First Pitch: 13 Boom or Bust Players Who Could Make a Difference in 2013

The 2013 roster is starting to take shape. There are still a few off-season questions that remain unanswered. Will the Pirates trade Garrett Jones? Who will win the 5th starter job? Will the Pirates add any free agent relievers? Will they add any more free agents, period?

One thing that is already apparent is that the roster will feature a lot of boom or bust players. I was listening to the recent Bucs Dugout podcast the other day, and David Todd described Francisco Liriano as a “high beta” player — meaning there were plenty of realistic outcomes for his 2013 season, ranging from very bad to very good. That got me thinking about how many “high beta” players the Pirates have, which got me thinking about how many question marks the Pirates have on their roster. The roster is pretty close to being set, but there are several positions with players who aren’t established. The Pirates could go for a guaranteed option at any of these positions, but they’ve got so many choices internally that they might be better off hoping a few of their questionable players have breakout seasons.

Here are 13 players who fit that questionable status. Some of them are “high beta” players like Liriano. Some of them are guys who have talent, but either haven’t seen their skill translate to success in the majors, or have had inconsistent results. Then there’s some guys who haven’t even had a shot in the majors and are unknowns. The success/failure rate of this group will play a big impact in where the Pirates end up in the standings in 2013.

You could probably put Pedro Alvarez on this list, but I left him off. That’s probably because he’s coming off a pretty good season, rather than last year when he was similar to some of the guys on this list below. Alvarez could make a big impact, and he could regress, but I don’t feel like he’s in the same category as the guys below. I also didn’t include Alex Presley, since I see his upside as a strong fourth outfielder.

Hitters

Starling Marte is one of the players who could make a difference for the Pirates in 2013.

Starling Marte is one of the players who could make a difference for the Pirates in 2013.

Starling Marte - Marte was the top hitting prospect in the system last year, and showed flashes of his potential last year. He hit for a .257/.300/.437 line in 167 at-bats after his promotion. The Pirates have a lot of corner outfield options, but no long-term solutions at corner outfield. Marte is the top candidate for one of those corner outfield jobs, and he’s got the biggest chance of a long-term impact. He’s a five-tool talent, but has some issues with plate patience. He’s already hit for some power in the majors, but will either need an increase in average or walks to have value as an everyday player. Considering his plate patience issues, the increase in average seems more likely. He’s hit for average in the minors. This is a case where Marte needs to carry his potential over to the majors. I think he’s got star potential, but I could see a situation where he struggles adjusting to the majors.

Travis Snider - The Pirates acquired Snider at the trade deadline for Brad Lincoln. He was one of the top prospects in baseball a few years ago. He has a lot of power potential, but hasn’t broken out in the majors yet. Snider showed some improvements last year in Triple-A, and briefly with Toronto before the trade. Snider dealt with hamstring injuries after the trade, which could have impacted his performance. He’s still young enough to live up to his potential, but that’s obviously not a guarantee. He should have the inside track for the second starting job, but could lose some at-bats to Jose Tabata and/or Jerry Sands due to the crowded outfield situation.

Jerry Sands - The Pirates recently acquired Sands as one of the main pieces in the Joel Hanrahan trade. He’s hit for power throughout his minor league career, but hasn’t carried that hitting over to the majors in a limited amount of at-bats. There are concerns that he might not carry the hitting over to the majors due to a loopy swing. The power throughout his minor league career makes him very intriguing, although the depth chart is crowded at the positions he plays (1B/OF). He’s got an option remaining, so he’s no guarantee to start in the majors.

Jose Tabata - With the additions of Travis Snider and Jerry Sands, and the promotion of Starling Marte, Jose Tabata has become a forgotten man. He’s still young and has a lot of good tools. He’s been a frustrating player with a lot of injuries, and questions about his work ethic. He’s about the same age as Marte, and younger than Snider or Sands. If those guys still have a shot at breaking out in the majors, then Tabata has time to turn things around. He’ll have to compete with Marte and Snider for playing time, but should be the number four outfielder behind those two, and would get plenty of at-bats in that role. If one of Snider or Marte struggle, Tabata could get another chance as a starter.

Clint Robinson - Robinson draws a lot of similarities to Garrett Jones. He’s hit for power all throughout his minor league career, but has yet to make it in the majors. That’s no fault of his own. He’s been blocked in Kansas City behind Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer. Right now he’s lower on the depth chart, and has one option remaining. He would have a better chance of making the majors if Garrett Jones is traded.

 

Pitchers

James McDonald - We saw two versions of McDonald last year. In the first half he looked like a Cy Young candidate. In the second half he looked like a candidate to be sent to Triple-A. Which version will he be closest to in 2013?

Francisco Liriano - He’s a lefty with a strikeout per inning and an above-average ground ball rate. A move to the NL Central and to PNC Park could help him put up some strong numbers. He’s had a high ERA the last few years, but his FIP numbers have been much lower. When a guy underperforms his FIP numbers one year, it could be chalked up to luck. When he constantly does it, there could be an issue. Liriano has great stuff, and he’s in the best situation he could be in with PNC’s park factors. But the fact that he’s constantly under-performing his skill level and FIP numbers means he isn’t a guarantee for a bounce back season.

Jeff Locke - Locke doesn’t have anything left to prove in Triple-A. He’s got the potential to be a strong fourth starter. So far he hasn’t carried his skill over to the majors. His first chance in the majors was limited to four starts. His second chance came after a full season in Triple-A. It will be interesting to see what he could do in the majors starting fresh at the beginning of the year.

Kyle McPherson - McPherson only had a few starts in Triple-A, and made an appearance in the majors at the end of the season last year. The results at each level were good, but they also come with the small sample size disclaimer. He’s also dealt with some shoulder problems in the last year, including over the off-season. That’s a concern going forward, although it shouldn’t keep him out to start the year. He’s got the potential to be a strong number three starter and an inning eater. He’ll just have to answer the question of whether his results in a small sample were legit.

Jason Grilli - The Pirates dealt away a very good closer in Joel Hanrahan. Grilli’s secondary numbers were better than Hanrahan. He’s older than Hanrahan, so there’s a risk that he could see a decline due to age. If you believe that it takes some special attribute to have success in the 9th inning, then there would be questions of whether Grilli can close.

Mark Melancon - I’ve talked about how Melancon looks like a strong candidate to bounce back from his 2012 numbers. If he can do that, he’d provide the Pirates with a strong set-up option behind Grilli. There’s a chance that Grilli/Melancon could provide similar value to Hanrahan/Grilli.

Charlie Morton - Morton had a strong year in 2011, which was the first year with his new delivery and sinker. He struggled last year, then had Tommy John surgery. He’ll return around mid-season this year, and the Pirates will inevitably need him in the rotation at some point either due to injuries or poor performance. Will the 2011 version return, or was that just a fluke?

Gerrit Cole - Cole has the upside to be one of the best pitchers in the game. He should start the 2013 season in Triple-A, and will likely be up by mid-season. He’s got an amazing arsenal, highlighted by a fastball that hits triple digits, a slider that tops out at 92 MPH, and a changeup in the upper 80s. He dealt with some control issues at the end of the year, and was hit hard in his second appearance in Triple-A. He’s got the potential and the stuff to be an ace, but he does have some things to work on. He’s also struggled initially at each level. When he does make the majors there might be a chance that he doesn’t enter the league at full potential.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. Order your copy today!

**Winter Leagues Recap: Baker Strong In Relief.

**Dan Szymborski has a good article at ESPN looking at how closers are made, and not born. If you’re like me and believe that anyone can close, this has some good numbers to back up your case.

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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  • http://twitter.com/pskell02 pskell02

    Think you forgot about Wilson. Unless you intentionally left him off because he is almost certain to start out in AAA. I think he has a higher upside than both Locke and McPherson, but also a higher washout rate. At best he is a #2 type starter. At worst he is a very good, yet nerve-racking, RP. It all boils down to his control issues. If he can get the BB/9 under 4, I think he has the potential to lead the rotation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      I agree with everything you’ve said about Wilson.

      I’d rather see him in the rotation than Liriano. Liriano has show that, in 3 of the last 4 years he has been NOT good.

      He started 28 times. Only 12 QS last year. Only 14 times did he pitch past the 5th.

      Waste of money, imho.

      • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

        AJ Burnett’s last 2 seasons in NY were arguably as bad as Liriano’s last 2 seasons. yes, the risk is there for Liriano to continue to struggle, but we cant assume he wont turn it around.

        • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

          nor can we assume he will….

          hopefully PNC and Ray can fix him, but I ain’t as optimistic about it.

          I was pessimistic about AJ, too….hopefully, I’ll be proven wrong two years in a row.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I left him off because I think Locke or McPherson will compete for the number 5 spot. Also, I see Wilson fitting in the bullpen with the current makeup of the rotation.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        I can see why you left him off. No problem there.

        I just would rather we had spent money on a Joe Saunders and have JW as a SP option rather than bring in another wild ‘up and down’ starter for big bucks.

        But, as I told WA above, I am REALLY hoping I am wrong about Liriano. After going to Chicago he pitched much better in Aug, but then pretty much stunk in Sept.

        Foo

        .

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

    The bottom line for the Pirates is, unless your name is Andrew McCutchen you are a question mark. 1B is basically hoping Jones continues his good hitting if we keep him and hoping Gaby gets back to his All-Star caliber play from 2 years ago, 2B is can Walker’s back hold up for a whole season, SS, well, Barmes just sucks, 3B, hopefully Pedro can improve at least his K numbers, LF & RF is very inconsistent play from whoever has been out there, and C we signed a guy that hit .237 and .211 the last 2 seasons so his bat is a definite concern. As for the Starting pitching, Burnett was great the first half, but very average in the second half, I feel the best about Wandy, he has had pretty consistent numbers the last few years, JMac, who knows what to expect from him, I like the Liriano signing, but he is a shot in the dark and the #5 pitcher is also a shot in the dark. The Pirates are going to need to hit the lottery on a lot of pieces for them to be competitive. They have been extremely lucky the last 2 seasons for half the year, but eventually the luck needs replaces with real talent.

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

      barmes is the best SS we’ve had since Wilson in his prime, and we could do alot worse than clint. sure the guy couldnt hit water if he fell out of a boat, but lets be honest here, he was signed for his glove, which was one of the best in all of baseball.

      that being said, if a better SS can be had im all for it, but enough with the Barmes sucks stuff. its just incorrect.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        I’d rather have Jack in his prime, but I too am happy with Clint.

        He may even hit .250 this year?

      • buster09

        Agree agree White Angus ! I thought Bryan Graham’s overview of the Bucs was pretty good…until I hit that “Barmes just sucks ..” thing. When I am seeing that he and Brandon Crawford were the 2 best defensive SS last season,that kind of a statement makes me wonder about the person who came up with it. Sort of takes away some of his cred,you know ?

        • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

          why crucify him for his Barmes statement?
          a lot of folks have that opinion of him.

          • http://www.facebook.com/backwardnikomahs Kirk Weaver

            I being one of them although sucks may be a term I wouldn’t use, rather overrated defensively and well…..sucks may be as good a term as any to describe his offense !

  • http://twitter.com/MichaelVelaTTU MichaelVelaTTU

    The most consistent guy the Pirates have had these past few years has been Kevin Correia. I believe a lot of people have their hopes way too high on Liriano. Even if the advanced metrics say otherwise…

    Pirates are moving in the right direction offense-wise. PNC Park’s best group would probably include a lot of left-handed power and right handed batters who can hit to all fields i.e. Martin/McCutchen.

    Really hope Chuck can come back and be fine and REALLY looking forward to seeing Gerrit Cole halfway through the season.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      you’re talking my language Michael. I think a KC type is vastly underrated.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      Btw, I think we finish over .500 if Bedard is pulled from the rotation vice KC, after we traded for Wandy.

      • http://www.facebook.com/backwardnikomahs Kirk Weaver

        The Correia debacle was one of the most terrible moves by the management in years and may have been a huge negative moral factor and the heaviest straw that broke the back of the team in the second half

  • Blue Bomber

    I would definitely add Alvarez to this list. He’s great when he’s hot, but when he isn’t he’s an easy out. He needs to bring more when he isn’t on one of his good streaks. For starters the Pirates could focus on shoring up his defense. He seems to have the skills to be at least an average defender, he just needs to put it together.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I debated on Alvarez. I left him off the list because I felt he could repeat his 2012 season. Pirates fans have been trained to assume that the 2011 season is for real, and the 2012 season is the fluke. Alvarez put up similar numbers in 2010 and 2012, which makes up about 80% of his career. Even with the inconsistent play and the strikeouts, I think he can match the 2012 numbers. To me, the inconsistent play is what keeps him from improving on those numbers.

      • Blue Bomber

        I don’t think I envision him reverting to 2011 levels. I just see a potential for him to become an even better player. He needs to bring something when he’s in one of his funks. Better defense and find a way to shorten his cold streaks and he could be one of the biggest breakout players in MLB. I think more than any player I’ve seen that a quick start to the season would do wonders for him.

        • http://www.reverbnation.com/johnrussellskinner johnrussellskinner

          Agreed on the good start!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Altho I think neither one will amount to much, I think Robinson has a better chance of becoming a major leaguer than ‘Loopy’ Jerry Sands.

    I don’t think much of Liriano, either.

    I like Martin and Melancon, tho.

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

      ive seen CRobinson play a few times in the past and his swing is not very quick but he keeps the barrel in the zone quite well, and he goes with the pitch a great deal too. hes very patient at the plate which is a rare commodity for out team. his defense is on par with Jones, which means not very good. I too believe CRob would be a better option at 1B if Jones is dealt but he has that one option remaining so thats not happening just yet.
      .
      sands “loopy swing” can be worked on, if its even a problem at all. hes still a quality pickup and he could turn into something nice. he probably will platoon with Snider until one of them breaks out.

      • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

        i truly would guess that Jones doesnt replicate his numbers from 2012. i believe he will be more like his self in 2010-11. i was very impressed with his improvement at the plate in 2012, however. he looked much more comfortable and relaxed, and he didnt reach for pitches outside the zone. that was the key for his improvement, IMHO.
        .
        but does he replicate or does he stagnate? do you hope for replication or do you sell high on him and hope for a great return piece? with CRob, Sanchez and Sands in the fold, I would try to deal Jones before a possible collapse in his stats. despite his power numbers, i dont believe hes a better “hitter” than sanchez or CRob.

      • leadoff

        Adam LaRoach has a loopy swing as do a lot of sluggers, Sands does not just hit home runs, he gets hits also. I don’t think the “Loop” is as big a concern as major league pitching is IMO. I do think Sands is going to find out that he won’t get a chance to get into any kind of rhythm, Hurdle is not the kind of manager to give kids any long looks unless they are of the Alvarez pedigree and I think in Alvarez’s case, Huntington might have had something to say about how Alvarez was handled. If Sands can hit right out of the gate, he has a chance.

      • buster09

        If you have seen Bubba Starling’s swing,Sands looks like a model swing ! From what I ve seen from him,the length of his swing isn;’t nearly what Eldred’s was,and he has a really slight loop that might be able to be smoothed out. The Phillies Darren Ruff has a very similar swing as Sands.I could be wrong,but I sure hope I’m not.

        • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

          agree on Bubba’s swing.

          Hey, I HOPE I am wrong about Sands and Olive Pimento, but I am not optimistic about either.

          I like DeJesus and Melancolly Baby, tho.

          .

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Tim….since McFearsome was sent home with shoulder issues again, THAT would be more of a concern to me than his small sample size, imho.

    .

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      He’s apparently fine after the recent issue. The fact that he’s had two shoulder problems in one year is a concern to me.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        note my ‘again’… :)

        once…okay….again….NOT ok.

        :)

  • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

    I agree there are a lot of boom/bust candidates. And after reading this the first question in my mind was, ‘Can someone explain to me how Neal Huntington is doing a good job?’. Going into his sixth year and this club has in the neighborhood of 40% of the 25 man roster whose level of performance is an unknown.

    • leadoff

      I can explain why Huntington is doing a good job! I don’t think it is as simple as 40% of the roster or the current MLB team W/L record.
      Even though Huntington in reality has done a good job, that does not mean that he has not peaked and some one else might be better equipped to carry the club further, we will find out this year.
      Why has he done a good job?
      The reason he has done a good job is because of the depth of the entire organization and the financial constraints he has to work under. The Pirates organization is far better from top to bottom now than it was when he took over. Most organizations take 7-8 years to develop when it has to be developed from top to bottom, players coming from the minors need 3-4 years to develop at the major league level.
      As for the 40% of the roster being bust or boom, that is a home made number. The Pirates have track records for 7 out of the 8 position players, they have track records for most of their pitching, they can’t predict injuries or bad seasons, no one can and no other team can. The big problem with the Bucs is the financial constraints, they can’t pay top dollar for depth, but their starting 8 will be a very good starting 8, they have a quality player at every position, they don’t have to be all stars to be quality.

      • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

        My 40% number was based on the 13 players Tim highlighted in the story. Assuming 10 of them make the 25 man roster out of ST, that’s 40% that are boom or bust.

        I think you are confusing the Reds (with track records on 7 or 8 position players) with the Pirates, who according to the author this post and EIC of this site have 13 boom or bust candidates competing for a spot on the 25 man roster.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          Of the guys in this article, you won’t see 10 of them on the 25-man roster.

          Cole will start in Triple-A. Morton will start on the DL. One of Locke or McPherson will probably go to Triple-A. One of Sands or Robinson will go to Triple-A, and possibly both. That’s 4-5 guys who won’t start in the majors.

          There are also different levels of questions. For example, only two of Marte, Snider, Tabata, or Sands will start. The guys that are bench players don’t need to play up to their potential to have value in their roles. Also, some guys (Grilli, Melancon) seem like better bets to have success in their roles than guys like Snider or Sands.

          • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

            You are right, probably less than 10 will make the roster out of ST. So, 1/3 of the lineup is boom/bust.

        • leadoff

          The Reds have their share of boom or bust candidates also. The Pirates are solid at 7 out of 8 positions that are not boom or bust candidates, that is still along way from 25 solid players, most teams that contend go about 11-12 deep in quality players, counting pitchers, in my book that leaves about 50% of most rosters that you could in theory call boom or bust.
          ML baseball teams can’t afford to pay double for each position on the field.

          • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

            The Reds have their share of boom or bust candidates? You can’t really mean that. Otherwise you have to be painfully unaware:

            1B Votto
            2B Phillips
            SS Cozart – not great by any stretch, but acceptable given the studs around him
            3B Frazier
            LF Ludwick
            CF Choo
            RF Bruce
            C Hanigan/Mesoraco – same category as Cozart

            Plus they have Heisey and Hannahan on the bench as proven backups/fill ins.

            Plus a rotation with five guys returning each of whom started 30 or more games and a bullpen where every pitcher who had 20 or more IP had an ERA+ of better than 100 (eight different guys).

            The only two question marks I see in Cincy are fairly minor:
            1. Can Mesoraco hit enough to be an option at C?
            2. Can Choo play center?

            This is a team that in 2012 lost an MVP candidate for six weeks and still won the division going away. Then they upgraded their leadoff spot and their bench this offseason. Seriously – name the boom or bust candidates on the Reds.

            • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

              can Frazier do it again?

              And NO, neither Choo nor Bruce can play CF.

              Can their pitchers stay healthy again for the full year? That doesn’t happen too often.

              • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

                If Frazier can’t do it, they have Hannahan who can play a decent third and be a medicore hitter. Rolen could also be back (I think unlikely).

                If the pitcher’s aren’t healthy, they have Tony Cingrani and Pedro Villareal all but ready to go in the high minors.

                Here is what I think: the 2013 Reds will score more runs and allow fewer runs than the 2013 Pirates.

                • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

                  BeB…from above (replies getting way too skinny)

                  why are the Reds high minor pitchers any better than ours? They’re not a lock by any stretch.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I’m not sure if the 40% number is accurate. Let’s flip your question. If 40% of the roster is unknown, why is Huntington doing a bad job? A lot of those guys are recently acquired players, or prospects just making it to the majors.

      The top performers (Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, A.J. Burnett) don’t have as many questions.

      The Pirates have a lot of unknowns, but they’ve got a chance to contend with this roster. I wrote a few months ago that 2013 is the make or break season for Huntington. We’ve seen Huntington take the system from nothing to a system with a lot of potential impact guys. We’ve seen him take the team to a near-.500 record. Now is the time to see if he can take the jump to the next level. The team success in 2013 will largely depend on those unknowns and how many of them perform up to their potential.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        and even those top 4 players you listed, have questions.

        1) Was last year a career year for AMac?
        2) Can AJ do it two years in a row?
        3) Will we see “HR Pedro” or “Clueless Pedro” more
        4) Will Neil’s back injury prove chronic and career deflating?

        .

        • http://www.reverbnation.com/johnrussellskinner johnrussellskinner

          Mccutchen is the real deal, no doubt. The question there being will the power numbers be there?

          AJ should be fine considering that he was a good enough pitcher to warrant the contract that the Yankees are helping us pay him currently. The track record is there, and hopefully no bunting injuries this year. Without that fluke, we were .500 last year, but hey we are talking Pirates luck here.

          Alvarez is the real question mark in your list. The power is there, and he is young, but 2011 was awful! This guy is a much bigger question mark than Jones, and had less production with many more PA. Aside from home run total, he was inferior in every way (other than left handed pitching).

          Unfortunately, as a chronic back pain sufferer, with genetics coming from a similar locale WV, the concerns are warranted ( although chiropractors do work wonders). What Neil walker does have at this stage in his career is youth, and we will have his best years! There is no question that the guy can play, and other than mccutchen is our best player (right now) on both sides of the ball!

        • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

          I think the answer to your question has several parts:
          1. There are too many questions on the roster. Teams that are expected to contend don’t normally have this many glaring questions coming into a season (NH still has time to make some additions). There are teams that have surprised people that have had this many questions. But contenders out of the gate? I can’t think of any off the top of my head in recent seasons with this many questions.
          2. As you pointed out in this article, the roster isn’t set – somewhere in the vicinity of 33% is boom/bust. He’s had six years worth of trades, drafts, free agent signings and Latin American signings to put the roster together. He hasn’t done it.
          3. He hasn’t acquired an impact player via trade. He had an entire MLB roster at his disposal and, for the sake of 2013, turned it into Tabata, Locke, Harrison, a portion of Gaby and a portion of Melancon, Sands, Stolmy & De Jesus (plus Rowland, Alderson, Morris, etc). His inability to acquire an impact player from the collection of players he inherited (four of the players he traded have a higher single season fWar than any player he acquired in those deals) hampered this team in 2012 and will likely do so again in 2013. The only all-star player he has acquired is a closer and since you believe anyone can close, this is far from impressive.
          4. His process, thought to be good by many, is not very good at all. Two recent examples: Signing Maholm and Doumit to contract extensions whose option years he deemed to be too expensive only to turn around and pay about the same or more for replacements who either failed (Barajas, Bedard) or have yet to appear in a game (Martin, Liriano). That scenario (and others like it) leads me to think that his plan is not very well thought out. And why did he have to go outside the system to sign aging free agents? Because he did such a poor job when he traded the players he inherited. Vicious cycle.
          5. It might be unfair to grade his drafts, but you yourself have pointed out in this space that the 2009 draft appears to be devoid of impact talent. According to Baseball America, the Pirates spent more money than any team in baseball on the combined drafts of 2008 and 2009. For a team with limited resources, money has to return more value than what he has gotten thus far.
          6. The 2012 team was mediocre. The team he assembled might have had the best record of any team in two decades, but it was still nine games out of a playoff spot in spite of having the least number of impactful injuries of any major league team, an MVP candidate and two teams with 100 losses in the same division.

    • Blue Bomber

      I think we’ll know how good of a job Huntington has done at the end of the season. The recent moves the Pirates have made would indicate to me the Neal either thinks the Pirates can win, or realizes that if they don’t win this year he’s gone. I’d say this about his work to date:
      1. The minor league system is better, but still disapointing based on the money and emphasis. Bad scouting? Bad player development?
      2. 2011 was a surprise so I give him a pass on the 2nd half slide. 2012 is a different matter. Whether he planned on it or not, his team was clearly in the playoff hunt in August. Was the slide all his fault? No, but to fall so far and so fast should not be acceptable.
      3. All in for 2013. Liriano seems like a shot at catching lighnting in a bottle and attempting to save his job. A bit like Morris for Littlefield. I also have to think Garrett Jones is still on the roster for the same reason. Neal has his fingers double crossed that Jones can forget about ’10 and ’11 and repeat last year. Either way, I don’t see a scenario where the Pirates fail to compete in ’13 and Neal keeps his job.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        “The minor league system is better, but still disapointing based on the money and emphasis. ”

        Totally disagree. All NH did in 2009 was buy a bunch of overslot HS pitchers who were set to go 2nd or 3rd round.

        The return on 2nd and 3rd round picks is 20% or less and even lower on HS Pitchers.

        However, the odds of them making it were better than the odds of ta 6th rd or 8th rd pick, etc, making it.

        And remember….had they gone to college, they’d be Juniors or Seniors.

        Foo

        .

        • Blue Bomber

          I see and understand your point, but I still think that if a team is going to invest a significant amount of resources into the amateur draft, then they should get some sort of advantage from doing it. In this case, the Pirates should have one of the better minor league systems in baseball. They don’t. Why? Did they draft the wrong players? Are they being poorly developed? Maybe the systems is on the cusp on seeing the results of this money? If not, I don’t see what the difference is between wasting money on the amateur draft and wasting it on marginal free agents. Neither makes the organization any better and both indicate the GM is not doing his job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    BeB…from above (replies getting way too skinny)

    why are the Reds high minor pitchers any better than ours? They’re not a lock by any stretch.

    • leadoff

      I don’t know how anyone can make a statement that the Reds minor league pitchers are better than the Pirates pitchers or that the Pirate minor league pitchers are better than the Reds pitchers, statistics for minor league pitchers can be very deceiving.
      The Pirates have 3 that can pitch at the major league level right now and that are pretty close to ready, I don’t know if the Reds have that many and that does not include any of the Pirates top prospects.

    • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

      Lee – yes, that got very skinny on us.

      I don’t think the Reds minor league pitchers are better than those in the Pirates system. That wasn’t my point. My point is that the Reds current ML rotation is quite a bit stronger. The Reds have five guys in their rotation with a track record of recent and ongoing success (or in the case of Leak recent performance in the neighborhood of league average). I don’t think there is going to be a wholesale faltering of the Reds rotation. But, in the possibility that one guy gets hurt or pitches horribly, the Reds have someone (or two) who is ready to step in by mid-season. At the ML level, the Reds rotation is better and I think they will have to rely less on their minor leaguers to step in.

      The Pirates minor league starting pitching depth is quite a bit stronger than the Reds, IMO. Especially in the high minors.

  • leadoff

    Every team in baseball is loaded with question marks, this is an argument that can’t be won by anyone because the answers have not happened yet. I will take the Pirates starting 8 as a solid quality group of players, I know they could stub their toes or just play bad, but we don’t live in a vacuum, something negative can happen to anyone, I refuse to be drawn into the what if game, if that is all we care about we can never go forward.

  • derekbellstutu

    What would Pirates fans-at-large think of Neal Huntington if he traded Starling Marte, Jameson Taillon, and Alen Hanson/Gregory Polanco for Giancarlo Stanton tomorrow? This is what I think it would take to acquire Stanton. I think Huntington is capable of a making this deal, but should he?

  • NorCal Buc

    derek ~ I would NOT trade Marte,Tallion, Hanson or Polanco for Stanton. That being said………

    I agree with leadoff for the most part ~ this F/O has turned a moribund franchise, with NO minor league talent, into a competing team, with more talent in the minors than we could ever dream of five years ago.

    The past tow season of boom/bust has been integral in maturing into a winning team, and franchise. The first place standings of the past two summers point to the potential of this team. The collapses of the past two seasons point to the growing pains inherent in becoming a winning franchise.

    Let’s review where we were five years ago. ONE star player – Jason Bay. Only one above average ~ Freddie Sanchez. As for the others – N Morgan, Paulino, J Wilson, J Bautista (at that time), R Doumit, x Nady, J Castillo, Ian Snell, M Gonzalez, P Maholm, etc. NONE of whom have made their mark since, save for Bautista. Our hopes in the minors then were B Eldred, C Duffy, and Rajai Davis, and pitching prospects were B Bullington and J Van Benschoten.

    Today ~ ONE star player – Andrew McCutchen. GREAT upside potential to be a star at their position; THREE – Pedro Alvarez, Neal Walker, Starling Marte. Also, one of the following has this kind of talent: T Snyder, J Sands, J Tabata. The lower minors have several high impact starters.

    The pitching comparisons are laughable. Now, they’re three studs in the pipeline with Cole, Tallion and L Heredia. Quality young starters already mentioned are J Locke. McPherson, J Wilson, C Morton.

    The questions about this franchise pertain to the potential to play into October. THAT is tremendous progress.

    Most importantly, these questions about playoff caliber team point to the success of Neil Huntington and the rest of the F/O

  • formerburgher

    All this talk about CRobertson replacing Garett Jones is off base. Jones appears to be an emerging power hitter. He has improved each year since coming to the Bucs. Although he is a big guy he runs well and is very athletic. His power goes well at PNC’s short right field. He defense is adequate. They would do well to give him a 2 or 3 year contract. If you look at his power numbers he is a bargain.

  • http://www.facebook.com/backwardnikomahs Kirk Weaver

    The question was posed but not addressed and I was looking for your answer….Will the Pirates trade Garrett Jones ?