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2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Season Preview

In 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates, 2013 Team Previews on April 1, 2013 at 9:24 am

Team MVP: Andrew McCutchen

McCutchen, growing older and entering his prime seasons, finally experienced an outbreak in the power department that took him from a nice young player to one of the elite, up the middle franchise guys.  His 158 wRC+ ranked second among qualified Center Fielders (to Mike Trout), and the 31 home runs were by far a career high.  His home runs have steadily increased, from 12 and 16 in his first two seasons to 23 and 31 in the two most recent years.  The speed, or tendency to run, has declined, but if that is truly in exchange for 25-35 home runs, not a problem at all.  Full disclosure: I believe that the power, rather than continue growth, will be closer to 25 home runs consistently.  However, I hope he proves me wrong.

Team Cy Young: A.J. Burnett

A popular punchline in recent years due to the monstrous contract given to him by the Yankees, Burnett found a bit of redemption in his 2012 performance.  The 36 year old finished 2012 with a 3.51 ERA, and the move out of Yankee Stadium worked wonders, as he saw his HR/FB% drop from 17% to 12.7%.  That, combined with his best walk rate since the 2006 season, led to Burnett’s National League success.  He is well past his prime, so Pittsburgh will cross its fingers in hopes of another season of 200+ innings and >= +3 WAR.

Fresh Face with Impact: Russell Martin

Pittsburgh catchers in 2012 combined for +1.3 WAR and an 86 wRC+, which is around middle of the pack for catchers.  Martin was the biggest name that Pittsburgh brought in over the winter, and the combination of he and Michael McKenry should provide some pop and improved offensive output from the catcher spot.  The declining skills of Martin may have been covered up by power playing up in Yankee Stadium for the past two seasons, but a lot can be said for having two solid catchers on the roster.

Impact Prospect: Gerrit Cole

Cole fills out, in the best way possible, all of the stereotypical power RHSP attributes.  He is 6’4”, 220 pounds, and throws absolute fuel, sitting in the mid to upper 90s.  He will feature a four pitch repertoire when he starts his career in Pittsburgh sometime in 2013, and at some point early in the AAA season, I believe things are going to click for him and he is going to dominate.  He has as good a chance of any current pitching prospect to become a true ace, and we may start to see flashes of that beginning in the middle of this year.  Both Cole and Jameson Taillon have left scouts yearning for a little bit more, and when each of them finds it with command and sequencing, it will be fun to watch.

Biggest Sleeper or Breakout Candidate: Mark Melancon

Melancon’s 2012 season, namely the early season blow ups when fans in Boston first realized what they had gotten into with rotation changes and Bobby V running the show, will be remembered as more disastrous than it actually was.  Melancon is a solid back of the bullpen arm, there is no way the home run bug will bite him as often this season, and a move back to the National League always helps.  If Jason Grilli is injured or falters, Melancon is first in line to take over the 9th inning responsibilities.

To 2013 and Beyond:

When will the playoff drought end?  Even with recent strides and the emergence of a star in McCutchen, the Pirates finished fourth in the Central last season, 4 games below .500.  With the Cardinals and Reds set to be great and the Cubs rebuilding efforts going well, the time to strike is… now.  Unfortunately, the two star pitching prospects need a bit more minor league seasoning, and the current MLB talent is not likely to produce a division winner.

McCutchen is entering only his age 26 season, so the prime could either last a while or still be on the way.  This means that the window is not totally closed.  The two ace RHPs will be here in 2013 and likely 2014, and with more shrewd roster moves (Martin, Burnett Wandy), the Pirates will consistently compete.  The biggest obstacle is the talent of other teams in the division.

Projected Lineup: 

Starling Marte – LF

Garrett Jones – RF

Andrew McCutchen – CF

Pedro Alvarez – 3B

Gaby Sanchez – 1B

Neil Walker – 2B

Russell Martin – C

Clint Barmes – SS

Pitcher’s Spot

2013 Milwaukee Brewers Season Preview

In 2013 Milwaukee Brewers, 2013 Team Previews on March 31, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Team MVP: Ryan Braun

Complete list of players with a higher WAR than Braun since 2008, Braun’s first full season with the Brewers: Pujols, Longoria. And it isn’t by much.  Over the past two seasons, Braun has 74 home runs (2nd to Granderson) and 63 stolen bases (10th; 82% success rate).  Braun, another member of the 2005 draft class, does not seem to have plans of slowing down any time soon.  I wrote last year that Braun would get roasted for having a less than great 2012 season, with folks throwing around accusations of performance enhancers being the only reason for 2011’s monster season.  Well, Braun responded to the critics with 41 homers, 30 steals, and repeated, if not improved upon, 2011.

I love Braun.  His defense is improving over the last few seasons.  He goes out there, nearly every day, and just does the damn thing.  He has every season since 2007.  If he isn’t the best player in baseball, he’s surely in the conversation.

Team Cy Young: Yovani Gallardo

Gallardo’s inconsistent mechanics and aptness to give up the long ball prevent him from making the leap to a true ace, and, at times, lead to disastrous outings.  All in all, though, he is a fine guy to have at the top of a rotation.  He strikes plenty of opposing hitters out, throws over 200 innings, and occasionally finds his groove, leading to a 7 inning, 12+ strikeout masterpiece. Losing track of his mechanics leads to longer counts and higher walk rates, which put Gallardo closer to 200 innings than the 230 of a rotation’s true horse.

If we were allowed to throw out three or four starts each year, Gallardo would look excellent, but it is that little step that he has yet to take that leaves him out of conversations regarding big time starting pitchers.

Fresh Face with Impact: Kyle Lohse

Everybody knew it was coming, but I would not have been able to guess the landing spot for Lohse.  I had thoughts of Texas, Cleveland, even Washington.  Never Milwaukee.  It came at a cost (the draft pick) that most teams were not willing to pay, but the Brewers stepped up and added Lohse, who is coming off the best season of his career.  His walk rate in 2012 was down to a minuscule 4.4%, 5th lowest among starters, and he also threw a career high 211 innings.  The Brewers rotation with Lohse in and Narveson out looks much better heading into 2013, even if he does not repeat 2012’s numbers.

Impact Prospect: Jean Segura

I do not know much detail about Segura’s defensive merits, but anytime a 23 year old shortstop is without question handed the keys to the position, there is reason to monitor the situation, searching for good and bad.  The good seems to be Segura’s recent growth at the plate, at the end of 2012 and throughout winter ball, along with his speed on the bases.  However, the bad comes into play when looking at his walk rates throughout the minor leagues.  He hit well at some levels, never completely dominating, so his value will be determined by how he grows as a hitter and how his defense plays in the majors.  He does not have to completely rake to be a good offensive shortstop, so let’s see what the kid can do.

Biggest Sleeper or Breakout Candidate: Rickie Weeks

After posting wRC+ marks of 126, 127 and 125 for the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons, respectively, Weeks’ offensive production fell off drastically in 2012.  He posted a wRC+ of 100, batting just .230.  I simply believe he regresses back toward the numbers of the three previous years, and with all of the talk about Carlos Gomez finally reaching his potential, it seems like a Weeks bounce back is completely forgotten.  Even with the struggles, Weeks found himself in the middle of the pack offensively when looking at second basemen.  He was right in line with the numbers of Jason Kipnis and Ian Kinsler, and at age 30, I don’t expect Weeks’ skills to be declining yet.

To 2013 and Beyond: 

The Lohse signing makes the team better, and it is hard to criticize and organization for improving their team.  In this case, while it is a good signing, it is going to be difficult for Milwaukee to compete with Cincinnati and St. Louis atop the NL Central.  They have a lot of above average players that I like in Aoki, Weeks, Gomez, Aramis, and likely Segura, with a superstar in Braun.  Unfortunately, that may be the tale of their season: a good team, certainly, but probably not the division favorite.

Projected Lineup: 

Norichi Aoki – RF

Rickie Weeks – 2B

Ryan Braun – LF

Aramis Ramirez – 3B

Jonathan Lucroy – C

Carlos Gomez – CF

Alex Gonzalez – 1B (will be Corey Hart)

Jean Segura – SS

2013 Cincinnati Reds Season Preview

In 2013 Cincinnati Reds, 2013 Team Previews on March 31, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Team MVP: Joey Votto

Although a banged up knee zapped some of Votto’s power last season, he was still one of the best hitters in baseball, posting the 10th highest OBP season (.474) since 1990 (Bonds, Giambi, Edgar Martinez, Frank Thomas had higher).  The scary possibility is that it seems like Votto, 29, could continue getting better, from a mental and, in turn, performance standpoint.  Votto did show some platoon splits last season, but the numbers against LHPs (145 wRC+) are still amazing.  Elite offensive numbers from Votto are routine, and more of the same will come in 2013.

My personal favorite moment from 2012 Votto: http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=21414697&c_id=cin

Team Cy Young: Johnny Cueto

Cueto finally had the breakout performance in 2012 that many believed he was on the cusp of throughout his career.  A large factor in that success was improved control, just 2.03 walks per nine innings, down 2% from 2010 and 2011 numbers.  Cueto also posted a career high of 217 innings pitched, 22 more than he had pitched in a single season in his career.  His 0.62 home runs per nine innings was the 7th best mark in all of baseball.  He has an uncanny ability to keep the ball in a very hitter friendly Great American Ball Park.  Cueto’s ERA may creep slightly toward 3.00, but as long as he continues to avoid home runs, he will establish himself as one of the top starters in the league.

Fresh Face with Impact: Shin-Soo Choo

Reds fans are certainly happy to see Choo’s face in centerfield and, more importantly, in the leadoff spot, whether or not the defensive side of the game will be a rousing success.  Drew Stubbs posted a .277 OBP from the leadoff spot last season, and Choo’s career .381 OBP will almost certainly improve the production of the entire lineup.  He could go 20-20 in GABP, where his power will play up, but the defense will determine the real value.  The approach is a welcome commodity, but the Reds do have a very exciting prospect that will eventually fight for playing time in 2013.

Impact Prospect: Billy Hamilton

That exciting prospect is Billy Hamilton, he of 155 stolen bases in 192 attempts fame.  Sadly, the bat is a worry.  The jury is still out on whether or not the 2012 walk rates in High A and AA are sustainable, and if not, one worries the bat is too similar to the likes of Dee Gordon.  The two tools he truly owns right now are speed on the base paths and speed in the outfield.  The 22 year old still has room to grow, but there could be some serious concerns about his hitting ability if he is thrust into the lineup sometime in 2013.  Major league pitchers will go right after him, and major league defenses will cut down on the swinging bunt, or actual bunt, hits.  I like Hamilton, he is obviously exciting, but the old adage of being unable to steal first could apply.

Biggest Sleeper or Breakout Candidate: Mat Latos

Home run rates will continue to be far less kind to Latos in Cincinnati, but he is still a very good pitcher.  The stuff, heavy fastballs and nasty sliders, combined with the imposing presence on the mound will always leave us wanting more dominance from the 25 year old.  It could simply be an adjustment process when moving to such a hitter-friendly park, as his 2nd half ERA (2.84) was much lower than his first half ERA (4.13), mostly due to a decrease in home runs allowed (0.69 per 9 versus 1.46 per 9).  Cueto got the nod for team Cy Young coming off a great 2012, but it would not shock me to see Latos match, or better, Cueto’s 2013 performance.

To 2013 and Beyond:

The Aroldis Chapman decision, for better or worse, has been made for 2013.  He will be the epitome of a shut down guy out of the bullpen.  In the long run, his value as a SP could be much higher, but I am in the camp that worries about the switch if Chapman, himself, does not fully buy in.  With that decision behind them, they begin 2013 with a chance to be the best team in the National League.  They will have production at the top of the lineup, Jay Bruce should continue to grow at the plate, and the combination of Hanigan and Mesoraco behind the plate should offer good offensive value.  Great American Ballpark makes you worry, somewhat, about the seasons of Arroyo, Bailey, and Leake, but the Reds have some quality pitching prospects to provide depth throughout the season.

After finishing just one game back of the Nationals for the best record in baseball in 2012, the Reds will look to add another NL Central crown to their trophy case.

Projected Lineup: 

Shin-Soo Choo – CF

Brandon Phillips – 2B

Joey Votto – 3B

Ryan Ludwick – LF

Jay Bruce – RF

Todd Frazier – 3B

Zack Cosart – SS

Ryan Hanigan – C

Pitcher’s Spot

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