Scabs & Scars: Are the Pittsburgh Pirates Healed and Ready for 2012?


The Pittsburgh Pirates

lost significant time as injuries riddled their 2011 season.  The number of players used during the year was more like that of a college football team than a major league baseball club.

One of the most important things we learned this week from the Pittsburgh Pirates minicamp is that the team appears to be healthy or at least it’s safe to assume the team is getting healthier.  Simply looking around at the photos of key Pirates in attendance at Bradenton for minicamp shows it seems safe to say a Pirates team that was crippled with injuries last year is showing signs of healing.  That’s good.  Because improvement in 2012 will depend on several important players.

Charlie Morton had offseason surgery on the labrum in his hip. Morton is already throwing baseballs. GM Neal Huntington told us on the podcast that Morton is hell bent on being ready for opening day. Rob Biertempfel reported that Morton will be back in Bradenton on February 1.

Having electric stuff ready for opening day is important. The Bucs won’t necessarily have to have five starting pitchers in April. That’s a fact, Huntington mentioned last month on the RumBunter podcast. But looking at their starters, we would much rather see Charlie Morton as one of the four pitchers working regularly in April than one who isn’t.

Morton is the one pitcher who has some significant upside in this rotation.  We saw flashes of it last season.  How nice would it be to watch Morton and McDonald improve on their respectable 2011 seasons?  Watching Morton serve up ground balls every five days in 2012 would be a nice surprise wouldn’t it?

Pedro Alvarez is simply the key to the 2012 season for us. On paper, the Bucs offense looks like a riddle. Alvarez needs to change the big question mark to an exclamation mark.  Last year, Alvarez looked completely the opposite of his rookie stud 201o self.  It was the biggest disappointment in the Buccos season, because everyone saw flashes of just how special he could be when he came up as a rookie in 2010.  Unfortunately last year we saw nothing special.  Just struggles.

Alvarez certainly has done something about it this offseason. As we said, he looks great. He appears to have traded three meals a day for three P90X workouts a day. Damn it’s scary to even think about Pedro having a breakout season. Total game changer.

Chase d’Arnaud seems fully recovered from his fractured right pinkie finger. Finger injuries suck. When it happens to a rookie that is trying to figure out the big leagues, it’s not hard to understand the numbers d’Arnaud put up after the injury.

Evan Meek is a pitcher we haven’t heard much about this offseason. Meek was put on the 60-day DL in June with right shoulder tendinitis. He came back in September, but Meek didn’t seem the same to me after allowing seven walks in 6.1 innings. Having Meek return to his All-Star 2010 form might be asking a bit much, but right now it’s hard for us to put a finger on just where he fits into the Bucs plans.

Alex Presley had a thumb injury that slowed his surprising season. When he came back in August he was sluggish, but turned it on in September when he failed to reach base in just five of the final 26 games. Presley finished so strong it’s hard to imagine watching him healthy.

Could Presley be the next Bucco to win a batting title?  Most of the baseball experts have some very agressive projections for Presley in 2012. Let’s trust they are correct.

Jose Tabata had an injury filled season that would make Ben Roethlisberger blush. Tabata suffered from a right hamstring strain in April. In late June he went on the DL with a strain in his left quad. Then in September it was a wrist injury followed by a broken bone in his left hand that finished a lost season for the Pirates outfielder.

Tabata played his last game on September 5. The injuries limited him to just 91 games.   He was finally cleared to start swinging a bat again on December 19.  It looks like Tabata will be the teams starting right fielder in 2012, let’s cross our fingers that the injuries are in the rear view for the talented newly-signed Bucco.

For the Pirates to have any chance of turning around the 2012 season, Charlie Morton, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley, and Evan Meek have to be healthy.  If any one of these players misses significant time, the Bucs chances at breaking the streak dim.  It’s easy to point out these things, but could you even begin to imagine an injury to Andrew McCutchen?  Sorry, just wanted to get it out there.  (We do it every year, and knock on wood, Cutch has been relatively healthy each year)

The team might be able to replace Meek in the short term, but the options don’t exactly thrill me.  The Pirates bullpen will be counted on to carry some heavy innings like they did in 2011.  We see Meek as being an important part of that goal.   The bullpen seems solid, but remember, something bad usually comes out around spring training time.  So it seems only a matter of time until we hear a 2011 Meek type-injury being announced about one of the overworked bullpen arms.

Charlie Morton might miss some time in April.  We are concerned about that possibility.  The current options just don’t thrill me.

Any combination of Alvarez, Tabata and Presley being injured severely reduce the teams ability to score runs, the top of the lineup would take a major hit and we all know what a lineup without Presley and Tabata looks like right?  Yeh, shit.

New surroundings are likely for d’Arnaud this year as it appears he will be riding the buses at AAA Indy and his development will be something to watch very closely.

New players will also be important keys this year as Erik Bedard, Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes aren’t exactly known for their health.    It’s highly unlikely that Bedard, Barajas, and Barmes will all have solid seasons in Pittsburgh. We can’t really remember the last time that happened with an offseason acquisition, so we would be satisfied with simply seeing each ofthem regularly during the season.

The Bucs roster really lacks impact players, so make sure you pray early and often for a healthy 2012.