Now that Christmas has passed and the New Year is here, the Pittsburgh Pirates and spring training is within sight.
With a little over a month until the Pittsburgh Pirates report to Bradenton, there are a lot of questions that surround the organization on the Major League level. While there are more than five questions surrounding the Pirates as the calendar flips from 2018 to 2019, there are five main questions that are on the minds of the team’s fans.
Will Elias Diaz continue to rise in 2019?
Elias Diaz had a breakout season backing up Francisco Cervelli in 2018. With Cervelli rumored in trade talks all offseason, there is a chance that the catching position could belong to Diaz by Opening Day.
Diaz played in 78 games behind the plate for the Pirates in 2018 committing nine errors and posting a .984 fielding percentage. Last year was one of the best years for the pitching staff as a whole the Pirates have seen in recent memory. Can Diaz handle the staff and continue to aid its growth? That is the main question for the Venezuelan.
Along with more games behind the plate, Diaz also had the most plate appearances he has had in a season last year. With 277 plate appearances, he posted a .286 batting average and hit 10 home runs while producing 34 RBIs.
Diaz has been waiting in the wings for Clint Hurdle and his staff. His production last season has made Cervelli expandable and very well could win over the starting position in spring training.
What will a full year of Chris Archer look like?
As stated before, starting pitching was a strength for the Pirates in 2018. The front office bolstered this staff after a long win streak by the team forced them into buying at the deadline. Neal Huntington made a big splash in trading two coveted prospects for two and a half years of Chris Archer.
Archer showed some bright spots in his short time with the Pirates thus far, however, he must cut down on the walks in order to be the ace he once was. Archer threw 52.1 innings for the Pirates in the second half of the season and gave up 18 free passes. That comes to an average of 2.8 walks per inning.
A full spring training with Ray Searage should do well for Archer and have Pirate fans excited. He could be the veteran Ace that the organization has been missing since A.J. Burnett retired.
To go along with Archer, the Pirates have three other young starters that will continue to grow and look to make the Pirates rotation the best in the National League Central Division. Jameson Taillon threw two complete games and posted a 3.20 ERA last season while putting up an impressive streak of quality starts during the dog days of the summer.
Trevor Williams also had a productive year for the Pirates posting a 3.11 ERA in 170.2 innings on the mound. Joe Musgrove battled injuries towards the end of the year, however, the decision to make him a starter proved to be beneficial as he held down the fourth spot in the rotation.
Will Josh Bell find his power once again?
In his first 712 plate appearances as a Major League player Josh Bell hit 29 home runs. Even more impressively, Bell drove in 90 runs in his rookie season of 2017 finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting in the National League. After hitting a home run in every 27 plate appearances in his first year and a half with the Pirates, Bell dropped down to 12 home runs in 2018. This spiked his home run per plate appearance to 49.
First base is a position that is supposed to provide some power for your lineup. Unfortunately, Bell was not able to do that often enough in 2018. Bell needs to find that power stroke again in 2019.
What will Jung Ho Kang bring to third base?
The Pirates made a low risk, potentially high reward signing by bringing Jung Ho Kang back for a one-year contract to platoon at third base with Colin Moran. In his previous three seasons, Kang was one of the team’s most productive hitters recording a .278 batting average with 36 home runs and 120 RBIs.
However, Kang hasn’t played much baseball in the past two years due to his legal issues. Kang was even let go of his winter league team before last season because of poor play. As Kang tries to find himself once again, he could be a huge player in the Pirates success if he and Moran can combine to hold down third base.
What will the middle infield look like?
We know one thing when it comes to the middle infield: Adam Frazier will be the starting second baseman come spring training. While Frazier has been solid offensively for the Pirates, his consistency on defense was always up for debate.
Frazier has been on the Pirates since 2016 and has played 114 games at second base. In those games he has made 16 errors and recorded a .961 fielding percentage. Can he stay consistent being a regular position player for a 162 game season?
This along with the questions that surround the shortstop position make the middle infield, positions that have been a strength since Neil Walker and Jordy Mercer came up, a big question that the Pirates will have to address before Opening Day.