jones and Diaz haven’t come close to this.  Jones is doing his part, with success against right handers, although he’s not destroying right handers, and he hasn’t been hitting left handers at all.  Diaz has been pretty good lately, and has his average up to .288, although he hasn’t been drawing walks, and he’s a singles hitter with bad defense, making him a decent 4th outfielder at best.  The emergence of Alex Presley, and the eventual return of Jose Tabata from the disabled list will definitely put the Jones/Diaz platoon in danger, and could put their roster spots in danger as well.

7. Can James McDonald repeat his 2010 success?

James McDonald was the lone bright spot in the 2010 rotation, with a 3.52 ERA in 11 starts after joining the Pirates, along with an 8.6 K/9 and a 3.4 BB/9 ratio.  The Pirates have seen far too often a story about a pitcher having a surprise season, then failing to repeat that success the following year.  Looking at McDonald’s advanced statistics, that doesn’t seem to be likely to happen this time around.  McDonald ended up with a 3.84 xFIP, which isn’t as good as his ERA, but is still strong.  The big difference was that he had a very low 3.7% home run to fly ball ratio, with the average for starters being around 10%.  McDonald should see that number bounce back, which should raise his ERA a bit.  As long as he continues putting up the strong strikeout numbers, he should be fine for a nice repeat season.

UPDATE: You could argue that McDonald wasn’t ready to start the season in the rotation.  He missed some time in Spring Training with an injury, but was placed on the Opening Day roster, despite being limited in his final Spring Training starts.  He ended up getting bombed in his first four outings, although since then he has a 3.08 ERA in 79 innings.  The big issue has been a lack of control, with about one walk every two innings this year.  McDonald has struggled some this season, although even in his worst starts he is putting the Pirates in position to win.

6. The 2009 Prep Pitchers

The Pirates drafted a lot of prep pitchers in the 2009 draft, led by Zack Von Rosenberg, Colton Cain, and Zack Dodson.  Those three, among others, will be moving to full season ball this year, which will give us a glimpse of why these pitchers all deserved over-slot deals.  Those three all had success in the New York-Penn League in 2010, although they are still a long ways off from jumping up to the top of the prospect lists.  It’s too early to make any definitive conclusions on any of the 2009 prep pitchers, and it would be ahead of schedule if any of them had a breakout season this year.  At the same time, it would be a huge boost for the Pirates if one of those 2009 prep pitchers did surprise with an early breakout campaign.

UPDATE: Zack Von Rosenberg has struggled this year, getting hammered with an 89 MPH fastball that he’s been leaving up in the zone too much.  Cain has had success, but has been inconsistent lately, dealing with some fatigue issues.  Dodson was looking great early in the year, but has been injured since May, and is currently on his way back, rehabbing in the GCL.  The second half should be interesting with all of these guys, as they will be increasing innings, raising the question as to how they will perform in the second half of their first full season.

5. Can the injured prospects bounce back?

Last year the Pirates saw a ton of injuries to their top prospects at the high-A level.  Tony Sanchez, the catcher of the future, went down with a broken jaw after being hit in the face with a fastball.  Brock Holt, a strong all-around middle infielder, went down with a knee injury, which forced him to undergo MCL surgery.  Starling Marte, one of the most promising international prospects that has come through the system since Aramis Ramirez, was hit in the hand with a pitch, and had to have the hook of his hamate bone removed, a procedure which can limit a hitter’s power for at least a year.

All three players will make the jump to AA this year, despite missing a lot of time in 2010.  Sanchez might be the most important of the three, as the catching options throughout the system are slim.  He needs to work on improving his defense, which has the potential to be at a Gold Glove level in the majors one day.  He also will face his first big test at the plate, as the jump to AA is the hardest for a hitter.  Marte is a high upside prospect, who could end up starting in the Pittsburgh outfield one day.  He will need to display the ability to hit for average at a higher level, which could be a problem for him since he has struggled with his walk and strikeout rates.  Holt has hit in two of the most pitcher friendly leagues in the minors, so the big test for him will be rebounding from his knee injury, and making the successful jump to the AA level.

UPDATE: The best story here has been Starling Marte who has displayed the ability to hit for average in AA, with a .315 average, and an Eastern League leading 102 hits.  Sanchez has really struggled in Altoona this year, with a lack of power, and some defensive questions.  Holt has been hitting well, although he’s not hitting for power, and his average/OBP isn’t enough to justify him as more than a future utility player.  As indicated above, the most important is Sanchez, due to the lack of catching depth.  Eric Fryer might change that lack of depth a bit, but he doesn’t change the fact that the guy with the highest upside in the system is Sanchez.

4. The 2010 Altoona Rotiation

Last year the Pirates saw their first big wave of prospects in the current rebuilding process, although the big impact was entirely hitters.  This year, the biggest potential impact players look to be pitchers, specifically the players from the 2010 Altoona rotation.  The most likely to make an impact this year will be Rudy Owens, who is slated to start the 2011 season in AAA, and might be the most polished of all four pitchers.  Bryan Morris potentially has the most upside, although he will return to Altoona to start the 2011 season.  If he gets off to a quick start, he could be in line for a short stay in Indianapolis, and a move to the majors by mid-season.

Justin Wilson and Jeff Locke are less likely to arrive this year.  Wilson could be held back due to inconsistent control issues.  He definitely has the stuff to pitch in the majors, but a lot of movement on his pitches makes them hard to control, and there are some outings from Wilson that can get ugly.  Locke will start in Altoona again, and could move up quickly like Morris, although based on the 2010 season, I’d say Morris is more likely to move quickly.

UPDATE: This has probably been one of the biggest disappointments of the year, and no one is talking about it due to the success the Major League rotation has had.  Heading in to the year, the pitching in the majors looked weak, and the question wasn’t “will the Altoona guys make it to the majors this year”, but “how soon will they make it, and how many will make it”.  Morris and Locke have both struggled in their return to AA, with Morris moving full time to the bullpen (where he has had success).  Owens has really struggled in his jump to AAA, with a big drop in strikeouts, and an increase in walks, which is strange for a guy with his excellent command.  Wilson has the best numbers, but as usual, has control problems.  His lack of control is due to his movement, which also gives him a lot of success in limiting hits.  The question with Wilson is whether he can have success in the majors with this issue.

McCutchen is looking like a star.

3. Can Andrew McCutchen take his game to the next level this year?

Andrew McCutchen has put up impressive numbers in his first year and a half as a pro, with a very consistent .286/.365/.459 line in that time period.  His defense has struggled a bit, partially due to his positioning, but also because he has a bit to work on.  In each season, his WAR was 3.3, which is good, although it’s not to a star level yet.  When you think about McCutchen, he was only 23 years old in 2010, and hit for a .286 average, with an .814 OPS and 16 homers in 570 at-bats.

The big question is whether he can take his game to the next level, going from a very good player, to a star.  He has the potential to be one of the best all-around outfielders in the game, and to think he’s reached his peak performance is a mistake.  There’s a lot more potential that could come from McCutchen.  Rather than asking whether he can take his game to the next level, it’s more of a question of how soon he takes his game to the next level.

UPDATE: McCutchen is currently taking his game to the next level. He finished off the first half strong, with two homers in his last three games, giving him 14 on the year.  He’s on pace to hit 25 homers this year, and he could easily steal 30 bases, all while putting up an average close to .300 and an OPS close to .900.  On top of all of that, his defense ranks as some of the best in the league, making him a strong overall player.  He’s currently ranked as the third best position player in the majors, according to WAR, trailing only Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes.

2. How will Pedro Alvarez/Jose Tabata/Neil Walker do in their first full season?

The Pirates got a big boost to their offense last year with the additions of Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, and Jose Tabata.  Walker surprised everyone with his hitting, and statistically he rated as one of the top second basemen in the league last year.  Tabata hit for an impressive .299/.346/.400 line, which is even more impressive when you consider he’s only 21 years old.  Alvarez displayed his power, with 16 homers in 347 at-bats, and while he struggled some at the plate, he did manage to catch fire at the end of the season, with a .306/.355/.577 line and six homers in 111 at-bats in September and October.

There are questions for each player as they enter their first full season.  Can Alvarez repeat his late season success?  Can he play capable defense at third base?  Was Walker a fluke, or was his hitting the real deal?  Can he improve defensively at second?  Will Tabata eventually hit for power?  The Pirates could have a special offense with these three players and McCutchen providing production from the top half of the lineup.

UPDATE: This has been a disappointing area.  These three hitters, when combined with McCutchen, were supposed to be the strength of the team.  Instead, they’ve all struggled.  The season would be a disaster if it wasn’t for the pitching staff, as the offense has been extremely weak with these three failing to build on their 2010 debuts.  The biggest problem has been Alvarez, who was hitting for a .208 average and a .587 OPS before going down with an injury.  He wasn’t exactly lighting the minors on fire in his rehab assignment, and was recently optioned to AAA, where he will continue to try and make his way back to the majors.

Tabata and Walker have each had some success this year, although they’ve each been inconsistent.  Tabata has a .265 average and a .705 OPS, while Walker has a .258 average and a .706 OPS.  Neither players are looking anything like potential future stars at their positions.  In all three cases, these are young players.  For that reason, trying to draw long term conclusions from their limited Major League experience is not the way to go.

1. The debut of Jameson Taillon/Stetson Allie/Luis Heredia

The big story last year was the addition of the three young, potentially top of the rotation, arms.  The Pirates drafted Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, signing the combo for $8,750,000.  They followed that up by signing Luis Heredia, the top Mexican pitching prospect, to a $2.6 M deal, which was a team record for an international signing.

All three pitchers will make their professional debuts at some point this season.  Heredia should start in the GCL, while Taillon and Allie will eventually end up in West Virginia.  The Pirates have some potential impact prospects who are closer to the majors, but no prospect has the potential impact that these three pitchers have.  They could be the most important players for the future of the franchise, outside of the big four hitters in the majors.

UPDATE: All three pitchers have made their debuts, and all three have shown signs of why they are so highly regarded.  Taillon has struggled some with leaving the ball up in the zone, including a poor start this weekend, although he’s been living up to the hype in the majority of his outings.  Allie has dealt with some control issues, but has struck out ten and walked two in eight innings over his last two starts.  Heredia struggled with his control last time out, but has only given up three hits in his first nine innings.

All three guys have talent, but like with any prospect, they’ve got things to work on.  We think of top prospects as finished products who need to just go through the motions and adjust to each level.  The fact is that any prospect, even top guys, have things to work on.  Taillon needs to work on driving the ball down in the zone.  Allie needs to work on his control.  Heredia needs to get adjusted to pitching on a regular basis, and pitching in pro ball.  They will have the occasional bad start, but that shouldn’t be discouraging, as it’s something that happens to every top prospect.  None of these guys are due up any time soon, and we probably won’t see them arrive until the 2013-2015 seasons, using optimistic time frames.  That said, it’s nice to finally see them going in the system.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Anonymous

    When you look at this team it seems impossible that they are where they are.
    They are totally lacking in almost every position except for CF, LF ( Presley ) and 2nd although Walker’s avg. is down he comes up with some key hits. 
    It seems like the rotation is starting to see some cracks with Morton, Correia and McDonald is shaky at best.

    Is this just another freak show ? I hope not but when I look at the overall team i am just mystifyed.
      

  • Lee Young

    I had forgotten this pre-draft report on Alvarez “”Alvarez entered the season as the top player talent-wise in the Draft, and even though he missed a chunk of the season after suffering a broken hamate bone, his status hasn’t suffered.About as safe a bet as there is.”
     
    That last sentence just shows how much of a crap shoot the draft is when  even ‘safe bets’ can struggle big time.
     
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    JMac has been a master of getting out of jams. If he could start to go longer……..
     
    I think I heard where Walk said that Maholm has been doing a better job of ‘busting’ folks inside at a better clip. Apparently the change came from something Hurdle said about the ‘book’ on him?
     
    Go Bucs Go!!!!!!!!