Pittsburgh Pirates: 4 Positive Takeaways from 2012 Spring Training
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is in the midst of his second spring training with the club. Last year, the Bucs had the town buzzing with their hot start, only to fade in the second half of the season. If the Pirates are going to contend in 2012, improvement must come from several areas. While spring training statistics don't necessarily translate to the regular season, Hurdle must be feeling a little better about his team's development.
Here are four reasons to feel optimistic about the 2012 version of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Last season, the Pirate outfield only had one starter hit close to .300 (Alex Presley .298).
So far this spring, the starting three are all hitting over that mark, to the tune of a combined .336 average. They must continue this production into the season to give the team a chance to contend, due to a lack of home run power on the team as a whole.
Andrew McCutchen led all Pittsburgh hitters with 23 homers in 2011, but the other two projected starters, Alex Presley and Jose Tabata combined for a mere eight homers in 143 games.
Higher batting averages will ease any long ball concerns until super prospect Starling Marte arrives from the minors to be an everyday outfielder. Marte was batting .520 with three home runs and four runs batted in before being reassigned to minor league camp.
Pedro Alvarez is the future at third base for the Pirates.
However, the present may be Josh Harrison.
He is tearing up spring training with a .500 average and seven doubles in 28 at bats. He is also much more patient at the plate this year, which has led to a mere 3 strikeouts so far. If Alvarez struggles at the plate this year, Harrison, not new utility player Casey McGehee, might end up getting most of the starts at third.
Daniel Moskos may best be known to Pirate fans as the pitcher who was selected ahead of super catching prospect Matt Wieters in the 2007 draft. Management was worried that Wieters might command a huge salary, while Moskos was deemed a bargain.
Many diehard fans might still wish they had Wieters, given the instability at the position, but there's no denying that Moskos was worthy of a first round selection. This spring he hasn't allowed an earned run and is averaging almost a strikeout an inning. The bullpen, which was a strength last year, should be even stronger this year.
Rookie first baseman Matt Hague is hitting .417 so far this spring, with a team leading four home runs.
For a team that ranked 27th out of 30 teams with 107 home runs, this is an area that needs to be upgraded.
However, the most home runs Hague has ever hit in any of his minor league seasons is 15, so it remains to be seen if he can maintain this pace. Also, he has struck out only once per every nine at bats on average thus far in camp. That is a statistic that this young team also needs to improve upon.
While he will probably have a hard time making the roster out of camp, he may eventually be the power hitting first baseman the team has been looking for.