This will be our third season writing about the Pirates on this blog. While much has changed… a lot has actually stayed the same. Look no further than the roster the last few years: many role players have come and gone, but the core is still in place. Just for fun, here’s a look at the Pirates’ Opening Day rosters from 2012, 2013, and 2014…
|Opening Day Rotation|
|Erik Bedard||A.J. Burnett||Francisco Liriano|
|Jeff Karstens||Wandy Rodriguez||Gerrit Cole|
|James McDonald||James McDonald||Charlie Morton|
|Kevin Correia||Jonathan Sanchez||Wandy Rodriguez|
|Jeff Locke||Edinson Volquez|
|A.J. Burnett||Francisco Liriano||Jeff Locke|
|Charlie Morton||Charlie Morton|
|Opening Day Bullpen|
|Joel Hanrahan||Jason Grilli||Jason Grilli|
|Jason Grilli||Mark Melancon||Mark Melancon|
|Tony Watson||Tony Watson||Tony Watson|
|Chris Resop||Justin Wilson||Justin Wilson|
|Jared Hughes||Jared Hughes||Bryan Morris|
|Juan Cruz||Jeanmar Gomez||Jeanmar Gomez|
|Evan Meek||Chris Leroux||Stolmy Pimentel|
|Opening Day Catchers|
|Rod Barajas||Russell Martin||Russell Martin|
|Michael McKenry||Michael McKenry||Tony Sanchez|
|Opening Day Infielders|
|Pedro Alvarez||Pedro Alvarez||Pedro Alvarez|
|Clint Barmes||Clint Barmes||Clint Barmes|
|Josh Harrison||Josh Harrison||Josh Harrison|
|Neil Walker||Neil Walker||Neil Walker|
|Garrett Jones||Garrett Jones||Travis Ishikawa|
|Casey McGehee||Gaby Sanchez||Gaby Sanchez|
|Yamaico Navarro||John McDonald||Jordy Mercer|
|DL: Brandon Inge|
|Opening Day Outfielders|
|Andrew McCutchen||Andrew McCutchen||Andrew McCutchen|
|Alex Presley||Starling Marte||Starling Marte|
|Jose Tabata||Jose Tabata||Jose Tabata|
|Nate McLouth||Travis Snider||Travis Snider|
Like every year, there will be plenty of other players passing through Pittsburgh. Chris Stewart will come back from injury, Jeff Locke and other pitching depth options like Brandon Cumpton will be around, and top prospects Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco may get their call to the show.
Here’s what bench coach Jeff Banister tweeted after the Pirates were eliminated from the NLDS last October:
We knocked on the door last year, we opened the door this year, next year we are gonna kick that door down! #nevereverquit
— Jeff Banister (@Bannyrooster28) October 10, 2013
The Pirates flirted with success in 2012. They finally conquered a couple two-decade long droughts in 2013. Will they kick the door down in 2014? Can’t wait to find out.
“A picture is worth a thousand words.”
The Pirates line up on April 1st, prior to beginning their unforgettable 2013 season.
Jason Grilli and Russell Martin celebrate the Bucs’ first victory of the year on April 3rd.
Starling Marte celebrates with Jose Tabata after hitting a go-ahead home run on April 13th. The Pirates scored 10 runs in the seventh and eighth innings to beat the Reds, 10-7.
A.J. Burnett delivers a pitch on April 17th, a night he recorded his 2,000th career strikeout and flirted with a no-hitter.
Clint Hurdle argues with umpire Tim Timmons after starter Jonathan Sanchez was ejecting for drilling Allen Craig in the first inning. It was Sanchez’s last outing as a Pirate.
Ah, the dreaded off-day after the opener. Less than half of the league will be in action on Tuesday; here’s the slate:
Orioles vs. Rays, 3:10 pm
Indians vs. Blue Jays, 7:07 pm
Rockies vs. Brewers, 8:10 pm
Rangers vs. Astros, 8:10 pm
Cardinals vs. Diamondbacks, 9:40 pm
Mariners vs. Athletics, 10:05 pm
Giants vs. Dodgers, 10:10 pm
Some leftover stuff from yesterday’s Bucco game…
- It’s pretty rare to see an alternate jersey worn on Opening Day, but the Pirates sported their black threads yesterday; A.J. Burnett probably had something to do with that. The Bucs previously wore these alternates on Tuesdays and Fridays, but they started to wear them on various days in 2012 – usually when A.J. pitched. We think this trend started after he allowed 12 runs in two innings against the Cardinals while wearing the standard gray road uniform. Assuming he’s superstitious, Burnett switched it up and pitched some of his best ballgames in the black alternate. Regardless of what happened, it was quite obvious that A.J. preferred that uniform, so we were anxious to see what he’d suit up in on Monday. Sure enough, the Pirates took the field in their black alternate jerseys.
- If you haven’t seen it or want to watch it again, here’s the rosin bag exploding on Burnett:
- From the stands, Neil Walker looked noticeably thinner. Not sure if that’s good or bad, but hopefully he’s at full strength. Walker, who was in “the best shape of his life” this offseason, went 1 for 4 on the afternoon – his single was the first Bucco hit of 2013.
- Justin Wilson, Jared Hughes, and Mark Melancon pitched 3.1 perfect innings of relief. Wilson was hitting mid-90′s on his fastball, and threw strikes on 15 of his 19 pitches overall. Hughes pitched a 1-2-3 inning against top Cubs’ hitters Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and Alfonso Soriano. Eight of Melancon’s nine pitches went for strikes, and he notched two K’s. Hopefully this a sign of things to come for the Bucco bullpen.
- Travis Snider was projected to start in right field to start the season, but Clint Hurdle bumped Garrett Jones to right and put Gaby Sanchez at first. Snider got a chance in the eighth inning, pinch-hitting for the pitcher’s spot… and looked pretty bad. He wasn’t anywhere close to the ball, as he was blown away by a couple of Jeff Samardzija fastballs.
- John “Prime Minister of Defense” McDonald got to play shortstop in the ninth, and committed a throwing error on his first defensive chance as a Pirate.
- According to Hurdle, McDonald will be the Bucs’ emergency catcher, even though he’s never played behind the plate in the minors or majors.
- Yesterday’s first pitch temperature: 41 degrees. It was the coldest home opener since 2007, when it was 37 degrees at PNC.
Elsewhere in Major League Baseball…
- Bryce Harper became the youngest player to hit two home runs on Opening Day:
- Along with Harper, Stephen Strasburg’s seven shutout innings led the Nationals to a 2-0 win over Miami. If only the Pirates were just a little worse in the years right before those guys were drafted…
- Clayton Kershaw had one heck of a game for Los Angeles. In addition to tossing a complete game four-hit shutout, Kershaw gave the Dodgers the lead in the eighth inning with a bomb:
- Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano has ditched super-agent Scott Boras and signed a new deal with hip-hop star Jay-Z. Cano is set to hit the free agent market after this season, but it sounds like he wants to stay in New York.
The Pirates are back at PNC on Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon, before hitting the west coast this weekend. Get your tickets HERE.
- Here’s your starting lineup for Game 1 of 162:
1. Starling Marte, LF
2. Garrett Jones, RF
3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
4. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
5. Gaby Sanchez, 1B
6. Neil Walker, 2B
7. Russell Martin, C
8. Clint Barmes, SS
9. A.J. Burnett, P
- Brandon Inge, Jeff Karstens, Francisco Liriano, and Charlie Morton have been placed on the 15-day disabled list.
- Utility man John McDonald will wear number 17.
- Today’s starting pitcher, A.J. Burnett, might retire after this season.
- Pirates season ticket sales increased by 20 percent.
- A total of 93,433 fans passed through the gates of McKechnie Field this spring.
- Dave Brown of Yahoo picks Travis Snider as NL’s breakout hitter and Gerrit Cole as Rookie of the Year.
- There are plenty of new food and drink options on the menu at PNC Park this year.
- Information about the first homestand can be found HERE.
Around the League:
- Alex Rodriguez will earn more money than the entire Astros roster combined in 2013.
- Johan Santana’s career is in jeopardy.
- Zack Greinke will make his Dodgers debut on Friday against the Pirates.
On tap this week:
- off -
Starling Marte (6) days until Opening Day.
On July 26th, 2012, Marte hit a home run on the first pitch he saw in the major leagues. Now, he’s poised to start in left field and contribute in a big way.
Three questions about number 6…
1. Can he avoid the infamous “sophomore slump”? Despite appearing in just 50 games, Marte no longer holds rookie status. One must not exceed 130 at-bats the previous season to keep the rookie label, but Starling recorded 167. With that said, can he steer clear from the second-year jinx? Although spring training is a poor indicator, Marte has done well in Grapefruit League play. Hopefully he can carry that success into the regular season.
2. How will he adjust to the leadoff spot? Marte will likely be penciled into the top spot of the Pirates’ lineup, at least to start the season. As we discussed throughout the offseason, he isn’t a prototypical leadoff man, and he’d probably be better off in a spot where he can demonstrate his power and free-swinging. Regardless of where he hits, Marte has loads of potential that could really help the Bucs’ offense.
3. Will he effectively exhibit his five-tool potential at the MLB level? Marte possesses the five tools that scouts look for in a player. Hit for average? He won the Eastern League batting title in 2011. Hit for power? He can annihilate baseballs. Defense? One of the organization’s best defenders when he moved through the system. Arm? An absolute cannon. Speed? He has the legs to steal bases and leg-out triples. It’ll come down to whether or not Marte can piece everything together in order to become a successful major league outfielder.
Entering his second full season in the big leagues, Tony Watson expects to carry a hefty workload for the Bucs in 2013. With a few departures in the bullpen, notably Joel Hanrahan, Watson’s duties should see a significant increase, especially since he’s the primary left-handed pitcher in the ‘pen.
However, Watson missed a ton of time over the past few weeks, due to both physical and mechanical issues. It sounded like he may have had some health problems, in addition to tweaking his mechanics.
The 27 year old southpaw threw 23 pitches against the Yankees High-A team and felt fine, but the outing did not go well in terms of results. He was hit hard by the young Bronx Bombers, but returned to Grapefruit League action on Wednesday afternoon.
He entered the ballgame in the seventh inning, and the Braves came out swinging. Joey Terdoslavich and Jordan Schafer started the inning with back-to-back singles, then Jordan Parraz parked one over the left field fence. Watson retired the next three batters he faced, but not before the damage was done. Three runs on three consecutive hits was not the type of outing the Bucs were looking for. Kyle McPherson and Vin Mazzaro were also lit up by Atlanta on Wednesday.
Before his extended time off, Watson pitched in just two other spring games: February 24th vs. Atlanta and February 28th vs. Boston. In his first outing, he pitched a scoreless frame, but surrendered two hits. In the latter, he was crushed by the Sox for four runs on five hits in two-thirds of an inning.
His totals thus far in the Grapefruit League: 7 runs, 10 hits, 1 K, 1 home run, 1 HBP in 2.2 innings. That equates to a 23.62 ERA and a .588 opponent batting average.
It’s small sample size, but it has to be concerning that Watson has only pitched in three games this spring. There’s only a little over a week until Opening Day, and he’s received just 2.2 innings of MLB-caliber work. Plus, he’s struggled in that time on the mound. Here’s what general manager Neal Huntington said a few days ago:
“He’s on track. But he can’t really afford many hiccups.”
There has to be some concern that he’s dealing with an injury, which would be a pretty big blow to the bullpen. Watson was considered one of four locks (Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes) entering camp, with the remaining spots up for grabs. He’s been a reliable lefty in his first year and a half of major league action; the Pirates will need to replace that if Watson is not ready to go by April 1st.
Other lefties to consider for a bullpen job include Justin Wilson, Mike Zagurski, and Jonathan Sanchez. Wilson has been sharp in spring ball, allowing just one run in 10 innings, while striking out 13 batters. Zagurski appears to be doing a decent job, but has never seen much success at the MLB level. Sanchez often struggles with his control, but he has an opt-out clause that he will likely exercise if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. He could also be used as a starting pitcher.
Hopefully Watson can fix his physical and mechanical issues, and contribute to the Bucco bullpen in a big way in 2013.
Each Thursday from now until the start of the season, we will post a “throwback” video from the pirates.com archives.
The Pirates faced off with the Houston Astros on Saturday, July 28th, 2001. Vinny Castilla‘s three home runs carried the ‘Stros, and they went into the bottom of the ninth with an 8-2 lead. However, the Battlin’ Bucs stormed back for seven runs, including four off the bat of Brian Giles. Giles deposited a walk-off grand slam into the right field stands off Billy Wagner to give the Pirates an exhilarating 9-8 victory:
11 days until Opening Day.
Stanley Cup Visits PNC Park
Ward Meets the Wall
Cordova, Rincon No-Hit Houston
Giles Climbs the Wall
Cutch’s Three-Homer Night
Bucs Turn a Triple Play in Cincy
Kendall Leaps to Score
Mackowiak’s Walk-Off Grand Slam
Mesa’s 300th Save
Jack Flash’s Slick Double Play
Gaby Sanchez (14) days until Opening Day.
After being acquired from Miami in July, Sanchez starts his first full season with the Bucs and appears to be fully healthy.
Three questions about number 14…
1. Can he bounce back offensively? He put together solid seasons in 2010 (4th in NL Rookie of Year voting) and 2011 (National League All-Star), but struggled in a 2012 campaign that included a trip to the minors. While Grapefruit League play is not a good indicator for the regular season, Sanchez has been hitting the ball hard (.310 avg, 3 HR, 1.072 OPS), so it’ll be interesting to see if he can produce at the plate this season.
2. How much will he play? Garrett Jones had a big year in 2012, but still has some difficulties against left-handed pitching. Gaby has strong splits against southpaws, so he could rest Jones at first base. He’ll be useful off the bench as well. Lots of at-bats could help Sanchez, but it’s tough to gauge how much playing time he’ll receive.
3. Will he play any third base? He hasn’t played there in the big leagues, but did get some action at the hot corner in the minors. Gaby has played third at times this spring, and he could be a huge asset to the club if he can back up Pedro Alvarez and play a decent 3B.
The search for experienced catching:the Phils, Pirates, Angels and Rays are among the team in the market
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) March 16, 2013
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) March 17, 2013
Peter Gammons mentioned on Twitter yesterday that the Bucs are among the teams looking for experienced catchers; Jon Heyman added this morning that they could be interested in Ramon Hernandez.
The Bucs seem to be set with Russell Martin and Michael McKenry behind the plate this season. Hernandez, who turns 37 in May and will earn $3.2 million this season, doesn’t seem like a necessary acquisition. The key word in Heyman’s tweet is “could” be interested; it was probably more of a follow-up to Gammons’ tweet, and Hernandez is an experienced catcher that is available.
The club could be looking for some minor league catching depth, although Tony Sanchez should be getting plenty of playing time for Indianapolis. A.J. Burnett and others have been pleased with Sanchez’s play this spring.
Tom Singer praised minor league catcher Carlos Paulino again on Saturday, mentioning that he could pass McKenry on the depth chart. That’s a pretty ridiculous statement considering Paulino is 23, hasn’t played above Single-A, and hasn’t hit much in the minors. Singer noted a few days ago that the Pirates like Paulino’s arm, going on to say that he could be the “top midseason callup candidate.” We don’t believe that just yet; we wrote a bit about this yesterday.
With just two weeks left in spring training, final cuts will be made around the league and the Bucs could snag a catcher off waivers or via trade. It’ll be interesting to see what other moves the Pirates make between now and Opening Day.
The tenth and final edition of Pirates Playback will air on ROOT Sports at 7:00 pm. They will replay it on Friday night at 7:00.
The featured game is from August 28th, when the Bucs stayed in the wild card race with a convincing 9-0 win over St. Louis. Pedro Alvarez hit two monstrous home runs that travelled a combined 891 feet, and James McDonald turned in seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball. From our recap:
“A win wasn’t absolutely needed tonight, but a loss would have been pretty devastating. Glad to see the Bucs stepped up, and played like they’re fighting for a playoff-birth. Let’s keep it up.”
Only three more weeks until Opening Day…
Andrew McCutchen (22) days until Opening Day.
McCutchen performed at an MVP-caliber level in 2012, earning the Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, and Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year, among other achievements.
Two questions about number 22…
1. Can he build off of last year? It’ll certainly be tough to top his .327/.400/.553, 31 HR, 96 RBI from a year ago, but the Pirates need another huge year from McCutchen if they want to succeed. He was an absolute bargain at $500,000 last season; even though his new contract kicks in, he’ll still be quite valuable at $4.5 million.
2. Can he contribute for a full season? As we wrote a few weeks ago, Cutch has struggled to piece together a complete MLB season. In both 2011 and 2012, he had some difficulties at the plate down the stretch; a tired McCutchen (and rest of the team) resulted in two consecutive collapses. If he can play solid baseball from April through September, there’s no doubt that he’ll be among the league’s best in 2013.