In his Sunday column, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Dejan Kovacevic had a one-on-one interview with Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle. In the column, Kovacevic goes on to say how the team still has Hurdle’s back despite the back-to-back late season collapses. In order to ensure that the players know that Hurdle has their back as well, he is doing something that very few – if any – other coaches/managers do it sports.
“Near the end of this spring training, Hurdle will ask his players to vote on what he’s calling a “leadership group.” It could be a couple of guys but not too many. It almost certainly will be fronted by clear team leader A.J. Burnett — “Obviously, A.J. has a very important role to play,” Hurdle said — but probably not as a hockey-style captain, a la Derek Jeter with the Yankees. That will be up to the players.
Whoever it is, that group will meet with Hurdle twice a month — in his office — with only one charge from the man behind the desk.”
A leadership group?
It’s a unique idea and one that I personally like.
From being around the Pirates last year from April until October, you could see the clubhouse was a tight group. There were many leaders on different levels. The vocal kind, the kind that led by example and the combination of both.
So with Hurdle implementing the leadership group, which players will serve on it?
Hurdle doesn’t want the group to be that big. Just three or four players tops. While it’s the players that vote on it, here are the four I would name to be in the leadership group:
1. A.J. Burnett – This is a gimme pick. Burnett emerged as one of the leaders on the team despite being a new guy in the clubhouse last February. The 36-year-old veteran is in the last year of his contract, but has embraced Pittsburgh as his own – as much if not more – as Pittsburgh has embraced him as their own. From his “Sit the F**k Down” stare to Hanley Ramirez, to coming an inning away from a no-hitter, to the multiple standing ovations he received coming off the field, Burnett is the leader of the Pittsburgh Pirates. There’s no denying that.
2. Andrew McCutchen – While Burnett is the vocal leader of the Pirates, McCutchen remains the face of the franchise and arguably one of the biggest faces of baseball around the league. McCutchen finished third in MVP voting last year and is only getting better each year. During the off-season, I talked to Cutch and he described himself as the type of leader who lets his play on the field do the talking for him, but isn’t afraid to speak up if he has to. This became evident against the Cincinnati Reds when Aroldis Chapman drilled him with a pitch just under 100 miles per hour. McCutchen was in rare form in the dugout as he was seen throwing things and verbally lashing out. I can say very comfortably that every player in the Pirates clubhouse – including the veterans – look up to McCutchen and he’s another guarantee to be in the leadership group.
3. Neil Walker – He’s from Pittsburgh so he has to be in the group right? Take away his roots and he’d still be there. Walker has battled adversity since being drafted by the Pirates and has emerged as one of the top second basemen in the game. Walker has fun in the clubhouse and keeps the team loose. When it comes down to brass tax however, Walker means business. He’s been around the team just about as long as anyone and knows what it takes to win. If you want to throw in the Pittsburgh roots, he knows how much a winning team would mean to this city.
4. Jason Grilli – The former No. 4 overall pick has had a career full of up and downs. After an injury that should have injured his career, Grilli told me he’s making the most of his second chance and finally feels like he’s the player he was supposed to be when he was drafted. He’s finally getting his chance to shine this year as he’ll take over the closing duties thanks to the trade of Joel Hanrahan. Grilli, like Burnett, is a vocal leader and let’s his play speak for itself. Grill has been there before and has overcome adversity numerous times. As another veteran presence, Grilli has to be included.
Garrett Jones – Jones is the longest tenured Pirate after all.
Clint Barmes – Despite a bad season, Barmes is a leader. No one was more upset with the season he had more than he was. He knows what it takes to win and is an unquestionable leader in the clubhouse.
Michael McKenry – The Fort will be the backup once again this year, but he’s as loose as they come in the clubhouse. He’s very similar to Walker when it comes to his leadership abilities.
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