Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Dozen Reasons To Believe

OK, so the Bucs aren't the '27 Yankees. And guys like Jose Tabata, J-Mac, Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Karstens, and Pedro still have to prove they have what it takes over time. But this team is finally showing that Pittsburgh does have some ballplayers to suit up. We have a dozen reasons to believe down the road.

  • Starling Marte. In a year that many Pirate prospects took a step back, Marte has leaped to the head of the class at Altoona with a line of .320/9/43 with 18 stolen sacks. Hey, he still strikes out too much, walks too little, and needs to clear a few more fences, but Marte already has plus speed, plus glove, plus arm and contact ability, and at 22 is on an age appropriate track.
  • Chase d'Arnaud and Josh Harrison. Both may end up role players, and guess what - that ain't bad. The pair add energy to the team, and sure as heck beat Bobby Crosby and Ramon Vazquez as options.
  • Alex Presley. The little lefty was a sparkplug before a nerve injury to his thumb sidelined him. His glove and wheels play, and if his small 2011 sample is any indicator, the Bucco OF will be one piece of the puzzle that's filled.
  • Mike McKenry. OK, so he's as likely to swing at a ball a foot outside the plate as a strike. Big deal. The Pirates had a black hole - Wyatt Toregas ring a bell? - until the FO snatched him from the wilds of AAA. Scoobie Doo is likely to be a backup next year, but he's been a St. Bernard this season.
  • Anthony Watson & Danny Moskos. Both guys were sorta considered lefty bull pen possibilities in the spring, and both have shown through the season that they're not out of place on a Major League mound. Watson, in fact, was impressive enough that the FO may consider returning him to a starting role. 
  • Clint Hurdle. Yah, tactically he's not exactly Hannibal, and his bullpen management is by the numbers, which is usually, but not always, just dandy. But he's set the right tone, getting his bench involved, putting his players in the right defensive position, sitting guys when they have brain cramps, and not allowing excuses when injuries rocked the squad. He's everywhere and loudly, the kind of consistent, hands-on guy that a younger team thrives under.
  • Chris Resop, Jose Veras and D-Mac. The trio were brought in to be bridge men for Hanny and Evan Meek. Well, Meek has been hors d' combat for ages, and the threesome have picked up a lot of face team against the league's best batsmen in high-leverage spots. They've had a misfire or two, but the bullpen goes the way they roll.
  • Paul Maholm. Yah, we know his contract makes him an iffy part of the future, but we think Pittsburgh is remiss if they don't tie him up with a three year deal in the $21-24M range even if they plan long-term to move him. It's possible he's just having one of his occasional strong seasons, but we think his new found dedication to working both sides of the dish will give the inning eater the consistency that's been absent in the pass.
  • Charlie Morton. No, we don't think he's the new Roy Holliday. But we do think that his revamped mechanics will only get better. Falling in love with his sinker made him a killer to righties and a patsy to lefties, and that still plagues him and he's aware. Once he learns to command his change and four-seamer, that should become less of a problem in coming years.
  • Joel Hanrahan. The FO gave him the closer's job by default, and he's grabbed it by the horns. He's been in hiatus lately, but the Bucs are bound in the next six weeks to be in a few more grinders, and you just know Hanny will bring those games home.
  • Neil Walker. The Pittsburgh Kid had some ups and downs, but he looks like his bat and glove will play well at second. He makes half a play more this year than last (5 to 4-1/2), and that's worth 81 outs, or three full games, of improvement in addition to being the NL 2B leader in DPs. His RISP and BA are virtually identical, showing a steadiness and maturity at the dish.
  • Andrew McCutchen. McCutch isn't immune to slumps, steals and bunts his way on way too little for a human bullet, and he still airmails the odd throw. But he's the face of the team and its most talented player, as shown by Hurdle's shell game with him in the lineup. Plug him in anywhere and you've got yourself a ballplayer. 

This team is where it is because the pitching has held up and because the bailing wire-and-spit lineup is wrapped around McCutch and Walker, who never take a day off. Those two guys are worth the price of admission, and look out when the Bucs finally build a team around them.

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