Monday, July 13, 2009


To say that the Pittsburgh Pirates' lineup is in a state of flux right now would be like saying that World War II was just some petty cat fight between a couple women.

A brief glance at the opening 40 man roster shows that there are three of the five opening-day outfielders no longer on the club and four pitchers. As you are reading this, the infielders are bracing themselves for an inevitable onslaught. Expect Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche to be gone by the trading deadline.

Incredibly, this will mean that the Pirates will have turned-over 25% of their opening day roster during the course of this season!

Okay, so we know that this is doing wonders for program sales, but looking ahead, way ahead, to next opening day, what will that starting lineup look like and will it be an improvement over this year's team?

PITCHING: The Pirates continue to improve under their new pitching coach, the highly respected Joe Kerrigan. Evidence of this comes in the wake of Zach Duke being added to the All-Star team. The addition of Charlie Morton in the Nate McLouth trade should figure to be a huge upgrade over Ian Snell. Snell, who is now trying to get it together in Indy should be an accompanying piece in a trade involving Wilson, Sanchez or LaRoche. I would hardly expect to see him in a Pirates uniform again. Meanwhile, continued improvement by people such as Ohlendorf, Karstens, Veal, Meek and Hanrahan could have the Buccos positioned among the better staffs in the league. Expect a very strong shortstop candidate to come in these deals because the Pirates don't have one ready in the minors.

ABOVE: Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and Ross Ohlendorf among others had better watch out. Choo-Choo Charlie Morton has the stuff to rapidly become the ace of this staff.

CATCHERS: Look for Ryan Doumit to begin splitting duties at first base with possibly Steve Pearce. Jason Jaramillo will never be confused with Bill Dickey, but he is a more than competent backup who can hit an occasional homer. Luis Cruz was Jaramillo's backup while Doumit was out, but he will more than likely not be on next year's opening day roster.

INFIELDERS: Here's where it starts to get dicey. Andy LaRoche will start for a final season at third before the arrival in late 2010 early 2011 of Pedro Alvarez. Shortstop should be an unqualified disaster depending upon whom the Pirates get in return for Wilson, Sanchez, Adam LaRoche and Snell. Second base will be occupied by Delwyn Young, a man who will hit with close to the average of Sanchez, but with significantly more power. He will, however, be a distinct downgrade defensively. He has more of an outfielder or first baseman's build and I'd be surprised to see him cover the ground that Sanchez does. First base will more than likely be occupied by a player already on the roster such as Pearce, Moss possibly, or Doumit on occasion. Losing Adam LaRoche will be a big loss defensively at first base, but who isn't tired of his act at the plate?

OUTFIELDERS: Here is where the Pirates could be significantly stronger than this past year. Lastings Milledge may be ready for a breakout opportunity with the Pirates. If he gets it together, he would be a tremendous upgrade in power over Nyjer Morgan. He will cover at least as much ground defensively as Morgan too. In center, Andrew McCutchen is the real deal. We've waited a long time for him and now he's here. His skill set is tremendous and will only get better. This guy will be an All-Star for years to come and a permanent fixture (well, as permanent as permanent can be on the Pirates). In right, the surprising play from minor league free-agent

ABOVE: Now that he's no longer a Hickory Crawdad, expect pirate fans to be watching Andrew McCutchen for a loooong time.

acquisition Garrett Jones looks like a perfect fit. For a big man, Jones has deceptive speed and has already hit five home runs in his first 11 games. He should have no trouble covering the smaller right field at PNC Park.

ABOVE: Pirates GM Neal Huntingdon hopes that Lastings Milledge remembers to bring a big bat with him when he arrives in Pittsburgh after the All Star break.

I truly believe that after this year's trade deadline deals that GM Neal Huntingdon will settle down with the trades and let his minor league system go to work. Having added a number of high profile acquisitions such as Jose Tabata and Gorkys Hernandez etc., while drafting a Pedro Alvarez last year, Huntington will have allowed enough time for the system to begin working as it was originally designed to do. Huntingdon should begin to have fewer and fewer reasons to need to acquire players, thus allowing for the roster to stabilize itself and gain continuity. That continuity will begin paying real dividends in the 2011 season when the Pirates become a serious division contender for the first time in 19 years. It will have been a long wait, but the good news is that the wait will have been worth it. The Pirates under Huntingdon will once again become a perennial contender and have a minor league system once again throwing off capable major league players.

It's a painful process to watch right now, but there's no question that the players pulling on Pirates jerseys these days are bigger, faster, stronger and throw harder than their predecessors. After a difficult 2009 second half, we'll begin to see the benefits of these changes in spring training next year...and maybe we'll become more familiar with the faces on the field! No question, one day we'll look back on these early days of Neal Huntingdon's career in Pittsburgh and say, "Remember when Neal Huntingdon turned the Pirates upside down and shook them?"

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