[Ed. note - below is another installment in a series that has been popular here, the One Question Interview. We ask one question of our interviewee of choice, they give us their answer. Simple, right? In preparation for the Cardinals' weekend series with the Pittsburgh, today's interviewee is Pat Lackey of Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?, a great Pirates blog. Thanks Pat!]
PH8: The Pirates are closing in on their 17th straight losing season, a record for North American pro sports leagues. What year do you expect them to reverse this unfortunate trend, and who are the young players that will lead them there?
Pat: I actually posted about this today at FanHouse, [Ed. note: D'oh!] but I’ll certainly expand on it for you guys here.
I really do think that the Pirates are much closer to putting things together than people might realize. Andrew McCutchen is having a great rookie year (.284/.359/.489 with 11 homers, 45 RBIs, and 15 steals in 18 attempts, all in just 79 games) and will get some much-deservered rookie of the year attention. He’s one building block the Pirates certainly have in place. Another may be Lastings Milledge, who’s now pulled his batting average up to .312 with the Pirates after an ugly start. In fact, in the last 16 he games he’s been on fire, hitting .398/.458/.596 and playing decent defense in left field. Given that he’s just 24-years old, the Pirates have to be encouraged by his performance of late.
Beyond those two, the big name that’s on every Pirate fan’s mind is the #2 pick from 2008, Pedro Alvarez. After holding out long enough to miss any sort of minor league action last year and then a slow start in High-A Lynchburg, Alvarez destroyed the ball in Double-A, hitting .333/.419/.590 with 13 homers in 60 games. Outfielder Jose Tabata, acquired from the Yankees in the Xavier Nady trade, also hit very well late in the summer after recovering from some early season injuries and held his own for a month in Triple-A, an impressive feat for a 20-year old.
The biggest thing the Pirates’ new front office has done, though, is really build depth in the lower parts of the system. 2009 first-rounder Tony Sanchez and Dominican signing Starling Marte had very good years with Single-A West Virginia while LHP Rudy Owens had a breakout year. The Pirates also acquired right-handed starter Tim Alderson in the Freddy Sanchez deal with San Francisco, and he’s pitched very well at Double-A this year as a 20-year old.
It’s still hard to put a date on when the Pirates will be able to turn things around. Besides Alvarez and Tabata, pitcher Brad Lincoln is really the only other impact prospect in the upper levels of the minors. Those three will probably all make their debuts in Pittsburgh at varying points in 2010 (not until probably June or July, most likely) and when you put them on the diamond and slide some pieces around, things do look much better (place Alvarez at third and Tabata in right, which allows Garrett Jones to move to first base full-time and suddenly the lineup looks much stronger, for example). Still, I think the Pirates are probably a long-shot for .500 in 2010, but with a pretty decent shot at getting there in 2011 or 2012.