Do the Pittsburgh Pirates have the most depth in the Central?


It’s taken time, but somewhat quietly, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ front office has assembled a team that has incredible depth on the big league roster – making them perennial contenders for a postseason berth.

Now, it’s up to Clint Hurdle‘s team to convert that contender mentality into a National League Central division title – something the Steel City has not seen since 1992. The last two years have culminated in a pair of second-place finishes, but the streak has now stretched to 23 years since the Pirates raised the Jolly Roger over the rest of the division.

However, with the likes of Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett back in the mix in the starting rotation and countless solid bench options behind a formidable starting nine – this year’s team could be ready to make that leap in a very competitive NL Central.

Could this year be the year the Pirates bring home the first division title since 1992?

Pedro Alvarez, who served as the team’s primary third baseman in recent years, is expected to open the year as the starting first baseman – a role that may better suit him – both offensively and defensively. After an All-Star caliber 2013 season in which he clubbed 36 home runs and drove in 100 runs, he took a step backward last year, hitting just 18 long-balls and driving in just 56 runs.

A shift across the diamond keeps his potentially impactful bat in the lineup, while freeing up space for  Josh Harrison at third base. Last year Harrison, who finished ninth in the National League MVP voting, was a star for the Pirates. He batted .315/.347/.490 for Pittsburgh, adding 18 stolen bases to go along with 13 home runs and 38 doubles to pace the offense.

Playing six positions, Harrison posted a .984 fielding percentage to go along with a 9 Rdrs – only furthering his value on a daily basis. When you complete the infield with some combination of hometown hero Neil Walker, Jordy Mercer and Korean slugger Jung-ho Kang – to say the team is set up the middle is a complete understatement.

To be sure, the loss of Russell Martin is a major one. However, the money saved is a plus and the other options – namely Francisco Cervelli – are formidable. With an especially strong free agent class next season, it will be interesting to see if the front office spends more freely with the team contending on an annual basis.

Leading the charge in the outfield is the face of the franchise, Andrew McCutchen. The 28-year-old center fielder has finished in the top three in the National League MVP voting in each of the last three seasons – including a third-place finish last year when he led the league with a .410 on-base percentage en route to another NL Wild Card berth. Flanked by the likes of Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, the team’s outfield is definitely among the most talented in the entire league.

Apart from the starters, the team has several dependable bench options – which really separates this club from the rest of the division. Adding Corey Hart, a former Milwaukee Brewers slugger, backs up Alvarez with another option (not to mention Andrew Lambo) at first base, while Sean Rodriguez and whoever loses out in the Kang-Mercer-Walker battle provide depth up the middle.

It’s hard to imagine a team with more depth than this year’s Pirates club. And it may very well be that it is that depth that gives the Steel City its first division crown in over two decades.

Next: The Pirates should extend Andrew McCutchen