COMMENTARY | The Pittsburgh Pirates are ready to break camp and head north into an uncertain forecast for the 2013 season. Coming off two consecutive late-season collapses, fans are hungrier than ever for a winning product on the diamond.
But just what will they see April 1 when the team trots out to a sold-out crowd at PNC Park against the Chicago Cubs?
Here is the Pirates' projected opening-day lineup, according to MLB.com:
Marte is about to embark on his first full major-league season and management clearly expects a productive debut for the 24-year-old left fielder. His spring-training performance shows why manager Clint Hurdle has confidence: Marte hit for a .315 average with four stolen bases and three triples in 19 games this spring. But he'll have to get on base more during the season if he hopes to keep his role as leadoff hitter. He had 50 strikeouts and only 8 walks last year in 167 at-bats.
It's not on every team you'll see the catcher batting second, but that's where he's projected to bat, according to MLB.com. It's an odd move, considering Martin batted to a .211 average last year. At the very least, he can't be worse than Rod Barajas. Can he?
3. Andrew McCutchen
The undisputed leader of the team and the most talented player on the roster, it will be hard for Cutch to exceed his numbers from last year. Hitting .327 and blasting 31 home runs is no easy task. Will the center fielder continue his trend of improving every year? It could mean great things for the club if he does.
4. Pedro Alvarez
It's no secret that the third baseman has struggled mightily in the cleanup spot previously, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him actually hit fifth or sixth in the lineup to start the year. But the power potential is there to warrant serious consideration for a season-long stint at the four spot. El Toro blasted 30 home runs last year, but he also fanned 180 times. Which Alvarez will prevail this season?
5. Neil Walker
Walker will again be the anchor at second base that he's been the past several seasons. But injuries have cut his playing time short, as he missed 33 games last year. But when he's healthy, he's consistent. Expect another season of hovering around the .280 mark in terms of batting average.
6. Gaby Sanchez/Garrett Jones
Both of these players will start the season in a platoon at first base. Jones can't hit lefties to save his life, but the Cubs are expected to put righty Jeff Samardzija on the mound on opening day. Regardless, both players provide an opportunity for plentiful power, and it wouldn't be surprising to see either hit further up in the lineup later in the season.
7. Travis Snider
Snider was one of the highest ranking prospects in baseball when the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him with the 14th overall pick in 2006. Things haven't exactly panned out yet for the left fielder, who's never played more than 82 games in a season. He'll get a shot this year to prove that he belongs as an everyday player.
8. Clint Barmes
Barmes will likely bat in the eighth spot all year because there's simply nowhere else to put him. A solid defensive player at shortstop, Barmes' talents don't necessarily translate to the bat. He hasn't hit above a .245 average since 2008, and only hit .229 last year. He is durable and not likely to miss a ton of games. He again likely won't have many opportunities for home runs or big hits with his spot so far down in a shaky lineup.
9. A.J. Burnett
Burnett will toe the mound on opening day for the first time in his long career. He won 16 games last year and pitched to a .351 earned run average. He'll have to be the staff ace if the Pirates plan on contending this year.
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB.com on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
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