Reality can really be a drag at times. Especially when your reality is that of a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. For almost two decades now they have suffered at the hands of mismanagement, cheap ownership and doing whatever they can to pass off a group of Quadruple-A players (some not even that advanced) as a major league ball club.
That’s not what any organization’s fan base deserves. Especially one with as rich a history as Pittsburgh’s.
When Neal Huntington was hired as the 12th Pirates’ general manager in club history following the 2007 season, he brought with him a lot of hope. Hope that he could turn things around for this organization. Hope that he could bring respectability back to a proud city. Hope that he could at least make it so the Bucs weren’t the joke of Major League Baseball. Now that’s some pressure.
Thus far Huntington has taken a lot of heat for trading away some of Pittsburgh’s best players such as Xavier Nady and Nate McLouth who were not only solid players, but also fan favorites. Players who fans could buy jerseys of without someone outside of Pennsylvania saying, “who?”
But the reality is Huntington is a realist. While some looked at the standings this past summer and saw the Pirates only 5 ½ games out of first place in a very winnable division, Huntington had no problem proclaiming his team nowhere near ready for contending. I for one had to agree.
While they may not be ready now, Huntington is getting them set up for the future. In fact if you take a look at what he is doing, he’s getting this team in prime pouncing position for 2011. With the group he has begun to assemble, if all goes as planned, they could very well contend for the NL Central in the next couple of seasons. Think I’m crazy? Here’s a look at the core group of players he has in his arsenal along with where they came from and my personal scouting report I have written on each player from my archives…
Andrew McCutchen, OF - 1st Round Draft Pick (2005)
McCutchen is an exciting five tool player who already had an impact here in 2009. He has a great glove in center and despite his great defensive prowess, his impact bat may be his best skill. McCutchen has quick hands, strong wrists and a compact swing which produces a surprising amount of power for someone of his stature. He is a line drive hitter thanks to his quick bat speed and is able to hit consistently to all fields. His power hasn’t fully developed as expected, but that still has time to grow. Still learning to use his speed effectively on the bases but once he does, look out. This kid is the future franchise player this organization needs.
Delwyn Young, OF - Acquired in Trade with Dodgers (2009)
The best word to describe Delwyn Young is aggressive. He is an aggressive hitter, defender and base runner which can translate very well at times with his strong body. On one hand he uses it to his advantage as he is a line drive hitter who likes the ball up and over the plate so he can drive the ball with all his might. On the other hand it can hurt him in his approach at the plate as he has lacked discipline and tends to strikeout too often. Since joining the Pirates and given more of an opportunity he has finally shown some growth at the plate and made strides towards improving. Young has also shown improvements in the field. His paths towards the ball have gotten better as well as his mental approach regarding situations and what to do. He still has some spells of bad judgment but has the makings to be a solid fourth outfielder and possibly now a second baseman for the Pirates.
Jose Tabata, OF - Acquired in Trade with Yankees (2008)
With seemingly little room in the big leagues for him with the constant signing of older players, Tabata was finally traded out of the Yankees system last season. The Pirates are just the type of organization where he can receive a fair chance to show what good hitting prowess he has. Tabata is an excellent hitter and hits the ball hard all over the field. Due to this and his great plate discipline, he looks to have the makeup to be a potential batting champion competitor someday. He has developing power that has been hampered by a lingering wrist injury the past couple of years so it will be interesting to see if he develops into a slugger. Is above average defensively and will round out at a corner outfield position. I’m a big fan of Tabata and think he can develop into something special.
Zach Duke, LHP - 20th Round Draft Pick (2001)
For the time being Duke has finally become the ace the club has needed. For the future Duke can fit beautifully into a number two starter slot if the team can somehow acquire a true ace. Duke does a great job of throwing strikes from his solid, over the top delivery. Tries to get ahead of hitters early and often with his upper-80’s fastball and cutter, then puts them away with a sharp dropping curve and a change that keeps hitters off balance. One of the big reason’s for Duke’s success is he is keeping the ball down which is crucial for a pitcher like him who doesn’t have the most overpowering fastball. Needs to keep this up in order to be a part of the Pirates future.
Lastings Milledge, OF - Acquired in Trade with Nationals (2009)
This youngster has so much talent but has so little self control. With his third team in as many years, Milledge keeps putting himself in the doghouse and out of a starting job. It’s a shame because he can crush the ball with big-time bat speed and an aggressive approach at the plate. If he can learn some pitch recognition and self control at the plate (lets bat fly in any situation) he will be a weapon for the Pirates. Has the speed to steal 20-30 bases which gives him the potential to hit near the top of the lineup if he can improve on-base skills. His defense could use some help as he takes some ugly angles and routes to the ball and is better suited to play left field rather than center. Just needs to get his head straight.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B - 1st Round Draft Pick (2008)
Well he had a pretty impressive college career and there’s nothing saying it won’t translate to the big leagues. Alvarez is a big, strong left-handed hitting third baseman who was very coveted in last year’s draft. He is a very polished hitter with some good power which should pick up right where he left off at Vanderbilt. While his defense and arm are nothing special (average at best) it is good enough to stay at the hot corner. Some have suggested a possible move to first base but I don’t think that’s necessary at this point. He suffered a broken hamate bone at the end of last season which has caused him a bit of a slow recovery in his power. This should hopefully not linger for too long as it is a big part to his overall game. Regardless it shouldn’t take long for him to be at the top of the Pirates prospect list as well as baseball’s in general.
As you can see by looking at some of the brighter young players the Pirates already have, they are headed in the right direction to rebuilding the right way. Now I know this group isn’t the ‘27 Yankees, but considering what a deep hole the previous regime dug this franchise into, I’d say it’s a pretty good start for Neal Huntington.
If he can take this group (along with others such as Matt Capps, Joe Hanrahan, Brad Lincoln, Neil Walker, etc) and add a few more solid players along with a superstar or two via free agency or trades, they have the makings to contend for the NL Central crown come the 2011 season.
Now that is the kind of hope Pirates fans have been dreaming of for a long, long, long time.
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