2011 MLB Team Preview – Pittsburgh Pirates

Key Additions—Chris Snyder, Lyle Overbay

Key Losses—Octavio Dotel, Zack Duke

Lineup—Andrew McCutcheon is turning into a real superstar and will continue to develop into the leader of this team. He has all of the skills to be an all-star, and is without a doubt a 5 tool player. With Jose Tabata in LF and Garret Jones in RF, this outfield is at least good enough to put up some runs. The hope is that the infield will be led by 3B Pedro Alvarez, who showed signs of being a good player last year. It will be fun to see what he can do with a full season to work with. Lyle Overbay was a nice pick-up, as to me he has always been a bit undervalued as a 1B. He won’t put up great numbers, but year after year is fairly solid. Neil Walker showed that he can play and hit at 2B. Although this lineup is not near good enough to compete, they are making strides, and have a few pieces in McCutcheon, Alvarez, and Walker to get fans in Pittsburgh excited.

Rotation—The pitching staff is where this team gets scary. And I don’t mean scary in a good way. John McDonald is a nice young pitcher, but to have him as the ace of your staff is not going to help you get back to over .500. When looking at the rest of the staff you are basically looking at guys who wouldn’t be locked in on most teams in the 5 hole, and they are filling the early slots behind McDonald. Really, I am not sure any of these pitchers would even make the rotation for the Reds or Brewers in the division, which is not a good thing for the 2011 Pirates. With guys like Paul Maholm, Kevin Correia, Ross Ohlendorf, and Charlie Morton, this reads more like a list of guys battling for a spot in spring training. It is going to be a rough year for this rotation in Pittsburgh.

Bullpen—Unfortunately for the Buccos fans, this isn’t any better of an outlook than the rotation. Joel Hanrahan is a good 7th inning man, not a closer. However he will be thrust into that role with the hopes that he will be able to get the job done. Although Evan Meek was an all star last year, he is not a closer type, and I expect him to regress a bit. With the combination of the rotation arms and this bullpen, I expect the Pirates to have one of the worst overall staffs in the big leagues.

Impact Rookie—Bryan Morris, RHP. After the prospect graduation of Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, and Neil Walker last year, the Pirates system is thin at the upper levels. Morris came to Pittsburgh in the Jason Bay trade of 2008. Morris will head the AAA Indianapolis staff to start the season but should finish it in Pittsburgh.

Outlook—There is a big part of me that would love to see the Buccos become relevant again, and would like to at least see them be competitive. I do think, for the first time in a while, the do have some good young talent that would be worth checking out. But they are still a few years away, mainly on the pitching side. Hopefully their youngsters can continue to develop, and they can find ways to win games, but I am afraid in this division the Pirates are in for another last place finish.

Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent

NL Central Preview:

Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds

Houston Astros

Milwaukee Brewers

Pittsburgh Pirates

St. Louis Cardinals

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2011 MLB Team Preview – Milwaukee Brewers

Key Additions—Zach Greinke, Shawn Marcum, Takashi Saito

Key Losses—Alcides Escobar, Trevor Hoffman

Lineup—The Brewers basically stood pat on offense, but that is not a bad thing. They were able to resign Corey Hart, who is a good protective bat behind their 2 big sluggers, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Fielder is entering a contract year, and I expect him to put up huge numbers. Same goes for Braun, who is one of the better hitters and the league and can be expected to help carry this lineup. Rickie Weeks had a breakout year last year, and should continue to blossom into an all-star caliber 2B. He sets the table at the leadoff spot. They also have 3B Casey McGehee, who proved as a rookie he could drive in runs. I am a little concerned that they will be very light hitting at CF in Chris Gomez, SS with Yuniesky Betancourt, and C with Jonathan Lucroy, but think they have plenty of punch to make up for it with the rest of the lineup. I would say outside of the Reds, this lineup is as good as any other in the division, if not better.

Rotation—When you add a front line starter in Greinke and a #3 starter in Marcum, and you were not all that bad last year, you know you have a chance at something special. Greinke has been criticized for some of his time in Kansas City, but the fact is he played in the AL for a team that was going nowhere. Moving him to an NL team, and putting him on a team that has a chance to contend, I expect a big year out of him. Having Greinke will only help Yovanni Gallardo, who I think will continue to make strides as a pitcher. I know the Brewers were scared when Marcum left a game earlier in the spring, but things look to be less serious than first thought, and I expect him if healthy to have a solid year now that he is out of the AL East. The back end of this rotation features Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson. Wolf is a solid veteran and should have a average year, but as with most teams their are questions marks at the 5th spot. But in the end, this is arguably the best rotation in this division, and gives them plenty of fire power. I am not sure if it is as deep as the Reds, but with the 3 guys at the tops, you could definitely argue they have a stronger of the rotation.

Bullpen—When you break down the lineups and rotation, I think that the Brewers on right on par with last year’s division champion, the Cincinnati Reds. But I think this division could very well be decided by the bullpens, and I am afraid that this is where the Brewers will fail. John Axford did a great job taking over for Hoffman last year as a rookie, but you are always concerned with a sophomore slump. If he can avoid that he has guys who can go late into games and get the ball, and he will tally quite a few saves. Outside of Axford, their is just not much depth or big arms in this pen, and I think that they will struggle quite a bit. If the Brewers remain in contention, I think this is one area that they will look to address with a trade.

Impact Rookie—Mark Rogers, RHP. Milwaukee has the league’s worst farm system and it’s by design. Fielder, Braun, Weeks and Gallardo are all home grown and they dealt their best remaining prospects to obtain their solid staff now. Rogers is the best of what’s left. Not a top 100 prospect in my book but the 2004 first round pick could fill in for Greinke in the short term but even if he gets that gig, he’ll return to AAA Nashville upon Greinke’s return.

Outlook—I hear a lot of people say that the Brewers are all-in on this season, but I don’t think that at all. Their first 4 starters are all signed through 2012, so with that staff I expect them to be able to contend even if they lose Fielder next year. But this year with Fielder, this team has a chance to do something special. They will be fighting for the division and the playoffs right to the very end. This is a team no one will want to see in the playoffs with that front end starting pitching, but first things first is getting there. I am not sure the bullpen has enough to win the division, but time will tell. But if you are a Brewers fan, you should be antsy for the season to start.

Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent

NL Central Preview:

Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds

Houston Astros

Milwaukee Brewers

Pittsburgh Pirates

St. Louis Cardinals

2011 MLB Team Preview – Houston Astros

Key Additions—Clint Barmes, Bill Hall

Key Losses—Matt Lindstrom

Lineup—With the trade of Lance Berkman last season, this team has finally cut ties with the killer B’s of the past. So where does that leave them? I love their CF/RF combination of Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence. Pence is as underrated of a player out there, as he doesn’t look smooth but he can flat out play, both on offense and defense. And Bourn is a speedster which is much needed in the spacious outfield of Minute Maid Park. Carlos Lee still has a potent bat in LF, although I am sure the Astros would love to get rid of that salary. The revamped middle infield of Bill Hall and Clint Barmes is an upgrade over the past few years, and should provide some pop. I am not sold that they can be even average defensively though. The corners are a big question mark. It will be interesting to see what this team can get out of once highly touted prospect Brett Wallace. With some speed at the top of the lineup and some guys who have the ability to knock in runs, this team at the very least should be okay offensively.

Rotation—The Astros begin their first full year without Roy Oswalt. I am still dumbfounded that the top player that the Astros got back in return for their perennial ace was at best a #3 starter. Wandy Rodriguez has really developed into a pretty good pitcher, and leads this rotation. It will be interesting to see if Brett Myers can put together another solid year and provide this team with a solid 1-2 punch. JA Happ needs to develop into that #3 starter, but I am not sure he is any better than a 4-5. If he can progress then the Astros at the very least have a solid staff at the top. Even at the back end of the rotation this team has guys who have proven at times they can pitch at this level. Bud Norris and Nelson Figueroa are pretty solid back of the rotation guys who at times have shown flashes they could be better than 4-5 starters. Honestly, if a few things fall the Astros way, this rotation is plenty good to at least put a scare into some of the top teams in this division.

Bullpen—This bullpen is going to be the biggest hole in this team. Brandon Lyon at closer at least provides stability, but I think that has more to do with no one else having the ability to assume the role instead of Lyon being a good closer. There really are no other arms at this point that you look at in this pen that scare you. I have a feeling that outside of Lyon at the back end of games, there is going to be a revolving door of arms in this pen.

Impact Rookie—Jordan Lyles, RHP. Though I think Nelson Figueroa will likely win the #5 spot in the rotation, Lyles as the system’s best prospect deserves to be mentioned in the discussion. The righty has more polish than filth but his poise is a great asset for a 20 year old. If he doesn’t win a big league job, he’ll start the season in the AAA rotation and should be the first arm called up to Houston.

Outlook—In what appears to be a transition year in Houston, their first full year with Oswalt and Berkman, I think this team will be able to improve from last year. Their offense has a good mix of speed and power, and their rotation, although not having that shut down ace, has very good depth. I still think this team is a year or 2 away from being serious contenders, and still have a few players they would love to move, I do think they will prove to be much improved and at least a small threat in the division.

Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent

NL Central Preview:

Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds

Houston Astros

Milwaukee Brewers

Pittsburgh Pirates

St. Louis Cardinals

2011 MLB Team Preview – Cincinnati Reds

Key Additions—None

Key Losses—Orlando Cabrera

Lineup—As good as this lineup was last year, I think they take a step back this year. I think Joey Votto is a great hitter, but it is unrealistic to expect the same type of year this year as he had last. Brandon Phillips is a very solid 2b, but the Reds need to find a permanent spot in the lineup (not cleanup.) Regardless of who the SS is, they will not provide much offense, and although an All-Star last year, Scott Rolen really faded as the season went on. At catcher, Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hannigan combined to have a tremendous year for the catching position, but that cannot be expected again. In the outfield, I do expect Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce to continue to mature and become better hitters. They were arguably the Reds best hitters at the end of last year and I expect that continue. It will have to for this lineup to be as good as last year. My big problem is left field. Yes people will point to Jonny Gomes overall numbers last year and say he is good out there, but outside of the first 60 games he was terrible. And his defense is just awful. It amazes me how people would hound on Adam Dunn for how bad he was in LF, but Gomes is rewarded for his hustle, although in my opinion he is worse out there. I really felt that this team was a LF from being a very good offensive team. Without that LF, they will need big years out of multiple guys to maintain the consistency from last year.

Rotation—You could argue that the full year addition of Edinson Volquez could be as big of a pitching acquisition as anyone outside of Cliff Lee. He showed signs of returning to his 2009 form near the end of last year, and if he can do that he will give this team an ace at the front end. Add him to the always consistent Bronson Arroyo, who gives you basically the same numbers every year, and youngsters Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Travis Wood, and you have a rotation with strong arms and the ability to go deep in games. Bailey is finally at a make or break year. He is out of options so will get every opportunity to finally realize his potential, and if he can will be a top of the rotation starter. Cueto continues to improve, and gives this team another good arm. And don’t sleep on Wood, he showed flashes of absolute brilliance last year. They also have good arms in Matt Maloney and Mike Leaked as players who could step in for injuries, or possibly be trade bait. All in all, this rotation is deep and very good.

Bullpen—In most of these write-ups, I have found that the closer is fairly solid for most teams but they lack the other aspects of having a good bullpen. In this case, if Francisco Cordero can have a big year, this could be the best bullpen in the National League. If Coco can close down the 9th inning, then you can save phenom Aroldis Chapman for the 8th inning role, and will still have arms such as Nick Massett and the rising Jose Arredondo to plug any holes that may be formed. They are one of the rare teams that even if the closer implodes, they have guys to plug in the holes and get the job done.

Impact Rookie—Aroldis Chapman, LHP. As stated above, Chapman will man the 8th inning role for the Reds. The proud owner of the fastest fastball ever recorded (105.1 mph), Chapman’s fastball grades out as the best on the planet. Chapman was an immediate success last year but fortunately for him, any of his flaws were hidden by his devastating stuff. He lacks command of that stuff but his velocity creates a larger margin for error. If hitters can be patient, they’ll rattle the fireballer, generate baserunners and get to Cordero an inning earlier.

Outlook—While I think the Reds made a mistake by not going out and getting themselves a left fielder to fill a huge hole, I still think this team has what it takes to compete again for the division title. What will be interesting for this team is whether ownership will be willing to spend the money at the trade deadline to add a piece to the puzzle, whether it be a veteran LF or a SS (Jose Reyes anyone???) If they are, this steam could very well be the class of the NL Central again.

Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent

NL Central Preview:

Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds

Houston Astros

Milwaukee Brewers

Pittsburgh Pirates

St. Louis Cardinals

2011 MLB Team Preview – Chicago Cubs

Key Additions—Matt Garza, Carlos Pena

Key Losses—Derek Lee, Ryan Theriot

Lineup—While many will point to the addition of Carlos Pena as a big boost to their lineup, I just don’t see that big of an upgrade over Derek Lee. Remember, Pena hit below .200 last year, and although he had good power numbers, that is just an awful batting average. Unless he comes back strong, he isn’t the middle of the order bat that the Cubs need. A big key to this offense though will be Aramis Ramirez. When he is on, he is a very good stick, but he needs to start producing again. The outfield is well below average. Alfonso Soriano is aging, awful in left field, and his bat just isn’t what it used to be. And he has 4 yrs and 72 million left on that deal. Marlon Byrd and Koseke Fukudome are both subpar outfielders. The middle of the lineup is young but has a chance to be pretty good. I like Starling Castro, and Blake DeWitt provides a relatively good stick for 2b. They can only hope that Geovanny Soto returns to his rookie of the year form. All in year, compared with some of the other lineups in this division, they won’t be able to stack up enough to compete.

Rotation—I love the addition of Matt Garza. Sure, moving over from the American League will likely grow his ERA, but he is a guy you can count on to give you tons of innings and provide good starts the majority of his outings. What a great move acquiring him. He will fill one of the top of the rotation spots along with Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano. Dempster has become a pretty solid starter, and Zambrano is very good when his head is on straight. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, that isn’t too often. He is also owed a ton of money, so Cubs fans need to hope he finds his stuff and attitude back. The back end of the rotation with Randy Wells and Carlos Silva is good enough to win some guys, and actually help this rotation be pretty steady. While I don’t think they are the best rotation in the division, I do like what they have done here.

Bullpen—For some reason, I think this bullpen has the potential to be pretty good. They have a good mix of lefty/righties in that pen, with John Grabow and Sean Marshall from the left side, and Jeff Samardzija, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Marmol from the right side. Marmol asserted himself as a very good closer last year, and as long as he can keep his walks down he will continue to get the job done. And although Kerry Wood often gets a bad rap, he will slide in nicely in that 8th inning roles. With those lefties I mentioned, they also have the ability to match up with other teams, which is a nice bonus to have. All in all I think this is a pretty solid pen.

Impact Rookie—Jay Jackson, RHP. A two way star at Furman, the fireballing Jackson has 4 pitches, the best of which is a mid 90’s fastball. Though he regressed slightly last year, he made 25 starts for AAA Iowa and could be an early call up should they need an arm whether it be in the bullpen or the rotation.

Outlook—I like what the Cubs did in the offseason, but I can’t help but think about how this team is handcuffed with a few salaries. Having over 36 millions committed to Zambrano and Soriano over the next few years is tough to overcome unless they really turn it around. As much as I like their pitching staff overall, I just don’t think their lineup can compete with the other teams in this division. Fact is, it will be another season of waiting for Cubs fans.

Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent

NL Central Preview:

Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds

Houston Astros

Milwaukee Brewers

Pittsburgh Pirates

St. Louis Cardinals


2011 MLB Team Preview – Washington Nationals

Key Additions—Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche

Key Losses—Adam Dunn, Willie Harris

Lineup—The addition of Werth in the middle of the lineup turned a lot of heads this winter, but did it make them better? It depends on the way you look at it. On one hand, after the loss of Dunn, something needed to be done, so grabbing Werth was a good move. I like the set of talents he gives to a team and the leadership he is capable of. I will be interested to see what kind of player he is now that he has the pressure of needing to be one of the main guns. Plus, how will he respond on a team that isn’t one of the best. The loss of Dunn obviously hurts, so who will pick up that slack? Ryan Zimmerman is a perennial all star and will continue to perform as a hitter. Ian Desmond struggled a bit as a rookie, but the Nationals expect him to improve. The addition of Adam LaRoche does provide some left handed pop that was much needed in this lineup. Ivan Rodriguez is aging, and at this point pretty much an average catcher. While the outfield of Werth, Roger Bernadina, and Nyjer Morgan will not hit the ball out of the park, they are great defensively and have the ability to steal a lot of bags. If nothing else, they will put a lot of pressure on opposing pitchers when they get on. If those 2 can set the table for the middle of the order, I think this lineup has a chance to be pretty solid.

Rotation—Obviously, the loss of Stephen Strasburg was a very big blow. Not too often do you have a young ace like that, but they will need to go on with what they have. The return of Jordan Zimmerman will give Nats fans a glimpse into one of the future arms in this rotation. However, the rest of the rotation is not exactly world beaters. Livan Hernandez is consistent, and you know what you are going to get from him. A big question mark is what Jason Marquis you will get, the one that was an all star in 2009 or the one that was terrible in 2010. If he can get back to 2009 form they will win some games for him. However, all in all, unless Zimmerman becomes a beast, this rotation will have a hard time competing in this division.

Bullpen—I am a big fan of Drew Storen, although I am not completely sure what kind of closer he will ultimately become. Even if he turns into a big time closer, this bullpen is still going to have some issues. Their rotation, with aging guys like Hernandez and a guy like Zimmerman who they will likely be careful with in innings, will not go deep into games. This means they are going to need a strong 6-7-8 inning guys to bridge the gap to get to Storen. They just don’t have it. This bullpen will be eaten alive by teams in those innings before they can get to Storen.

Impact Rookie—Danny Espinosa, 2B/SS. Espinosa hit 28 HR and stole 25 bags between the Minors and Majors last season and looks to be the favorite to lock up the second base job in Washington. Espinosa hopes to join the line of recent Long Beach State Dirtbag shortstops to have immediate MLB success that includes Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria.

Outlook—I really like what this team is building. Sure they spent a lot of money on Werth, but he is the type of player to me you give good money too. He is good defensively, and doesn’t completely rely on the home run. He can still hit for average and do the little things that help teams win. And when Strasburg returns, and if Zimmerman can stay healthy, they have the makings of a nice 1-2 punch in that rotation. Bryce Harper could possibly join this team within a year or 2, and if he can be another middle of the lineup bat they could be something special. They are not going to win this year, but you have to be excited to see what the Nats are building.

NL East Preview:

Atlanta Braves

Florida Marlins

New York Mets

Philadelphia Phillies

Washington Nationals

2011 MLB Team Preview – Philadelphia Phillies

Key Additions—Cliff Lee

Key Losses—Jayson Werth, Jaime Moyer, Pedro Feliz

Lineup—Everyone wants to point to how good this rotation is going to be, but the signing of Lee took anyway any budget that was needed to improve this lineup. The loss of Werth, who provided a very good right handed bat in the middle of this lineup, will prove to be a very big loss. Not only was he a bat they needed, but was also a very good defender. Yes, they are solid at 3-4 with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, but no one knows how healthy Utley is going to be. And although he posts great home runs numbers, Howard is not an all around great hitter. A big concern has to be Jimmy Rollins, who is aging and has posted 2 straight subpar years. His OBP last year was .320, which for a leadoff hitter just isn’t very good. I still like Shane Victorino, but his other 2 outfield mates in Raul Ibanez and Domonic Brown are either aging or unproven. Actually, Brown really struggled last year when he got the chance, so you have no idea what to expect from him. The more I look at this lineup, the more I just don’t like it. Good pitchers will be able to shut them down, and late in games good left handed relievers will be able to get it done. As much excitement that was built up with the signing of Lee, I think we are going to find out quickly that this lineup will cause this team to lose games.

Rotation—Flat out, this rotation is the best in baseball. I am actually going to start on the back end, where you have a guy like Joe Blanton (if they keep him) as your #5. While other teams are throwing out young guys or trying to find magic in a veteran, they have a guy who will get you 10-13 wins. Not bad. Now to the top of this rotation. Roy Halladay, though aging, will likely be a CY Young contender again. He has filthy stuff and will lead this rotation. Signing Cliff Lee gives them another lefty and another pitcher who will pitch deep in games. Roy Oswalt will give you innings and put up a nice year. Cole Hamels, I believe, will be the biggest benefit of Lee. He will learn from him, and I expect a huge year from Hamels. Just think, in the past if you went into a 3 game series where one of the games was against any of their first 4, you never expected to win that game. Now in a 3 game series you are going to have to face at least 2 of these guys. That is going to be tough.

Bullpen—This is another area I am concerned about with this team, but with that rotation I just don’t think they will need to be used as much as other bullpens. Any of their 5 guys could go deep into games, but you almost expect the first 4 to give you 7-8 each time out. The big question is what Brad Lidge are you going to get? He was pretty good after the all-star break last year, but he hasn’t been all that consistent for the past 2 years. If he could return to good form, he should rack up a lot of saves, as I think the Phils will be playing a lot of 3-2 or 2-1 ball games. They do have setup guys who have gotten it done in the past, so I am not too worried about them, but I don’t see them being used much. I really think, more than any other team, this bullpen will be judged by the closer position.

Impact Rookie—Domonic Brown, RF. Brown is currently shut down with a broken hamate bone but the dynamic right fielder will still have a significant impact on this team. When he returns from this injury, expect his power numbers to take a dive for the entire season but perhaps it can make him a more patient hitter. When healthy, Brown has true 5-tool potential, but he is years away from filling Werth’s shoes.

Outlook—It is going to be hard to pick against the Phillies this year, but I don’t think the conversations about them winning 110 games are warranted. Sure, their staff is outstanding and capable of winning plenty of games, but the signing of Lee was done while hurting the lineup. At times last year they went through long stretches of mediocrity, and I expect more of the same this year. Despite how much I dislike this lineup, this team is still the team to beat in the National League East. I am just not sure anyone can overcome that starting staff.

Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent



NL East Preview:

Atlanta Braves

Florida Marlins

New York Mets

Philadelphia Phillies

Washington Nationals