Jon Niese, John Jaso, David Freese, Ryan Vogelsong
Neil Walker, JA Happ, AJ Burnett, Pedro Alvarez
The Pirates offseason saw some shifting, and the loss of Alvarez and Walker who established themselves as Pirates for the last four years or so. However, it wasn’t a really big loss. Josh Harrison essentially was an ultra utility man last year without a position and can slide into Walker’s role and if anything is a small drop off. In replacing Alvarez is Jaso, who is basically the opposite of Alvarez at the plate. Jaso is an on base hitter and walker, while Alvarez is a power hitter with strikeout potential. The one common factor is that neither has any experience as a defensive first baseman, but one would assume no one, Jaso including, can be worse than Alvarez so this should be an upgrade.
Therefore the big question will be if they can get the same production out of Niese and Vogelsong that they got out of Burnett and Happ. It would seem unlikely, and would show the Pirates Achilles heel, but luckily they do have young options ready to emerge in the farm system.
Projected Playoff Lineup
- Josh Harrison/Alen Hanson
- Andrew McCutchen
- Starling Marte
- Jung-Ho Kang
- Gregory Polanco
- Josh Bell
- Francisco Cervelli
- Jordy Mercer
The keys here will be Bell and Hanson. The two are prospects, but both appear MLB ready sooner than later. It would be assumed the Pirates hold out until the Super 2 deadline to bring either up, and with Harrison at second there may little rush to bring up Hanson. For Bell, the Pirates do have a small hole at first and he will more than likely be called upon before Hanson. The Pirates will platoon a combination of guys, mainly with Jaso and Michael Morse holding the spot until the deadline calls for Bell. An injury to Kang has him potentially missing the start of the season which makes sense as to why they signed David Freese. All in all, the lineup shouldn’t be much of a problem. If the 24 year old Polanco and the 27 year old Marte can take steps forward while still in their prime they will be a dangerous team, and may get a kick in their lineup come mid summer that might take them off.
More So than Bell and Hanson this team needs their two young pitching prospects to step up. Tyler Glasnow is only 22 but is gaining hype as one of the best prospects to make a major league debut this season. Jameson Taillon sits behind him, but due to injury hasn’t really pitched in the last two years. Guys like Niese and Vogelsong are bandages, and they are so temporary because of what the Pirates know they have. With Cole and Liriano they can expect to win a decent number of games, but the depth of the staff will either be their demise, or it will be the youth and another spark come mid summer that just has things clicking at the perfect time.
The Pirates have taken pride in building one of the top pens in the league and next year should be no different. A name to watch is Neftali Feliz, who the Pirates signed and are giving a chance to. Feliz was once heralded as an up and coming closer and joining a staff that is so focused on pitching, maybe they set him right and add to a talented list of players.
The starting rotation could be the demise of the Pirates. They have been known to be patient, almost to a fault in their development of players. However, relying on guys like Vogelsong and Niese to hold up and give you a season of work similar to what they got out of Burnett is somewhat unrealistic. If someone like Glasnow does step up, it gives them a huge boost and will have them sprinting to October. If not, it will be another year chasing the Cardinals, and now add to that list the Cubs. At the end of the day I think Bell and Glasnow join at the right time and it is just enough for this team to establish themselves as the wild-card team in the NL for year four in a row.
2nd in the NL Central. Wild Card