Pittsburgh Pirates: 10 Ways They'll Be Even Better in 2012
They have been the feel-good story of the year in 2011. Rest assured that the tribulation of 18 consecutive seasons below .500 will end this year. No, they won't make the playoffs. Their recent ten game slide will prevent that.
But, they have played well enough to etch a permanent grin on the faces of every baseball fan in Pittsburgh. Here's how they will be even better in 2012.
Pedro Alvarez has something to prove. Mainly, that he belongs in the majors and has the skills that justify the Pirates making him their top draft choice in 2007.
He's lost a big chunk of 2011 to a nagging injury after getting off to an Adam LaRoche-like start.
Currently, he's hitting .207, 3 HRs, 15 RBI, .576 OPS (On Base Plus Slugging) in 52 games.
Fans are waiting with bated breath for him to heat up like he did late last season.
He's 24 years old and 2012 will be make-or-break.
Ross Ohlendorf will also have much to prove in 2012, after missing all but two starts (so far) in 2011.
Olly took the time during rehabbing his throwing shoulder to develop a sinker. In six starts on rehab, Ross was 1-1, with a 3.90 ERA, 16 strikeouts and held opponents to a .265 BA.
You can bet the Pirates will be scrutinizing him carefully every time he takes the hill for the remainder of 2011. The 6'4", 240 lb. right-hander will turn 30 next season and he stands at the crossroads.
A full season with Alex Presley leading off. The gnat-like 5'9" outfielder was buzzing along at .333, 1 HR, 9 RBI and 4 steals in 20 games before being stopped by an injury.
He took everyone by surprise with his effective play when called up to replace an injured Jose Tabata.
Although moved from center to left upon arriving in Pittsburgh, Presley nonetheless adapted well to the switch and the Pirates lost no speed at the top of their lineup as a result.
In a season of pleasant surprises, Alex has been one of the best.
Jose Tabata was just starting to heat up at the dish when a nagging injury came calling. In 71 contests, he was hitting .265, 4 HRs, 15 RBI, and was leading the club with 14 steals.
His misfortune led to the emergence of Alex Presley (previous slide) and now the Pirates will either move one of them to right (both are natural center fielders) or let them conduct a battle royal for the job in left.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen's not about to go anywhere. The Pirates will (arguably) have one of the fastest defensive outfields in all of baseball with these three playing simultaneously.
Evan Meek will be back and in top form for 2012. The Pirates placed their 2010 All-Star on the DL in early June and replaced him with a number of different arms.
In case anyone forgot, Meek went 5-4, with a 2.14 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 70 appearances for a horrendous baseball team last season.
With Meek back, the Bucs will have the perfect 1-2 punch out of the bullpen when Meek sets up for Joel Hanrahan. Meek just got a clean bill of health from Dr. James Andrews on 8/8/2011.
That screaming you hear is coming from NL hitters.
Kyle McPherson has captured the attention of the Pirate brass with a stellar season, so far.
He was taken in the 14th round of the 2007 draft and the 6'4" right-hander put up a combined (Gulf Coast League and Double-A Altoona) 10-5 record, 2.96 ERA, 1 complete game, and 127 strikeouts in 140 innings.
The Pirate starting staff has logged a great deal of innings this year, so don't be surprised if Kyle gets a look-see with the big club sometime this year. If not, he'll be an odds-on favorite to win a job during next spring.
Chase d'Arnaud (pronounced: "dar-NO") was another young player who garnered attention during an injury-plagued June.
The former Pepperdine star played third and short for the Pirates before succumbing to an injury himself.
While his numbers don't look really promising on paper (.225, 0 HR, 3 RBI in 25 games), nobody saw anything in the young infielder that couldn't be smoothed out or tweaked a little.
Chase also showed off his fleet wheels by stealing seven bases in seven attempts, giving Hurdle another weapon to work with. If he doesn't make the club out of Spring Training, he will more than likely become a fixture by the end of 2012.
Remember, a little more seasoning did wonders for Neil Walker, too.
Starling Marte has been tearing it up this season in Double-A ball at Altoona.
In 104 games, the Santo Domingo, D.R. product owns a .320 average, 9 HRs, 43 RBI, swiped 18 bases in 30 tries, and scored 66 times.
But, holy cow! Where will the big club be able fit him in the lineup?
Every rabid Pirate fan has this kid on their radar screen. Barring a catastrophic occurrence, there's no reason to believe he won't be in the lineup somewhere by season's end in 2012.
Matt Hague was the Pirates' ninth round selection in the 2008 draft and he's looked very nearly ready this season.
The 6'3", 225 lb. right-handed hitting first baseman has been hitting .321, 11 HRs, 66 RBI in 118 games at Indianapolis.
Best of all, he's struck out a mere 54 times, so he knows how to put the bat on the ball. First base has been a relative sore spot for Pittsburgh in recent years.
And the lack of a strong right-handed bat has been noticeable.
The permanent answer may have finally arrived.