OK, the roster's set; Monday is showtime. GW takes a look at the 2009 Pirates compared to their 2008 counterparts and how they'll finish according to his trusty ouija board:
-- Starting Pitchers:
2009: Zach Duke, Jeff Karstens, Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, Ian Snell.
2008: Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm, Matt Morris, Ian Snell (Dumatrait joined rotation April 27th when Morris was released).
Outlook: There are more arms available this year, although it didn't show as far as the competition was concerned. We expect this group to be a step above last year's, but there are still too many back-enders and not enough talent at the front. It should get stronger when Dumatrait reclaims his spot sometime in mid-to-late May.
There are just too many question marks - will Snell and Duke rebound? How will The Big O and Karstens stand up to pitching every fifth day? Can Dumatrait recapture his May 2008 magic?
GW breakout player: Ross Ohlendorf.
Depth: Not much; this is a system weak in starting arms. Next in line should be Daniel McCutchen, Jason Davis, Virgil Vasquez and maybe Gorzo; his book is in the process of being written. The top prospects, Bryan Morris and Brad Lincoln, shouldn't show up in Pittsburgh until 2011 at the earliest.
2009: Sean Burnett, Matt Capps, Jesse Chavez, John Grabow, Craig Hansen, Donnie Veal, Tyler Yates.
2008: Matt Capps, Phil Dumatrait, John Grabow, Damaso Marte, Evan Meek, Franquelis Osoria, Tyler Yates (John Van Benshoten called up April 27th; Sean Burnett called up May 4th when Meek was sent to Indy; Marino Salas called up May 13th when JVB was sent back to AAA).
Outlook: Like last year, a world of trouble after you get past the finishing trio of Capps, Yates, and Grabow. Burnett has turned into a LOOGY, Hansen has made great strides but isn't a finished product, Rule 5 pick-up Veal is erratic, and Chavez is a placeholder until Meek gets back into game shape. If the starters can carry a game into the seventh; it's an OK group. If not, ouch.
GW breakout player: Tyler Yates.
Depth: Better than last year's was, which is faint praise, we admit. Meek will be back, sooner rather than later, Jeff Sues may be a year away, and Chris Bootcheck is a veteran arm that should fill a middle role competently.
2009: Ryan Doumit, Jason Jaramillo.
2008: Ryan Doumit, Ronny Paulino (Raul Chavez was added to the roster May 15th when Doumit was on the DL and remain on it throughout the season).
Outlook: Doumit is signed and should only get better. Joe Kerrigan should help his development as a game-caller, and he showed better technique last year as the season wore on. Durability is his only question mark; if the Pirates can get 140 games out of him, they're a much stronger club.
Jaramillo is a younger Raul Chavez, and his presence behind the plate should help settle a young staff that's gone through pitching coaches like an infant goes through Huggies.
GW breakout player: Ryan Doumit.
Depth: Robinzon Diaz is the Pirate's insurance policy at Indy, and the suits say he may yo-yo in an alternating back-up role with Jaramillo. Steve Lerud has the mitt and a power bat, but needs to develop some plate discipline at Altoona.
2009: Luis Cruz, Adam LaRoche, Andy LaRoche, Ramon Vazquez, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson.
2008: Jose Bautista, Chris Gomez, Adam LaRoche, Doug Mientkiewicz, Luis Rivas, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson (Brian Bixler called up April 4th when Wilson went on DL).
Outlook: If Andy LaRoche can put together a .260/15/70 line, this group will be stronger. But with three quarters of them on the market, how long they'll be together becomes the question. Vazquez should replace Dirt Dog adequately, and Luis Cruz should at least be able to catch a ball, unlike Luis Rivas.
GW breakout player: Adam LaRoche.
Depth: The minors have some guys ready for the show, which is good thing since it's probably the end of the Bucco road for Wilson (the suits haven't exactly rushed to embrace his offer to renegotiate), Adam LaRoche, and probably Sanchez. Steve Pearce and Garrett Jones will be trying to impress as LaRoche's heir apparent.
Shelby Ford will start at Indy, and he may be ready to slide into second in 2010. If not, Altoona's Jim Negrych has the bat, if not the mitt, to step into the breech.
Pedro Alvarez may be fast tracked; he showed a MLB ready bat in camp. Andy Phillips, Neil Walker, and Brian Bixler should compete as utility players for the Bucs down the road.
Shortstop is another question. Brian Friday is two years away if he makes it, and the young guns - Jordy Mercer, Jarek Cunningham (out with knee surgery), and Chase d'Arnaud - will all start the year scattered around in A ball. If Bix can carry over his camp performance to Indy, he may become the placeholder.
2009: Eric Hinske, Nate McLouth, Craig Monroe, Nyjer Morgan, Brandon Moss.
2008: Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Xavier Nady (the Pirates would add Jason Michaels and send Morgan back to the minors on May 8th).
Outlook: Geez, a lot of production gone from last year's gang, and it won't be replaced by this bunch. The power and RBI generated by the 2009 version will fall noticably short of the pre-August 2008 OF.
Still, it's very much a position in transition, with prospects lurking around every corner. McLouth may be the only guy to have an everyday job in 2010. Hinske and Monroe are an upgrade over Jason Michaels and Doug Mientkiewicz on the OF pine.
GW breakout player: Brandon Moss.
Depth: This is one area where the Bucs are adequately stocked. Once Andrew McCutchen lays down a bunt or two and has spent enough time at Indy to stall the free-agency and Super Two arbitration clocks, he'll be at PNC. Jose Tabata will follow the same template, and probably be in Pittsburgh by the summer of 2010; 2011 at the latest.
Jeff Salazar and possibly Steve Pearce provide depth beyond the dynamic duo.
Outlook: The 2009 Pirates aren't terribly young, and in the year that they've been at the helm, the suits have done a nice job of strengthening the Pittsburgh organization at the short-term cost of hamstringing the MLB roster. They're no where near done; four or five of the starting eight could be replaced by 2010.
The pitching needs upgraded and the bats are OK, but with a glaring lack of power. This squad is treading water until next year, when the direction of the team should begin to show. GW thinks there are still a couple of seasons to go until the Bucs are worth getting excited about again, but the light is slowly flickering at the end of the tunnel.
The current roster has too many guys that have to have career years to scare anybody yet; GW looks for 70-75 wins in 2009 and a fifth place finish in the Central Division.
GW breakout player: Paul Maholm.
Depth: Except for pitching, the lower levels of the Pirate organization show the results of an exceptionally strong 2008 draft class. But there's still a gap of MLB ready players at the upper levels, and it will take a couple more years of good scouting and Bob Nutting money to fill the system with the players it needs to compete regularly. Tampa Bay North will have to wait.