After the All-Star break, I wrote a post about five areas the Pirates needed to focus on during the final three months of the season since wins and losses in an 18th consecutive losing season was not a concern.
The five areas were:
1. Monitor the progress of their young hitters.
2. Find some answers in the starting rotation
3. Find out what other position players are part of the future
5. How to handle the prospects
Today, we’ll examine question 1 as we spend the winter putting forth a blueprint to get the Pirates back to respectability.
1. The progress of their young hitters.
JK (7/10) Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez have shown they can compete at this level, but can Alvarez play third base? A move to first base would not be beneficial. Can he avoid prolonged slumps and strikeouts?
Can Walker, a converted third catcher and third baseman, make the tough transition to second base. If not, does he have enough pop for a corner infield or outfield spot? Can he hit left-handers well enough?
Can Tabata develop the power to hit in the middle of the lineup or walk more to hit at the top long-term?
Will McCutchen become a perennial All-Star and the beat all-around player the Bucs have had since Barry Bonds or will he plateau and fall prey to all the losing?
JK – October 29: The Pirates “core four” are the first players under 25 to play everyday for the Pirates since the 1971 World Champion team played 1B Bob Robertson, OF Al Oliver, 3B Richie Hebner, OF Gene Clines and 2B Dave Cash. Pittsburgh monitored the four players the second half of the season, not wanting them to go through extended struggles, and the foursome came out with glowing colors.
Alvarez had several peeks and valleys with the bat, but he demonstrated tremendous power, and a strong final two weeks really lifted his numbers. He had an 11-game hit streak in which he went 21-for-45 with 21 RBI until the streak was snapped in his final game of the season. Pedro hit .274 with 13 homers and 53 RBI in 70 games after the All-Star break.
Defensively, Alvarez made 17 errors and fielded .938 and his metrics were horrible. He had problems going to his right, but he’ll have every chance to stay at third since the Bucs don’t expect to contend for a few years. His bat is more of an asset there than across the diamond.
Walker turned out to be the biggest surprise of all the youngsters. He made just seven errors
in 105 games, his metrics weren’t that good, but he passed the “eye” test in his first season at second base. Even more impressive, Walker really didn’t begin playing second base in his career until a few weeks after his June promotion.
If Walker doesn’t have the range for second, his late-season power splurge means he could probably hold down third base, his best defensive position, should Alvarez have to move to first. Walker could also man a corner outfield spot.
After the All-Star break Walker hit .306 with an .847 OPS, 19 doubles, 9 homers and 54 RBI in 74 games. Many teams opted to force Walker to bat from the right side late in games, but the switch-hitter batted the same with a similar OPS against both, so he’s not a detriment to the team batting right-handed.
Listed at just 21 years old although speculation suggests he closer be closer to 25, Tabata is a keeper but his power doesn’t project in the middle of the order and his low walk rate (28 in 441 PA) won’t make him an ideal leadoff or No. 2 hitter. Because of his stolen base potential, Tabata will become more valuable in fantasy baseball than real life.
Still, he’s a good outfielder, has a lot of upside and the Pirates will have time to determine if he peaked and where he fits on a contending team.
McCutchen is the best all-around player the Pirates have developed since Barry Bonds. He suffered through the tough summer months and hit .336 with a .954 OPS in his final 31 games to finish strong going into the offseason. So the losing didn’t negatively affect him.
The 23-year-old has All-Star potential, 20-homer, 30-SB, .300 potential and the tools to be a fine center fielder, although he still misplays balls and take curious routes – reflected in his poor defensive metrics. He just needs to focus more on his defense to become a Gold Glove caliber fielder.
About the Author
Written by Jim Keller
I'm a life-long, suffering Pirates fan who is old enough to remember the Lumber Company, the "We are Family" World Series winners and Roberto Clemente, Bob Prince and "Green Weenies." You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @PiratesProperty.