Sunday, April 3, 2016
Pittsburgh Pirates Preview
Pittsburgh will be counting on players that out-performed pedigree last year and on doing their typical revitalization of arms that have moved on from other stops...
The Pirates start behind the plate with the return of Francisco Cervelli,who hit a surprising .296 last season.
Elias Diaz arrives in Pittsburgh to get his feet wet once he returns from elbow issues with vagabond vet Chris Stewart as the backup mitts.
Pittsburgh will try to replace the power bat of Pedro Alvarez with a hodge podge of John Jaso,Michael Morse and David Freese at first base.
Freese will start the season at third until Jung Ho Kang returns in later April and then slide into the platoon spot.
Not sure how I feel about that ,but the team is hoping to buy enough time for Josh Bell to arrive from AAA Indianapolis.
With the trade of Neil Walker to the Mets Josh Harrison moves from the super-sub role to the full timer at second base.
Steady Jordy Mercer will man shortstop with Pedro Florimon and Sean Rodriguez as the keystone backups.
Jason Rogers was acquired from the Brewers and will see time at third and first.
Editor's Note:The team sent Rogers to Indianapolis and designated Florimon for assignment after I wrote this preview.
Cole Figueroa made the team and will fill the same role.
The outfield ranks with the best in the game with Andrew McCutchen,Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco.
All three are plus defenders and on normal teams could play center with the range that they possess.
McCutchen has become a perennial All-Star performer and Marter might have had a better 2015 than McCutchen.
Polanco still has some things to prove,but has the talent to rank with the other two flychasers.
Matt Joyce has made the team as a pinch hitter and Michael Morse along with Sean Rodriguez can occasionally spell someone that needs a day off....
The pitching staff still has some questions with the rotation.
Gerrit Cole won 19 games and finished with an ERA well under three (2.60) and struck out over 200 batters.
Cole is certainly capable of being the ace that all teams lust after,
Francisco Liriano won twelve games with an ERA of 3.38,but has never thrown more than 200 innings in a season and has a history of injuries.
Liriano is skilled,but his track record makes one a little concerned about a rotation relying on him at its top.
The rotation quality dips quickly after the two top hurlers.
Former Hagerstown Sun Jon Niese was the return in the Neil Walker trade and the Pirates hope that Ray Searage can work his magic with retread pitchers with Niese.
The lefty went 9-10 last season with the Mets and has a career record of exactly .500 (61-61).
Jeff Locke returns with after a pedestrian 8-11 (ERA at 4.49) at one spot and free agent addition Juan Nicasio will be another challenge for Searage as the career reliever will start the season in the rotation.
The hope is that the Pirates will be able to get enough from Locke and/or Nicasio to get them to the summer where perhaps someone from the talent laden Indianapolis rotation might be ready supplant one or both of them..
Mark Melancon is back as the closer after a dominant 51 save 2015.
Melancon was rumored to be trade bait over the winter and still could be,if the Pirates stumble this season.
If Melancon goes on the market,the team could get a deadline bounty in return for the righthander.
Tony Watson will be the lefty setup man and Jared Hughes will be the righty version,although Hughes will start the season on the DL with a lat strain.
After that,there are questions.
Pittsburgh once again will lean on Ray Searage to attempt to revive a career-this time,it's the formerly almost unhittable Neftali Feliz,who posted an ERA of over six last year.
Arquimedes Caminero was decent last season after being added from Florida and the Pirates have collected three veterans to be the long relievers and stand-by starting possibilities in Kyle Lobstein,Ryan Vogelsong and Corey Luebke.
All are far from sure bets,but if I had to wager on one to bet on,I'd go with Luebke as an intriguing option.
Prediction? I think the Pirates could take a small step back this year,but I still think they can make a run at a wild card spot.
The back of the rotation is a concern and the corner infield positions could do wonders for contention hopes with some unexpected production.
I'm going to hope to get the Indians and Giants previews finished soon as well.....