Pittsburgh Pirates 2010 preview

The goal, as has been the case for more than the past decade, is to finish .500. Pittsburgh’s streak of 17 consecutive losing seasons is a record not only for MLB, but for the NFL, NBA and NHL. The last time the Pirates finished above .500 was 1992 — Barry Bonds’ final season with the team. The 2010 Pirates have a lineup that is good enough to reach .500, but the rotation is a question mark.

Up-and-comer for the 2010 season? Andrew McCutchen.
Up-and-comer for the 2010 season? Andrew McCutchen.

Three questions

1. How good is center fielder Andrew McCutchen?
McCutchen was drafted 11th overall in 2005, just after Cameron Maybin and right before Jay Bruce. The Pirates’ prospect took longer to reach the majors than Maybin or Bruce, but he clearly had the best 2009 season. "The trade of Nate McLouth to the Braves opened the door for the speedy outfielder and he didn’t look back," MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac said. "He’s a five-tool player who hit three home runs in one game last season. He could be a 30-30 (player) in the very near future."

In 108 games as a rookie last season, McCutchen had 12 homers, 22 stolen bases and 54 RBIs (second on the team) from the leadoff spot. Although McCutchen wasn’t pleased with the pace of his rise though the minors, the Pirates wanted to make sure he was ready when they brought him up for good. McCutchen is closer to being an All-Star than a minor leaguer again.

2. What about Pedro Alvarez?
If McCutchen is Mr. Right Now, Alvarez is The Next Big Thing. Although he might be ready for the majors offensively, there is little chance the Pirates will break camp with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 draft on their roster.

Between advanced Class A and Class AA last season, Alvarez hit .288 with 27 homers and 95 RBIs. "At the end of the day, I don’t think he performed as poorly at Lynchburg or as exceptional at Altoona as it appeared on paper," Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark said. Alvarez should start 2010 at Class AAA, where he will refine his approach at the plate and continue to work on his defense at third base. A midseason call-up is possible.

3. What about the other McCutchen?
Daniel McCutchen — no relation to Andrew — is a candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation. The 27-year-old came to the Pirates’ organization in the trade that sent Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees in 2008. McCutchen posted a 4.21 ERA in six starts with Pittsburgh last season after going 13-6 with a 3.47 ERA at Class AAA.

His primary competition is Kevin Hart, who was 1-8 with a 6.92 ERA in 10 starts for the Pirates in 2009. Hart, also 27, has a 5.26 ERA in 47 games (14 starts) in his five-season major league career.

Projected lineup

1. CF Andrew McCutchen: Led team with 74 runs, 22 SBs.
2. 2B Akinori Iwamura: Career .354 OBP with Rays.
3. RF Garrett Jones: 21 HRs, .938 OPS in 82 games.
4. C Ryan Doumit: .318 AVG, 15 HRs when healthy in ’08.
5. 3B Andy LaRoche: Only Pirate to play more than 133 games last season.
6. LF Lastings Milledge: .167 AVG with Nats, .291 with Pirates in ’09.
7. 1B Jeff Clement: HRs, 90 RBIs, .850 OPS at Class AAA.
8. SS Ronny Cedeno: .208 AVG with Mariners, Pirates in ’09.

Projected rotation

1. LHP Paul Maholm: At least 29 starts past 4 seasons.
2. LHP Zach Duke: One-time All-Star in ’09; led N.L. with 16 losses.<
3. RHP Ross Ohlendorf: 3.92 ERA was rotation’s best in ’09.
4. RHP Charlie Morton: 6.15 ERA for Braves in ’08; 4.55 for Pirates in ’09.
5. RHP Kevin Hart: .60 ERA with Cubs; 6.92 ERA with Pirates in ’09.

Projected closer

RHP Octavio Dotel: 22 saves in ’04; 19 since.

Grades

Offense: D. The Pirates’ offense is on an upward trend but finished last in the majors in runs scored in 2009. McCutchen and Garrett Jones brought life to the lineup, and Akinori Iwamura provides an established presence to the top of the order. Having Ryan Doumit healthy in the cleanup spot would be a big boost.

Pitching: D. Although the top three starters combined to win only 30 games last season, they all had an ERA under 4.50. The back end of the rotation has questions, however. Octavio Dotel almost certainly will be better as a closer than Matt Capps was last season; Capps lost eight games and had a 5.80 ERA.

Bench: C. There isn’t much power off the bench, but the Pirates have a more experienced group of reserves than they have had in recent seasons. Ryan Church can play all three outfield positions, and Bobby Crosby has learned to become valuable around the infield with his glove

Manager: B. There is more talent on this Pirates team than in the past several years, so the expectation is for Russell, in his third season, to lead the group above the 70-win plateau for the first time.

Sporting News prediction: If the pitching can produce, the offense has the ability to help this team to a .500 finish. However, the Pirates’ best-case scenario is about 75 wins.

Coming Tuesday: Angels preview

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

The goal, as has been the case for more than the past decade, is to finish .500. Pittsburgh’s streak of 17 consecutive losing seasons is a record not only for MLB, but for the NFL, NBA and NHL. The last time the Pirates finished above .500 was 1992 — Barry Bonds’ final season with the team. The 2010 Pirates have a lineup that is good enough to reach .500, but the rotation is a question mark.

Up-and-comer for the 2010 season? Andrew McCutchen.
Up-and-comer for the 2010 season? Andrew McCutchen.

Three questions

1. How good is center fielder Andrew McCutchen?
McCutchen was drafted 11th overall in 2005, just after Cameron Maybin and right before Jay Bruce. The Pirates’ prospect took longer to reach the majors than Maybin or Bruce, but he clearly had the best 2009 season. "The trade of Nate McLouth to the Braves opened the door for the speedy outfielder and he didn’t look back," MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac said. "He’s a five-tool player who hit three home runs in one game last season. He could be a 30-30 (player) in the very near future."

In 108 games as a rookie last season, McCutchen had 12 homers, 22 stolen bases and 54 RBIs (second on the team) from the leadoff spot. Although McCutchen wasn’t pleased with the pace of his rise though the minors, the Pirates wanted to make sure he was ready when they brought him up for good. McCutchen is closer to being an All-Star than a minor leaguer again.

2. What about Pedro Alvarez?
If McCutchen is Mr. Right Now, Alvarez is The Next Big Thing. Although he might be ready for the majors offensively, there is little chance the Pirates will break camp with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 draft on their roster.

Between advanced Class A and Class AA last season, Alvarez hit .288 with 27 homers and 95 RBIs. "At the end of the day, I don’t think he performed as poorly at Lynchburg or as exceptional at Altoona as it appeared on paper," Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark said. Alvarez should start 2010 at Class AAA, where he will refine his approach at the plate and continue to work on his defense at third base. A midseason call-up is possible.

3. What about the other McCutchen?
Daniel McCutchen — no relation to Andrew — is a candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation. The 27-year-old came to the Pirates’ organization in the trade that sent Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees in 2008. McCutchen posted a 4.21 ERA in six starts with Pittsburgh last season after going 13-6 with a 3.47 ERA at Class AAA.

His primary competition is Kevin Hart, who was 1-8 with a 6.92 ERA in 10 starts for the Pirates in 2009. Hart, also 27, has a 5.26 ERA in 47 games (14 starts) in his five-season major league career.

Projected lineup

1. CF Andrew McCutchen: Led team with 74 runs, 22 SBs.
2. 2B Akinori Iwamura: Career .354 OBP with Rays.
3. RF Garrett Jones: 21 HRs, .938 OPS in 82 games.
4. C Ryan Doumit: .318 AVG, 15 HRs when healthy in ’08.
5. 3B Andy LaRoche: Only Pirate to play more than 133 games last season.
6. LF Lastings Milledge: .167 AVG with Nats, .291 with Pirates in ’09.
7. 1B Jeff Clement: HRs, 90 RBIs, .850 OPS at Class AAA.
8. SS Ronny Cedeno: .208 AVG with Mariners, Pirates in ’09.

Projected rotation

1. LHP Paul Maholm: At least 29 starts past 4 seasons.
2. LHP Zach Duke: One-time All-Star in ’09; led N.L. with 16 losses.<
3. RHP Ross Ohlendorf: 3.92 ERA was rotation’s best in ’09.
4. RHP Charlie Morton: 6.15 ERA for Braves in ’08; 4.55 for Pirates in ’09.
5. RHP Kevin Hart: .60 ERA with Cubs; 6.92 ERA with Pirates in ’09.

Projected closer

RHP Octavio Dotel: 22 saves in ’04; 19 since.

Grades

Offense: D. The Pirates’ offense is on an upward trend but finished last in the majors in runs scored in 2009. McCutchen and Garrett Jones brought life to the lineup, and Akinori Iwamura provides an established presence to the top of the order. Having Ryan Doumit healthy in the cleanup spot would be a big boost.

Pitching: D. Although the top three starters combined to win only 30 games last season, they all had an ERA under 4.50. The back end of the rotation has questions, however. Octavio Dotel almost certainly will be better as a closer than Matt Capps was last season; Capps lost eight games and had a 5.80 ERA.

Bench: C. There isn’t much power off the bench, but the Pirates have a more experienced group of reserves than they have had in recent seasons. Ryan Church can play all three outfield positions, and Bobby Crosby has learned to become valuable around the infield with his glove

Manager: B. There is more talent on this Pirates team than in the past several years, so the expectation is for Russell, in his third season, to lead the group above the 70-win plateau for the first time.

Sporting News prediction: If the pitching can produce, the offense has the ability to help this team to a .500 finish. However, the Pirates’ best-case scenario is about 75 wins.

Coming Tuesday: Angels preview

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

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