Pittsburgh Pirates Mailbag: March 28, 2018

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 21: Jose Osuna /

Welcome to the final pre-regular season edition of the weekly Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag here at Rum Bunter

The start of Major Leauge Baseball’s regular season is just a day away – yay! At 1:10 PM tomorrow Jordan Zimmermann will fire a pitch to Adam Frazier and with that the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates’ season will be underway.

Before the regular season begins though, we’ll delve into one last Pirate mailbag for the spring. So, let’s get it started!

There is no denying that the darling of Spring Training each of the past two years was infielder/outfielder Jose Osuna. After leading the team in Grapefruit League home runs in 2017, Osuna did it again in 2018. However, this was not enough for him to crack the Opening Day roster.

The Pirates are carrying eight relievers and just four bench players to start the season. Sooner or later, though, this will change to being seven and five. When that happens Osuna is the likely callup.

Will Osuna put it all together when he does reach the Major Leagues this season? Well, that is something we will have to wait to see. He struggled mightily in the Majors last season to the tune of a .269 on-base percentage, 17.6 percent strikeout rate, and a wRC+ of 78. His power, however, was still a threat with a .195 ISO and 48 percent of his hits going for extra bases which makes him an intriguing bench bat.

Osuna was also victimized by an unsustainably low batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in 2017. He owned just a .254 BABIP last season, which is well below the league average of .300. Assuming this evens back out in 2018 he should be better than 2017. But will he put it all together and be the hitter he has been in Spring Training the past two seasons? For that, we will have to wait and see.

Well, Neal Huntington has already said that Felipe Rivero will be the team’s closer, while George Kontos pitches the 8th inning, and Michael Feliz tackles other high-leverage situations. So, we already know how Clint Hurdle will handle those three pitchers and, unfortunately, it includes the Pirates still using a closer instead of using Rivero in the game’s highest leverage situations.

Tyler Glasnow and Steven Brault will work as long relievers out of the bullpen. The Pirates have toyed with Dovydas Neverauskas as a fireman in the past, so I expect to see him in that role to begin the season. Josh Smoker will be a lefty specialist that is also capable of getting right-handed hitters out, and Edgar Santana will probably tackle lower-leverage situations.

As the season unfolds bullpen roles will undoubtedly change, but this is how I see things shaking out at the beginning of the season.

When he is healthy, Francisco Cervelli is one of the best two-way catchers in the National League. He’s a strong pitch framer, does an excellent job of handling the pitching staff, and he is a high on-base player (lifetime .358 on-base percentage).

However, the past two seasons Cervelli has been anything but healthy. This spring Cervelli has looked the healthiest he has been since 2015, and that bodes well for the Pirates.

In 2015 Cervelli’s 3.7 fWAR was the second highest among National League catchers behind Buster Posey. The play of Cervelli that season, when he caught a career-high 130 games, was a huge reason why the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates won 98 games.

If the 2018 Pirates are going to surprise people and contend they need Cervelli to be healthy and productive. If he can catch at least 110-115 games this season, it will go a long way toward helping the Bucs compete for a postseason spot.

This is a good, fun question. Personally, I’d go with Doug Mientkiewicz.

The former Pirate first baseman currently manages the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens in the Tiger organization. On top of having managerial experience, he was always a fiery competitor on the field and a player with an extremely high baseball IQ. Two traits I value in a manager. He’s still the only player I have ever seen charge the mound in the Spring Training game.

There were also plenty of reports of Mientkiewicz serving as more of a manager for the 2008 Pirates than acutal manager John Russell did. A lot of that, however, may have been due to Russell being arguably the worst manager in franchise history.

Next: Why Starling Marte Batting 6th Is A Problem

As always, thank you to everyone who submitted questions this week and participated in the mailbag. If you ever have a question for the mailbag submit them on Twitter each week.