SLEEPER Adam LaRoche is in his prime and will be at the heart of the Pirates' lineup. He's primed for his first 100-RBI season.
BUST Don't expect too big a bounce-back from Zach Duke. What happened to him in 2006 isn't a surprise considering his low strikeout-to-walk ratio.
HITTER TO WATCH: Andrew McCutchen, CF McCutchen probably needs a full year in the minors, but he's a true center fielder who has already shown power and plus plate discipline before turning 20.
PITCHER TO WATCH: Yoslan Herrera, RHP
The Pirates' system is very short on pitching prospects. Herrera, a righty from Cuba who has average stuff and hasn't pitched competitively since 2004, is the closest to the majors.
MLB Preview 2007
FIXED New Pirates 1B Adam LaRoche played golf recently with ex-teammates John Smoltz and Jeff Francoeur, taking on Tiger Woods, 3-against-1, best ball. "He killed us," LaRoche says. "We sucked." That won't be the case with the Pirates' offense this year, thanks to LaRoche. In 2006, Pittsburgh was last in the NL in runs, home runs and slugging. LaRoche hit 32 homers and had 71 extra-base hits for Atlanta, and now he's aiming for PNC Park's short right field. "He brings a presence to our lineup," says hitting coach Jeff Manto. LaRoche also brings terrific D to a team that in recent years has seen the likes of iron gloves Randall Simon and Craig Wilson.
NEEDS FIXING Salomon Torres is durable (he had 94 appearances in '06), throws six pitches for strikes (including a filthy splitter) and closed with great success during the last four weeks of the season. So it's understandable that the Bucs traded Mike Gonzalez for LaRoche and gave the closer job to Torres. But he's 35 and has 17 career saves. And a scout who has seen the Pirates several times this spring says, "Torres is not up for this."
Chris Duffy's BA through Aug. 9 last season was .169. If he starts slowly
again, electric CF prospect Andrew McCutchen may arrive sooner than
Public enemy Kevin McClatchy is finally out as principal owner. Problem is, successor Robert Nutting has been a member of the Bucs brass since 2003, which means he's partly responsible for four of the team's 14 consecutive losing seasons.
"This is a good young team, but they still have holes and lack depth on the bench. Humberto Cota and Nate McLouth are both wasting roster spots, and maybe we could deal Tony Armas/Shawn Chacon/Jose Castillo before the deadline for some quality left-handed batting prospects. Wishful thinking."