Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pirate First Base

Hey, Adam LaRoche was an island of stability for the Bucs during his stay in Pittsburgh, preceded by Randall Simon, Brad Eldred, Daryle Ward, Sean Casey, Xavier Nady and followed by Garrett Jones, Ryan Doumit, Jeff Clement, Steve Pearce and gang.

The Bucco FO hopes that free agent Lyle Overbay, 34, will provide the same kind of stability for the Pirate infield this year. He's a good gloveman with a 2010 slash of .243/20/67; his average was down, his power up, but he looks like he's on the downside of his career.

In fact, it's a fair question to ask why the Pirates signed him, given his age and the glut of candidates on the roster already. The short answer is that he's probably no more than a one-year stopgap; that's how long his $5M contract runs. It would also seem to be an indicator that the brass don't think they have an in-house candidate ready.

The Pirates could have cobbled together a platoon team to keep the base warm until Pedro Alvarez moves across the diamond with Steve Pearce and Jeff Clement/John Bowker.

Pearce, 27, is a nifty gloveman who drove the ball in the minors, and in a very small sample put together a .276/.395/.414 line while raking LHP.

Clement, 27, wasn't ready for prime time, as his .201/.237/.368 line showed, but he did bop seven homers in 144 ABs and fielded the position better than expected, considering his quick switch from catching.

Pearce had ankle and knee injuries that finished his season, and Clement went to Indy and had knee surgery of his own, necessitating Jones to jog in from right in May and hold the fort at first base. Clement and Pearce are expected to be ready for camp after their visits to the chop shop.

Lefty John Bowker, 27, also got a couple of games in toward the end of the season. The Pirates also brought in a cattle call of corner infielders to compete for the back up job behind Overbay.

Clement and Bowker are out of options and Pearce was granted one more because of his injuries last season by MLB, probably to his chagrin. It makes it easy for the FO to stockpile him in Indy one more season.

And hey, just in case they dislike those options, they brought in a boatload of guys to challenge for the spot behind Overbay: Josh Fields, Andy Marte and Garrett Atkins.

The Pirates signed Fields, 28, to a split minor league deal for 2011 worth $750K if he makes the club and $350K if he doesn't. They got a guy that's had 796 at-bats in the bigs with a ho-hum line of .234/.303/.421, but with 34 dingers and 107 RBI.

Of all the reserve candidates, he has far and away the best pop of the bunch. The Oklahoma native, who plays third, first and the OF (and none very well, judging by his UZRs), also rakes against lefties, making him the ideal platoon guy. His biggest problem has been his health, and he's supposed to be 100% this season for the first time since 2008.

Marte, 27, has a .218/.277/.358 batting line in the big leagues with 20 HR and 96 RBI in 838 at-bats. He's has never hit more than 235 times nor played over 80 games during a season. The Dominican plays first and third, and signed a minor league contract.

Atkins, 31, hasn't played since June when he was DFA'ed by the O's. he hit just .214 with one homer and nine RBIs in 44 games for Baltimore. He's had back-to-back poor seasons at the dish. The corner infielder did play for Clint Hurdle when he was all that, and that familiarity could come into play for him. The vet came to the Pirates on a minor league deal.

Pearce, Fields and Marte all have great numbers against southpaws; Atkins hits both equally well. Clements and Bowker hit from the wrong side to back up Overbay; JC is probably on the outside looking in while Bowker has to earn his spot as an extra OF'er.

Not only do the Pirates have to hash out who to shoehorn on the roster, but they'll do it knowing that there is no immediate help on the horizon from the farm.

The Pirates were empty at the position except for Pearce in the minors before the new bosses took over. The FO recognized that and drafted first basemen Matt Hague (#9 - 2008), Calvin Anderson (#12 - 2008), Aaron Baker (#11 - 2009), Matt Curry (#16 - 2010) and Jared Lakind (#23 - 2010) in last three lotteries. All but Lakind were college players; the FO hoped to fast-track them through the organization.

Hague, 25, is the best of the crop and should start out in Indy in 2011. He's got a good eye, putting the ball in play and drawing some walks (career .300 BA, 12% K rate, 9% BB rate), but is more a gap hitter than power stick, although he has some pop. Hague's also an excellent guy with the leather.

The Oklahoma State grad had 15 HR and 81 RBI for the Curve last season, and has to keep up his offensive numbers to rate a look at the show. He projects as a Steve Pearce type player, though without gaping righty-lefty splits. His major question is his power potential.

TCU's Matt Curry, 22, is a 6'2", 235 pound LH hitter and College World Series hero who got off to a strong start at State College last season, hitting .299/.421/.477 with 7 HR and 29 RBI, walking a lot (16%) and K'ing some (20%). He showed pretty good range, too. But the sample is awfully small; Curry will have to keep on at West Virginia/Bradenton next year to prove 2010 was for real.

Baker, 23, hit 18 HR at West Virginia with 73 RBI, but average (.253) and K's (115) are a problem, as is his defense. The lefty will have to step up his game to get on the radar. He'll have to work to hold off Curry.

Anderson, 23, is young and raw. He was drafted out of Southern University, and has moved a step at a time through the minors. Anderson shows a little pop, but the big guy (6'7", 240 pounds) struggles with the glove and with K's. He may repeat at Bradenton in 2011, as his .259/.328/.352 line and 11 HR don't suggest that he's ready for AA ball.

Lakind, 18, is a Texas high school kid who signed this year for $400K. He signed late and got a little action in the GCL; he could be in State College next season. Lakind is projected to be a 1B/RF corner type with 20+ HR potential.

The Pirate minors don't have a guy ready to step in and play, and in fact have a little problem with Baker, Anderson, and Curry being the same age and creating a logjam at the mid-level minors, always problematic when the suits are trying to evaluate talent.

They need power out of their infield corners more than most teams because of how they've chosen to defend PNC Park, using what amounts to a two-CF alignment and so removing a power bat from the LF corner.

In the long term, Pedro Alvarez will likely end up the Bucco first baseman, and if the FO drafts Rice 3B Anthony Rendon as expected, that will speed up accelerate the transition. The future of this position for the short term may depend on whether management prefers Rendon or an arm in the upcoming draft.

No comments: