After the Pirates traded away Jack Wilson, former batting champion Freddy Sanchez and Nate McClouth all within the same span, the face of the franchise was placed on a young call-up named Andrew McCutchen. Fast forward to 2012 and we see that McCutchen has firmly entrenched himself as the face of the Pirates franchise.
His personality does not quite match the constant smiles of other Pittsburgh icon Hines Ward, but the intensity and passion for winning in Pittsburgh is just the same. On the field, McCutchen, unlike Ward, is just getting started with his ascension to stardom. Last season, McCutchen hit for .259 with 23 HR and posted an OBP of .364. Projections done by ESPN have the young star ranked as the number 2 player under 25 in all of the MLB.
One number that is even more shocking is 1.04%. That is percentage of total payroll the Pirates spend on their young star while he accounts for 23.91% of their on field performance. (Math done here.) McCutchen is due just $452,000 this season and his contract expires at the end of 2012.
We all see where this is going right? This is perhaps the first time under the Nutting-Coonelly-Huntington era that the Pirates are faced with a long term signing of a proven franchise player. ESPN compares Jay Bruce, Colby Rasmus and McCutchen to each other with McCutchen having the potential to be the best all around player.
To give an idea of what kind of money the Pirates would be giving a player of this status, Bruce was inked to a 6 year, $51 million contract.
The word most commonly used on Starling Marte is fast. Yes, his bat speed or speed in general. Yes his development or even his maturity. Fast as in how the Pirates have brought him up in their system. Marte has been in the minor leagues since 2007 and has never struggled, spending all of last season in AA and expected to be the starting CF for Indianapolis this season.
Since 2008, Marte has never batted below .280 and never had an OBP of less than .361 with his current AA Altoona numbers hovering right around .330 and .370. Marte is in camp with the Pirates and all eyes will be on the young prospect as squares off with major league talent.
Pirate Prospectus has a nice year-by-year summary of Marte’s ride so far in the Pirates farm system. Noting that while Marte may not have the most power, he makes up for it with versatility on the diamond and his Eastern League batting crown speaks to his ability to keep balls in play. Keith Law has Marte ranked 72nd in his top 100 Prospects list citing that while Marte has the athleticism and skills, his overaggressive nature and lack of base running instincts still need to be fixed.
So why could Marte end up in the bigs sometime this season?
It seems that every year, the Pirates bring in veteran talent to the team. These veterans have very rarely panned out into anything substantial, but have their moments. (Except for Jeromy Burnitz. That was a wash in every respect.) This season, this trend may finally change.
When looking at the Pirates’ veteran acquisitions, they pass the eye test or offer some kind of hope for a breakout year. Furthermore, these players have been signed to rather large contracts (by Pirates standards) and thus maybe Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington see something that other owners overlooked.
The most obvious area where the impact may be felt is in the pitching staff. Erik Bedard’s troubles have been well documented and I would not be surprised if he ends up on the disabled list. However, Bedard has the potential to be the number two starter for the Pirates if he performs like he has when healthy. Those years may be a bit high up on the baseball card, but all of the time injured and rehabbing may just be enough to kick it into high gear.
The bigger impact will more likely come from the newest Pirate, A.J. Burnett. From the begininning, I have said that this move is a win-win for the Bucs, with a solid chance to perhaps bring in more talent to the Pirates via July trade. However, if Charlie Morton’s rehab does not go as well as anticipated or Jeff Karstens and/or Kevin Correia find themselves in September form rather than June form, Burnett could become glue for the rotation (if he isn’t already).
Well this does not help the perception of Pirates ownership. Pirates President Frank Coonelly was charged with 4 different DUI related counts after an incident in Ross. Allegedly, his BAC was at least .16 and was caught driving on the wrong side of the road. The legal limit is .08 in case anyone was wondering.
“My actions that evening were irresponsible and wrong. I take full and sole responsibility for them. There is no excuse for ever driving under the influence of alcohol. My wife and I have preached to our children about the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol, not only for themselves but for the innocent drivers, passengers and pedestrians on the road. I am embarrassed that I failed to follow this advice myself on this occasion and extremely grateful no one was injured or adversely affected by this serious lapse of judgment.”
Before this blog got up and running, I wrote a piece for Bleacher Report why A.J. Burnett would be a good fit for the Pirates. One of the biggest reasons: change of scenery. Burnett pitched in the baseball fishbowl of New York, a city just as critical of a win as a loss and a title less season is viewed as a failure. Burnett’s recent interviews have only confirmed this.
Over the last few days numerous articles and quotes from the newly acquired pitcher have dived into why Burnett could have been so inconsistent with the Yankees. According to the Cina Post:
It was fun there, though I probably just put too much pressure on myself after the first couple of years
NJ.com continued to hammer home this idea in their interview just hours after the deal was finalized.
Then it got like, I’m never going to get out of this funk…I let a few too many people tinker with me, maybe. When you let that happen, you start doubting yourself sometimes. You wonder, ‘Am I doing it right? Is this how it’s supposed to feel?’ and things like that. In ‘09, nobody messed with me. I was able to do what I wanted to do on the mound, whether it was turn around, close my eyes and pitch upside down. Then you have a few bad games and you start changing and listening
I have a simple rule of Pirates fandom relating back to my traumatizing moments as a young fan: never buy a jersey of a young Pirates player with promise. It will either need to change colors by July 30 or will end up becoming an eternal reminder of busts and failed potential.
Pedro Alvarez was that player last year. I saw plenty of fans buying 24 jerseys hoping that this number would once again yield Barry Bonds or Brian Giles potential. What Alvarez delivered was a mixed bag. Alvarez started the year the same way he finished it: poorly with everything in between.
Alvarez started April with just one Homerun and seven RBI’s and a pathetic .200 average and .258 OBP for a middle of the lineup talent. By the end of the season, his numbers remained startlingly consistent with an average of .191 and OBP of .272. Moral of the story: Alvarez just was not ready for the show.
During the middle of the season, Alvarez found himself in AAA Indianapolis on a mission to gain more work ethic and improve his game after the opening season slump. The tactic did not work as intended but if anything, his AAA production reinforced the idea that Pedro has the raw stuff to succeed in the league.
This for many “experts” outside of Pittsburgh, this has been enough for them to call Alvarez a bright spot on this team. ESPN’s Jim Bowden, Alvarez is his number two break out player to watch in 2012. Bowden cites Kansas City’s Alex Gordon as a similar player who after a horrendous rookie campaign fulfilled potential in year two. (more…)
Over at SB Nation, talk has been running non stop about the recent confusion over the Pirates Draft Pool. The draft pool is an allot pool of money for teams to use in singing bonuses for players based off Free Agency compensation as well as the draft position for each team (ie first overall picking team gets $7.2 million added to their pool).
For the Pirates, drafting at eighth overall means that that Pirates’ biggest chunk of money comes in the form of $2.9 million that is awarded to this pick. What really caught Pirates fans off guard when news broke that the Pirates were allotted $6.5 million was that Frank Coonelly’s take on the process via this interview. Coonelly said that he beleived that Pittsburgh’s pool would have been about $10 million. Granted at this point, Derek Lee has not yet signed, but there is no way he would fetch a $4.3 million addition to the pool.