OK, we're gonna have some musical chairs being played for the outfield positions, and we think all through the season, not just in the spring. You can count on Nate McLouth and Brandon Moss being locks, Nyjer Morgan pretty close to one, Eric Hinske as the fourth man, and then it gets a little interesting for that fifth spot.
Craig Monroe or Steve Pearce? This actually could end up a big deal, at least in the early part of the season, because with it lookin' like an all-lefty starting OF out of the gate, the extra RH outfielder could potentially see plenty of at-bats.
Monroe put together some pretty solid years for Detroit, but in the past two seasons, he's hit .219 and .202 and was DFA'ed by the Twins. His slugging percentages the past two years have been .370 and .405.
He's still got a little pop in his bat and his splits, both average and power-wise, are pretty even, making him a prime PH candidate. Monroe looks a lot to GW like Jason Michaels with a bat, but not quite as capable with a glove.
Pearce is everyone's favorite whipping boy, though he's only had 177 MLB at-bats to prove himself, with a decent line of .266/4/57 but a weak slugging % of .412. Like Monroe, he can't draw a walk to save his soul, though he does put the ball in play much more often.
He's certainly no golden glove OF either, though he plays first base pretty well and could be useful there in a back-up role, given Hinske's splits against lefties (and for that matter, Pearce's splits against righties).
The Pirates, from what we hear, would like to have him spend the season at Indy. Pearce will be 26 in April, and probably deserves a tour of duty with the big club. That will be the internal debate - is being a young MLB bench player a help or hindrance to development? We think Monroe is a long shot to make a difference on the team, and just serves to block Pearce. We'll see what the suits think.
Jeff Salazar could sneak into the mix, if Hinke is seen as more of a corner infield type than OF. He can play all three OF positions, but as a lefty stick that doesn't strike fear in any pitcher's heart, the 28-year old is almost certainly ticketed to Indy as a Kevin Thompson-type insurance policy.
It may be a moot point for that trio; Andrew McCutchen, unless he totally flames out in the first couple of months at Indy, will be called up as soon as the suits are sure he can avoid reaching "Super Two" arbitration status, and we expect to see him sometime in the early summer.
Everyone is waiting for the 22-year old's coming-out party. Some say another year to work out a couple of kinks in his armor - plate patience and base stealing, in particular - won't hurt. But even if he ends up being merely a solid player and not a superstar, hey, the team could use him. It's time for him to play.
He's a top of the order hitter and will be the best gloveman in the outfield as soon as he arrives. And we're thinking that McLouth and McCutch batting one-two will give the team a leadoff punch it hasn't seen in years. And with a McLouth-McCutch-Moss OF, balls should have some trouble finding the gaps as frequently as they do now.
Another whisper is that Neil Walker, catcher turned third baseman, may have another flip in his career and get some time in the OF to address that need. With little LaRoche and Pedro sandwiching him, it seems like the smart play.
After Jose Tabata, there's not a lot in the top levels of the Pirate system. And the 20-year old will be at Altoona to start 2009, still a minimum of a couple of season away from the show.
He played briefly for the Curve last year. In 89 at-bats, his line was .348/3/13, with a OBP of .402, slugging percentage of .562, OPS of .964, and 10 stolen bases. Small sample, but a taste of his potential when his head's together.
Jamie Romak, the 1B/OF hybrid that is the biggest power bat in the organization, has to prove himself at Altoona this year. As a 24-year old, his clock is ticking. Same for Jared Keel, another big bat that should join Romak at Altoona. He hit 20 bombs at Lynchburg last year, but he's 24 too, and time is not on his side.
Marcus Davis is another oldie but goodie. He's a 24-year old with some upside, but a project. He's got some tools, but started off late and comes from a small college background. If Davis can establish himself this season, probably at Lynchburg, after missing most of last year to a knee injury, he could jump on the prospect track. Davis is fighting father time, too, but could end up another Nyjer Morgan-type tale, except he has some tools and played baseball as a kid.
The Pirates still like 21-year old Austin McClune, a speedy ex-gridder with a rifle arm. His stats regressed dramatically at the dish last year, but he showed better plate discipline and a bit of gap power. If he regains his stroke at West Virginia, McClune will remain in the team's future plans.
To show the gap, the next batch of prospects are three 19-year olds that the scouts like, all drafted out of high school. Quincy Latimore, Wesley Freeman, and Rob Grossman are all just taking their first steps in the system, and we'll see a couple of seasons down the road how their careers turn out.