The Pittsburgh Pirates had one of the worst offenses in the major leagues in 2011. That’s no secret. Their .244 team average was tied for 23rd in the MLB and 12th in the National League. They ranked 27th in runs scored and home runs, both also good for 14th in the NL.
And despite Clint Hurdle’s obsession with maintaining a “small ball” offensive philosophy, it’s not as if the Pirates had any sort of elite speed on the basepaths to perhaps help them compete with the power hitting clubs. Their 108 stolen bases were good for just 15th in the majors and 7th in the NL, while their 52 times caught stealing were good for 5th and 2nd.
This season, the Pirates know they have to be better with the bats. The club added short stop Clint Barmes, catcher Rod Barajas and outfielder Nate McLouth to the roster over the offseason. Barmes should provide more power to the lineup than Ronny Cedeno did at short. Barajas isn’t as good a hitter as Ryan Doumit was, but he has some power and isn’t a guaranteed trip to the disabled list like Doumit and Chris Snyder were.
Read: Troy’s preview of the 2012 starting rotation
In the outfield, we’ll see Alex Presley, Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen start the majority of games, and will bat 1-2-3 in the order. McLouth will be the team’s fourth outfielder but should see some decent playing time, and Garrett Jones will certainly see some time in right field when he isn’t playing first base.
The speedy outfielder got his first long look at the big leagues when he was called up after hitting .333 in 87 games at AAA Indianapolis. He then batted .298 in 215 major league at bats and solidified his role as the team’s leadoff hitter for the immediate future.
The 26-year-old swiped 31 bags between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh last season and also had six triples in his major league time.
His K/BB ratio (40/13) wasn’t very good, but Presley should be a serviceable, prototypical leadoff man and left fielder for the Pirates this year, which is always good to have.
He hit .333 this spring with two home runs and four steals.
2012 Prediction: .304, 10 HR, 31 SB
Tabata led off for the Pirates for much of 2011, but a quad strain eventually landed him an extended trip to the DL. In 91 games last year, he hit .266 with four home runs and 16 stolen bases.
We haven’t yet seen the best of Tabata and likely won’t for a few years. He’s signed through 2016 when he turns 28.
At his best, I think Tabata can hit over .300 with 35-40 steals and easily double digit home runs. Hopefully we’ll see that in the next few years.
This spring, he hit .306 with two stolen bases in 20 games. He’ll bat second and man right field for the Pirates.
2012 Prediction: .275
Receiver of a six-year/$51 million contract a month ago, center fielder Andrew McCutchen will bat third for the Pirates.
To be frank, there’s nothing he can’t do. He’d make a fine leadoff man, with the ability to hit in the .290s and the speed to swipe upwards of 40 bags if needed. He also batted cleanup for the Pirates at times last season and led the team with 23 home runs.
We know he has the offensive talent, now he needs to bring it all together.
In his first two seasons, the 25-year-old batted .286 with 28 home runs and 55 stolen bases. In 2011, he hit .259 with 23 steals and 23 home runs as he attempted to provide some power to a lineup seriously lacking in that department.
McCutchen will also likely win a gold glove in center field at some point in his career with his excellent range and glove. The only thing keeping Cutch from being a five-tool player is his arm.
If the Pirates can afford to rely on Cutch less for power and more for everything else this season, Andrew could prove worthy of the hefty contract he signed.
He’ll bat third for the Pirates this season and should stay there barring any extensive injuries given the team’s ability to find a leadoff hitter in Presley and an RBI producer from the fourth spot in second baseman Neil Walker.
2012 Prediction: .288, 28 HR, 27 SB
The Pirates open their season with a 1:35 game tomorrow against the Philadelphia Phillies.
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