A look at 10 questions surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates entering the 2018 season
As the Pittsburgh Pirates come together for their 50th-anniversary spring training in Bradenton, questions abound. As for the answers to those questions, only time can provide those- but we’ll give it our best shot. The next 6 weeks will go a long way toward clarifying many of the uncertainties facing this year’s team as they begin their journey back to competitiveness.
Can center fielder Starling Marte regain his pre-2017 form?
There’s no reason that Marte can’t return to the solid player that he was before his 80-game suspension for using PEDs. Marte spent the second half of 2017 shaking off the rust, and still performed decently, although not at the level we are accustomed to seeing from him. My money says he returns to pre-2017 form.
Will Polanco finally mature into his potential or morph into another Jose Tabata?
This one is tricky. Polanco’s hamstring gave him trouble for much of the second half of the season. Reports so far say that he has done much to better condition himself this off-season, so there is some validity that his level of commitment and responsibility has increased and should be taken seriously.
If you remove the injury problem, there is still some concern about his focus. He’s sometimes aloof and capable of bonehead mistakes such as poor baserunning. But again he is showing some maturity with his off-season work regimen. Obviously, something we never saw in Tabata (who is a free agent, by the way…).
Who will be the starting left fielder…?
Wow. Lots of possibilities here. Adam Frazier has proven that he can handle the position and he does a nice job hitting for average. They could even platoon Frazier with Jose Osuna and/or Sean Rodriguez.
Daniel Nava (signed to a minor league contract) is a switch hitter who also swings a nice bat. Jordan Luplow joined the club briefly in 2017, but he’s not ready to stay. Austin Meadows was close to making the jump before injuries sidelined him. And Bryan Reynolds, who the Pirates acquired from the Giants in the McCutchen trade, should be making a push if not later this season, then in 2019 for sure.
Knowing Clint Hurdle, they’ll probably go with the Frazier/Osuna or Rodriguez platoon and give the kids more time to develop.
…and third baseman?
Gotta think that Colin Moran is going to get his shot at the big leagues. He’s very highly regarded and would probably already be playing third base for the Astros were it not for Alex Bregman holding him back. Another option would be to move Josh Harrison to third and platoon Max Moroff and Sean Rodriguez at second. Pretty sure Moran will get the call.
Who will be the 5th starter?
The first four starters will be Jamison Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams. Battling for the 5th spot are Joe Musgrove, Steve Brault, and Tyler Glasnow. Musgrove is the heads-on favorite here if he can avoid sagging in his second and third trips through the batting rotation. Musgrove was money in the bullpen, however. Either way, he makes the big club. Brault will probably make the pen if Musgrove starts. Glasnow struggled against major league hitting and needs to work on his control at AAA. Look for him as an injury replacement or a late season call-up.
Which of the off-season acquisitions make an immediate contribution to the team?
As previously mentioned, third baseman Colin Moran and pitcher Joe Musgrove are likely to make the 25 man roster. Pitcher Kyle Crick and outfielder Daniel Nava should get a look later in the season. Outfielder Bryan Reynolds intrigues me the most. He’s labeled a very solid outfielder and he’s a switch-hitter with decent power. He seems destined to battle Austin Meadows for a spot in a year or two. Speaking of…
Can Austin Meadows overcome injuries to once again become the prospect everyone thought he was going to be?
My… lets hope so. Once the Pirates’ top prospect, Meadows has fallen in value due to time missed last season from injuries. His numbers suffered greatly. He still has a high ceiling. Here’s hoping for a huge rebound.
Will Josh Bell continue his rise to ‘power’ at first base
Bell seems to be the real deal. A true power hitter who has just begun his assault on the majors. We’ll see bigger and better things from the N.L. Rookie of the Year finalist as his career progresses. Let’s predict 32 home runs and 90 RBI in 2018.
Will Jung Ho Kang get his work visa approved?
That’s still up in the air. Do the Pirates really want him back anyway? The 2015 Jung Ho Kang would be welcomed back in a heartbeat. The 2018 Jung Ho Kang (and his third DUI) has been removed from baseball for almost two years now, and had a poor showing in the Dominican Winter League a couple of months ago, batting .143 with just one home run in 24 games, leading to his release. All things considered, the Bucs are probably better off without him and his $3 million 2018 salary.
Are the Pittsburgh Pirates rebuilding or retooling?
It’s popular to believe that a rebuild is underway. But a closer look indicates that this is indeed a retool. Despite the losses of Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, the Pirates have actually added some value in return, even if the return wasn’t as great as it should have been.
The outfield should still be decent, if not spectacular (You don’t lose Cutch and get better!). Cervelli and Diaz are very capable of sharing catching duties. The infield is solid except the question of third base. The bench is quite versatile- pretty sound defensively all around though you’d like to see the bats improve a bit.
The Pirates will have a solid bullpen anchored by door-slammer Felipe Rivero. Perhaps only the starting pitching remains the biggest glaring weakness.
You know, maybe these Pirates aren’t as bad as some people think they are. Don’t be surprised if this team overachieves similarly to how they underachieved the past two seasons. Most early predictions have the Pirates winning 74 to 78 games. I believe that winning 82 games is indeed possible, but it depends largely on the success of the starters.