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In need of a quick start, BP’s top 10, and the Cards have concerns?

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SOUTH HILLS – Some good news as we recover from winter storm Nika. (What’s with the storm names?). The Pirates’ equipment truck left for Bradenton this morning. Pitchers and catchers will not be far behind. While so much of the hot stove focus has centered on roster construction and on player acquisition – pretend or real – I wanted to take a quick look at something else today.

One thing that stands out about the schedule, to  me, is the Pirates might be in need of a quick start.

The Pirates play five more home games (43-38) in the first of the season than the second. The second-half road-home imbalance really shifts in the pivotal month of September when Pirates play just nine home games and 17 road games. That’s a brutal stretch especially when considering 13 of those road games are against 2013 playoff teams (Reds, Cardinals, Braves) and the Pirates also host the defending World Champion Red Sox.

So, yes, the Pirates could be in particular need of a quick start in 2014 and some cushion entering September.

The Pirates improved their roster as the season went along in 2013. Francisco Liriano came off the DL in may. The club called up Gerrit Cole in June, who improved throughout the year. They added Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau at the Aug. 31 deadline. The Pirates might need to similar improvement to weather a second half that shapes up as more challenging than the first half.

 

BP’S TOP TEN 

The last significant Pirates’ top 10 prospect list was released today as Baseball Prospectus unveiled its  list (subscription required) and dubbed the Pirates as a “top-three system.” Recall, Baseball America ranked the Pirates’ system No. 1.

Here’s the list:

1. RHP Jameson Taillon

Taillon was once ranked 8th overall by BP and has slipped to 19th, though that also speaks to the influx of young talented that has emerged in the game. BP gives Taillon’s pitches grades of a 7 fastball, 6+ curve and 5 CH. The changeup grade is an improvement and remember much of the focus last season was for Taillon to develop that changeup. The ceiling has come down, the floor has come up — but there’s still No. 2 starter potential here.

From the BP annual: “A half grade improvement in command could mean a big jump in production.”

2. OF Gregory Polanco

From the BP annual: “The bat comes with torque and leverage, regularly producing hard contact particularly from the middle out, where he can get fully extended. There are some holes on the inner half  … He has the physical tools to project to center.”

3. RHP Tyler Glasnow

BP: “Glasnow sat in the mid-90s with his fastball but he’ll have to command it better against better competition. His curveball flashse plus and he could have an average changeup but that has a long way to go.”

4. C Reese McGuire

Jason Parks shares my enthusiasm for McGuire and I like this aggressive ranking.

BP: “McGuire has the skill-set to develop into the top all-around catching prospect in the game: plus potential with the glove with a bat is stronger than you might think. … If it weren’t for his having only 50 professional games he’d be even higher.”

5. RF Josh Bell

6. RHP Nick Kingham 

7. OF Austin Meadows

From Parks’ top 101 prospect chat: “When I’ve put eyes on Meadows, I’ve been impressed with his athleticism and physical profile, but his plan at the plate and swing never did much for me. I get the short-season results, and I’m not discounting production. But I don’t see a CF profile from Meadows, and I don’t see Frazier-like bat speed either, so the profile is a little light for me. He’s still a top 101 player in a very loaded talent class, so its not like I’m suggesting he’s a bust or a fringe-prospect.”

8. SS Alen Hanson

Did not make BP’s top 101

9. RHP Luis Heredia

10. OF Harold Ramirez

 

DO THE CARDINALS HAVE ANY WEAKNESSES?

St. Louis Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz examines if the Cardinals’ have any concerns entering 2014. In summary, while the Cardinals are a heavy favorite in the NL Central, the Cards do have some question marks thought about as few as any team in baseball.

CLUTCHNESS 

The 2013 Cardinals were able to lead the NL in runs despite scoring only 26.05 percent of those runs on homers, a major-league low. All it took was a mess of doubles (an NL-leading 322) and a record-setting performance (.330 average) when batting with runners in scoring position. That included a .305 mark with RISP and two outs. 

Good luck repeating that. The Cardinals’ No. 1 threat is simply RISP regression, imo.

WHAT JHONNY SHOWS UP?

 Last season Cardinals shortstops combined for a .280 onbase percentage and .303 slugging percentage _ and that .583 OPS was the third-lowest from the Cards’ SS position since 1974. So no matter how Peralta hits, he’ll be an upgrade from 2013. Peralta has never had an OPS under .689 for a full big-league season.

But the Cardinals didn’t give Peralta four years and $53 million for a nominal uptick in offense at shortstop, and Peralta has been inconsistent during his career. Just look at his OPS numbers, in order, over the last three seasons: .824 in 2011, .689 in ’12; and .815 last season.

You know my feelings on Peralta.

SOPHOMORE JINX

The 2014 Cardinals will once again rely on a lot of young players, and their initial success doesn’t always hold. Moreover, the the jump from the second season to the third can be just as challenging as the graduation from the rookie season to Year Two.

Matt Carpenter is good but he’s probably not THAT good. Not every young arm will replicate its performance. Remember, the Cardinals are actually younger than the Pirates which is both scary for Western Pennsylvania and perhaps could result in some sophomore regression.

– TS

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