Spring training has officially begun. Opening pitch: t-minus 34 days, 8 hours.
For the first time in a long while, I'm optimistic. Not optimistic
in that Yankees way, where the fans head into the season knowing
there's a 60% chance or better their team's gonna win it all. I'm
optimistic in that Pirates way. I'm putting the odds at about
60/40 we win more games then we
lose this year. Time to start planning that parade.
Now, yes. Things are looking decent. But there's still a lot to figure out.
There's the first and third situation. Littlefield brought in some fairly talented veterans to keep the bases warm while Brad Eldred and Jose Batista continue to work on their game in the minors. Brad and Jose are both viewed as the future of this team at their respective positions. Eldred has power to spare but he can't get that pesky average up. Batista's raw. So, pretty much the only way either of them will be seeing PNC this year is if Casey or Randa go down. So, that's settled. Barring injury, place your bets on the vets.
Then there's that middle chunk of the lineup. Who will be where? Bay will be in the 3 spot, that's a given. But who's going to be batting cleanup? Burnitz or Casey? Each has their finer points. Burnitz has more experience in the 4-spot and he's a bit quicker. Casey hits for a better average in the 3 hole, especially against lefties. Most likely, Tracy will switch it up depending on match ups. Sounds good to me.
Here's what I'd like to see.
1. Chris Duffy
2. Jack Wilson
3. Jason Bay
4. Jeromy Burnitz
5. Sean Casey
6. Joe Randa
7. Ryan Doumit
8. Jose Castillo
Not great, but a definite improvment over last year.
The rotation. Duke will be the opening day starter. He was great last year. Can he keep it up? I sure hope so. Everytime I try to tell someone how great Duke's gonna be this year, they say "He won't be, the batters will know him." Ok. That's true. I like to counter with, "Duke will know the batters too," but we'll forget about that for now. Let's say statistically Duke performs exactly half as well as he did last year. His numbers over the season would look like this:
Not too bad. Let's hope he can do that.
Next is Perez. He's by far the biggest question mark on the team. After his marvelous '04 season he was just plain bad in '05. If he bounces back, the staff is good. If he doesn't, the staff is bad. Pretty simple.
Besides the two kids, we've got Kip Wells. I like Kip Wells. I do. But he sort of sucks. Oh well.
Then there's Paul Maholm. Add him to Duke and closer Mike Gonzalez,
and the Pirates have the best left handed pitching in baseball.
Tracy has yet to name a fifth starter. I'm hoping it's Ian Snell. Snell's been great in the minors, but he hasn't yet been able to translate that to big league success. Hopefully this is his breakout year.
This is what I'm guessing we'll see.
1. Zach Duke
2. Oliver Perez
3. Kip Wells
4. Paul Maholm
5. Ian Snell
Could turn out to be a pretty solid bunch of guys.
So, majorly, that's the deal with the Pirates right now, heading into spring training. Of course, we'll have to do this whole thing over again after spring training, then one time more after spring training games.
For now, it's all about the optimism baby.
Other notes and links:
Jose Hernandez and Yurendell Decaster are battling it out for a spot on the bench.
Zach Duke's not complaining about the meager $19,000 raise Littlefield's offering him. Not yet at least.
Casey and Randa enjoy a homecoming of sorts for both.
Tracy has high hopes for Andy Capps.