The Pirates are a wretched team with only a few players who will go the upper or middle rounds of any draft, but they have youth and a goal of developing their own talent, some of that could erupt suddenly.
The Best of The Bunch:
The Pirates have several second tier players but no elite players.
The Second Tier:
Jason Bay (OF): Coming into the season at the tender age of 29 Jason Bay is coming off the first real off year of his career. Part of that no doubt is due to some knee issues but those look to be behind him coming into this season. A return to his .290-30-95 numbers with a jump back into double digit steals is a reasonable projection.
Adam LaRoche (1B): LaRoche had some serious problems getting started last year and still finished with some fairly decent numbers .272-21-88-71-1. He’s got the power to crack 35 home runs and since he plays in Pittsburgh he’ll likely be underrated in most drafts.
Ian Snell (SP): If Snell played for a better team he’d be a true top notch pitcher but playing for the Pirates doesn’t exactly boost your win totals and his WHIP isn’t anything to write home about. However that is trending in the right direction and expecting Snell to improve on that is a fair bet. He might also get some more W’s this year so rank him no lower than the middle of the second tier.
The Third Tier:
Freddy Sanchez (2B): The 30 year old Sanchez set a career best in terms of power numbers last season (11 home runs), but that probably is more illusory than real and projecting him to match or surpass that is fraught with peril. He’ll hit .300 + and score enough runs and RBIs to make him valuable late in drafts, but a lot depends of if he bats second or third in the Pirates lineup.
Xavier Nady (1B): The 29 year old Nady is coming off a career best season in terms of home runs, RBIs and Slugging percentage. That’s pretty much his ceiling, but if you need a solid player who’s been a model of consistency the last three years you could do much worse. .275-18-68 with five or fewer steals is realistic.
Jose A. Bautista (3B): If you want a sleeper candidate at the third base position Bautista is your man. He played a career high 142 games last season and put up decent numbers (.254-15-63-75-6), but he’s moving into his prime and could be a real candidate for a breakthrough season - especially if you look at his minor league numbers.
Ronnie Paulino (C): Paulino is decent enough catcher who offers a little pop and the potential for a better average than he had last year. He’s in his prime years so a .290-10-60 would probably be the best you could hope for and a .270-10-50 would probably be more realistic. The only question is if he can keep the job - but it seems like it’s his to lose at this point.
Jack Wilson (SS): Last year’s .296-12-56-67-2 is probably as much as you could hope for from Wilson. In NL only leagues or very deep leagues that leaves him with some value.
Matt Capps (CL): He’s one of the better closers on the roster of any bad team and he should get more chances than he did last year. That potential alone makes him one of the better third tier closers.
The Question Marks:
Nate McLouth (OF): So is he the center fielder or not? Certainly the edge has to go to him as Nyjer Morgan offers little more than defense. In just 329 AB last year McLouth went .258-13-38 with 22 steals and hit lefties and righties just about the same. If we could project that to 500 AB those numbers would project close to 20-20 but I think that’s probably more fantasy than baseball - he may well be close to his ceiling as a player with last year’s stats, but he could be a real sleeper especially if you need speed in the late rounds.
Paul Maholm (SP): If any Pirate is going to really make a jump up to the next level Maholm might well be that guy. New pitching coach Jeff Andrews has drawn rave reviews and helped develop Maholm, Gorzelanny and Snell in the minors. Maholm has the most remaining upside and pitched brilliantly for Andrews in the past. Having his mentor around can in no way hurt. Call him a high risk, high reward sleeper.
Zach Duke (SP): In 2005 the name Zach Duke was at the top of just about Everybody’s top prospects list. He was that good during his one month trial and then posted a decent though not blockbuster 2006 season. In 2007 he battled injuries and mechanical issues but he’s just 25 and has plenty of time to develop into something more than a tail end of the rotation kind of guy. If he’s healthy he could take a step forward but he still won’t get many wins with the Bucs.
Tom Gorzelanny (SP): Tom posted a 3.88 ERA and almost managed to win 15 games last night which means he should be ranked in the middle of the second tier pitchers but his strikeouts per inning fell off from 2006’s surge and his WHIP climbed to an ugly 1.40 which could be a cause for concern. That being said, unless there is a physical problem - which could be the case, Gorzelanny could improve dramatically.
The Great Debate:
Matt Morris (SP): Can Morris be more than an end of the rotation starter? The last two seasons have been brutal to Morris who used to be a solid pitcher a couple of years ago. But he’s only 34, always throws close to 200 innings and manages 2-3 complete games a year for leagues that use that statistic.
Steve Pearce (OF): Pearce is just a trade away from jumping onto the Pirates opening day roster and if either Xavier Nady or Jason bay is shipped off to another team, expect to see a new power hitter in town. The 25 year old hit over .300 with 31 home runs last season moving from single A ball all the way to the Majors for a cup of coffee. He could use some more seasoning but if the talent he showed last year (and in college) translates well to the bigs he could be a dark horse for Rookie of the Year.
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