You know the saying, â€śSave the best for lastâ€ť?
What about the â€śFinish the worst firstâ€ť?
No? While maybe not as catchy, it certainly applies to our first installment of FansEdgeâ€™ 2010 Major League Baseball Preview â€“ and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Sure, Pittsburgh didnâ€™t have the worst record in baseball, (beating out the Washington Nationals by three less defeats) but they have been â€“ by far â€“ the worst team in MLB for nearly two decades. The last time the Pirates boasted a winning record I was studying simple addition and Barry Bonds hadnâ€™t yet begun studying â€śthe Clearâ€ť, allegedly.
A lot has changed since 1992 â€“ see home run records â€“ but one thing remains a constant: Pittsburgh finishing at or near the bottom of the National League Central Division.
But itâ€™s 2010. New decade. New personnel. And a new era, right?
Thatâ€™s what the Pirates front office hopes for, at least. Some would call 2009 a rebuilding season for the Pirates; I call it a season of purging.
2010 features yet another injection of youth, and this time they may have actually gotten it right.
Out: Nate McLouth, Freddy Sanchez, Nyjer Morgan and Jack Wilson. In: Lastings Milledge (24 years old), Ronny Cedeno (26), Andy LaRoche (26) and Andrew McCutchen (23).
Speed and defense.
That will be third-year manager John Russellâ€™s calling card if his team takes the next step â€“ and is actually acknowledged by the rest of its division.
And it starts in center field. McCutchen, Pittsburghâ€™s top prospect, lived up to the hype in his rookie season, finishing second among position players in the Rookie of the Year voting. Displaying tremendous speed (22 stolen bases) and modest power (12 home runs) in just over 400 at-bats, McCutchen has an opportunity to resurrect a once-proud franchise.
He is joined by a number of disappointing prospects intent on fulfilling their potential with a new team. Former cast-offs like Milledge, Cededno and LaRoche have been given another chance to resurrect their still young careers in a more relaxed environment.
Unfortunately, youâ€™re not going anywhere in baseball without pitchingâ€¦and thereâ€™s a reason Iâ€™ve waited this long to address the rotation situation. The Pirates are anchored by Zack Duke and Paul Maholm, and boast a band of young talent. Sound familiar?
But youthful exuberance rarely beats good hitting, and with 11 victories leading the staff last season, someone needs to grasp the â€śAceâ€ť title for this team to have any chance of competing with the likes of the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.
Team MVP: Andrew McCutchen. Who else? The Piratesâ€™ best prospect since Barry Bonds had a tremendous rookie campaign, highlighted by a 3-HR game. With a full season ahead, I expect a similar batting average with improved power and speed numbers: .280/19 HRs/71 RBIs/29 SBs
X-Factor: Pedro Alvarez. You may not have heard of himâ€¦but you will. The only Pirate with more potential than McCutchen may be Alvarez. The 2nd pick of the 2008 MLB Draft, Alvarez packs tremendous power at the plate, hitting 27 HRs in the minors last season. Just 22, expect him to amass even greater power and anticipate a September call-up, at the latest.
Bottom Line: Pittsburgh will improveâ€¦but donâ€™t expect to be singing â€śWe are familyâ€ť just yet. They are still 2-3 seasons away from making any real noise â€“ assuming they can hold on to everyone.
Heyâ€¦thereâ€™s always Steelers offseason.