Whenever I start thinking about keepers, I go straight to the most important minor league team in Major League Baseball: the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates are the talent development operation for the rest of the league, seasoning talented young hitters and pitchers before sending them off to bigger and better things elsewhere. It is “moneyball” in a different sense; the Pirates make money, winning is a secondary pursuit.
Pittsburgh has some interesting names on the roster and waiting in the wings this season. Some are indeed worth one of your precious draft picks. If, er, when they get traded to a good team, those players could really start paying dividends.
Andrew McCutchen, OF – The most obvious of the entire roster and one of the top keeper players in the entire league. Just 25 this season, many expect McCutchen to take a big jump from a very solid 20/20 season in 2011. His batting average suffered thanks to a twenty-point drop in BABIP, but he improved across the board. He walked more too as pitchers realized the threat posed by his bat and the shame of giving up runs to the Pirates. The Pirates’ lineup will have more to say about whether or not he can produce the kind of fantasy stats required from a top hitter, stuff like RBI and runs scored. He has the ability to be a 30/30 player. Unless some team is willing to dump the family farm in Neil Huntington’s lap, the Pirates will not be trading him this year. McCutchen is eligible for arbitration after the season, and will not be a free agent until after 2015. He is the only viable keeper on the Pirates’ roster at this point.
Good, Not Great
Neil Walker, 2B – Walker has value as an acceptable, mostly consistent player in the middle infield. He is tentatively penciled in for the fourth spot in the batting order, something that may change depending on what happens with their two third basemen. This is Walker’s age 26 season. You can count on him for a dozen home runs. With McCutchen hitting in front of him, he can produce some RBI. The Pirates have him locked up through 2016. If they were to trade him to a better team, his counting stats could get a nice boost. Walker might not be the second-best hitter in the Pirates’ lineup by the time the season ends, but he has a certain level of reliability that no other hitter on the roster, outside McCutchen, has.
For Those Willing To Think Young
Alex Presley, OF – Pittsburgh has very little power to speak of in its lineup. A full season of work from Presley would certainly help that. In 231 plate appearances last season, Presley had an .804 OPS with four home runs. What can he do with a full season of plate appearances? If Presley can keep or even improve his .167 ISO, double digit long balls are a possibility. He can also steal 20 bases.
Jose Tabata, OF – Penciled in to lead off the batting order, Tabata needs a full season of health. Tabata is capable of stealing 25 or more stolen bases. He has a solid walk rate, hovering around 10 percent. At the very least, he could be a cheap source of steals and someone to hang onto as he starts to find his stride.
I should probably put some pitchers in here, but the Pirates’ current rotation is led by the merely above average.
Charlie Morton leads the rotation, and he should be ready to go by opening day after offseason hip surgery. His secret to success is keeping the ball on the ground. He earned a big raise in arbitration, going from the league minimum to $2.445 million in 2012.
Joel Hanrahan, the Pirates’ closer, is arguably the best pitching option on the team. I always think that closers on bad teams cannot accumulate saves, a stupid, misguided stereotype. Hanrahan might get 30 or more saves.
As far as minor league prospects go, I have to defer to someone else. They do have some upper tier names among prospects. The Pirates are a regular presence in the top of the draft. They get young players in trades. Yet, they still struggle. Did they only read the first half of “Moneyball”?