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C Benito Santiago: Santiago is old for a catcher. Zach Manprin from Elephants In Oakland has some interesting ideas about backup catchers that would really work in Pittsburgh. His concept is that a backup catcher could be limited defensively, yet spotted in for his offensive talents in certain situations. You could put Matt LeCroy behind the plate for the Twins when Terry Mulholland pitches, for instance. I mention this because…
1B Craig Wilson …Craig Wilson loses a lot of value when he doesn’t catch. Yes, he’s not very good defensively back there, but given some options at first–like Daryle Ward or the young behemoth Brad Eldred, Wilson could help shift around, taking some load off Santiago and giving the Pirates a big offensive advantage over most other teams at catcher.
2B Jose Castillo
SS Jack Wilson: Wilson has some knee problems that have never been corrected. It swells, he rests, he gets back out there. At some point, it may get too serious to settle for just a couple days off. He’s also coming off an appendectomy, something that may affect his conditioning, a sore spot with manager Lloyd McClendon last season.
3B Ty Wigginton
LF Jason Bay: Shoulder injuries linger. It’s a complex joint that is more difficult to put together from the orthopedic carpentry standpoint than almost any other. If you ever wonder just how complex a joint is, consider that there’s no artificial replacement. Knees, hips, and even ankles can be replaced. His wrist problems this spring are just another worry.
CF Tike Redman
RF Matt Lawton: Lawton was finally healthy again in 2004, so the Indians sold high. He’ll fit in well with this team and says he’s going to run more. That could put pressure on his legs. He’s had knee, hip and hamstring problems over the past few years, so running might not be the best idea.
SP Oliver Perez: Pitchers–and most players–are creatures of habit. They’re superstitious, stubborn, and often inexplicable. Perez had played Winter Ball in Mexico for years. The Pirates hoped to keep that wear and tear off his shoulder, yet it backfired. Perez was used to that workload and he’s not ready, even now. When right, he’s neck and neck with Jake Peavy and Mark Prior for title of best young NL pitcher.
SP Kip Wells: There are no comps that I’m aware of for the carpal tunnel release that Wells had. Is he another of these Everquest players, typing away in his hotel room rather than drinking and chasing loose women? I don’t know what this game is coming to these days.
SP Josh Fogg: Fogg was expected to be trade bait this off-season. Injuries to Sean Burnett and John Van Benschoten kept him around, for now. A lot of people think he’ll end up in the pen when the next wave of Pirate starters is ready. His balky mechanics would be less of a problem there.
SP Mark Redman: There’s something about round numbers that fascinates us all. Redman’s gone over 190 IP for the past two seasons, which is just a start or two away from the magical 200 mark. It doesn’t make him any better of a pitcher, just consistent–there’s something to be said for that.
SP Dave Williams: Williams was in one of the earliest UTK’s and it’s taken him two years to get back. He has great stuff, horrible mechanics, and an injury-prone nature that recalls Nick Johnson or Austin Kearns. He missed nearly a month, Sammy Sosa-style, after injuring his ribs sneezing. There’s some record to pitchers coming back after two years off from shoulder problems.
CL Jose Mesa
I’m really not sure what to make of this team. Consistently mediocre in injury stats, this team seems to be as directionless in the training room as they are on the field. But appearances deceive. Just as many questioned the deal pushing Brian Giles out of PNC Park (the nicest park in the majors), things look better from a different perspective.
The injury stats for the past few seasons have been skewed slightly by long, lingering injuries to key players–not that that’s any less of a problem. Kris Benson single-handedly pushed the Pirates out of the upper third, while last year’s injury to Jason Bay hurt their stats significantly. By the end of the season, the wear on the pitchers was apparent, yet even those injuries don’t seem to have decimated the team.
Most of the upper-level minor league depth consists of pitching, with arms like Bryan Bullington, Zach Duke and Ian Snell. That gives the Pirates hope that even if Wells and Fogg never become the duo many expected them to be–and let’s face it, that trade is still a win for the Pirates either way–some of their young pitchers will be ready to step in shortly.
The team doesn’t quite look to fit together well. They have some obvious holes and are threatened more than most by key injuries. With depth, however, and some young, talented and cheap players that Dave Littlefield could deal, there’s more hope than there has been in a while. This isn’t a contender, yet, but Littlefield’s plan may be finally starting to bear fruit.