With Spring Training more than halfway done and the Pittsburgh Pirates have begun to shape together their 25-man roster. As Opening Day approaches, what should be considered a successful season in 2019?
After what some may consider an overachieving 2018 season that saw the Pittsburgh Pirates go 82-79, general manager Neal Huntington opted to hold off on making any significant acquisitions in the offseason. His 13 free agents signings have compiled just a 0.7 WAR collectively over the last three seasons. For comparison, the Tampa Bay Rays, who had a similar season in terms of exceeding expectations last season as well as being the only team with a smaller payroll than the Pirates, went out and signed 10 free agents that have totaled a 9.5 WAR since 2016.
Nonetheless, the Pirates have retained much of their 2018 roster that put together the franchise’s first winning season since 2015. However, with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs coming off 96 and 95 win seasons, respectively, the St. Louis Cardinals acquiring six-time All-Star Paul Goldschmidt, and the Cincinnati Reds trading for Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Sonny Gray, manager Clint Hurdle may find his club at the bottom of the NL Central in 2019.
Given all of what’s transpired over the past few months and throughout Spring Training, it begs the question: what defines a successful 2019 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates? Most projections have them falling in the 77-80 win range, which would be a slight regression from 2018.
Obviously, every team’s goal is, at the very least, to make the postseason, unless you’re the Miami Marlins. Despite that, the reality of the current state of the Pirates is that they’re not built for the playoffs just yet. The lack of substantial moves that could’ve improved the team and filled obvious holes (which can still be made), suggests that the front office feels the same way.
Despite that, there’s plenty to be excited about and to look out for in 2019. With key producers like Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco manning the outfield, and young contributors like Josh Bell, Adam Frazier and Colin Moran looking to build upon their 2018 campaigns, there’s hardly any dead weight in the lineup.
For the rotation, Trevor Williams and Jameson Taillon will look to ride their 2018 breakout seasons into this year, while veteran Chris Archer will get a fresh start in his first full season sporting the black and gold. And with the strong back end of the bullpen headed by flame throwers Felipe Vazquez and Keone Kela, expect the Pirates to hold onto a large percentage of their leads past the 7th inning.
While the Major League roster is sprinkled with young talent, the Pirates minor league system is not deprived of promising prospects, either. RHP Mitch Keller and 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes are ranked 19th and 46th respectively on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect list and could find their way to the major league club sometime before the end of the 2019 season.
Some other notable Pirate prospects who have seen a little action already or are close to making their way to the majors include 2B Kevin Kramer (.856 OPS in AAA in 2018), OF Bryan Reynolds (.381 OBP in AAA in 2018), SS Cole Tucker (7-for-18 this spring), RHP Luis Escobar (2.43 ERA in 3.2 IP this spring), and RHP JT Brubaker (1.50 ERA in 6 IP this spring).
All in all, a successful 2019 season for the Pirates is in the eye of the beholder, but with their young talent, seasoned veterans, and experienced manager, another winning season is not of the question. On the flip side, the absence of a bonafide ace and an elite hitter, coupled with the weak back end of the rotation, the Pirates could struggle to find consistency, especially against their strong divisional opponents.