The Pirates are going with most of their regulars for the Grapefruit League opener against the New York Yankees. The lineup will be well received in front of the Bradenton faithful.
1. Marte LF
2. Martin C
3. McCutchen CF
4. Alvarez 3B
5. Walker 2B
6. Sanchez 1B
7. Lambo DH
8. Tabata RF
9. Mercer SS
The first lineup of the spring is always interesting, but there is no question it always looks better when the club plays in front of their hometown crowd.
We couldn’t recall what the lineup looked like last year on that sun soaked day in Port Charlotte, so we went back in the archives to see what Clint Hurdle sent on the buses to face the Tampa Bay Rays.
In case you cant see the lineup graphic: The Bucs starters consisted of Starling Marte leading off in left, Alex Presley hit (or tried to) second, Travis Snider got the start in right field and hit third, Garrett Jones was in the cleanup spot, Pedro Alvarez was where he should be all season, the fifth spot. Brad Hawpe was the DH, (he also was the only player who had a hit off Gerrit Cole in last years Black & Gold Game.) Michael McKenry hit eighth and batting ninth was Chase d’Arnaud.
What a difference one year makes for the Bucs. Five of those players are gone. The Pirates cut ties with d’Arnaud yesterday to make the number of players gone from last years Grapefruit Opener lineup jump to fifty percent. It’s hard to argue that many of them will be missed.
A Spring Training lineup will rarely be filled with regulars each year, but it got us thinking a bit more about roster construction moving forward. Where are the Pirates the weakest as an organization right now?
Oct 4, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (6) is congratulated by center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) after hitting a solo home run off of St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Shelby Miller (not pictured) during the eighth inning in game two of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game at Busch Stadium. Pittsburgh defeated St. Louis 7-1. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
The Pirates outfield looks set for the forseeable future with Marte, McCutchen and Gregory Polanco. With a solid year from Jose Tabata or Travis Snider the fourth outfielder might be set as well. The only question there remains, who will grab the job? Will it be Tabata, Snider, Jaff Decker, or one of the multitude of other options in camp.
The catching position seems in a good place once Russell Martin cashes in on free agency this coming winter. Tony Sanchez looks poised for 2014 and beyond. Young catchers in the system are making strides to become the catcher of the future.
The pitching looks to be in good shape, but the big questions to ponder revolve around creating a dynamic infield. The Pirates system has to have a weakness somewhere and it’s the infield. The depth isn’t there.
The biggest statement to be made in this regard could be the Andrew Lambo Project. It’s not everyday that a player pops over 30 bombs in the minors. The roundabout way Lambo broke out is also a blessing for a Pirates team that was razor thin at the 1B position. (Sorry, we never bought into Alex Dickerson) Should Lambo prove that he can be counted on at first base, the Pirates will have dodged a big bullet.
The smart thing the club did this year was bringing back Clint Barmes. Although he struggles mightily at the plate, he fills the short term need for a position player in the infield. One positive is the fact that Pedro Alvarez seems to be a work horse. Jordy Mercer too. The player that needs to stay out of the trainers room in 2014 is Neil Walker.
Perhaps one solution might be to see if Tony Sanchez could move to a corner infield spot when that time comes? Why not see if those insane reflexes could thrive at third base in a couple of years? (Feel free to insert your ideas about improving the infield depth in the comments)
Face it though, the bottom line is the Bucs offense will be cooked if it needs to rely on backups at any of the infield positions in 2014. The pickup of Brent Moler adds depth, but only if he can show his back is fully healthy, and that’s a big if. The club won’t be able to get to where it wants to be if an injury happens to any one of El Toro, Mercer Time, The Pittsburgh Kid or God forbid, anyone at the first base position.
If you recall last year’s Grapefruit Opener starter for the Bucs was Jeff Locke. At the time, the southpaw was in a wide open competition for a spot in the Pirates rotation. Who would have dreamed that a few months later, Locke would be named to the All-Star team?
Enough dreaming about baseball, it’s here at last. Pass the sunscreen. Let’s get this ride started!