COMMENTARY | When the Pittsburgh Pirates take the field today at PNC Park for their Opening Day contest against the Chicago Cubs, they will be starting a six-month journey comprising 162 games that they hope will culminate in their first winning season since 1992.
Coming off a disappointing 79-83 record in 2012, the Pirates have made some upgrades to their everyday lineup and contingent of bench players that they believe will give them a more productive offense and a more accomplished defense.
The following lists include brief information on the 13 position players who will suit up for the Pirates’ season opener:
Russell Martin: Martin was signed away from the New York Yankees on a two-year deal. He batted just .211 last year, but did smack 21 HRs and record 53 RBIs. His OPS was a subpar .713, though. Martin should be a significant upgrade defensively over last year’s main backstop, the departed Rod Barajas.
Michael McKenry: McKenry returns for another season as the backup catcher. He demonstrated surprising power last year with 12 HRs and 39 RBIs in limited playing time.
Pedro Alvarez: The team’s third baseman, Alvarez got off to a poor start in 2012, but rebounded to put together a respectable season at the plate and in the field. The powerful Alvarez slugged 30 HRs and collected 85 RBIs, but struck out a team-record 180 times.
Clint Barmes: Barmes will be the starting shortstop for a second season. A dependable defender known for a quick release on throws to first, Barmes got off to a miserable start with the bat in 2012. His final numbers included a .229 BA, eight HRs, 45 RBIs, and a weak .593 OPS.
Josh Harrison: Harrison will come off the bench to take a number of positions, but most often will back up the infielders from second to third. Harrison struggled to a .233 BA last year, with just three HRs and a low .624 OPS.
Garrett Jones: Jones will be the primary first baseman, especially against right-handed pitchers, and should also see some time in right field. He had an impressive 2012 campaign, compiling a .274 BA, with 27 HRs and 86 RBIs, while finishing with an excellent .833 OPS.
John McDonald: Picked up by the Pirates from the Arizona Diamondbacks in spring training, McDonald is expected to fill the team’s need for a competent backup middle infielder. Although not much of a hitter, the 38-year-old McDonald has a reputation as a solid defender.
Gaby Sanchez: The right-handed hitting Sanchez will play some first base against lefties and serve as a key bat off the bench. Adept with the glove, Sanchez had a lackluster year with the bat in 2012, hitting just .217, and suffering a power outage with only seven HRs and 30 RBIs. His OPS was a disappointing .620.
Neil Walker: Walker-a hometown boy made good-will be counted on for a big year as the second baseman. A back injury curtailed his 2012 campaign, but he still hit .280 with 14 roundtrippers and 69 RBIs, to go along with a .768 OPS.
Starling Marte: Marte will man left field after an impressive, albeit injury-shortened, debut in 2012. Blessed with an abundance of power and speed, Marte should be the regular leadoff hitter. His throwing arm in left should soon be recognized as one of the best in the game.
Andrew McCutchen: The Pirates’ best player and an All-Star the past two seasons, McCutchen uses his blazing speed to expertly patrol centerfield, and has become one of the National League’s top hitters. Last year, he batted .327 with 31 HRs and 96 RBIs. His OPS was a stellar .953.
Travis Snider: As a left-handed batter, Snider will see the bulk of the playing time in right field to start the season, but he has a history of leg problems and did not perform particularly well at the plate and in the field last year after coming over to the Pirates via trade from the Toronto Blue Jays. He must provide consistent power for the Pirates to use him as a regular.
Jose Tabata: An oft-injured, underachieving outfielder with $12 million due from this season through 2016, Tabata will also play some right field and fill in as needed in center and left. Tabata appeared in good shape in spring training, and will need to play much better to keep a big-league job, regardless of his contract status.
All statistics courtesy of the Baseball Reference site.
Patrick Hattman is a long-suffering Pittsburgh Pirates fan and longs for a return of the Pirates of his youth when they put some of the city’s best-ever baseball teams on the carpet at Three Rivers Stadium.