Opening Day 2012: Starting Lineup Look and Breakdown
The Pirates Opening Day lineup has been one of the worst kept secrets in Bradenton this spring. With the exception of injuries (A.J. Burnett) and the catcher spot, almost every fan knew who the Pirates would send out to face the Phillies this April 5. Now that it is set (according to Tom Singer) let’s take a look at what the 2012 Pirates’ starting 9 will look like and what their roles will be.
Locks Since Day 1:
These are the guys that this team’s production will be based around and Clint Hurdle is expecting big things. Not surprisingly, these are the players the Pirates have been focused on most and performed the best this spring.
CF Andrew McCutchen
Best hitter, best fielder, best baserunner, best upside…shall I continue? He is the face of the franchise. Some say he’s a future 40-40 guy, but this season, 30-30 should be the goal along with a .290+ BA and .400+ OBP to show continued improvement. If he stops swinging for the fences, he will have an All-Star year like the old Brian Giles.
2B Niel Walker
Another corner piece of the Pirates lineup, Walker’s role will be that of power bat. His fielding has continued to improve and I don’t know someone who doesn’t like what he brings to the clubhouse. That being said, Walker is a microcosm of why the Bucs’ bats are so weak. Walker only hit 12 homeruns last year with a SLG of .408. Hitting 25 homeruns and 100 RBI would be a huge improvement, but that still does not stack up well for a no.3 hitter comparatively. Still, that production from him would be a huge lift for the Bucs.
LF Alex Presley
After the season he had in AAA and Pittsburgh last year, Presley earned the chance to become one of the starting outfielders. Presley could be a huge bright spot for the team at the leadoff position, hitting over .300 and 25+ stolen bases when combined with Clint Hurdle’s aggressive base running. I really like Presley to be a hidden gem for the Bucs and for him to make a run for the All-Star game if he has a solid start to the season.
SS Clint Barmes
Unlike the other three, Barmes came in as the starter based on need. Hurdle knows what he is capable of from their time together in Colorado and playing with Houston would hurt anyone’s stats, but Barmes is the least impressive of these three, perhaps the entire roster (minus Pedro Alvarez). If Barmes can just hit .250-.265 and hit decent in big moments, his bat will be appreciated. Meanwhile in the field, he will be a great upgrade from Cedeno/d’Arnaud and he and Niel Walker’s fluidity will only improve as the season.
Coming In on a Short(er) leash.
These guys were expected to be starters this season from the onset and have kept their spots as of now. However, due to lack of performance and/or stiff competition, they are going to be under the microscope (to an extent) for the early going of 2012.
3B Pedro Alvarez
No surprise here, but Alvarez was given the starting 3B job this week when Huntington said he is coming north no matter what. We all know how bad he struggles. I will bet anything he struggles against the great pitching the Pirates face early. But come June if he is still struggling then there will be an issue. With Casey McGehee waiting on the bench, Alvarez faces more pressure than ever to start succeeding. He could be the true power hitter the Pirates need, more likely than not he is an 8th spot man or a bust headed down to AAA.
RF Jose Tabata
Tabata will be cut of the same mold as Presley-early lineup contact/speed player to set the stage for Cutch and Walker. However, Tabata is still looking to bounce back from a wrist injury that affected his skills at the plate last season. In Bill Brink’s online chat today, there was the mention that Tabata could be dealt if Starling Marte hits in AAA like he did this spring and Jose does not show major improvement. If healthy, Tabata is safe…for now.
1B Garrett Jones
Jones and McGehee have (unimpressively) been battling out the first base position this spring. Jones will probably get the fifth spot in the lineup with the chance to show off some power and drive in runs, but that’s if he stays healthy and earns his spot. If Alvarez gets sent down, McGehee will move over to third, eliminating Jones’ competition. Jones needs more contact at the plate which will help his low BA but his SLG is one of the best on the team, showing that his power does come around. If he has a season like Walker wants to have, the Pirates lineup suddenly looks much more dangerous.
Up in the Air Wild Cards
These two spots will be filled for the Pirates…although the production is suspect. We will just have to wait and see if they can be filled or if they will have flux all season.
Catcher: Rod Barajas
While Rod may have come in as the starter, there are question marks about this position. It has not been stable for the Pirates since the departure of Jason Kendall and neither Rod nor Michael McKenry are great at the plate. The key will be defensive performance and cohesiveness with the pitching staff. It could be very likely that McKenry will play with A.J. Burnett and every so often otherwise while McKenry takes every other outing but no one is sure yet.
Starting Pitcher: Erik Bedard
Let me clarify: since Burnett went down, it is not surprising that Bedard gets the nod for Opening Day. What is unknown is where the rotation goes once Burnett gets back. Last year’s All-Star Kevin Correia could get moved to the pen, but is it safe to assume Bedard stays healthy? And what if Charlie Morton is not on schedule for rehab? This unit that held the Bucs together is a slight upgrade from last year with better veterans and a chance to see Jeff Karstens and James McDonald improve. But if last season repeats itself, this unit will be drained by July.
Comparatively, this team is not as bad as in years past. Everyone on the team is a major league player with the chance to continually improve as the season moves on. The Pirates will need players to make strides forward if they want to field a .500 ball club, but for the first time in a long time, the optimism has some real legitimacy to it.