Looking Back at 2008:
Being a Pittsburgh Pirates fan is like enjoying Sports Cream in your jock. No matter how you look at it, pain is in the past as well as the future. Looking back is painful for any Pirate fan over the last 16 years. Looking forward doesn't bring much relief either.
I prefer not to do a year end recap, overall just way too painful. The highlights of 2008 were few and far between. Nate McLouth accounted for the best moments on the diamond making the All-Star team and actually deserving it. He also won a Gold Glove for his average defense and above average bat.
The other big happening of 2008 was the acquisition of 13 of the Pirates top 20 prospects including the arrival of two of the top three prospects Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata. While this seems to be a good thing, it actually shows how poor the franchise was prior to Huntington and Coonley arriving. Having predecessors like Littlefield and Bonnifay, Huntington would have to be a real screw-up not to be an improvement.
The lone other memorable happening, Pirates fan got to know their owners. The Nutting family finally came out of the closet with the face of the family being Bob Nutting.
That is as far as I will go for a look back. Looking at games or anything else just puts a damper on enjoying, using that term loosely, Pirates baseball.
Look back at the end of 2008, no matter how painful it is, and you will see what will likely be the Pirates starting lineup. Yes, not much has changed so far.
LF Nyjer Morgan
2B Freddy Sanchez
CF Nate McLouth
C Ryan Doumit
1B Adam LaRoche
RF Brandon Moss
3B Andy LaRoche
SS Jack Wilson
SP Paul Maholm
SP Ian Snell
SP Tom Gorzelanny
SP Zach Duke
SP Jeff Karstens
SP Ross Ohlendorf
Bullpen:SU Tyler Yates
SU John Grabow
CL Matt Capps
What to watch for:
Before Spring Training:
There are a few free agents the Pirates have interest in. Rocco Baldelli and Doug Mientkiewicz are two position players the Pirates are known to be in contact with the Pirates. Both can play the outfield and Mientkiewicz can play more of a super sub role with the ability to additionally play third, first and second.
Neither Nyger Morgan nor Brandon Moss should be starting outfielders, both should be considered forth outfielders at best. Baldelli, if healthy, could step into either corner outfield position and immediately improve the lineup.
Mientkiewicz would be coming off the bench as well as Steve Pearce as a backup first baseman and backup right fielder.
Who will be brought in from a very inactive free agent market? Will Huntington find any steals?
During Spring Training:
The bullpen and rotation will be sorted out. There are many un-owned bullpen spots. There are too many arms that will be thrown against the wall to accurately guess who will man the pen. The same can be said for the 4th and 5th starter in the rotation. I still look at Duke as having as close to a lock on the 4th starter spot as anyone can claim. A lot will be determined in spring.
Andy LaRoche and Neil Walker will battle it out for third. LaRoche will likely start the season as the everyday third baseman. If he struggles, Walker will be waiting in the wings.
How will the bench be filled out? Who will make the team that was unexpected going into spring?
During the Season:
It is widely anticipated Andrew McCutchen will make his MLB debut. Look for him to slide into the left field position sometime around May. Who moves to right, if Baldelli is not acquired? It would not shock me if Tabata makes an appearance during the season as well. He has a spot on the 40 man roster and will be likely start the season in Indianapolis.
Another interesting thing will be how the rotation fairs. Can Snell and Gorzelanny rebound from poor seasons? Can Maholm continue to build on an impressive 2008? Will Zach Duke ever live up to the hype he initially raised in his rookie year? If all four pitch as well as they had in past seasons, the rotation could be a strong point on the team.
Can the bullpen be pieced together enough to get to Grabow and Capps?
Can Andy LaRoche finally make the jump to the Majors? He has proven all he can prove in AAA, now is the time to see if he is a bust or will he finally live up to the scouts opinion of him. If he becomes what he has been expected to be, what happens with Neil Walker?
Will Adam LaRoche finally start hitting before June?
Where will Pedro Alvarez play in the minors? Will he be groomed as a third baseman or will he jump across the diamond to first as the heir apparent to Adam LaRoche? How quickly will he rise through the system?
Will the 2008 draft class start living up to the hype of being one of the better drafts in the majors? What does the 2009 draft hold in store for the Pirates?
Who will be traded at the deadline? Will the Pirates farm system continue to improve? Can the Pirates develop another player into their upper echelon of prospects?
Can Kerrigan coerce some strikes out of a group of hard throwing wild armed bullpen pitchers? Can he turn around the poor seasons of Duke, Snell and Gorzelanny?
Don't expect great things in 2009 from the MLB team, 68-72 wins I am predicting as the lineup stands right now. There are too many questions and not enough answers. 2009 will be a stepping stone to 2010. This coming season will likely be a 17th consecutive losing season, but it will be a season where hopefully some of those questions will be answered. If they go unanswered, we as fans will see an 18th losing season before all is said and done.
I will run another season preview as we get closer to Opening Day 2009.
Please discuss this post at The Buccos Forum. Here is a link to the thread: