Pirate fans will be happy to see the first decade of the 21st century fade into the past. Not one Pirate team in the last decade won more then 75 games. We won't dwell on the past but on the future, and the Pirates have some nice players who will make the team worth watching even if it doesn't translate into wins right away.
1st Base- One time top catching prospect for the Mariners Jeff Clement has been given the job to start the season. Clement has never fulfilled his number one pick expectations and it is doubtful he can hit enough to play 1st base but it is worthwhile to find out now. If wonderkid Pedro Alveraz can handle 3rd base, Clement will get a long look, if not his reign may be brief.
2nd Base- Akinori Iwamura comes over from the Rays to take over not only 2nd base but the leadoff spot. Iwamura was a 3rd baseman in Japan but has transitioned smoothly to 2nd base. He will give the Pirates some on base skills but with little power. Delywn Young will back him up and be there in case Iwamura has any injury problems.
SS - Ronny Cedeno came over from the
Cubs Seattle to replace Jack Wilson. Cedeno does not have the glove of Wilson but he can handle the position and should provide close to the same offensive production.
3rd Base - Andy LaRoche came over from the Dodgers in the Manny deal and we should all be familiar with him. Last year looks like a failure at first blush but he did manage to increase his power in the 2nd half. The man who we once thought could provide 25 home runs while producing a plus on base percentage has never materialized. He has a very short window to impress because the highly touted Pedro Alvarez is right on his tail. Most pundits feel Alvarez will be playing 3rd base full time at some point this year. We won't see him this series so I won't spend much time on him.
C - Ryan Doumit - will hit cleanup for the Pirates, and when healthy can provide some solid power from the catching position. They will need him healthy because this is a team devoid of power.
CF - The Pirates have the most exciting center fielder East of the Rockies in Andrew McCutchen who finally lived upto his number one pick status by breaking out in 2009, in a way very similar to what Matt Kemp did in 2007. He is one of the faster baserunners in baseball, has decent on base skills, power is coming. For the first time in years the Pirates have someone worth watching that fans can expect to stick around for a while.
OF - Lasting Milledge was once a top Met prospect and at 24 years old may still live upto that promise. At this point he's not very useful as a corner outfielder until he can either get his power amped up or his on base skills moving in the northerly direction. He improved once he started playing full time but he has to improve a lot to become a productive corner outfielder.
OF - Garrett Jones was a Mitch Jones clone except he got to play and gave the Pirates a huge shot in the arm. He smoked 21 home runs along with a nifty .938 OPS. If Garrett had not shown up the most home runs on the team would have been the 12 hit by the LaRoche brothers. Probably the biggest question for the Pirates is what can Garrett do for an encore. Is he a Casey Blake or will the pitchers figure him out and send him back to AAA where he toiled forever?
OF - Ryan Church who was once traded from the Nationals to the Met's for Lasting Milledge now finds himself backing up Milledge. Church is a solid backup outfielder who might even be better then the guys they are putting out there but has no upside so might as well find out with Milledge and Jones can do.
OF - Delywn Young had a huge spring with six home runs but will have to be happy with pinch hitting duties. He can play the outfield or 2nd, and possibly 3rd in a pinch.
You can see a trend where the Pirates have gobbled up other teams failed top prospects in an effort to hit gold. So far that has not produced much but Clement, Milledge, and LaRoche are all young enough that they could still work out, and it is a strategy worth pursuing while the Pirate own top draft picks start materializing. Last year McCutchen was the first wave, and this year Pedro Alveraz will be the 2nd wave. Unfortunately for the Pirates they don't have much pitching. The best pitching prospect is ex-Giant prospect Tim Alderson. The 2nd best is 2006 number one pick Brad Lincoln who just hasn' t progressed very quickly for such a high pick out of college. The Pirates had the 4th pick and missed out on the likes of Kershaw or Lincecum.
Starting Pitching for our Series:
Game One - Zach Duke - Opening day starter uses a high ground ball rate and excellent control to survive. Just another crafty lefthander with little dominance who has little room for error.
Game Two - Ross Ohlendorf - Gains in 2009 were masked by a friendly hit rate. Has home run problems, accentuated by a dominance around 6.0 while only inducing 42-43% ground balls.
Game Three - Paul Maholm - Another ground ball inducing lefty, Maholm took a step back in 2009 mainly due to a drop in dominance and an elevated hit rate. He's the best Pirate pitcher which means he might be the only guy who can muster a sub 4.00 but everything would have to break right for him to achieve that.
Ocavio Dotel was imported from the White Sox to take over the closer duties that left with Matt Capps. He can still strike out hitters at a good clip (10.8 ) and just might be able to handle the job. He hasn't been a teams primary closer since 2004 so who knows how it will turn out. When Joel Hanrahan the ex - closer for the Nationals and one time Dodger prospect comes off the DL he will be the primary setup man. Others of note are ex-Angel Donnelly, Evan Meek, and Javier Lopez. None of the bullpen members have solid base skills and the Dodgers should be able to score against this group.
The Pirates look to lose more games then they win once again and it would behoove the Dodgers to take at least two of three to start the season.