01/30/2003 3:19 pm ET
Pirates Spring Training rundown
Ten pitchers will make for crowded camp in 2003
|By Ed Eagle / MLB.com
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72-89, fourth in NL Central
2002 Hitting Leaders (min. 200 at-bats
Avg.: Brian Giles, .298
OBP: Giles, .450
SLG: Giles., .622
Runs: Giles, 95
RBIs: Giles, 103
Hits: Jason Kendall, 154
2B: Giles, 37
3B: Giles, 5
HR: Giles, 38
SB: Giles and Kendall, 15
2002 Pitching leaders(min. 35 IP)
IP: Kip Wells, 198 1/3
W: Josh Fogg and Wells, 12
L: Wells, 14
Win %: Kris Benson, 9-6, .600
S: Mike Williams, 46
ERA: Wells, 3.58
K: Wells, 134
K/9: Scott Sauerbeck, 10.05
WHIP: Wells, 1.35
Projected starting lineup
C Jason Kendall
SS Jack Wilson
LF Brian Giles
3B Aramis Ramirez
1B Randall Simon/ Kevin Young
RF Matt Stairs/ Craig Wilson
CF Rob Mackowiak
2B Pokey Reese
1. Kris Benson
2. Kip Wells
3. Josh Fogg
4. Jeff Suppan
5. Salomon Torres, Brian Meadows, Rolando Arrojo, Jeff D'Amico, Dave Williams, Ryan Vogelsong, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Guerrier, Dennys Reyes
LH setup man: Scott Sauerbeck
RH setup man: Brian Boehringer, Matt Herges
Closer: Mike Williams
Spring cleaning: Five questions that need to be answered
1. Will the Pirates be able to improve their offensive production? The Pirates finished last in the Major Leagues with a .244 batting average in 2002 and they were 28th overall in runs. Despite their offensive woes, the Bucs were able to improve by 10 wins over the previous season thanks to a pitching staff that kept most games close. Hoping to relieve some of the burden placed on his pitchers, GM Dave Littlefield added first baseman Randall Simon, outfielder Matt Stairs and hitting coach Gerald Perry. Pittsburgh is hoping that these additions in combination with Aramis Ramirez's return to health will improve an offense that has been the club's Achilles heal for the past two seasons.
2. Who will fill the last two spots in the starting rotation? Kris Benson, Kip Wells and Josh Fogg are locks to fill out the top of the rotation and Jeff Suppan has the inside track on the fourth spot. The final starting job, however, will remain up for grabs until the end of Spring Training. Salomon Torres and Brian Meadows pitched well in September but they must have a strong spring showings if either hopes to remain in the rotation. Jeff D'Amico, Dennys Reyes and Rolando Arrojo headline a list of at least seven starters who will challenge Torres and Meadows.
3. How will manager Lloyd McClendon handle being in the last year of his contract? McClendon has been the target of fan criticism in each of his two seasons at the helm and there was widespread speculation that he would be fired during the off-season. While most of his staff was replaced in October, McClendon was given the opportunity to return for the third and final season of his contract. How McClendon handles his "lame duck" status as manager could be a key to the team's fortunes in 2003.
4. Can Aramis Ramirez bounce back from a down season? Coming off a season in which he established himself as one of the top slugging third baseman in the National League, Ramirez injured his ankle while charging the mound against the Milwaukee Brewers in April and was never the same player. As the primary protection in the lineup behind Brian Giles, Ramirez needs to be productive if the Pirates want to continue to improve upon the progress made in 2002.
5. Can Kip Wells and Josh Fogg continue to develop? Wells and Fogg led the team with 12 victories apiece after being acquired in an off-season trade with the Chicago White Sox. But after starting strong out of the gates, the two combined to go just 6-14 in 31 starts after the All Star break. Both obviously felt the affects of piling up nearly 200 innings for the first time in their careers. The Bucs are hopeful that two have built up their arms to a point where fatigue will no longer be an issue during the dog days of summer. Their continued development is a must.
New faces: Players acquired via trade or free agency
1B Randall Simon -- Simon was Pittsburgh's biggest off-season acquisition. The left-handed hitting first baseman batted .302 with 18 home runs and 82 RBIs in 2002 and was named the Tigers' team MVP. After posting those numbers in spacious Comerica Park, the Pirates are hopeful that Simon will be even more productive at PNC Park, a park that favors left-handed hitters. Expect Simon to get the bulk of playing time at first base with incumbent Kevin Young being used primarily against left-handed starters and as a late-inning defensive replacement.
RHP Jeff Suppan -- Suppan will step into the Pirates' rotation as the fourth starter. As a member of the Kansas City Royals, Suppan made at least 32 starts and logged at least 208 innings pitched during each of the last four seasons. While his career ERA of 5.03 indicates that he is not staff ace material, Suppan should provide the Bucs with a dependable innings eater who has shown that he is durable enough to toe the rubber every fifth day.
RHP Matt Herges -- Herges slumped in 2002 with the Montreal Expos after outing together two very productive seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. While the Pirates' bullpen was their strength a year ago, McClendon was forced to use set-up men Scott Sauerbeck and Brian Boehringer far too often. Herges provides the Bucs' skipper with another reliable arm late in the game.
RHP Jeff D'Amico -- D'Amico finished third in the National League in ERA in 2000 and has shown flashes of brilliance during his six-year big league career. Unfortunately, he has been injury-prone and has never been able to establish himself as a guy you can depend upon to take the ball every fifth day. He should be one of the early favorites to claim a spot at the end of the starting rotation -- if he can stay healthy.
RHP Rolando Arrojo -- Arrojo was named to the AL All-Star team as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998. He has yet to approach that level of success since, however, and has started a total of only 17 games during the past two seasons. Despite his recent struggles, Arrojo will be given every opportunity to compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training.
OF Matt Stairs -- After establishing himself as a solid run producer with the Oakland A's in the late 1990's, Stairs has seen his production drop significantly over the past three seasons. Stairs dedicated himself to an off-season conditioning program and is in the best shape he has been in since leaving Oakland in 1999. He is expected to get a majority of the playing time in right field with Pittsburgh this season.
LHP Dennys Reyes -- Reyes has made just 27 starts in his six-year big league career, but he will be given the opportunity to compete for one of the open rotation spots in Spring Training. Even if he doesn't make it as a starter, the southpaw with 226 career relief appearances could still make the team as a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen.
LHP Mike Holtz -- Holtz, a veteran of seven big league seasons, was 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in 2002 with the Oakland A's and San Diego Padres. He will compete with Joe Beimel, Mike Gonzalez and perhaps Reyes for one of the left-handed spots in the bullpen.
C Keith Osik -- After spending six seasons as the backup to catcher Jason Kendall, Osik was deemed expendable by the team because of the development of prospect Humberto Cota. Osik signed a minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers in January.
IF Mike Benjamin -- Benjamin was used mostly as a defensive replacement in 2002 and hit just .150 in 120 at-bats. The 37-year-old infielder has not yet signed with another team.
LHP Ron Villone -- Villone, Bucs' Opening Day starter in 2002, was demoted to the bullpen after just seven starts and finished the season with a 4-6 record and a 5.81 ERA in 45 total appearances. The eight-year vet has not yet signed with another team.
OF Armando Rios -- Rios struggled with injuries throughout his 1 1/2 seasons with the Pirates and was never able to provide the offensive production that the team was seeking. The Chicago White Sox signed him to a one-year contract in January after the Bucs released him.
LHP Jimmy Anderson -- Anderson was 17-30 with the Pirates over the past two seasons and was often a lightning rod for criticism from fans and teammates alike. He appeared in just three games after being demoted to the bullpen in August and was released following the season. The Cincinnati Reds signed Anderson to a minor league deal in January.
Returning from injury
3B Aramis Ramirez -- Ramirez's ankle injury in April crippled an already poor Bucs offense last season. Ramirez took responsibility for his actions and seems determined to show that his breakout season of 2001 was no fluke. He followed the off-season conditioning program prescribed to him, changed his diet and reported to the club's voluntary mini-camp in January at 208 pounds -- his lightest weight since his early minor-league days.
LHP Dave Williams -- Williams posted an impressive 3.71 ERA in 22 appearances as a rookie in 2001 but was sidelined by shoulder problems after just nine starts a year ago. The 23-year-old southpaw went under the knife last July and just started to throw off the mound again in January. If healthy, he will be among the many vying for a spot in the starting rotation.
RHP Ryan Vogelsong -- After being acquired in a trade with the San Francisco Giants in 2001, Vogelsong blew out his elbow in just his second appearance with the Pirates. The 25-year-old right-hander spent most of last season rehabbing from surgery before finishing the season with Double-A Altoona where he went 1-5 with a 5.56 ERA in eight starts. While he will be among those competing for a spot in the Bucs' rotation, it is more likely that he will begin the season at Triple-A Nashville.
New kids on the block: Prospects to watch
C Humberto Cota -- Cota was the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2001 and he will likely replace Osik as Kendall's primary backup. Cota suffered a hand injury while playing winter league ball but he should be fully recovered by the start of the exhibition season.
OF Tony Alvarez -- Alvarez was the surprise of Spring Training last year and followed it up by hitting .318 with 15 home runs and 29 steals at Double-A Altoona. He could push Rob Mackowiak for the starting center field job but it is more likely that he will start the season at Nashville.
RHP Duaner Sanchez -- Sanchez, acquired in a July deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Mike Fetters, is probably the hardest thrower among the Bucs' many bullpen candidates. In three September appearances with the Pirates, the 23-year-old was 0-0 with a 15.43 ERA in three innings of work. While the Pirates love his velocity, it will be his control that determines whether or not he makes the team out of Spring Training.
LHP Mike Gonzalez -- Gonzalez was 8-4 with a 3.80 ERA in 16 starts with Altoona last season. But it was his impressive Arizona Fall League showing -- a 1.03 ERA with two saves and 23 strikeouts in 17 innings over 13 relief appearances -- that could make him a candidate for one of the open spots in the bullpen.
On the rebound
Jason Kendall -- Kendall bounced back from a gruesome 1999 ankle injury to make his third trip to the All Star game in 2000. But over the past two seasons, Kendall has seen his average and power numbers fall significantly -- he hit just three home runs in 545 at-bats in 2002. With five years remaining on his six-year contract, the Bucs are hopeful that his decline in production was a result of nagging injuries rather than any decline in skill level.
Kris Benson -- The biggest question heading into the 2002 season was whether or not ace Kris Benson could return to form after missing the previous season with an elbow injury. After starting the season 0-3 with a 9.72 ERA in four starts, Benson came on strong to win nine of his last 12 decisions. McClendon was very cautious with Benson's pitch count last season but promises to treat him just like any other starter this year. If the Bucs hope to improve in the standings again in 2003, Benson's elbow will need to hold up for a 200-inning workload.
The bottom line
The Pirates made moves during the offseason that should help pump life into an offense that has been among the least productive in the big leagues during the past two seasons. If the offense can provide a little more pop, the young starters at the top of the rotation continue to develop and two starters can emerge from the 10 who will compete in camp, the Pirates should leave Spring Training feeling good about their chances to snap the team's streak of 10 consecutive losing seasons.
Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.