Day 2 of the 2015 team predictions and I head over to the National League Central with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Be advised that I am not going in any particular order, rather a random series that keeps you waiting to see who’s next. In this case, the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates are the next team I will examine.
Team Overview: 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates have been a Cinderella story of sorts in Major League Baseball. After 20 straight losing seasons from 1993-2012, the team, led by outfielder Andrew McCutchen, rocketed up to 94 wins in 2013 in a surprise season, and last season almost repeated their success with an 88 win season behind strong offense and impressive pitching. They now have an even tougher National League Central to compete with, yet they have slightly improved their bench and bullpen to aid in their quest for a third straight winning season.
He’s Here: P Antonio Bastardo, P A.J. Burnett, C Francisco Cervelli, SS Jung-ho Kang, 2B Steve Lombardozzi Jr., INF-OF Sean Rodriguez, P Rob Scahill Non-Roster Invitees with chance to make roster: SS Pedro Florimon, P Clayton Richard He’s Gone: SS Clint Barmes, 1B Ike Davis, P Ernesto Frieri, 1B Corey Hart, P Josh Lindblom, C Russell Martin, 1B Gaby Sanchez, OF Travis Snider, P Edinson Volquez, P Justin Wilson
Testing Free Agency
After letting shortstop Clint Barmes walk when he signed a one-year deal with the Padres, the Pirates had Jordy Mercer, who has some extreme upside, to man shortstop for the 2015 season. When it was announced that Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang would be on the market, the Pirates weren’t originally viewed as a top contender for his services. After some bidding wars and contract offers, the Pirates came out on top, getting the power hitting Kang for four years and $11 million. It was a highly criticized move at first because: 1) Kang had never faced the intensity of Major League pitching and 2) Why sign Kang when Mercer is highly regarded? Questions were asked of whether Kang could be a Major League shortstop or not. The Pirates decidedly thought that Kang had the potential to perhaps platoon with Mercer, or to use him as a utility player, manning both infield and outfield positions. He drew high praise for his performance in an intrasquad game.
The Pirates also went out and picked up a starting pitcher in A.J. Burnett after Edinson Volquez left for Kansas City. In 2012 and 2013, Burnett had a respectable 26-21 record with a 3.41 earned run average and 389 strikeouts in a career comeback. Burnett now returns after a year in Philadelphia, where he led the league in losses with 18. Burnett figures to be the four starter, behind Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke, and followed by Vance Worley. Jameson Taillon figures to be in the rotation at some point later in the season, perhaps if an injury knocks out one of the starters there already, or inconsistency hits one of them.
A Young Team
The Pirates possess quite a large core of young players looking to make a difference in the league. Outfielder Gregory Polanco, after rookie struggles in 2014, will bat no higher than 6th in the order (where I had him) to start the season, but looks to have a rebound year as the starting right fielder. Andrew McCutchen enters his age-28 season, coming off a Silver Slugger and All-Star season. Pedro Alvarez moves over to first base to accommodate Josh Harrison, a break-out All-Star who will man third base this season.
The lineup below is how the team figures to look in the field to start the season. (red indicates a new acquisition)
C: Francisco Cervelli
1B: Pedro Alvarez
2B: Neil Walker
3B: Josh Harrison
SS: Jordy Mercer/Jung Ho Kang
LF: Starling Marte
CF: Andrew McCutchen
RF: Gregory Polanco
Besides the downgrade from Russell Martin to Francisco Cervelli behind the plate, the Pirates line-up remains the same for the most part, and holds quite the potential for the upcoming season. Big years from McCutchen, Walker and Harrison will contribute to an overall offensive Pittsburgh Pirates.
1. Gerrit Cole
2. Francisco Liriano
3. Jeff Locke
4. A.J. Burnett
5. Vance Worley
Youngsters Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke anchor this rotation with the aid of lefty Francisco Liriano, entering his 10th big league season. The return of Burnett to the team he has recent success with, coupled with Vance Worley at the end of the rotation, provide a solid rotation.
Pittsburgh has a very solid and young team, and will have to compete in a very improved and rough National League Central. They possess the bats and pitching to keep up with the Cardinals and Cubs, and at least break even with the Brewers and Reds. I can see Pittsburgh at 81 to 85 wins and tied for third place or falling back to maybe fourth.
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