The offseason is almost over and the spring is almost here and pitchers and catchers report in less than a week. To me and many of us, this is the best time of the year. The Pittsburgh Pirates will embark on a very important season.
I’ve had some thoughts on the upcoming season and I thought I would share them with all of you.
I. What I’m Most Looking Forward To This Spring
Without question, I am looking forward to seeing the few battles on the roster and who steps up and who fades into oblivion. Quite simply, this is a make or break season for Pedro Alvarez, Andrew Lambo and Tony Sanchez. I would love to see Lambo have a coming out party this season like Josh Harrison last season and take over the 1B position full time allowing the Pirates to DFA Alvarez. Unfortunately, for as much hope as I had for Pedro when we drafted him, he is clearly not going to become the player we hoped he would, at least not consistently. Another battle involves the newest Pirate Jeong-ho Kang and how he will fare in his first taste of Major League Baseball. Will Kang be able to fit right in and start producing from Day 1 or will he need some time to adjust but slowly start to pick up steam as the season goes along? Does Kang have any shot of becoming a starter breaking camp? I’d say no because he will go through an adjustment period and where exactly would he start? Shortstop? Doubtful because the Pirates do like Jordy Mercer and dependent on what happens with Neil Walker in the next year, the thought could be for Kang or Mercer to take over 2nd base.
With the knowledge that A.J. Burnett came back for one more season and a chance at the World Series, most “experts” now predicting the Pirates as a contender finishing 1st or 2nd in the division
II. All Eyes Are On….
In my opinion, all eyes have to be on Gregory Polanco. With the Pirates trading away Travis Snider, they have cleared the way for Polanco to start in right field immediately. Any struggles Polanco had towards the end of the 2014 season will need to be figured out throughout the spring as he does not want to lose his job to Lambo or Corey Hart. If Polanco can start hitting consistently and with power, the Pirates will definitely have the best outfield in all of baseball. If Polanco struggles, he could be sent back down to AAA for a bit of time to re-discover his swing but I’m willing to bet that he uses the Spring to make some adjustments and come out firing.
III. Early Season Prediction
I touched on this in our recent bold predictions piece, but let me go more in depth Everything in me SCREAMS the Pirates are due for a complete let-down type of year. With the knowledge that A.J. Burnett came back for one more season and a chance at the World Series, most “experts” now predicting the Pirates as a contender finishing 1st or 2nd in the division. However, other teams have made huge strides this off-season. Look no further than the Chicago Cubs as a team who should greatly improve over previous seasons. The San Diego Padres have gotten themselves in a much better place at this point to where all the “experts” are talking about them. However, with the knowledge of the past couple of seasons, the Pirates still trending upwards, a few key signings and continued maturation of players, I will predict the Pittsburgh Pirates to finish WAY beyond anything that internally tells me they will go backwards this year.
Here is a look at my NL Central Prediction as of today(2/13/15)
I have the Pirates winning 92 games and finally taking the division crown away from the St. Louis Cardinals. I feel with the rotation the Pirates have, the roster being mostly set from last year, the bench being deeper, the bullpen still being a huge positive for the team and the depth in the upper minors will boost this team up for a full season run. The Cardinals could still easily win the division, however, their depth in the upper minors worries me a little bit and the tragic loss of Oscar Tavares will hurt the team overall. The Cardinals did bring in Jason Heyward but you never know what you will get with him, much like we wonder with Pedro. The Cubs will be much improved but I still think some inexperience will hurt them early in the season before making a late season push that could fall just short. The Brewers I feel will both take some huge steps backward as they re-tool their team while the Reds could begin a full rebuild without the fans realizing it just yet.
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I will make my final season predictions just before the regular season begins so I will be interested to look back at how I feel now to how I will feel then and see if the predictions hold up.
There you have it, some thoughts going into Spring Training. I will be getting into my series on position by position analysis, predictions for each player on the roster and where the Pirates could turn to next if someone were to get hurt or be ineffective.