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09 March 2009

2009 Positional Preview - Who's On First....

What will the everyday starting lineup look like for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009, the exact squad developed to halt the losing skid at 16 years and avoid a 17thconsecutive and record setting losing season? Let's take a look inside the roster and see who that squad could be.

Projected starters....

1st Base - Adam LaRoche

2nd Base - Freddy Sanchez

Shortstop - Jack Wilson

3 rd Base - Andy LaRoche

Left Field - Nyjer Morgan

Center Field - Nate McClouth

Right Field - Brandon Moss

Catcher - Ryan Doumit

The biggest question mark of this group is in left field. While Nyjer Morgan has the speed to impress anyone, he still lacks solid fundamental play and overall experience to strike fear into any opposing team. Morgan tends to make the highlight real with high flying nose diving catches, and that’s fun to watch, but what you don’t see are his bad routes and late jumps that make those dazzling plays necessary. Nyjer brings a very good speed element to this lineup at the top of the order, but getting on base consistently is his struggle, and when he does, being able to round the bases properly without mental errors is another question. If Nyjer can produce at the level he did after being called up Aug. 19th of last year when he batted a National League 10th best .366 for the remainder of the year and reached base safely in 25 of 27 games, then this team will likely generate runs consistently through him and that can be nothing but a huge positive for the Pirates. Morgan ultimately is just treading water in the outfield until Andrew McCutchen arrives.

Last years trade deadline acquisitions Brandon Moss and Andy LaRoche represent the two make or break situations on the roster. What I mean by this is simply, if these two young studs live up to their previously billed potential, the everyday ball club is a lot better than most will give it credit for. However, if both struggle, things could get brutal. Both Moss and LaRoche limped through the second half of last season after being dealt at the trade deadline. Each spent time on the DL late in the season. Brandon Moss eventually had to completely shut it down due to knee problems. I look forward to watching both these young men develop, and hopefully succeed. Both were top prospects at one point while with their previous clubs, hopefully the change of scenery and fresh start is a win/win for everyone involved.

Up the middle will be this teams strength and leadership.

Ryan Doumit returns at catcher after getting a nice little pay day in the off season. His glove has started to come around and his ability to finally remain healthy was an added plus coming out of last year. Ryan will be the power source in the middle of the lineup as a switch hitter.

After being traded 100 times in the last 2 years, Jack Wilson sticks around (for now) for another year at shortstop. Jack remains the most consistent fielder on this club, and possibly the slickest fielder in the game. Jack will likely hit from the 8 hole, his preferred spot in the order.

Former National League Batting Champion Freddy Sanchez will man second base this year. Freddy struggled till seasons end (last year) with a throwing arm injury suffered in spring training. There was probably no one more ready for the off season to come than him. Freddy hopes to bounce back in a big way and by doing so, he might just find himself on the trade block come July. Freddy will likely hit 2nd or 3rd in the batting order..

Nate McAll Star, or maybe it’s Nate McGoldGlove, or maybe it’s Nate McCash, regardless of what you prefer to call him, Nate McClouth is the new face of the franchise and rightfully so. Nate McClouth radiates fielding consistency and nearly went through an entire season last year without committing an error (his one error occurred in the final game of the season) in center field. He was rewarded with his first All Star appearance and a Gold Glove, the first for a Pirate since SS Jay Bell in 1993, and first for a Pirate outfielder since Andy Van Slyke in 1992. Nate was rightfully rewarded with a contract extension on the opening day of spring training a few weeks ago. Nate can bat anywhere from 1-4 in the lineup, however his best work is done in the lead off position.

Then there is Adam LaRoche. He just received a 1 year contract for 7 million and is the lone legit option at first base. We all know about Adam’s plate struggles early every season. Adam was billed as Lefty McThump, brought in by Dave Littlefield to launch balls over the Clemente wall, remember? I’ll say this, he is what he is, and if he ever gets on track early in a season and hits like he does every August for an entire season, you are looking at a perennial All Star. Best case scenario for the Bucs is that Adam does get hot early and drives his stock through the roof. He claims to want to stay in Pittsburgh as long as his brother Andy is here, however business is business, and come the trade deadline, he could be moved for major league ready prospects.

Now let’s talk bench. A lot of people forget about the bench and that’s understandable. These guys get maybe 1 start a week, and if their lucky a plate appearance every couple days. However, bench depth is just as important as anything on the diamond and having a good bench makes things easier for a manger to make moves late in a ball game. Ramon Vasquez was brought in this past off season as a utility infielder and is a lock. Eric Hinske, fresh off a World Series appearance with the Tampa Bay Rays, was brought in to be an extra outfielder. Craig Monroe, recently of the Minnesota Twins, is a non roster invitee this spring and could make the club in a reserve outfielder role. Jeff Salazar, recently of the Arizona Diamond Backs, signed on Dec. 27th and was fully expecting to be the lone utility outfielder, but with the additions of Hinske and Monroe in January, his fortunes seem to be stacked against him. The back up catcher position is being battled for by Jason Jaramillo (brought over from Philadelphia in the Ronny Paulino trade) and Robinson Diaz (brought over from Toronto in the Jose Bautista trade). The edge likely goes to Jaramillo because of his ties with Manager John Russell. Jaramillo played for Russell when he was a minor league manager in the Phillies organization. There were thoughts that prospect Steve Pearce could break north with the big club this year in a utility roll, however a strained calf has limited him to just 4 plate appearances this spring making it likely he will start in AAA. Brian Bixler a shortstop who spent time with the big club last year when Jack Wilson was injured is in play as well, but he is more likely to remain in AAA.

What about Andrew McCutchen you ask, when is he coming to Pittsburgh? Expect it to happen by mid season, maybe a little later. But rest assured he will be in Pittsburgh this year. It’s time to see what this kid has, an d hopefully he is as good as advertised. Too many years of hearing Andrew's name and no production would make him an instant whipping boy. Many wonder what would happen if top prospect Pedro Alvarez played out of his mind in Spring Training (which he is not), would he make the major league roster? NO! At best he will start in high class A ball in Lynchburg and move to AA Altoona sometime this year. One more name to mention here, Shelby Ford, a second base prospect, loved by former Bucs manager Chuck Tanner, has looked good and is a name worth remembering.

For the most part, the position players are set. Some minor tweaks are expected as spring training advances, however nothing out of the ordinary is expected to occur. I’ll continue to keep tabs on the roster and report updates accordingly as the regular season approaches.


  1. Sorry for the screwed up font. I am working to hopefully get it corrected. Patience for the computer challenged!