PNC is a beautiful ballpark, a great place to watch a game, but sadly the Pirates have been wretched for a long time. That’s changing slowly. The team features dynamic stars like Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez and exciting young talent like pitcher Gerrit Cole who’ll likely make his big league debut at some point this season. Sadly they aren’t in a class with the Cardinals and Reds, but they at least have a chance to finally finish a season above .500. But that is far from a sure thing.
Here are 10 to watch in 2013
Andrew McCutchen (OF): McCutchen is the centerpiece of the Pittsburgh team. He’s a genuine five-category player who barring injury should put up numbers at least similar to last season. What makes McCutchen so exciting is that he’s still a year, possibly two, from reaching his peak. Draft with confidence.
Russell Martin (C): Martin will miss the bandbox that was Yankees Stadium as he moves to one of the better pitcher’s parks in the game. His experience will no doubt help improve the Pirates staff, but between age, the beating that his body takes as catcher and his new home park, don’t expect a repeat of his last two offensive seasons. Still he should hit in a good RBI spot and could still hit 15 or so home runs. That’s not bad for a catcher. Francisco Liriano (SP): The arm is solid, but at this point there are a lot of questions about his mental makeup. He’ll probably start the season in extended Spring Training due to a December broken arm. That will cost him a serious amount of bonus money. Working with veteran catcher Russell Martin will be a big plus. His stuff is still electric and he manages more than a strikeout per inning, but his control has faded. He walks too many and yields too many flyballs right now, but if he ever puts it together again he still has time to salvage his career. PNC will help his numbers, but won’t make up for a multitude of sins. Watch him and see what happens. Jason Grilli (CL): The 36-year-old averages more than a K per inning and now finally gets a chance to close for Pittsburgh. It’s not a role he’s familiar with, but his stuff certainly seems good enough. There is no guarantee that he can handle the role, but he’s a good bet and any closer who keeps the role can be penciled in for 30 or so saves.
Wandy Rodriguez (SP): He is still at the edge of what we consider to be the prime for most pitchers but he’s been missing fewer bats over the last five seasons including last year where for the first time he struck out fewer than seven batters per nine innings. That’s a trend that could well reverse itself since he’s out of Houston and away from their endless rebuilding process. Bad news is that he’s in Pittsburgh and involved in its endless rebuilding. Still PNC Park is very forgiving and his skills haven’t faded to a point where there isn’t a good degree of upside.
Pedro Alverez (3B): No question he has power, but is it genuine 30 home run power or 20-25 home run power? Either way he’s a decent option at third base and he’s entering his prime so growth is definitely possible. There is definitely some upside here. James McDonald (SP): McDonald was brilliant in the first half of last year and abysmal in the second half. Walks were a big part of his undoing as his second half walk rate jumped up to almost six per nine innings. Part of the problem may have just been overwork or a minor injury. He shouldn’t have any of that coming into the beginning of 2013. He’s got the potential to be a lot better and as he nears his prime certain skill consolidations certainly seem a lot more likely. A step forward could be in his future, and his second half almost assures you can get him cheaply.
Starling Marte (OF): The youngster will be the Pirates leadoff hitter going into the season. It’s not a role he’s overly suited to as his OBP at the Major League level isn’t very good. That said, Marte had good OBP for most of his minor league career so growth is likely, but learning on the job could be a little painful. That said Marte offers a lot of speed with a growing power profile. 20-30 steals is the bottom line, 10-15 home runs is the bonus provided he can hang onto the job. Based on how Marte has worked his way up the ranks, he’s a solid pick.
Garrett Jones (1B): It was a career year for Jones in 2012, but not one so far out of line with his previous statistics to call it a fluke. Still he’s 32 and expecting him to match last years 68-27-86-2-.274 is about all you can really hope for. That’s not too shabby though. He’s likely to sit against lefties, but that could actually help him overall -- there will be a lot fewer 0-4’s and 0 for 5’s in the final statistics.
Neil Walker (2B): Walker made some huge strides forward before injuries cost him most of the final two months of the 2012 season. Provided he’s healthy this spring he’s a very intriguing pick. He’s entering his prime and last season he flashed the most power he ever has in a season before. There is a lot to like here.