It is no secret that Pittsburgh baseball fans have long wanted a winning product to root for and this year is no different. During this point in last season, fans were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez and Brad Lincoln. This seemed to be the next batch of prospects that would save the Pirates and they were the best crop of prospects since the consecutive losing began. All three made their major league debut last year and Tabata and Alvarez impressed fans and their teammates alike with solid rookie campaigns. Lincoln however, did not do so well and is back down in Indianapolis with the Pirates AAA minor league team. It remains to be seen if it was Pitching Coach Joe Kerrigan that messed him up or if he’s one of the many players who succeeds in the minors, but can’t translate it to the big leagues.
The hometown kid, Neil Walker, quickly replaced Lincoln as one of the key pieces to the future of Pirates baseball. The Pine Richland product was often overlooked and never truly given a fair chance. Had it not been for Aki Iwamura going down to injury last year, Walker may have never gotten a chance. With Walker, Tabata and Alvarez in their first full year joining Andrew McCutchen in his third, what are fair expectations of these players?
We have seen it before in Pittsburgh where we get good performances from young, highly-touted players and we get these out of this world expectations of them and they can’t live up to them. Chad Hermansen, Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, Brad Eldred, Bryan Bullington, Jon Van Benschoten, Oliver Perez, Kip Wells, J.J Davis, Craig Wilson and the list goes on and on of players who got our hopes up before. But something seems different about this “Core Four” of players. They just seem so much better
What are fair expectations of them? With all four being position players, people can’t expect them alone to deliver a World Series on a silver platter can they? With the Pirates lineup actually starting to take the shape of a major league lineup, are we putting too much stock into them?
Alvarez may have had the most anticipated debut of any rookie for the Pirates since Barry Bonds and has been touted the savior. Well, out of the four players, Alvarez has done the least so far in his career. In 125 career games, Alvarez is only hitting .244 with 17 homeruns, only 1 this season thus far. He has looked uncomfortable against big league pitching and can’t hit a ball on the outer half of the plate to save his life. It has been talked about that the Pirates may send him down to get his confidence up, but with him billed as a notoriously slow starter, the Pirates seem to be letting him play through his struggles.
Tabata came over with Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen from the Yankees in the Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte deal. When it’s all said and done, Tabata may have the best career out of the “Core Four”. Although he is going through a 9-for-67 slump right now, he hit .299 last season and is a four-tool player, looking to become a five-tool player with glimpses of power shown in his game.
McCutchen was heralded the top centerfielder in baseball by the MLB Network in the preseason and after a slow start, he is starting to show why. McCutchen has the speed, power, contact and overall superstar swag about him to be the face of the franchise for years to come.
Walker however, may be the first of the four to make the All-Star team and it may happen this year. Walker currently is in the top-five in every major statistical category among second basemen in the National League.
Although we are longing for a winner here in Pittsburgh, we shouldn’t expect too much from these guys so early on. Although the pitching staff has been very good this year, it still isn’t a staff that can lead the Pirates to the postseason. The best thing to with this team is to sit back, enjoy the competitive ball they are playing and enjoy watching these young guys improve each day.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com