March 12, 1996
March 12, 1996

Table of Contents
March 12, 1996

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Scouting Reports


Pirates pitching coach Ray Miller has a mantra: Work fast, throw
strikes, change speeds. His starters last year had their own
mantra: Allow base runners, remain wild, shower early. Subtract
All-Star southpaw Denny Neagle from the mix and Pittsburgh's
rotation finished 26-49 with a 5.27 ERA. That inauspicious bunch
is back for 1996, and Miller is going to demand that his be the
final word. "For the last two years we've been pretty patient,"
he says. "By now they know where the ballpark is and how to get
there. They have to step up."

This is an article from the March 12, 1996 issue

Manager Jim Leyland is counting on his club to be sound on the
mound after the team's nosedive of 1995, when the Bucs had their
worst winning percentage since 1986, his first season at Three
Rivers. "We were embarrassed," he says. "Anybody who wasn't
should have been." His strategy for this season is to ambush the
unsuspecting NL Central. "We'll just creep along, not make a lot
of noise and get to know each other," Leyland says. "I will
assure you this team will play the game the way it's supposed to
be played."

The same could not be said of the '95 Pirates, who were
uncharacteristically woeful in the glove department. General
manager Cam Bonifay tried to address that problem this
off-season with two key free-agent pickups. Centerfielder Mike
Kingery, a former Rocky, batted .296 over the past two years at
hitter-friendly Coors Field. Third baseman Charlie Hayes, who
spent last season with Philadelphia, may have an arm as true as
a campaign promise, but he is still an improvement over Jeff
King, who transfers to first. With King moving across the
infield, Orlando Merced won't have to shuttle between first base
and the outfield. Instead, he'll remain in right, the former
address of his onetime neighbor in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and at
29 he may well put up numbers that would have made Roberto
Clemente proud. Jay Bell should start at short for the eighth
straight Opening Day, matching Dick Groat's run at the position
from 1955 to '62. Bell has started slowly the past two years; he
hit .198 over the first 50 games of '95 but picked up to .297
the rest of the way.

After hitting .329 with six homers and 24 RBIs as a part-timer
during the second half of '95, Al Martin will be given a shot to
take over in left full time. Throw in the steadily improving
Carlos Garcia at second, and Leyland's offense will be able to
hold its own.

Which brings us back to the hill. Miller's choice for a
breakthrough candidate is the pitcher who seemed most broken in
'95. Righthander Paul Wagner lost 10 of his first 11 decisions
and permitted 13.8 base runners per nine innings. But he throws
hard and, on occasion, exceedingly well: Last Aug. 29 Wagner
nearly no-hit the Rockies, losing his bid with two out in the
ninth. As for the rest of the rotation, well, its members seem
more likely to start 1-10 than to flirt with a no-no. Miller
cites the quiet effectiveness of 6'7", 225-pound righty John
Ericks and the sweeping curveball of lefty Jason Christiansen
(who limited lefthanded batters to a .207 average) as hopeful
signs. But last year's Opening Day starter, Jon Lieber, wound up
spending most of the summer in Triple A Calgary, Alberta, and
promising righthander Esteban Loaiza exhibited little maturity
as a rookie.

If 1995 did yield one pitching star other than Neagle it was
closer Dan Miceli, who complements an above-average heater with
a knuckle-curve. Though Miceli surrendered 61 hits and 28 walks
in 58 innings, he also struck out 56 batters and converted 21 of
27 save opportunities.

The Pirates' fallow and callow pitching will keep them out of
contention this season, but the promises of the team's new
ownership bode well for the future. In February, Sacramento
newspaper heir Kevin McClatchy bought the financially troubled
Bucs for $90 million, pledging to pump money into the club and
to keep the franchise in Pittsburgh. One of the prime assets
McClatchy acquired in the deal is Leyland, the game's best
manager, who last October signed a contract extension through
2000 for close to $5 million.

"We want this to be a positive year," Leyland says. "We want the
fans to know we're better. From the beginning we're
better--before we even pick up a ball." Now if only he can
discover a few more people who know how to throw it.-H.H.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON (2) INSET [Varies by region] Denny Neagle Makes His Case as The Pirates' AceCOLOR PHOTO: GEORGE TIEDEMANN The speedy Martin will help the Bucs score runs, but there's no safe refuge for the porous pitching. [Al Martin in game]


1995 Team Statistics (NL rank in parentheses)

Batting Average .259(10)
Home Runs 125(8)
ERA 4.71(12)
Fielding Pct. .978(13)

Roller-coaster Ride

In 1986 the Pirates had the poorest record in the National
League; four years later, they had the league's best record. But
by 1995 the Bucs had once again fallen to the bottom of the NL
heap. Only one other team in major league history has achieved
the dubious feat of going from worst to first to worst in its
league in so short a time--the St. Louis Browns during the World
War II era.

Fastest Rise and Fall

Worst Best Worst Span
record record record

Browns 1939 1944 1947 9 seasons
Pirates 1986 1990 1995 10 seasons
Braves 1912 1914 1922 11 seasons
Mets 1983 1986 1993 11 seasons
Mets 1967 1969 1978 12 seasons
Phillies 1947 1950 1958 12 seasons
Twins 1982 1991 1995 14 seasons
Giants 1902 1904 1915 14 seasons


His impressive minor league numbers, his ability to make contact
with the bat and his skill at handling pitchers combined to make
rookie Jason Kendall a good preseason bet to start behind the
plate for Pittsburgh in 1996. The 21-year-old Kendall comes from
good catching stock: His father, Fred, was a major league
backstop for the Padres, Indians and Red Sox from 1969 to '80.
Selected by the Pirates in the first round of the 1992 draft out
of Torrance (Calif.) High, Kendall was named MVP of the Double A
Southern League last season. In 1,324 pro at bats, the six-foot,
170-pound righthanded hitter has struck out only 85 times and
has exhibited a bit more pop than his pop, who was a lifetime
.234 hitter. In four minor league seasons, the younger Kendall
hit .301 with 66 doubles.



CF Mike Kingery[*] .269, 8, 37, 13
SS Jay Bell .262, 13, 55, 2
LF Al Martin .282, 13, 41, 20
1B Jeff King .265, 18, 87, 7
RF Orlando Merced .300, 15, 83, 7
3B Charlie Hayes[*] .276, 11, 85, 5
2B Carlos Garcia .294, 6, 50, 8
C Jason Kendall (R) .326 BA in AA


OF Jacob Brumfield .271, 4, 26, 22
IF Nelson Liriano .286, 5, 38, 2
C Angelo Encarnacion .226, 2, 10, 1


LH Denny Neagle 13-8, 3.43
RH Paul Wagner 5-16, 4.80
RH John Ericks 3-9, 4.58
RH Esteban Loaiza 8-9, 5.16
LH Jason Christiansen 1-3, 4.15


RH Dan Miceli 21, 4.66
LH Dan Plesac 3, 3.58
RH Jon Lieber 0, 6.32
RH Danny Darwin[*] 0, 7.62

[*] New acquisition (R) Rookie