First Pitch: Some Early Thoughts From Big League Camp

A lot can happen in the next three and a half weeks to shape up the Opening Day roster. We’ve only seen a small sample size from each player here, and while some players are standing out, it’s important to keep that perspective about the lack of playing time.

That said, here are some of my thoughts on the early part of camp, all coming with the disclaimer that it’s still early, and the results so far don’t mean much.

The Rotation

It’s hard to get a read on any pitchers at this point, since all of them are “getting their work in“. Some of them aren’t even throwing their full arsenal. So this won’t be as much about the performances. Instead it will be an observation about the injuries. We knew coming into camp that Francisco Liriano probably wasn’t making the Opening Day squad. Jeff Karstens went down, and is just starting to throw bullpens. That doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be ready for the season. A.J. Burnett didn’t start pitching until the third week of March last year, and he only missed the very start of the 2012 season. Under the same timeframe, Karstens would be on pace for Opening Day, but it would be close.

That could mean that Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson could both make the Opening Day squad, at least for one turn through the rotation. Jonathan Sanchez could also compete for a spot, although his control was pretty horrible in the outing I saw last week.

The thing to keep an eye on would be Karstens’ time table. It wouldn’t be a huge deal if Locke and McPherson started the year in the rotation, since we’re probably only talking one start. Having Karstens take over for one of those two provides a bit more comfort than having two rookies in the rotation from day one.

Corner Outfield

Coming into camp the consensus seemed to be that Travis Snider was the favorite to win one of the outfield spots. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose Tabata wins that spot, with Snider serving as the fourth outfielder. That’s partly due to the small sample of performances. It’s also the quality of play. Tabata has been going all out and looks much better than he did last year. Snider has looked bad in his at-bats. This is one of those situations where a lot can change over the next few weeks. If tomorrow was Opening Day, I’d guess Tabata would be starting over Snider.

On that same note, Jerry Sands isn’t looking good early. He’s got an option, which is something Travis Snider doesn’t have, so that’s not a huge concern in the short term.

Gaby Sanchez

Another opinion based on small sample sizes, but Gaby Sanchez is looking good. If he keeps this up, he could return to those 2010-11 numbers. That would make a strong platoon with Garrett Jones at first base.

Sanchez has been getting some time at third base, but I don’t see anything coming from that. The only time it would make sense to start him instead of Alvarez would be if there was a tough left-hander on the mound. If that were the case, it would also make sense to start him over Jones at first, which seems more likely to happen.

Daily Photos

I didn’t take a lot of photos today, and none of Cole since I was paying closer attention to his pitches.

Stolmy Pimentel

Stolmy Pimentel

Carlos Paulino

Carlos Paulino

Anderson Hernandez

Anderson Hernandez

Links and Notes

**Pirates Notebook: Gerrit Cole Dominates, But Don’t Expect Him To Make the Team.

**Tony Sanchez Has the Defense, But Can He Hit in the Majors?

**I won’t be covering the big league team tomorrow in Fort Myers. Instead, I’ll be spending the day at Pirate City, most likely taking in live BPs.

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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, 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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  • NorCal Buc

    Possibly, Snider is pressing, and won’t hit his stride until he spends time in Indianapolis. More likely, Tabata has found his stroke, and would provide a good lead-off option, again. Then, would Marte bat no.6, providing Pedro with greater protection that Martin, who’d bat 7th, thereby “prolonging” the lineup?

    • Ian Rothermund

      While I hope Tabata has found his stroke, with Snider out of options, he would have to absolutely embarrass himself in order to get sent down and risk the waiver wire. If someone picked him up, that would be quite embarrassing to have just given Brad Lincoln away.

      I do like the idea of Tabata batting lead-off, if that makes sense. I think the ideal Pirate lineup would go something like;


      However, if for whatever reason, either Marte greatly impresses, or Tabata struggles, in combination with one of the more power-oriented right fielders, or even Gabby Sanchez stepping forward, I say move Marte up to lead-off, then plug in Sanchez or the right field option into the #6 hole. Then maybe even Martin has improved his offensive numbers, at least in regards to OBP, and he can move up into the #6 hole, which would put less pressure on the new comer who can bat 7th.

      The best part about all this conjecture is that there are multiple options that could all plausibly step up at each of the positions that are carrying question marks into the season. Also, if the team can avoid any catastrophic injuries, I don’t think any real magic has to happen at those positions, they just can’t be a black hole in the line-up, or completely embarrass themselves in the field.

  • joe g.

    Tabata saw the competitive situation for an outfield spot. Nice to see him responding to the challenge. My biggest concern is management’s decision making process. If Tabata continues to perform, he would seem a logical choice to bat lead off, taking some pressure off Marte and putting him in a more logical spot, maybe 6th. However, I’m getting a vibe that management is hell bent on leading off with Marte. Hope I am wrong.

    • Ian Rothermund

      Why are people so against Marte leading off? I mean, I can understand if the argument is that he’s just not ready, but he possesses as much upside as anyone on the team. He’s probably the fastest player on the team, and from the games last year, I think he has a sneaky amount of power that people haven’t quite realized yet…not to mention he’s always managed to hit for a high average. That’s the kind of guy you want receiving the more AB’s on the team. That’s what it’s really all about, getting the best, most dynamic offensive players the most opportunities on the team. In my opinion, the only reason they shouldn’t be leading off with McCutchen is that he’s the absolute best hitter on the team, and it would just be nice to have a couple higher OBP guys in front of him so he’s not constantly batting with the bases empty. Marte is a player with a ton of potential to be an exciting, dynamic, game changer, while Tabata seems to have the upside of a guy with only above average speed, no power, that can hit for only a moderate average, and play so-so defense.

      • jalcorn

        The job of a leadoff hitter is to get on base, Marte is flat out bad at doing that. He does many things well that would make him an ideal 5th hitter, but getting on base is his worst attribute.

        Walker should leadoff vs RHP, Snider hitting 2nd.

        Tabata leadoff against LHP, Walker 2nd.

        • Susanne Klich Langford

          Two things…it is unfair to say Marte is bad at getting on base. If he becomes a .290 hitter and walks 40 or so times a year his obp will be decent for a leadoff hitter. Also leading off is not just getting on base. A leadoff hitter with the ability to get himself into scoring position 75+ times a year is extremely valuable…and Marte can do that. Still, I am not against Tabata batting leadoff. He can work counts and get on base…he’s shown that a lot in the past. We just need him to show more gap power and he needs to drastically improve his sb% from last year. He looks good…let’s see if he can stay focused for 6 months. Sometimes I believe Tabata is really the age they originally said he was because of his immaturity.

  • wkkortas

    But Marte hasn’t been a high OBP guy–he’s never walked a lot, and certainly didn’t after he came up last year. I agree with you on his potential and his tools, but he’s unlikely–and certainly not right now–to be the best fit as a top-of-the order guy.

  • IC Bob

    Martes OBP was higher then Tabbys. plus if you look at his minor league numbers he had a 350 OBP through his career. I think some of you are putting way to much emphasis on his short time in the league. The kid can hit and he can run. That fits a whole lot better then a guy that has shown he can do neither. On this team their are no players who take pitches at the level they should so I don ‘t see a true leadoff hitter in the bunch. Additionally putting Marte behind Jones and or Alveraz would totally waste his speed and turn his triples into doubles and doubles into singles.

    • The Green Weenie

      “Marte’s OBP was higher than Tabby’s”

      I’m sorry, but this just isn’t true. Ever. At the major league level, Marte had a OBP of .300 over 182 plate appearance, while Tabata had a .315 OBP over 374 PA last year. Furthermore, Tabata’s career OBP is .338. Not that saying that make him an ideal lead off guy himself, but better than Marte’s .300.

      And even in the minors, Marte had a .347 OBP (431 PA) at AAA Indy last year, while Tabata had a .353 OBP (173) at Indy last year and a .412 OBP in 2011 (granted 38 PA), .373 in 2010 (252 PA) and a .333 in 2009 (148 PA). So you have to go back 4 years to find a season when Tabata underperformed Marte’s OBP at a similar lever and given that Marte and Tabata are nearly the same age (Tabata is 2 months older!) that is an entirely unfair comparison.

  • emjayinTN

    Starling Marte is a Top 100 Prospect who has dazzled the minors all the way through – he just keeps getting better each year. The Pirates want reps for this kid and batting him leadoff is what they need to do. He was overwhelmed in the majors and still managed to get a .300 OBP and a .437 Slg %age in his first exposure. I like Tabata, but .315 OBP and a .348 Slg %age as an experienced hitter? Cmon, that’s a no brainer. After leading the Eastern League in hitting at AA in 2011, Marte goes to AAA and posts .286, 21 doubles, 13 triples, 12 HR’s, and 62 RBI in 393 AB’s before coming to the majors – play the man at leadoff. He will be a #3 or #5 in a few years.

  • jamesmvargo

    Not drinking the Tabata Kool-aid again. He sucks us in and come regular season, he’s back! I hope he is better, but not optimistic.

  • IC Bob

    I like Tabby but the reality is he has a lot to prove after last season. He has never hit for any power and he is average at best in the field. As for him leading off, if he starts he will likely be the second worst hitter in the line up only ahead of Barmes. Why would you lead off your second worst hitter? Marte shredded the Dominican league while getting quite a few walks this year. The ball explodes off his bat and he can run like the wind. Like I said I like Tabby and hope he gets it going. If he were to become the player he was his rookie season then I would tend to agree with you but that was back in 2010 and feels like it was more distant then that.

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