Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 vs. 2017 Part 1: The offense

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Pittsburgh Pirates
Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

The Infield

Projected Starters:

C: Francisco Cervelli 

1B: Josh Bell

2B: Josh Harrison

3B: Jung Ho-Kang/David Freese

SS: Jordy Mercer

Starting at the catcher position, the Pirates should be in good shape. Although Francisco Cervelli’s approval rating among the yinzer faithful may not be as high as it was back in 2015, #29 can still get the job done. The cheerful little man gets on base at a better rate than perhaps any other Bucco, and although his ability to throw out base runners is not anywhere near the level of his predecessor Russel Martin, Cervelli makes up for a lot of that with his ability to frame pitches (which still is not as good as Martin’s, but pretty solid). Cervelli’s 2016 was marred by injury and lack of power, and as long as he can stay reasonably healthy, I expect Fransisco to have an improved 2017, which would involved hitting more than one home run.

Over at the keystone sack, the situation in 2017 is astronomically better than that of a year ago. Last season, the Pirates started spring with a first base battle between Mike Morse and John Jaso. This year, first base looks to be Josh Bell’s oyster. Bell is possibly the best hitting prospect the Pirates have had since a guy named Barry Lamar Bonds came along, and that, of course, is a reason to get psyched. It is true that Bell has not yet proven himself to be a competent defender at first, so that is a concern. Hopefully, the work that he has put in starting this past winter and into spring will translate into significant improvement defensively. Barring injury, Bell’s offense alone should make him a major upgrade over Jaso, who, by the way, is still with the club and could be a clutch bat off the bench.

The situation at second base is somewhat tricky. It is a case of what Clint Hurdle should do vs. what he is going to do. What Hurdle should do is platoon the right-handed Josh Harrison with the left-handed Adam Frazier. Although Harrison is a franchise mainstay, he is also in decline, at least offensively, especially against right-handed pitching. Frazier, on the other hand, is a fresh face who impressed in a small sample size as a rookie last season, and in my opinion, he deserves some more reps. Although a platoon would make sense, Hurdle seems to love Jay-Hay, and will likely stick with the veteran for that reason.
At shortstop, Jordy Mercer is back, and as long as #10 keeps playing solid defense and gets his OBP back up to where it was through the first half of 2016, he should be in good shape.

At third base, a lot is riding on whatever happens with Jung-Ho Kang and that fiasco. Yes, Kang is technically “free” from his DUI mishap, at least as far as professional baseball is concerned. However, the off-the-field issues have kept Kang from participating in spring camp, and that may cause him to not be ready to start come Opening Day. For however long Kang is out,  David Freese is in, and Freese will provide rock solid defense and a clutch bat to fill Kang’s void. Although Kang is clearly the Pirates best option at 3rd base as far as upside goes, it will be intriguing to see how Kang’s mishaps will affect him on the field.

Now that I have broken down the projected Bucco infield, here is my prediction for each indivudial position compared to where it was at this point in 2016.

Catcher: Improved

First Base: Much improved

Second Base: Stagnant 

Third Base: ?????

Shortstop: Stagnant/Slightly improved