Clint Hurdle is poised to lead the Bucs in 2015
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Clint Hurdle is poised to lead the Bucs in 2015
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
The Pirates posted an 88 win season in the 2014 campaign and made it to the postseason for the second consecutive year. It may have just been a Wild Card Game, but playoff baseball is playoff baseball.
Coming off of a second place finish in the NL Central and a trip to the playoffs, this offseason did not call for any drastic roster management. Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to Russell Martin, back to the homeland for him. We were all prolonging the inevitable with that one. To fill the void behind the dish the Pirates turned again to the Yankees, picking up Franciso Cervelli in a trade. Volquez packed his bags as well and for $10 million a year that's fine by me. Neil Huntington was able to retain Francisco Liriano, arguably the most important of the free agents, with a 3 year/$39 million deal. The Batman is back, AJ Burnett makes his return to Pittsburgh after a one year stint in Philly, the Bucs were able to bring him back at $8.5 million, which is a bit too much for a guy that may not make it through the 2015 season with nagging injury issues from last season. The Pirates also went international this winter, adding Jung-ho Kang, a power-hitting middle infielder who was won through the International Posting system. The additions of Corey Hart and Antonio Bastardo should also be exciting, keep an eye on those guys.
Neil Hungtington had a strong core to build upon this winter. The Pirates have one of the best outfields in the game, a bullpen that has the potential to be air-tight, and a still fertile farm system. That being said, the Bucs looked poised to compete in 2015, Pirate baseball is right around the corner...
LHP Antonio Bastardo (Trade/Phillies)
RHP AJ Burnett (FA/Phillies)
C Francisco Cervelli (Trade/Yankees)
OF Corey Hart (FA/Marlins)
SS Jung-ho Kang (Korea)
2B Sean Rodriguez (Trade/Rays)
The Pirates rotation will be the biggest question mark this upcoming season. Liriano and Burnett bring veteran know-how to a still young staff but each possess some flaws to go along with their grizzled veteran savvy. Liriano has had a tough time eating innings the last few seasons, failing to average six innings/start the last three years. Batman is 38, that's the biggest worry. Along with a hernia he suffered last season, however, AJ can be the workhorse that Franky isn't. Gerrit Cole will lead the rotation and the Pirates need him to go out and win 15 games. Look for Jeff Locke and Vance Worley to round out the rotation. Charlie Morton won't be back for the start of the season, though him and Brandon Cumpton will be waiting in the wings as other options for the rotation.
The Shark Tank is back and as strong as ever. Mark Melancon will close out games once again this season, his two year ERA of 1.65 ranks him only behind Greg Holland and Craig Kimbrel among the best closers in baseball. Setup man Tony Watson is coming off an All Star 2014 season and will be important for the Pirates late in games. Big John Holdzkom will be relied on heavily, he was near unhittable once coming to the bigs last season. The acquisition of Antonio Bastardo is big for the Pirates pen. It adds a second lefty arm to the Tank and Bastardo has long been regarded one of the toughest relievers to hit in the game thanks to a deceptive release of the baseball.
Behind the Plate:
Au Revoir to Russ-Mart, he's back home with the Blue Jays now and the Pirates will need Francisco Cervelli to be at his best if they have any hope of filling the void. Cervelli is a better bat than most people acknowledge, with a career OBP of .348 and a .381 slugging percentage. He's a walks and singles guy that isn't going to wow you at the plate. Cervelli is a definite 8 hole hitter that won't be able to provide the pop that Martin sometimes offered. With a strong arm and the ability to handle a pitching staff, the fall off shouldn't be totally tragic. Chris Stewart will back up Cervelli, and you know what he brings to the table...not a whole lot. Your typical Sunday at 1 o'clock, kids run the bases game guy. Tony Sanchez who was sent home from winter ball for poor play (shocker), will be on call in AAA along with Elias Diaz, a rising Pirates catching prospect.
El Toro will be making the move to first-base officially this season. His 25 errors at third last year called for a fresh start. The Pirates season will depend largely on the production of Pedro, if he can manage to hit anywhere from 20-30 home runs, the Pirates offense should fare well enough against the rest of the division. He will platoon at first with Corey Hart, who may also get some innings in the outfield, hopefully he can stay healthy and add some quality at-bats in 2015. Jordy Mercer and Neil Walker will be back up the middle for the Bucs. Kang will get time off of the bench similar to what we saw with JHay when he first arrived in the bigs. Kang's power numbers last year in Korea are inflated, .356/40 HR/117 RBI, as Korean pitching tends to be comparable to good U.S. high school pitching. Therefore, the jury is still out on whether Kang's talent will be able to translate at the major league level or not. Josh Harrison, who led the team in average last season at .315, will hold down the hot corner, look for him to scrap out another valuable season.
ANDREW MCCUTCHEN. No need to tell ya the story on that guy, he's single handedly raised the Pirates to a formidable MLB team and contender. Starling Marte signed a 6 year deal last March and built upon his impressive rookie season. Arguably the best defender in the National League, Marte's performance at the plate will be important for the Pirates this season. Right field will be covered by Gregory Polanco who made his debut last June with an 11-game hitting streak. After getting sent back to Indy after some struggles late last year he's here to stay. Polanco should develop into a power-hitter in the Pirates lineup, couple that with his rocket arm and quickness on defense and he rounds out the Buccos outfield quite well. It doesn't get much better than the outfield the Pirates will have this season, must be nice to pitch with these guys behind you.
3B Josh Harrison
RF Gregory Polanco
CF Andrew McCutchen
2B Neil Walker
LF Starling Marte
1B Pedro Alvarez
SS Jordy Mercer
C Francisco Cervelli
P (Opening Day expect Liriano)
Francisco Liriano- Three pitch arsenal, creates deception with hitch in hand break. Plus change up that allows him to consistently have one of the best "hard hit ball" numbers of any pitcher
Gerrit Cole- Already the ace of the staff, live arm with upper 90's velocity. Competitor, capable of being the horse
AJ Burnett- Veteran arm, will be valuable in eating innings for the staff
Jeff Locke- Tendency to give up HR, relies on change up. Look for an improved season with AJ back to guide him
Vance Worley- Ground ball pitcher, secondary pitches are improving. Quality back of the rotation arm
Waiting in the Wings...
The Pirates farm system is as fertile as ever, which should come in handy in 2015. Tyler Glasnow who has earned pitcher of the year honors in his league the past two seasons could be a late summer addition to the Bucs pool of arms. Jameson Taillon is in the same position as Glasnow, after coming back from Tommy John surgery, look for him to provide help come the summer months. Austin Meadows is another guy to keep an eye on. The young outfielder is coming off an injury plagued season but is progressing well with his skills in the outfield, especially on defense.
The Bucs will host the Tigers and White Sox at PNC this year. Detroit comes to town early, the second week of the season. Samardzija and Sale will roll in come June. Both of these matchups should be fun to watch. The Tigers still star studded cast always provides excitement. Chicago will be coming to Pittsburgh with their revitalized lineup, it should be interesting to see how they fare this year in the AL Central.
Noteworthy inter league games on the road include a trip to Kauffman Stadium to face the Royals (don't expect them to be the team they were last year). The Pirates will also complete home-and-home series' with the White Sox and Tigers.
Throw in a couple games with the Twins at home and the Pirates inter league schedule plays pretty fair this year. The Bucs are capable of taking all of the inter league series', however, the White Sox will most likely provide the toughest test.
2nd Place in NL Central behind Saint Louis
Look for Gerrit Cole to win 15 games this year and be the ace. Cutch is going to add another MVP award to his trophy case. Jung-ho Kang will become a starter for the Pirates in some capacity by June. It's going to be another season that comes down to the wire, filled with heartbreak, excitement, and sold out/blacked out summer nights at PNC.