Mar 13, 2013; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin (55) reacts after being called out on a play at the plate to end the bottom of the third inning of a spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates Season Preview: Looking at the catchers

As the Pittsburgh Pirates prepare for the 2013 season in an attempt to put an end to their streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons, it’s time to begin our preview here at City of Champions Sports as we take a look at the Bucs position-by-position.

I will start today with the catchers.

Mar 13, 2013; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin (55) against the Toronto Blue Jays during a spring training game at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates “big” offseason move was to acquire Russell Martin, as they desperately needed to upgrade to 2012 combination of Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry.

Here’s a look at what to expect from the Pirates catchers in 20013.

Starter: Russell Martin

Martin hit just .211 with the New York Yankees a season ago, but the Pirates gave the veteran backstop a two-year, $15 million deal, which sadly is the largest free agent contract the Pirates have ever dished out.

He will be a positive influence in the clubhouse and with the Pirates’ pitching staff and hopefully can do a better job controlling the running game than last year’s duo.

In terms of production, I’m sure Martin will hit for a higher average with the Pirates, but I wouldn’t expect him to come close to his career-high 21 homers from last season. Overall though he will prove to be a big upgrade, something the Bucs need badly.

2013 Projections: .240 AVG/.333 OBP/ .430 SLG/ 15 HR/ 60 RBI

Backup: Michael McKenry

The Fort was kept on the roster last year because of his bat, but he was exposed in a big way having to play in 88 games a season ago, something that with Martin aboard hopefully won’t happen this year.

McKenry got off to a good start and became a fan favorite, hitting .316 with six homers and 20 RBI combined in the months of June and July. But when it mattered, it was back to reality for McKenry. The Fort hit only .237 in August and dipped to .167 in September. He also struck out 73 times in only 240 at bats last season.

More disturbing though is McKenry’s defense, which has regressed in a big way. That includes the inability to throw the ball to second base consistently, much less throw runners out.

Hopefully McKenry won’t have to be used as much this season and his bat can get him a start a week, maybe two. But if that bat isn’t there, the Bucs will have to look to upgrade the backup catcher spot. There are worse No. 2 catchers in baseball than McKenry, but he still has to show something to prove he belongs in the big leagues. Right now the backup catcher spot is one glaring weakness on this team.

2013 Projections: .230/.305/.375/10/33

February 28, 2013; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez (59) works out prior to the game against the Boston Red Sox at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Prospect to Watch: Tony Sanchez

Sanchez looked good in spring training, but with the Martin signing he really had no chance to make the team. However if Sanchez performs well in Triple-A it may be impossible not to promote him. I know Clint Hurdle likes McKenry, but if his struggles continue, it will be hard not to imagine Sanchez up in his place sometime in the summer.

The former first-round pick has shown that he is much better defensively and if he continues to progress with the bat, Sanchez will make his long awaited MLB debut this summer.

My Prediction

Despite last year’s numbers I think Martin rebounds nicely and plays a major role in whatever success the Pirates will have in 2013. I also believe that they won’t get much more than they have already gotten from The Fort. Although it may be the unpopular decision, if the goal is to win then you have to do so with the best talent. With that being said, I can see Sanchez getting a call around June or July providing he performs well in Triple-A. If he doesn’t then the Bucs will be fine with what they have in Martin and McKenry. On paper at least they are better at the position than they were a season ago.

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Tags: Michael McKenry Pittsburgh Pirates Russell Martin Tony Sanchez

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