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With the combine about to get underway in Indianapolis this week, it officially signals the start of what I refer to as Draft season, and unlike last year, where they had needs just about everywhere, the Steelers are in much better shape heading into the 2014 version. While it never hurts to add quality to the skill positions, like the big wide receivers that Ben desires, the biggest positions of need that I see are at nose tackle, cornerback and safety. I like the effort that Steve McLendon puts forth week in and week out, but frankly it's not enough when compared to what the defense requires of the position and what Casey Hampton consistently did. Big Snack routinely was able to handle being double teamed and still stuff the run. He made Keisel and Smith better because of it and he helped keep the linebackers clean to do their thing. The Steelers need to find a nose tackle who can help make Hood and Heyward the players they were drafted to be and allow Jones and Worilds to get after the quarterback. Regular pressure on the quarterback makes a cornerback's job a lot easier, unless you are an old and declining Ike Taylor.
Last season, the Steelers had an opportunity to resign one of their talented young corners who could actually catch a football, Keenan Lewis, but they decided to let him walk, which hurt the defense for most of the season. This year, the Steelers need to get themselves and impact corner with ball skills that they can pair up with Cortez Allen to give them solid play for the foreseeable future. If Taylor agrees to a pay cut to stay, he could then be moved to safety to address another area of need, especially if they decide to not bring Will Allen back as well. Obviously, with the loss of Allen and Clark, the Steelers are going to have a need at safety, as Taylor would be nothing more than a stop - gap measure. If there has ever been a draft to fix these areas of need, the 2014 draft is the one to do it. It's the deepest talentwise in a very long time due to the large number of underclassmen who are declared eligible. The biggest question with a large number of these players will be, are they mentally ready for the rigors of an NFL career ? The Steelers need to find the ones that are the closest and that can play in the shortest amount of time possible. They just don't have the luxury of letting project guys sit and develop if they want to contend for a Super Bowl. They need to quickly get younger and better on defense the... [Read More]
This time of year you often see attempts to predict what the Opening Day roster will look like but really that doesn't tell us much. If a club manages to keep their Opening Day 25 together for more than 2 or 3 weeks it should be considered a small miracle. The truth is teams go through a whole lot of players every year some of them are ones you'd expect and others are not. In fact quite a few are typically players who weren't even in the organization at the beginning of the year. This exercise is going to try and help determine just who may contribute to this year's team not only from the Opening Day roster but all the way through September. Outside acquisitions are of course impossible to predict but we will do our best.
The Position Players
Just how many hitters the Pirates will need in 2014 is impossible to say but we can use past history as sort of a guiding post:
2009: 23 position players
With the exception of 2011 which was the year of catcher-palooza the number seems to be rather consistent around 22-24 but just to be safe we will say we are looking for 25 in total. Now without looking it up we know the Pirates have carried either 13 or 14 position players on the roster to begin the season meaning we will need about 12 guys who don't make the Opening Day roster. First though letís try to figure out how many players the Pirates have added from outside the organization during each year.
2009: Lastings Milledge, Ronny Cedeno, Delwyn Young
2010: Pedro Ciriaco, Chris Snyder, John Bowker
2011: Derrek Lee, Michael McKenry, Brandon Wood, Matt Pagnozzi, Xavier Paul, Ryan Ludwick
2012: Gaby Sanchez, Travis Snider, Drew Sutton
2013: Marlon Byrd, John Buck, Justin Morneau
Once again 2011 with catcher-palooza is a bit of an outlier but overall it seems like the Pirates fairly consistently add three position players every season to the MLB roster. So letís remove 3 players from the current group of 25 we are working and try to see if we can identify the 22 players currently in house who are the most likely to appear in the major leagues this season.
The obvious starting point is the 40 man roster which currently has 19 position players on it. These players are far more likely to appear in the major leagues this season than just about any other player. However not everyone on... [Read More]
There are no hard and fast rules for what exactly constitutes an era of baseball history and due to this there are going to be some gray areas where I decide to place the cutoffs. Basically my goal was to look at 20 to 30 year stretches and once I did the dead ball era I decided I wanted the next era to stretch at least until the end of War World II as that stretch featured some irregularities and the biggest event around that time that vastly altered the league was the breaking of the color barrier in 1947 which is how I cam about this era.
Catcher: This ended up being very little contest as there was one catcher season that easily stood out above the rest. Now the odd thing about this is this particular player didn't have much of a career and his 1945 season was his rookie season. Bill Salkeld that year batted .311/.420/.547 which was good enough for a wRC+ of 161. He showed good power on the season hitting 15 HR while only striking out 5% of the time. Salkeld only played baseball 6 seasons (two of them he had under 70 PA) 3 of which came with the Pirates and while he did have a few respectable seasons none of them approached what he did his rookie season. No one came particularly close to Salkeld in this era, Spud Davis had a solid 1940 season and Earl Smith had two good seasons but nothing approached Salkeld's 1945 campaign.
First Base: Two names quickly rose to the top here both of which I was familiar with even with my somewhat limited knowledge of Pirates history. Elbie Fletcher and Gus Suhr each have a few strong seasons I considered for this spot. Fletcher's best season was probably his 1941 campaign and Suhr was likely his 1936 season. The two are strikingly similar as Fletcher hit .288/.421/.457 and Suhr hit .312/.410/.467. Both hit 11 home runs and both had well over 600 PA meaning playing time wasn't an issue. It was difficult for me to make a distinction between the two and the deciding factor ended up being something I usually don't put much stock into and that is RBIs. Suhr in 1936 knocked in 118 runs whereas Fletcher in 1941 only drove in 74. For the record based on wRC+ Fletcher's season was a little better but I'm ok giving it to Suhr and his 1936 seasons which was still 38% above the league average. I considered a few other seasons from both Fletcher and Suhr but no one else really entered the discussion.
Second Base: At first glance second ... [Read More]
For all the criticism that the front office of the Pirates are taking this offseason, someone who didn't know better, wouldn't think they were coming off of a 94 win season which was their first playoff appearance and winning season since 1992. The biggest complaint, once again, in some circles is that the Pirates aren't spending enough money and act like the Pirates were the only team that got a $25 million share from the MLB national TV contract. As nice as it would be for the Pirates to be able to go on a spending spree, the facts are that they just aren't one of those teams that can do that and they don't have to in order to be successful, thanks to the plan that Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly have stuck to since they took over their current positions. The Pirates have built something good by sticking to the plan, and now (after one winning season) is not the time to deviate from that plan. The biggest source of irritation for some of these fans is the failure to resign AJ Burnett and to find a first baseman, which of course means the Pirates are still cheap and don't care about sustaining last season's success. Well, as it turns out, the Pirates offered Burnett $12 million, as opposed to the $8 million reported by John Perotto, which was a very solid offer. I definitely don't think Burnett is worth the $16 million the Phillies gave him this year, but I don't blame him for taking it and don't blame the Pirates for not going any higher with their offer. While Burnett and his attitude will surely be missed, there are enough solid arms and options to give the Pirates another solid rotation with depth.
The Pirates are still looking for options at first base, and have been linked to Adam Lind, Ike Davis, and most recently, it has been reported that there is mutual interest between them and Kendrys Morales, who would cost the Pirates their first round pick if they signed him. Morales is the guy that I would like to see the Pirates bring in and while it has been said that his defense is his biggest question mark, I believe his offensive production would play well at PNC and is worth the cost of their late first round draft pick. Until they find a first baseman to platoon with Gaby, it will be interesting to see what Andrew Lambo has to offer and whether his bat translates to the Major League level. It would be really nice if the Pirates could fill their holes internally and didn't have to go outside the organization. What seems to have... [Read More]
The distinction between corner outfielders and center fielders here is quite random but in order to avoid a long drawn out piece it is the one I have decided to make to split the outfield group up into two. Most top outfield prospects start off as center fielders and only move to a corner when there is no longer room for them or it is shown they canít handle the position defensively. Due to this I have kept the corner outfield prospect group quite small having it consist of only a top five with no depth options listed. The depth players will all fall under the center fielder group.
Top 5 Prospects
1. Josh Bell: There has been some talk that in the near future Bell might move to 1B both to try and fill an organizational need and due to his non-elite defense at the position but for now Bell is undoubtedly the top corner outfield prospect. Iím sure most of you know the story about Bell sending out a letter telling teams not to draft him but the Pirates drafting him anyway and signing him for 5 million dollars; it was effectively the straw that broke the camelís back and lead to the new draft slotting system. Bell ended up missing most of his debut season in 2012 with a knee injury. Bell returned to action in 2013 and except for needing the occasional rest was fine injury wise and overall he put up a solid line. It wasnít the outstanding performance most were hoping for but he showed some power, decent plate discipline and hit a lot of doubles. Bell still has some time to build some power and if a few of those doubles start clearing the wall heíll essentially be what most were thinking the Pirates got when drafting him. Bell will likely start the 2014 season in A+ and could be in line for a big season.
2. Andrew Lambo: With such a deep talented pool of young athletic centerfielders the idea that some of these corner outfielders may eventually move to first base is going to be a prominent one and Lambo could very well find himself there this year. The Pirates acquired Lambo in 2010 along with James McDonald in exchange for Octavio Dotel. Lambo quickly became an afterthought as he continued to struggle at the AA level. In 2013 Lambo started his 6th year at the AA level but due to reaching it so quickly he was still a not so old 24 years old. As we all know Lambo broke out big time last year, got promoted to AAA and then actually started hitting even better. The Pirates called him up to the... [Read More]