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Pirates Roster Shaping Up

Including today, the Pirates have eleven spring games remaining before heading north to begin the regular season. So far, the team’s play during the previous 17 games has been far from spectacular (5-11-1), but a few of the players performances are not going unnoticed (Delwyn Young, Bobby Crosby, John Raynor).
For this team, hitting hasn’t been the issue near as much as the pitching has. The team is averaging 5.4 runs per game, scoring 9 or more runs in five games, (4-1). The team has struggled in close games (1-6), decided by two runs or less. This is an area the team definitely needs to improve in, if they are going to show improvement towards the development of the franchise.
Typically when a team is averaging 5.4 runs per game, they are going to win more than half of those games, unless you have a pitching staff of your own allowing 5.47 runs per game. Looking at only runs per game, and you can see how the Pirates are 5-11-1. This number is a poor reflection of the 2010 pitching staff. There is talent among the starters and in the bullpen, if they can be consistent. The team has allowed more than five runs in a game 6 times this spring (2-4); including 16 in the slugfest against a split-squad Tampa Bay team.
Paul Maholm (0-1, 2.70) and Charlie Morton (1-1, 3.95), have both shown promise through their first four starts. Zach Duke (0-1, 5.40), has been up and down in his first three starts. Duke has displayed innings where he has been strong and he has also had a couple of bad innings. Ross Ohlendorf (0-0, 5.14), has pitched 7 innings of work this spring, allowing four runs and two home runs. Ross is expected to have a break-out season this year and take that next step to being a top starter. The consistency of these starting four pitchers will determine how this team will get through 2010.
The fifth spot is looking more and more like it will be Daniel McCutchen (4 inn., 1 run, 3 k’s), rather than the struggling Kevin Hart (4.2 inn., 8 runs, 13 walks, 15.43). Hart just hasn’t been able to find the strike zone, averaging 3.1 walks per inning. He is essentially loading the bases for the other team every inning, without allowing the defense behind him a chance to make a play. Hart was the favorite heading into spring for that fifth spot in the rotation, but it is in his and the team’s best interest if he starts the season in Triple-A Indianapolis.
Over the past week, the Pirates have been trimming their roster down, getting to that magical number of 23 for opening day. They are currently at 13 pitchers and 17 fielders, which will likely end up being 10 pitchers and 13 fielders to start the season. This means they will still be demoting three pitchers and four fielders on the current roster. This is the fun time of year where we as fans can act as GM’s and make the moves that we feel would best suit the team.
With opening day less than three weeks away, here are the seven players that I would be, “voting off the island!” Keep in mind, that this is my personal opinion and does not reflect actual moves made by the Pirates.
To see who goes, I think it is first important to see who stays:

Pitchers (10):
Starters (5): Paul Maholm (l), Ross Ohlendorf (r), Charlie Morton (r), Zach Duke (l), Daniel McCutchen (r)
Bullpen (5): Joel Hanrahan (r), Evan Meek (r), Brendan Donnelly (r), Javier Lopez (l), Octavio Dotel (r)
The three that remain: Jose Ascanio, Kevin Hart, and Chris Jakubauskas, are the three pitchers that would be beginning the season in the minors.
Fielders (13):
Catchers (2): Ryan Doumit, Jason Jaramillo
Infielders (6): Garrett Jones (1b), Akinori Iwamura (2b), Bobby Crosby (ss), Andy LaRoche (3b), Ronny Cedeno (Ben.), Ramon Vazquez (Ben.)
Outfielders (5): Andrew McCutchen (CF), Lastings Milledge (LF), Delwyn Young (RF), Ryan Church (Ben.), John Raynor (Ben.)

The four that remain: Jeff Clement, Steve Pearce, Neil Walker, and Brandon Moss.
Out of these four players, Jeff Clement is the only one that I questioned not making the opening day roster. Due to Clements inexperience and poor spring thus far, I feel that it would benefit him more by starting the season at Triple-A. All signs are pointing to the Pirates having Clement penciled in at first base on April 5 as the starter, but I would let him develop more. I believe that Clement has the potential to be a solid, everyday first baseman and a bat in the line-up, just not at this time. I would have him start at Indianapolis and call him up late-May, early-June.
Steve Pearce has shown glimpses of being a major league player, but that’s all that it has been is glimpses. Pearce first appeared in the Pirates lineup late in 2007, after putting up good numbers in three Minor League levels in 2007 (.333 avg., 33 hr). These numbers have just been nowhere to be found in 342 career Major League at-bats. Pearce has a career .237 average and 8 home runs, in parts of the last three seasons with the Pirates.
Neil Walker is a local kid and former catcher, whom the Pirates looked upon as the future at third base, after making a position transition. The Pirates used a first-round pick on Walker in the 2004 draft as their future catcher. When the Pirates drafted Jose Alvarez (3b) last season, it made many wonder where the recently converted Walker would fit in. Walker has spent the past six years in the minors, and should expect to be there again in2010.
Brandon Moss was acquired in the deal that sent Jason Bay to Boston and just hasn’t found his fit here in Pittsburgh. With the addition of Ryan Church in the off-season, and the strong play of Delwyn Young (can also play infield), it is hard to see where Moss fits in the teams plans moving forward. Moss failed to impress the team last season in 424 plate appearances, batting just .236, hitting 7 home runs, and driving in 41 runs. Moss’s struggles have continued this spring seeing him get just one hit in twenty-seven at bats. He has seen considerable playing time, but has been unable to capitalize on his opportunity to make the opening day roster.
With just over a week to go in spring training, the Pirates will be looking to increase the innings for all starters, getting them ramped up for the season, and the team will be evaluating those players who are teetering, closely to decide on the final few cuts. I will be curious to see what direction the team will be taking.

aaron kroh