Central Roundup: Pittsburgh

That magical day that signifies the new baseball season has officially taken flight is just days away, is there a sweeter sound then "pitchers and catchers report?" Maybe opening day, but nothing else. As we near the start of spring training we all know what the Brewers have done to make themselves (hopefully) better, but it's easy to lose track of the Crew's competition in the National League Central.

So, every day this week we'll take a look at what the other teams did and what questions they face going into spring training, starting with one of baseball's worst teams - the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Whether you think it's for good or bad, the pirates made major changes to the core of their team last year. I for one think they made the right moves, players like Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez are role players at best and not the type you can build around. If you're going to lose, which the Pirates are going to do, you might as well lose with young players. At least then you give your fan base hope for the future.

Meet the new guys!

Most of the Pirates overhaul came during last season, mostly via trade. That made for a pretty uninteresting winter. The most notable acquisition would have to be second baseman Akinori Iwamura. A career .281 hitter, Iwamura is a solid pickup for a young team like this. He became expendable in Tampa Bay after Ben Zobrist's breakout year. He strikes out a bit much for a contact hitter and has struggled with injuries at times, but he isn't a downgrade from Sanchez.

Along with Iwamura, the Pirates have brought in a handful of veteran roleplayers that will see plenty of playing time in 2010. In the outfield the team has added Ryan Church, who will mostly play against right-handed pitchers. They also added the underachieving Bobby Crosby, who could end up being their starting shortstop.

In the bullpen the Bucs brought in a trio of veteran relievers, Octavio Dotel, Javier Lopez and Brendan Donnelly. It's likely the club hopes Dotel will close out games for them in 2010. So no big moves, but no albatross contracts either.


Ronny Cedeno just can't hit. He's a career .240 hitter with a .280 OBP, he hasn't figured it out yet and it's doubtful we'll see a different Cedeno in 2010. But the lack of a better option leaves Cedeno competing with Crosby for the starting spot. Crosby struggles to stay healthy and is a career .238 hitter, so regardless of who wins the starting spot it will likely be an offensive black hole for the Pirates.

Don't hold your breath...

Maybe Garrett Jones wasn't a fluke last year, but if he were on my team I'd be worried. Jones exploded on to the scene last season by hitting 21 home runs in just 83 games. Pitchers never really had the chance to adjust to Jones since he was only around for half the season. The Pirates are clearly banking on him to repeat his success and if he doesn't this lineup will be completely powerless.

First base also is a concern, but it's only a matter of time before top prospect Pedro Alvarez makes the big leagues and that spot will likely be his. Alvarez has been playing third base in the minors but there are more than a few people that view him as a first baseman.

That said, the group that will be playing at first base leaves a lot to be desired. Unless someone makes huge strides in spring this could end up being another hole in the Pirates lineup.

At least there's that.

One player that shouldn't be a black hole in the Bucs lineup is Andrew McCutchen. The much ballyhooed prospect delivered on the hype as a rookie, putting up a .365 OBP and hitting 47 extra base hits. McCutchen is one of those players that looks like he could become a star in this league for years to come. The problem for the Pirates is that they may not be able to put a good enough team around him for it to matter one bit.

Need to know:

We've touched on the questions at First base and Shortstop and it's not likely that they'll be solved entirely during spring. Beyond that Pittsburgh isn't set at closer, though Dotel should get a chance.

Starting pitching depth will likely be a concern as well. Kevin Hart is slated to start right now, if he doesn't show some much improved command it will be a major drain on the bullpen.

At the end of the day...

This is not a good team, even the players competing for spots don't have much to offer. The only thing really worth watching for the Pirates this spring is Pedro Alvarez. That's it.