With the first game of the spring less than a week away, we can really start to think about what the 2013 season might look like. There are some new players mixed in with familiar faces, but the success of the 2013 Bucs will be contingent on a few select players. This list is pretty subjective so feel free to disagree or add some further thoughts, but here we go in descending order:
After last season, the expectations for Pirates catchers in 2013 really isn’t that high, which is why he’s on this list. His defense should be infinitely better than Rod Barajas‘, assuming he can throw out more than 6% of attempted stolen bases. The big question will be whether or not his home runs at Yankee Stadium will become flyouts in front of the bleachers at PNC Park. If he can’t put up the same home run totals that he has before, then he’ll have to be stroking doubles into the power alleys to make up for it. Quite frankly he’s being overpaid, so Neal Huntington critics will have him under the spotlight this year. But if he and Michael McKenry can hold down the fort (no pun intended) through the middle of the season, Tony Sanchez can stay in Indianapolis for as long as possible before coming up to Pittsburgh and getting a shot.
Melancon’s role in the bullpen isn’t certain yet, but he’ll definitely be key. With Hanrahan gone and Grilli to the closer’s spot, someone will have to become the go-to pitcher in tough spots, and Melancon will have a perfect chance to become that guy. He’s also likely to be the only player sent over from Boston in the Hanrahan trade that will have any significant role on the team this year, so his success will determine whether trading Hammer was a good move or not. He suffered for the Sox last year, posting a 6.20 ERA and allowing eight home runs in 45 innings. Melancon will have a shot to bounce back in the weaker-hitting National League Central.
J-Mac is considered a lock for the starting rotation, although he really shouldn’t be guaranteed a spot. He pulled an even more extreme Ubaldo Jimenez last year (see Ubaldo’s 2010 splits) and completely fell apart. Some may call him the Pedro of the pitching staff; defined by inconsistency. But this year may really be his last chance. Optimists thought that coming to the Pirates from LA would be a good change of scenery for him and allow him to reach his full potential, but aside from the first part of 2012, we’ve only seen flashes of his brilliance on the mound. Not much else can be said about McDonald other than the Pirates will need to him to at least be consistent for them to see any success this season, which may even be asking too much.
Marte’s play may have gotten lost in the disaster that was August and September for the Pirates, but he definitely showed that he could be a key contributor to this team. He saw lots of action before and after straining his oblique in August, but he still hasn’t seen anything close to a full season. As of now, it’s safe to call him the Opening Day left fielder and *possibly* the leadoff hitter. He really isn’t a prototypical leadoff guy but he’s the best one on the team for now. The current corner outfield situation is shaky, so it would be perfect if Marte could solidify LF both offensively and defensively. If he completely bombs or gets hurt, we’ll likely see another revolving door of Tabata/Presley/Sands in left field, which could be a MESS.
Oh, Pedro. It may not seem like it, but he actually put together a solid season in 2012. This year, he’ll be 26, so time is running out for him to hit his stride in the majors. The biggest question will be whether his power can flatten out over the course of 162 or if he’ll hit those extreme peaks and valleys again. Truthfully, if he can put up similar numbers to last year, Pirates fans should be pretty happy. But even that may be wishful thinking as he could very well regress as pitchers figure out how to pitch to him. After an abysmal 2011 and much better 2012, Pedro is probably the biggest question mark heading into the season.
Cutch has had his break-out season. He has the cover of a video game. He’s not overlooked by the rest of the country anymore just because he plays for a small market team. Now it’s time for him to prove that he really is one of the best in the game. Remember that last year he didn’t hit his first home run of the season until May 8th, and his offense significantly declined in August and September. If he can hit like we know he can from April through September, he will have an unreal season. 35 bombs, 110 RBIs, and a .350 batting average really isn’t out of the question when you look at what he was able to do in the middle of last season. This time next year, we could be talking about Cutch as one of the top three players in all of baseball.
Photo: RJ Schmidt/Creative Commons