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2018 MLB preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

2018 Pittsburgh Pirates preview

2017: 75-87 (fourth place in NL Central)

Last postseason appearance: 2015

Last World Series title: 1979

2017 Recap

From 2013-15, the Pirates were a nice story. They made the postseason in all three seasons and won over 90 games in 2013 and 2015. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity for them to compete in the near future officially closed in 2017.

After winning just 78 games in 2016, Pittsburgh finished 2017 with a record of 75-87. They were one of the worst offensive teams in the league, ranking 26th in hits, 27th in batting average, 28th in runs, 29th in home runs and 30th in total bases.

McCutchen led the Pirates in hits, runs, doubles, home runs, batting average, walks, SLG and OPS. (Photo from SI.com)

Among the 15 NL teams, the Pirates pitching ranked seventh in ERA and 12th in hits and strikeouts. On the bright side, they did finish with the fourth fewest home runs surrendered in the MLB.

Andrew McCutchen, one of the top 15 Pirates of all time in regards to WAR, bounced back after a tough 2016 season. He silenced the doubters by slashing .279/.363/.486 with 28 home runs, 88 RBIs and 11 steals. The 2013 NL MVP led the Pirates in hits, runs, doubles, home runs, batting average, walks, SLG and OPS. Talk about carrying the load.

Josh Harrison was the lone Pirates member of the NL All-Star team. Harrison hit 10 home runs in the first half and ended the season with 16 long balls, 12 steals and a .272 batting average.

A big reason for the lack of offense was Starling Marte’s off-the-field decisions. Marte, who led Pittsburgh in WAR in 2015 and 2016, was suspended 80 games for PED use. In his 77 games, Marte hit seven home runs and stole 21 bases.

One of the feel-good stories of the year was Jameson Taillon, who underwent surgery for testicular cancer in May. He was able to return and make a total of 25 starts. The 26-year-old went 8-7 with a 4.44 ERA.

Felipe Rivero was absolutely fantastic out of the bullpen for the Pirates. He had 21 saves, and was the only pitcher in the MLB to throw at least 75 innings and post an ERA less than 1.70. Gerrit Cole wasn’t great, but he did strike out 196 batters over 203 innings.

2018: Around the Diamond

For the first time since 2008, the Pirates will enter the season without Andrew McCutchen, who was traded to the San Francisco Giants in January. Obviously, he has been the face of the franchise for quite some time and clearly did everything for this offense in 2017. 2018 will be a rebuilding year for the Pirates.

To help mirror the production of McCutchen, Pittsburgh traded for 2017 AL All-Star, Corey Dickerson. The OF/DH hit .282 with 27 home runs and will replace McCutchen in left field.

Joining him in the outfield will be Marte and Gregory Polanco. Last spring, Polanco dealt with shoulder issues, which must have had an effect on his game throughout the season. He only stole eight bases and posted a career-low .305 OBP.

2018 Pittsburgh Pirates preview
Bell hit 26 home runs in 2017. (Photo from Sporting News)

Pittsburgh will showcase one of the weaker infields in regards to production. Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz will split time behind the plate, while David Freese, who led the team with a .368 OBP, will battle Colin Moran for playing time at third. Moran, a former first-round pick, came over from Houston in the Cole trade and is off to a great start this spring. In 23 at-bats, Moran is hitting .304 with three runs scored.

Up the middle will again be Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer. Josh Bell will play first base and is not only a fantasy baseball sleeper, but possibly Pittsburgh’s best offensive player for 2018. In 2017, Bell hit 26 home runs with 90 RBIs. He is only 25 years old and has potential to be a .280, 25 home run player in 2018.

The most likely candidate to start at DH, for when Pittsburgh travels to the American League, is Adam Frazier. He should see time at the middle infield positions also, along with Sean Rodriguez.

On the Bump

No more Gerrit Cole means Pittsburgh is need of an ace. Ivan Nova, who had the fourth-best BB/9 last season, has been named the Opening Day starter.

Following Nova will be Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams, who started 25 games for Pittsburgh in 2017 and went 7-9 with a 4.07 ERA. If you play fantasy baseball, stay away from anyone in this rotation, besides for Taillon, who could turn into a quality starter.

Keep in mind, Pittsburgh also has Tyler Glasnow, who they badly need to develop. It would not be fair to label Glasnow as a bust since he was a fifth-round pick, but he has been dreadful at the MLB level. In 85.1 career innings, Glasnow has a 6.75 ERA and 6.0 BB/9. He excels in the minors, going 9-2 with a 1.93 ERA in Triple-A during 2017, but needs to figure it out at the big-league level. So far this spring, Glasnow has made three starts and has an 11.74 ERA.

Rivero will remain in the closer role, while George Kontos, who came over from San Francisco last season, will most likely serve as the setup man. Kontos was great in his 14.2 innings of work with Pittsburgh in 2017, posting a 1.84 ERA with 15 strikeouts.

The Future

The Pirates have two pitchers, along with outfielder Austin Meadows, who cracked the Top 100 prospects list on MLB.com. Pittsburgh’s top prospect, Mitch Keller (No.15), was a second-round pick back in 2014. The 21-year-old pitched well between A+ and Double-A in 2017. Overall, the righty went 8-5 with a 3.03 ERA and 116 strikeouts over 116 innings of work. Keller hopes to make his MLB debut in 2018.

This Spring, Meadows is hitting .462 with two doubles, a triple, one home run, and 7 RBIs in just 14 plate appearances.(Pirates Prospects)

Pittsburgh’s best non-pitching prospect is outfielder Austin Meadows (No. 45). Last season, Meadows hit just .250 in Triple-A, but he was dealing with hamstring problems throughout the season. The ninth overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft is off to a scorching hot start this spring, hitting .462 with two doubles, a triple, one home run and seven RBIs in just 14 plate appearances.

Shane Baz (No. 67), was the 12th pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. The pitcher was drafted out of high school and is still just 18 years old. His fastball can get up to 98 mph, while his curveball has great movement. The Pirates seem to always develop pitchers, so Baz is in a great situation.

2018 Prediction: 72-90

It’s a rebuilding year for Pittsburgh after trading away its best pitcher and hitter to help plan for the future. They realized they did not have what it takes to get over the hump, so now it will be a tough couple of years for Pirates fans. Hopefully Taillon and Glasnow can develop into big-time arms, while the growth of Josh Bell will be fun to watch this season.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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