Pirates’ Promising Youth Movement Has Failed Before

Ian Snell. One of endless Pittsburgh Pirates to let us down

When the Pirates open the 2012 season April 5 against the Phillies, they should field a starting lineup that returns all but three starters from last season’s Opening Day lineup.

That’s a big improvement over seasons past: from 2008 to 2012, the Pirates have had 23 different players in their Opening Day lineup.

For comparison’s sake, the Philadelphia Phillies have had only 11 different Opening Day starters over those five seasons. It’s not hard to understand why this has happened—the Pirates have not had good players. Management has been signing flash-in-the-pan-players for quite some time now.

The Pirates have had many flash-in-the-pan-players over this historic losing streak. Many of them turn heads one season, and in the next seem to forget everything they did so well the previous season.

The Pirates have several players who turned heads last season and cannot afford to lay an egg in 2012 if the Pirates plan to continue improving.

The only player on the Pirates roster who has so far proven himself to be a legitimate MLB player is Andrew McCutchen. That’s not to say there is no room for improvement for Cutch—there certainly is—but McCutchen is not a one-year wonder.

The players who are not known commodities yet are Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley, Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez.

Here’s a little exercise guessing whether a current Pirate will be a legitimate MLB player or one of the countless Pirates to fail to live up to expectations.

James McDonald

McDonald’s live arm has turned some heads over his 1.5 seasons in Pittsburgh.  J-Mac averaged 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings last season, the highest on the team. McDonald pitches with character and an enthusiasm which is unmatched on the Pirates current team, but we’ve seen this before.

Remember Oliver Perez and Ian Snell? Unfortunately, the comparison is there for James McDonald. In 2004, Perez had a stellar season in which he went 12-10 with a 2.98 era and averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.  2005 was a complete disaster, with Perez going 7-5 with a 5.85 era.

Another strikeout pitcher, Ian Snell had two solid seasons in 2006 and 2007 before completely falling off the table in 2008 and 2009. Now retired, Snell once sent himself down to AAA and had problems finding a proper mindset.  After striking out 17 batters in one game in AAA, Snell was traded to the Mariners along with Jack Wilson.

Ian Snell retired in 2011, then un-retired and signed with the Dodgers.  After posting a 11.05 era with the AAA affiliate, Snell was suspended for the rest of the season for unspecified reasons.

Lets hope James McDonald doesn’t lose his mind anytime soon.

Kip Wells showed just as much promise as Charlie Morton now shows, but fell off the table in 2005, leading the league in losses with 18.

Charlie Morton

After looking like a complete bust in 2010 (2-12, 7.57 ERA), Morton morphed into a top of the rotation starter in 2011. Morton went 10-10 with a 3.83 era in 2011 while pitching 171.2 innings.

If Morton is nothing but a one-hit wonder, can anyone say Kip Wells? Wells was traded to the Pirates in 2002 in one of the few good trades GM Dave Littlefield ever made, and started his Pirates career with two solid seasons. Not long after those two solid seasons, Wells led the entire league with 18 losses in 2005.

No one can know whether Morton will turn into Roy Halladay or Kip Wells, but lets hope it’s not the latter. In 2010, Wells was pitching for the Long Island Ducks before signing a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011.

Jeff Karstens

Karstens went from being a versatile swing-man who every team would welcome on their roster to one of the most reliable starters in the National League last season.  Karstens went 9-9 with a 3.38 era in 2011, earning enough confidence in management to have a spot in the rotation for 2012.

But lets not forget we have seen finesse pitchers have encouraging seasons and then become nothing more than batting practice pitchers—Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, everybody. Not a year passed in which one of these two didn’t impress us to a certain degree, but to only have a disastrously mediocre season to follow that.

Lets hope Karstens continues to look more like Tom Glavine than Zach Duke.  Duke is now pitching batting practice with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Alex Presley

After batting .298 through half a season in the majors, the 25-year-old Presley still has much to prove as an MLB player.  In AA Altoona and AAA Indianapolis Presley did not dissapoint at all, with batting averages of .320 and .330, respectively.

Presley has given enough reason for Manager Clint Hurdle to pencil him in the opening day lineup in 2012, but Presley has not proven he is anything more than say, Chris Duffy?

Outfielder Chris Duffy turned many heads in 2006, but then got emotional when Jim Tracy told him to switch his batting stance.

Chris Duffy was the flash-in-the-pan center field in 2005 when he batted .341 through the last 39 games of that season. Heading into the 2006 season, the 25-year-old Duffy seemed as if he would be a fixture in center field for years to come. But then Duffy got emotional after Manager Jim Tracy changed his batting stance and he never remembered how to hit again.

Lets hope Alex Presley is not the next Chris Duffy. Duffy is now attempting to play baseball again, but if his new manager changes him from center field to left field, he might call it quits again and pout in a corner.

Jose Tabata

After being acquired from the Yankees in 2008, Tabata has shown promise at the major league level, batting .299 and .266 in his first two seasons. Tabata has minimally shown he deserved a contract extension, and he needs to take the next step towards being a consistent player.

Tike Redman sure was similar to Jose Tabata. Redman batted .330 through 56 games in 2003 and seemed as if he was going to be around for a long time in the Pirates outfield—not the case, as Redman could never come close to matching that production again. Redman currently plays in Venezuela.

Garrett Jones

Jones has one more chance at redeeming himself this season. After a 2009 season in which Jones hit 21 home runs in only 81 games, it seemed as if the Pirates finally found a consistent power threat. Not the case, as Jones has failed to hit more than 21 home runs in two full seasons since then.

Could this remind some Pirates fans of say, Craig Wilson? Craig Wilson was the guy everyone rooted for and always did enough to warrant another shot at starting, but always failed to deliver consistently. Wilson hit 29 home runs in 2004 with the Pirates, but fell off drastically after that season.

Garrett Jones basically is Craig Wilson already, and that is not all that bad unlike the other comparisons here, but lets hope Jones can take his game to the next level, something Wilson could never do.

Neil Walker

After two solid seasons at second base, Walker is the closest to being a legitimate MLB player. Walker has batted .297 and .273 with 12 home runs each season, while batting in 66 and 83 runs.

Former Pirates second baseman Jose Castillo put up similar numbers to Neil Walker, but never reached his potential.

Those numbers are eerily similar to another former Pirates second basemen in Jose Castillo. In 2005 and 2006, Castillo hit 11 and 14 home runs, while driving in 53 and 65 runs. Castillo excited many, as he showed power at a non-power position.

Castillo now plays for the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Pedro Alvarez

Alvarez is the biggest piece of the entire puzzle and he did not disappoint in his rookie season, hitting 16 home runs in only 95 games.  But after an injury-riddled season in 2011, Alvarez fell on his face.

Pirates fans have seen third basemen hit 16 home runs in half  seasons before. Jose Bautista hit 16 and 15 home runs in 2006 and 2007  with limited playing time.

Bautista never took the next step as a player until he was outside of the Pirates organization. Now Bautista is one of the most feared hitters in baseball after hitting 54 and 43 home runs over the past two seasons.

It is very easy to suggest the current young core the Pirates have will turn out to be serviceable or good players for years to come. It is also conceivable that these Pirates are the next group of mediocre major league players for a traditionally terribly-run organization.

This is a season where many of these questions will be answered.  Is this group destined to fail, or can they turn around Pirates’ losing-streak luck?

One thing is for certain, the Pirates will not be competitive in 2012 unless these players are better than the similar hopefuls who preceded them.

Related posts:

  1. Season Recap; Pirates Finish 2011 with 72-90 Record
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates - Chicago Cubs Preview
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates - St. Louis Cardinals Series Preview
  4. Should the Pirates Extend Neal Huntington?
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates vs Houston Astros Series Preview

About John Friend

Lets Go Bucs. John likes the Pirates way too much. Folllow him on twitter @Slew_John37. Thanks for reading! Find Slew Footers sports on Facebook as well.