Sep. 23, 2016
Pittsburgh Pirates Preview
With the third team in the National League Central, I will be previewing the Pittsburgh Pirates, who, by in large had the most disappointing season of any team in the National League. After finishing with the second best record in baseball in 2015, the Pirates struggled to reach .500, and thus brought about trade rumors involving MVP CF Andrew McCutchen. Now, McCutchen is still in Pittsburgh, but if they don't find a way back to contention soon, he might be gone by the trade deadline. Pittsburgh has a solid farm system, but they need to move now before a franchise cornerstone finds his way elsewhere.
PROJECTED ROTATION: Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl, Tyler Glasnow
Among starting rotations in baseball, this is definitely one of the youngest, as three of these pitchers were either rookies last season or still have rookie status. Along with that, ace Gerrit Cole is still well under team control, and he is the other franchise player on this Pittsburgh roster. Ivan Nova was a good re-signing to allow the rotation depth to not be solely ruled by a youth movement, and he is a reliable pitcher as well. It's unclear at the moment whom of Taillon, Kuhl and Glasnow will have the best season next year, although Taillon might have had the best season of all Pirates' starters in 2016. Drew Hutchinson, Steven Brault and Trevor Williams are all fighting for a starting job.
BULLPEN: Tony Watson (CL), Daniel Hudson, Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, Antonio Bastardo, Jared Hughes, AJ Schugel
Having to trade away closer Mark Melancon at the deadline last year was rough for Pittsburgh, but Tony Watson has shown that he is a very good reliever. He struggled with his save percentage, but after getting the initial stretch under his belt it's conceivable he will calm down. If not, Daniel Hudson had a great season in relief in Arizona, and Felipe Rivero is no slouch either. Nicasio, Bastardo and Hughes are all average, middle inning relievers, and AJ Schugel had a solid stretch last year as well. Tyler Webb, Wade LeBlanc, Dovydas Neverauskas and Lisalverto Bonilla are all competing to make the pitching staff as well.
CATCHERS: Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart
Francisco Cervelli is nothing more than an average catcher, and Chris Stewart is an average backup. Losing Russell Martin in free agency a few years back now still hurts this team, but turning to Cervelli instead didn't cause this team to fall very far in 2015. The ninth best prospect in this talented farm system, Elias Diaz, is on his way up from the minors and should arrive in 2017.
INFIELDERS: Jung Ho Kang, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Josh Bell, David Freese, Alen Hanson
It seems to me like all of the great prospects of the Pittsburgh farm system are coming up at once, and that holds true with 1B Josh Bell and middle infielder Alen Hanson. With All-Star Josh Harrison and a very serviceable shortstop in Jordy Mercer, finding playing time won't be that easy for Hanson, but nothing is in the way of Bell for starting off the season in the lineup. Third base is a battle between the troubled Kang and the resurgent David Freese, and I'd expect to see a good amount of Freese at first as well. Outfielder John Jaso can play first base as well.
OUTFIELDERS: Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, John Jaso, Adam Frazier
A lot of people recognize this outfield as, at minimum, a top five unit in all of baseball, and with a healthy and productive McCutchen it could be the best. Along with McCutchen, Marte and Polanco are five tool players who have All-Star potential as well, and both can provide an enormous impact on any game on any given outing. Jaso is a 1B/OF type, and likely will be best suited in pinch-hitting situations. Adam Frazier is the fifth outfielder for now, but number two prospect Austin Meadows is not far away from the major leagues.
LINEUP: Harrison (2B), Polanco (RF), McCutchen (CF), Marte (LF), Bell (1B), Kang (3B), Mercer (SS), Cervelli (C)
There are still a few holes on the roster, for instance the rotation is incredibly young and inexperienced. Catcher is also a bit of a weakness, but there are more pressing matters at hand, and the closer's job is up for grabs with no real obvious takers at the position. I respect this Pirates organization, but with how good the Cubs and Cardinals look right now, along with the Giants and Dodgers in the West, it's hard to put Pittsburgh in the postseason. I think they will fight for the second wild card spot, and I think they will get 88 wins, but I'm not sure if that will be enough.