Hello Bucco Nation. I though i would take initiative and start this years thread with a article on ten key issues facing the Bucs in 2010.
10. Old folks find home
The Pirates aren't trying to become a retirement village, but they brought in thirtysomethings Octavio Dotel, Brendan Donnelly, Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby, among others, for lending a veteran presence and shoring up fragile areas. "Player-to-player sharing of experience is a wonderful way to develop and get better," said general manager Neal Huntington. "But, at the same time, we need to let the young players who are going to be here show us what they can do ... ."
9. Dirt merchant
Carlos Garcia was the club's first offseason pick-up -- he replaced celebrated infield coach/first base coach Perry Hill, who opted not to return to the Pirates. Infielders raved about Hill's tutelage, and the Pirates wound up leading the majors in defense. But Garcia, the Pirates' minor-league infield coordinator the past two years, once coached Seattle's infield. The key to infield play: confidence.
8. Lack of competition, pressure
The only regulars feeling much of any heat are Jeff Clement adjusting to first and Ronny Cedeno vs. Bobby Crosby at shortstop. Otherwise, the rest of the starting eight appears set. That could ease young minds. "It's definitely different,' centerfielder Andrew McCutchen said. "The year before I came in, I wanted to open up a lot of eyes, show them what I have. Now it's more of, you can kind of relax a little more."
7. Outfield depth
A chunk of this issue rides on Ryan Church's health, what with his back, hamstring and concussion problems of the past two years. The other portion rests on Rule V draftee John Raynor, Brandon Jones, Delwyn Young and Brandon Moss, if two or even three of them can earn a spot on the team.
6. Japanese import
The left handed hitting Akinori Iwamura has been a man of change since arriving in America in 2007. He played third base and batted leadoff for Tampa Bay. The next year, he moved to second base and led off. Last year, despite missing June, July and most of August with a partially torn ACL, he was primarily the No. 7 or 8 hitter in the order and batted better than .300. Now he finds himself in a different league and perhaps No. 2 in the Pirates' order. At least he gets to stay at second base.
5. The new middle
Akinori Iwamura steps into Freddy Sanchez's spot at second base, and now he'll have to sync with Ronny Cedeno and Bobby Crosby. Management and staff remain divided on who should play shortstop, so spring training could begin to shake out the situation. "You know, signing here, they didn't promise me anything.," said Crosby, a free-agent from Oakland. "They said they were going to give me a chance to compete, and that's what I was looking for."
4. Rounding out the rotation
Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf and Zach Duke seem stable at the top of the rotation. Then Charlie Morton, acquired in the Nate McLouth trade, has been given the nod entering spring training as the incumbent starter behind that trio. That leaves a competition for the No. 5 starter, for the time being between Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen, young pitchers who came in trades with the Cubs in July and Yankees a year earlier. Don't forget rising former first-round pick Brad Lincoln, especially if, say, Hart gets a bullpen role instead.
3. Remodeled bullpen
The Big Three from last season -- Sean Burnett, John Grabow, Matt Capps ---- were shown the door. In came Octavio Dotel and Brendan Donnelly, who appear to be locks along with Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek. The trades of Burnett and Grabow left the Pirates without a left-handed reliever, which is where the addition of free agent Javier Lopez, 32, comes into play. D.J. Carrasco, 32, threw 93-plus innings with the Chicago White Sox last year. The long-relief job could be his, which would fill six bullpen spots and leave just one more job open.
2. New arrivals
This is expected to be the summer when the future comes to PNC Park. Or, as Neal Huntington put it: "Here comes Pedro Alvarez. Here comes Jose Tabata. Here comes Brad Lincoln." But when will Alvarez arrive? His presence will alter the infield landscape and jump-start the clock for that long-awaited future. A sturdy spring, and he may just turn ahead that clock for his big-league debut. "We've built a farm system that's far deeper than it's been in a long time, possibly ever," Huntington said. "We felt we had to expedite the process by making the trades and by acquiring as many good players as we could. Instead of a seven-year turnaround, we're hoping it could be a lot shorter than that."
1. Who's on first?
The Pirates are trying to make a first baseman from a career catcher, a 26-year-old with almost as many designated-hitter games as turns at catcher in his American League past with Seattle. Jeff Clement, injury-riddled in recent years, hit seven homers -- matching his 2007-08 major league totals -- in just 27 games with Class AAA Indianapolis after coming in the Seattle trade last July. His bat, however, never was much of a question. He had only one error and a .995 fielding percentage in 22 games at first base with Indianapolis, but he remains very much a work in progress. "We've made it very clear that we'd like Jeff to show us that he's capable of playing first base. I think he is," manager John Russell said. "But we're not giving jobs away."