C Ryan Doumit / Humberto Cota: Teams don’t often get a do-over, but the Bucs have one with Doumit. He’s Craig Wilson all over again, and we’ll see if they’ve learned anything. They talk about using Doumit in the “you have no position” role they did with Wilson rather than leveraging his passable catching skills with defensive whiz Cota. If Ronny Paulino continues to progress, this management group would push Doumit to the OF. Add in a Winter League elbow problem that kept him from catching and Doumit almost makes it to red status. Those who don’t learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. You don’t even want to get me started on Neil Walker.
1B Sean Casey: Casey comes in green, despite some recurring shoulder problems. Forgive him if he doesn’t recognize Cota when they meet up in Bradenton.
2B Jose Castillo: He’s coming back from August MCL surgery. (Ed. Note: Castillo did NOT have surgery. We apologize for the error.–JSS) That shouldn’t hinder him much, but he’s another of the Pirates players who can’t afford any reduction in his limited skill set. He’s lost most of his speed over the last three years, which makes him play older than his age.
3B Joe Randa
SS Jack Wilson: Wilson blamed his slow first half on an off-season appendectomy. By the end, his back was a problem. His fielding was never a problem, which lends some credence to Wilson’s excuses. Just be aware that those excuses might become chronic.
LF Jason Bay
CF Chris Duffy: For a speed player like Duffy there’s no injury worse than a torn hamstring. The injury simply doesn’t heal well and has a tendency to both sap speed and recur at just the worst moment. Duffy’s a grinder you can easily root for, but if he loses even a step, he doesn’t have enough other skills to hold the job. Worse, Nate McLouth is ready to contribute now, leaving Duffy no room for error.
RF Jeromy Burnitz: Health is a skill, even at age 37.
Key Sub Craig Wilson: Wilson seems to have a black cloud over him in Pittsburgh. First he’s mishandled and now he’s nearly handless. He spent the better part of the season recovering from a broken hand caused by a HBP only to come back and get hit again. He’s without a position, but if healthy–and let’s face it, those broken bones were fluky–he can still hit. He’d be better off somewhere else unless Jim Tracy sees something he likes on Wilson’s Strat card.
SP Zach Duke
SP Kip Wells
SP Oliver Perez: The Pirates kept Perez from pitching in the 2004-05 Mexican Winter League. Perez responded by getting fat and not pitching. Perez’s motion is so complex that he fell out of sync and never seemed to recapture it fully. He lost a kicking battle with a laundry cart and missed a lot of time, something we’ll expect won’t happen again. He’s looked out of sync again this off-season according to reports and could become this generation’s Jimmy Haynes.
SP Paul Maholm: Maholm’s name may be tough to pronounce (Ma-HALL-om) but his stuff is pretty good and he’s left-handed. This yellow is very low and is mostly based on his slow recovery from a devastating comebacker that busted up his face. Slow is understandable and he had no serious problems at three levels last year. At the end, he lost some control so watch his elbow as he gets near 100 innings.
SP Ian Snell: Snell has some maturity issues and while his stuff is better than Duke or Maholm, he doesn’t have the pitchability the others do. Snell got pulled from the AFL and continues to look for command. He’s got the stuff to beat Roger Clemens.
SP Sean Burnett: Some sources have Burnett ahead of Snell in the battle for the five slot. They ignore the fact that Burnett simply cannot stay healthy and is more likely to spend the spring in Indianapolis or Altoona. The run of drafts that picked Burnett, Bryan Bullington, and wasted bat John van Benschoten is a run of pitcher destruction not seen outside of Seattle. The Pirates have had the worst luck in the majors at bringing players back from Tommy John surgery, highlighted by Burnett’s mid-summer labrum tear. Tom Gorzelanny will make that battle moot by August.
CL Mike Gonzalez: Gonzalez pitched almost all year with a sprained right knee. He didn’t alter his mechanics and is a good case study for the use of braces in pitching injuries. He’s still got the brace on–maybe not right this minute, but he did at the Pirates mini-camp–which leads us to believe there’s some lingering problem there. He’s still better than another year of Jose Mesa or poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick.
At what point do we admit failure?
Remember that pretty girl in high school–the cheerleader with the impossibly blue eyes and the body that made you feel all wiggly? You probably didn’t date her, you probably barely knew her, but she was and probably still is a pretty happy memory. The Pirates are a lot like that. Not the pretty girl, but our hopes for going out with that pretty girl and the Disney ending. The Pirates have been an abysmal failure over the last five years, yet there’s just enough “what if” left over that we hope for the happy ending.
While the team has failed on the field, they’ve done an equally inept job in keeping players healthy, developing pitchers, or really anything measurable. At best, they show up as mediocre in some years, carried by a bit of luck and hard work but unable to sustain those results or systemize them in any meaningful way. Some of the team’s injuries have just been bad luck, like the serial broken hand of Craig Wilson. Others, like the breakdown of former overall #1 pick Bryan Bullington, were far less surprising.
The Pirates have a wealth of pitching talent reaching the major leagues, coming just after a vaunted group that’s done nothing (largely due to injury). Bullington, John Van Benschoten, and Sean Burnett were Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, and Maholm before the latter group came up. One can only hope that a more reasoned approach from Jim Tracy and Jim Colborn helps keep this new crop from meeting the same fate as the old, but there’s no change in the minor leagues that holds out hope for the next generation.
The Pirates have gotten significantly younger, for the most part, which is not always a good thing for injuries. Youthful exuberance often leads to more injuries, though they do tend to heal quicker. With the additions of Casey and Burnitz, two older but usually healthy players, the team should be able to focus on keeping their young pitchers healthy. That–and that alone–will give the Pirates some hope to be out of last place this season.
The Pirates flirt and tease, but in the end, they’re a team that is rudderless. Twelve bobblehead days and the best park in the majors cover a lot of flaws, but injuries could tear this team apart and, absent a Jim Tracy miracle, leave them wondering what happened by the time they host the All-Star Game.
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