Spring Training Circuit: Pittsburgh Pirates

Over the next few weeks, I will be delving into each Major League club as it prepares for the upcoming season.  My goal is to analyze each clubs roster makeup and a glimpse into future prospects.  In addition, I hope to research and include interesting information about each respective clubs training location.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are the first team in my Spring Training Circuit.  The Pirates are dear to my heart, being my favorite club.  I figure why not start with the Bucs.


Pittsburgh Pirates

Training Location: Bradenton, Florida

2011 Results: 72-90 (4TH NL Central) 

Manager: Clint Hurdle

Payroll entering 2012: 50.9 Million

The Pittsburgh Pirates were the story of Major League Baseball in the first half of last season.  On July 20th, the Bucs were in 1st place in the National League Central.  On August 20th, the Milwaukee Brewers had a 14.5 game lead on the Pirates (Not to mention both the Reds and Cardinals jumped Pitt in the standings).  The Bucs success stemmed from solid first half starting pitching.  Kevin Correria, a 2011 NL All-star, lead the league in wins for the first two months of the season.  Along with a resurgent Charlie Morton (10-10 3.83) and a dominant stretch by reliever turned started Jeff Karstens in which he went 5-1 with a 1.72 ERA in the months of June and July, the Pirates were able to keep their record above .500 and in the thick of the division race.  Injuries along with inconsistent play lead to the Bucs demise, as the team was well out of contention entering the final month of September.

The 2011-12 offseason for the Bucs included some minor additions/subtractions.  This past weekend, the Pirates made their biggest addition of the offseason by acquiring RHP A.J. Burnett in a trade with the New York Yankees.

Additions: 

Nate Mclouth is back with the Pirates

-LHP Erik Bedard (Free Agent)

-OF Nate McLouth (Free Agent)

-1B Casey McGehee (Trade with Brewers)

-RHP Juan Cruz (Free Agent)

-SS Clint Barmes (Free Agent)

-RHP A.J. Burnett (Trade with Yankees)

Subtractions:

-LHP Paul Maholm (Free Agent/Cubs)

-RHP Jose Veras (Trade with Brewers)

Spring Training Facility

Nestled in the city of Bradenton is Pirate City, the Spring Training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The entire complex was recently renovated prior to the 2008 season.  Interestingly, Pirate City does not include the Major League Spring Training Stadium,

Entrance to Pirate City

McKechnie Field.  McKechnie field is located a few miles down the road.  When visiting Pirate City, you are able to watch practices in the center of four baseball fields.  All four home plates form a square viewing area for fans.  On one field you can watch BP, on another you can view fielding practice, and on another you can watch an inter-squad game.  I have personally visited Bradenton and Pirate City twice, and each time was after the Grapefruit league began play.  At that point, practices were less and the big leaguers no longer used the facility (They transfer their practices to McKechnie Field).

The Bradenton area is not the biggest tourist attraction, but if you do some research there are some really nice beaches to check out.  In addition, Bradenton is not to far from other training locations like Tampa (Yankees), Clearwater (Phillies), and Sarasota (Orioles).

Roster Outlook: Infielders

Of the four infield positions, the Pirates are only set in stone up the middle. Neil Walker and Clint Barmes will be the starters at second base and shortstop respectively. Walker is coming off a solid 2011 campaign in which he slugged 12 homeruns while driving in 83 RBI, both decent numbers for a second baseman. Barmes, a free agent signing in the offseason, looks to bring some much needed defense to a Bucs team that has been deprived of just that ever since Jack Wilson was traded to the Mariners.

Coming into camp, the first base job seems to be Garett Jones’ job to lose.  Pushing Jones for the starting position will be new addition Casey McGehee and farm hand Matt Hauge.  Hauge had a very impressive season last year in Triple-A Indionapolis (.309/.372/.457).  While all signs point to Hague not coming north with the big club, there is a chance that his spring training play could force Manager Clint Hurdle to give him some playing time. Non-roster invitee Nick Evans also has a chance to get some time at first base.  Along with Casey McGehee, Evans is interesting because he can play both corner infield positions.

Likely at third base is Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates 1st overall draft pick of 2008 and the 2nd overall pick in that draft.  After exciting thousands of Bucco fans in 2010 with 16 home runs in two months after his call up to the bigs.  Last season, Alvarez was everything short of dismal.  His .191/.272/.289 line was so bad that General Manager Neil Huntington had no choice but to send Alvarez back down to the minors to hone his swing and preparation.  A big part of the Pirates becoming a contender is the maturation and improvement of Alvarez, a player that the Pirates front office has put a lot of faith into.  This is a huge year in the life of Pedro Alvarez, as he has the chance of being labeled a “bust” if he does not show improvement.  Look for Alvarez to begin the year as the starting 3rd baseman for the Pirates, however Casey McGehee and Nick Evans are present to take over if Alvarez falters again.

Roster Outlook: Outfielders

The outfield of the Pittsburgh Pirates starts with Andrew McCutchen, the teams best player.  He will be patrolling Center Field, while newly extended Jose Tabata will begin the season as the teams starting left fielder.  Both players look to be top of the lineup producers.

Alex Presley doing some cage work at spring training

Right field for the Pirates could feature a few players.  Free agent Nate Mclouth was brought in for outfield depth.  Garett Jones can play right field as well.  Alex Presley looks to get the best chance of becoming the teams opening day starter in right field.  After Presley was called up last season, he hit .298/.339/.465.  Those are some very good numbers and with youth on his side, Presley will be an interesting player to watch this season for the Bucs.

Roster Outlook: Catchers

Rod Barajas was brought in to be the Pirates starting catcher.  He will be re-united with pitcher A.J. Burnett from their years in Toronto.  Barajas is a solid defensive catcher and experienced professional.  He is not a star player, but he is very important to the overall success of the Pirates pitching staff.  Backing up Barajas will be Mike McKenry.

Roster Outlook: Starting Pitchers

The six candidates for starting pitcher spots for the Pittsburgh Pirates are LHP Erik Bedard, RHP A.J. Burnett, RHP Charlie Morton, RHP James McDonald, RHP Jeff Karstens, and RHP Kevin Correia.

Burnett throws his first bullpen session as a Pirate

Of those six, only five will begin the season as starters however it is tough to not see all eventually making a start for the Bucs.  Charlie Morton is coming off a big bounce back season in which he went 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA.  McDonald has a lot of talent but has been troubled by his control issues.  Jeff Karstens will look to show that his success of 2011 was not a fluke.  Top starters Burnett and Bedard will look to be the workhorses of this rotation.

Roster Outlook: Bullpen

Closing for the Pirates will be big Joel Hanrahan. Hanrahan has 40 saves last season and is one of the premier closers in all of baseball.  Even Meek, Jason Grilli, Chris Resop, Tony Watson, Daniel McCutchen, and newly acquired Juan Cruz round up the bullpen for the Pirates. This bullpen looks to remain one of the strengths for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  They were 5th in the MLB in total holds and 10th in total saves.

Roster Outlook: Top Prospects

The top prospects for the Pirates begin with two superb Right handed pitchers.  Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon hope to bring top of the rotation stuff to the Buccos.

Gerrit Cole throws his first bullpen session as a Pirate

Both pitchers are top draft choices for Pittsburgh in the last two drafts.  They are both hard throwing pitchers that have plus change ups and breaking pitches to go along with the heat.  Josh Bell, the teams third ranking prospect, is a high school outfielder with tremendous upside.  After being selected in the second round of last years draft, Bell agreed to an above slot bonus of 5 million.  Tony Sanchez was the teams top draft choice from 2009. He is a defensive catcher that needs to sharpen his hitting skills before he reaches the majors.  Starling Marte is the most experienced top prospect that the Pirates have.  The five tool outfielder hopes to have a strong start in Triple-A and eventually play in the show.  The future of the Pirates looks bright, as they have two potential ace pitchers.

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