Thursday, March 30, 2017

2017 Pre-Season Profile: Pittsburgh Pirates


For the first time since 2012, the Pittsburgh Pirates were left out of the postseason party.  Will 2017 bring a return trip to October baseball?

My 2016 Predictions
2nd in NL Central, WILD CARD, lose in Wild Card Game
Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen will switch positions by the end of 2016.

2016 Results
78-83, 3rd in NL Central
With a team as talented as this Pittsburgh Pirates team, I figured they would make a return trip to the playoffs.  Due to some struggles in their pitching staff, and an extremely strong top of the division, they came up short for the first time in three years.  Another reason for the slight decline for the Pirates was the decline of Andrew McCutchen.  For years, experts have said Andrew McCutchen was not the best centerfielder on his team.  After a true struggle defensively in 2016, my prediction came true.  It just came true later than I thought.  McCutchen is moving to right, Gregory Polanco is moving to left, and Starling Marte is taking his rightful place in center.

Additions / Subtractions
The Pirates made very few moves this offseason.  After trading Mark Melancon at the Deadline last year, and losing a couple veteran starters in free agency, the roster is pretty much set.  No free agency moves, no trades (despite a lot of talk about trading Andrew McCutchen).  They are counting on their farm system to fill any holes they may have had.

Most Important Hitter
Jung Ho Kang
Despite a broken leg that ended his 2015 season, Jung Ho Kang has had two very productive seasons in the big leagues.  However, he has yet to have a full season.  This season appears to be no different as the Pirates' third baseman is stuck in Korea having trouble obtaining a work visa after an offseason arrest in his homeland.  The Pirates are hoping he makes it back by Opening Day, but there is no guarantee he plays in the big leagues at all this season.  He has been a borderline All Star the last two seasons.  They need him in the lineup to compete.

Most Important Pitcher
Gerrit Cole
The former first overall pick in the draft had a season that lived up to expectations in 2015 as he made the All Star Team and finished 4th in the Cy Young voting.  However, 2016 was disappointing as his ERA was over a run higher than the year before.  Cole needs to get back to the elite level he showed in 2015.  If he doesn't, the Pirates have no chance.

Player to Watch
Austin Meadows
The Pirates have a trio of prospects that are ready to burst on the scene in 2017.  Tyler Glasnow is projected to start the season in the rotation, and Josh Bell is slated to be the Opening Day first baseman.  However, the most intriguing prospect of the group is outfielder Austin Meadows.  He is a top ten prospect in all of baseball and about ready to become a star.  The problem is he is blocked by a trio of All Star caliber outfielders in Polanco, Marte, and McCutchen.  This was one of the reasons McCutchen was almost traded; they wanted to make room for Meadows.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out throughout the season.

2017 Prediction
3rd in NL Central
Starting with the Tigers at #17, every team from here on out will be competing for a playoff spot in September.  The Pirates will be coming up a little short though.  They will improve from their performance in 2016, but there are just way too many teams better than them.  With their mixture of established talent and bright future starts, they will be fun to watch throughout the season though.

Fearless Prediction
Andrew McCutchen will be traded by the end of the year.
Andrew McCutchen has been the face of the franchise since his debut.  However, with his declining numbers, the Pirates not making the playoffs, and the fact that he is the elder statesmen in the outfield, it makes sense if he moves on.  Like I said, they have a can't-miss phenom in Austin Meadows waiting for a spot.  One of two things will happen this year.  Either McCutchen gets traded for more prospects or Meadows gets traded for a star to make the playoff push.  It looks more likely that McCutchen gets traded though.

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