Pittsburgh Pirates: Final Thoughts on Spring Training

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Editorial: The Pittsburgh Pirates are heading North.  In just a few days, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be taking on the Boston Red Sox and the 2017 season will be underway.

Spring Training is always viewed as too long or not that important.  Furthermore, this year’s Spring Training was even longer.  With the World Baseball Classic, teams reported earlier than usual to help get their players reps with their respected teams before taking off for the World Tournament.  Due to this, many Major League ball clubs were able to get extended looks at some of their role players and prospects.  As much as Spring Training performance does not matter for a player like Gerrit Cole or Andrew McCutchen, there obviously is a lot of important things teams can take out of the preparation period.

McCutchen to Right

There were two big stories heading into Spring Training for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The first point of intrigue was the question on how Andrew McCutchen would translate to right field.  Albeit it has been a small sample size, McCutchen seems relatively comfortable in right field already.  There were no glaring mistakes by him for the Pirates or in the WBC.  This was a bigger story than it was needed to be.  McCutchen is a natural athlete, and one who has played the outfield his whole life.  A player of his abilities should not have difficulty in changing positions, especially going from center field to right field.  The only remaining question about McCutchen in right is how he will handle the Clement Wall, something he did not get to experience at Spring Training.

5th Rotation Spot

The second story to follow was who would earn the fifth rotation spot.  Heading into Spring, it seemed last summer’s trade acquisition Drew Hutchison would be the frontrunner.  Early on this Spring, Hutchison seemed to be locking the spot down.  He was pitching effectively, and he has major league experience.  Meanwhile, the other options like Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault, and Trevor Williams are younger and seemed destined for Triple-A, barring any dramatic change.

Well, there was a dramatic change.  Hutchison started to get crushed on the mound, and his Spring earned run average jumped just above 10 by the end of the exhibition season.  Hutchison was given one last chance to impress against the Boston Red Sox on the 28th.  However, he did the complete opposite, coughing up nine runs on ten hits in just 3.2 innings.  Essentially, he “put the nail in his own coffin” as far as the fifth starter’s spot is concerned.  As much as some people will say Spring Training does not matter, Hutchison’s poor spring directly correlates with him being optioned to Triple-A.

Hutchison Demoted

Just days before the Hutchison demotion, another starting pitcher was sent down also.  Steven Brault, who pitched relatively well this Spring, was optioned to Triple-A.  The lefty had good numbers, having a 3.45 ERA in 15.2 innings pitched.  However, like last season, Brault seemed to become much less effective as he pitched deeper into his games.  With him and Hutchison being sent down, this seems to clear the path for Tyler Glasnow to slide into the fifth spot of the rotation.  Although, Trevor Williams was fantastic yesterday, punching out six hitters in four innings of scoreless ball.  With that being said, Glasnow has yet to be optioned and it would seem unlikely for the Pirates to continue to keep him around this late into Spring.

Release of Jared Hughes

The last important note to come out of Spring Training is the release of Jared Hughes.  It feels odd to say, after all, he has been an important piece of the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen for years now.  Unfortunately for Hughes, it was a long time coming.  Over the last season or so, Hughes has not been the same pitcher.  Last year, the sinker baller was giving up home runs at a rate of 2.3 percent.  He also saw his FIP and XFIP climb in the high fours.  As the 2016 season went on, he improved some, but he was still not very good.

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Nevertheless, the Pittsburgh Pirates still offered Hughes arbitration this off-season and settled at $2.8 million.  Maybe the staff thought he would bounce back, but his Spring suggested otherwise, as his ERA was over eleven in ten appearances.  The Pirates made the decision that they would be better off giving someone who was younger, cheaper, and quite frankly, more deserving a chance.  So once again, the “pointless” Spring Training numbers helped make a roster decision.


Other positives from Spring Training was the amount of experience the prospects received.  The Pittsburgh Pirates staff and fan base got an extended look at Austin Meadows.  Meadows had a strong Spring and definitely showed why he is highly touted.  Meanwhile, pitchers like Nick Kingham and Clay Holmes got to make several appearances.  These two very well could make their big league debuts this season, especially Kingham. Fans got a chance to see what they can expect from them before they come up.

Improving Stock

Spring Training is long, yes.  However, it is not completely irrelevant.  At the end of the day, a team’s record does not suggest anything about the 2017 season.  The same can not be said for player’s stats.  Before Spring Training, Jose Osuna was not well-known and was going to start the year in Triple-A.  Yes, he still going to start the year in Triple-A, but he stuck around longer than many expected because he was impressing.  Osuna could be one of the first corner bats called up when an injury occurs, over Jason Rogers?

Next: Player Ratings in the Show

So yes, the numbers could be irrelevant for the team or players like Marte and Cole. On the other hand, for players battling to make the roster, the numbers are very relevant.  Now, Spring Training is over, and whether you liked it or hated it, it does not matter any longer, the regular season is upon us.  Go Bucs!