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Five Questions: Pittsburgh Pirates

This week, Bucs Dugout manager Charlie Wilmoth and I swapped questions about the Pirates and Rockies as part of the series preview. I regret to say that we both ran over and posted SIX questions.

How dare we. 

The Rockies open a 4-game set with Pittsburgh today.

1. Clint Hurdle at the helm. In his time with the Rockies, I felt he was more a developmental manager than one who could shoulder actual expectations. How does he fit with the young Pirates?

Clearly, it's too early to tell, but he's much more dynamic than John Russell was. The fans have really taken to him, although a honeymoon period is typical with a new manager. (At the Bucs' winter carnival a few months ago, he really wowed them with his repeated use of the word "butt-thumping" and by talking about how he hated losing, which kind of tells you how early in the getting-to-know-you process we are.) The Pirates have also appeared to play fundamentally better baseball so far this season, but that's in a five-game sample.

2. Neil Walker/James McDonald: The Real Deal, or playing over their own heads?

Walker's power is legitimate, but last year he batted .296, and I have questions about whether he can hit for that kind of average on a consistent basis. If he doesn't, his rate stats will come down somewhat. Also, while he's a plus defensive third baseman, I'm not sure about his range at second. He deserves a pass for his defense there last season, since he was learning the position on the fly, but I'm not yet sure he has the quickness to play there long-term.

As for McDonald, one never knows with young pitchers, and he needs to work on being more efficient and pitching deeper into games. His stuff is excellent, however, and the strikeout rate he posted after arriving in Pittsburgh last year was no fluke.

3. What's the next step for Jose Tabata's development?

He already has good on-base ability and plays solid defense, so the next step is to develop more power. That will hopefully happen as he matures.

4. What's the ETA on Jameson Taillon?

The Pirates won't rush him, and they're holding him back in extended spring training right now so that he doesn't pitch too many innings this year. He'll head to Class A West Virginia in a few weeks or so, and we'll see how things go from there. It's tricky to predict if and when he'll arrive in the majors before he even makes his first professional pitch, but hopefully he'll pitch well and force the Pirates' hand sooner rather than later.

5. How long does Ryan Doumit wear the Pirates uniform?

The Pirates have been trying to trade him forever, but for some reason, no one is particularly interested in an injury-prone catcher who can't play defense and isn't good enough to start for the Pirates. Chris Snyder's recent injury provides Doumit with an excellent opportunity to show what he's got, and he has responded so far, making several good defensive plays already in the young season.

6. Where's the ceiling for Pedro Alvarez?

Mo Vaughn? David Ortiz? A star power hitter who finishes his career as a huge dude with no defensive value, basically. Alvarez looks likely to be a good major leaguer, but there are a wide spectrum of outcomes for his career. His conditioning will probably always be an issue, and he'll almost certainly wind up at first base at some point. Also, he has to work on controlling the strike zone. He'll always be a high-strikeout hitter, which is fine, but last year he had 119 strikeouts in 386 plate appearances. He's also very streaky and has long stretches where he looks lost at the plate, and hopefully this season (he has eight strikeouts in five games so far) doesn't mark the beginning of another one. I would much rather have a David Ortiz than, say, a Mark Reynolds.