The crack of the bat, the thrill of the hit! Mrs. Black-N-Gold has returned from spring training and she's ready to play ball. Today she looks at our Pittsburgh Pirates as they step up to the plate for their 2017 season. She brings to you her 2017 Pirates Preview.
1B-Josh Bell is expected to get the majority of the reps at 1st this season, following last year's audition. The rookie had offseason surgery on his left knee that delayed his spring training. Ever since Bell has been trying to play catch up. He finished the exhibition season with a .114 batting average. Mrs. Black-N-Gold thinks Bell was hitting the ball hard and that he's coming around just in time for the start of the season. His defense may be another issue as he's still learning the position. Expect to see both John Jaso and David Freese as backups. Jaso really caught on at 1B his first year and Freese also exhibited defensive acumen at the position.
2B-Will Josh Harrison return to 2B this season? The idea of 2B Adam Frazier at 2nd has also been floated. JHay needs to get the mojo back that he had in 2014, before he signed a multi-year deal with the Bucs and the injury hit him. If the Buccos put Frazier at 2nd, it will be to give themselves the leadoff hitter that they've lacked for several years. Expect Harrison to bat further down in the order this year to clear the way for Frazier. Either way, the Pirates need to tighten up the D this season, as well.
SS-Speaking of defense, SS Jordy Mercer will never be confused for a Gold Glove defender, no matter how hard the Pirates try to convince us otherwise. But, typically, Mercer can be counted on as a steadying force in the infield. Still, it would be nice if Mercer could reach the 12-15 homer neighborhood to help the offense with a power shortage.
3B-With Jung Ho Kang's visa/legal issues still unresolved, David Freese is expected to get the bulk of the playing time at the hot corner. However, playing Freeze everyday exposes him for the part-time player that he's become. There's talk of Harrison and or Frazier getting time at 3rd, too. No matter how you slice it, none of them will be mistaken for Kang, power-wise. Maybe the combination of the 3 can help with the adjustment.
C-Francisco Cervelli needs to prove that the multi-year contract he signed was money well spent. That will mean staying on the field and being productive at the plate. He's one of the better pitch-framers in the game. It would be good to see him improve on throwing at would-be-base stealers. C Chris Stewart is supposed to back up but has been hampered by a groin injury.
LF-New Year, new outfield alignment, starting with Gregory Polanco in left. El Coffee has to get used to PNC Park's expansive left field, especially the North Side Notch. Polanco took a big step forward last year, overall but struggled in the 2nd half of the season. If he can put it all together for an entire year, including staying healthy all season long, he could have a Gold Glove, MVP-caliber season. It will be fun watching Polanco gun down runners at the plate from his spot in left.
CF-With Polanco in left, Staring Marte slides over to CF. The consensus has always been that Marte is the better centerfielder for the Pirates, now is his chance to prove it. Also, Marte has always expressed a comfort level in center. Maybe, this move can help his power numbers which fell from 19 in 2015 to just 9 last year. He is another player that needs to stay healthy and advance to another level in order for the Bucs to be competitive.
RF-Of course, the talk of the spring has been Andrew McCutchen's move to RF. When the Buccos failed to move Cutch in a trade this offseason, management had no other choice than to move him to right, to help offset his unsightly defense. But Cutch didn't just decline on D last season, he was mired in a mostly all-season-long slump that produced career lows for the perennial MVP candidate. Did Cutch just have an off-year or is father time catching up to the 30-year-old? Mrs. Black-N-Gold is worried it's the latter. He only stole 6 bases last season and seems hesitate to use his wheels on the basepaths. His swing also seems slow to catch up to pitches. He spent the better part of last season complaining about the strike zone. Cutch, everyone has to put up with umpires ever-changing-strike zone. Get over it and play ball! The Bucs truly need a bounce-back from their former #1 pick. If not, the Austin Meadows era could begin in Pittsburgh sooner, rather than later.
The Pirates got their man when the re-signed RH Ivan Nova. But can Nova duplicate the late-season success he had when he was traded to the Pirates last year, for an entire season? Or is there a reason that 29 other teams weren't willing to bite on his original 5 year, $75 million asking price and he stayed in Pittsburgh for 3 years, $26 million (a steal in today's market)? Can RH Gerrit Cole finally, FINALLY, live up to his potential and be the ace that the Buccos need him to be? Will RH Jameson stay healthy and continue to show why he was a 2nd overall pick? They'll need to carry the load to help RH's Chad Kuhl and Tyler Glasnow continue to develop. Of course, health is also always a factor.
In a semi-surprising move, the Bucs waived RH Jared Hughes at the end of spring training. The new-look bullpen goes something like this; RH Trevor Williams, LH Jared LeBlanc, RH Juan Nicasio, LH Antonio Bastardo, LH Felipe Rivero, RH Daniel Hudson and LH Tony Watson. The Pirates intent is to have multiple relievers that can go multiple innings, if need be. Rivero, Hudson and Watson will work the back-end. Expect Rivero and/or Hudson to step in if Watson should falter as the closer and/or be traded.
When this went to press, the final cuts hadn't been made for the bench. Freese and Jaso are expected to make the roster along with Stewart (if he's not on the DL). UTIL Phil Gosselin, UTIL Alen Hanson and 1B/OF Jose Osuna continued to battle for roster spots.
The bottom line is Mrs. Black-N-Gold doesn't think the Bucs did enough this year, while several other teams that will also contend for the NL Wild Card did. If a miracle occurred and the Pirates win the NL Central, someone, please call The Pope. Meanwhile, the Cubs are still the Cubs and they'll have Kyle Schwarber for an entire season (health permitting) and they brought in closer Wade Davis. St Louie signed CF Dexter Fowler and LH Brett Cecil. The Mets brought back OF Yoenis Cespedes and 2B Neil Walker (still miss ya, Homeboy!) and return a healthy starting rotation. The Nats added CF Adam Eaton and will move Trea Turner to SS for the entire year. San Fran upgraded an abysmal bullpen by signing former Pirates closer Mark Melancon. The Dodgers brought back 3B Justin Turner, closer Kenley Jansen and RH Rich Hill and traded for 2B Logan Forsythe. Bringing back Nova and signing Hudson, bringing along the youngsters while losing SRod and Joyce, doesn't seem like it's going to be enough to cut it.
There is also the fact that they'll face St Louie and the Cubs for 9 games in the 1st month of the season. And they open on the road against the AL East-winning BoSox. As Mrs. Black-N-Gold likes to say, you've got to win in April to get to Buctober. Remember, how hot the Cubs were to start the season en route to the World Series last year? And in so doing, they left everyone else in the NL Central in the dust.
There are just too many "ifs" and question marks for this club. That's why Mrs. Black-N-Gold sees another losing season for the 131st edition of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club with 73 wins.
That being said, she still bleeds Black-N-Gold. You know that whole Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry? Well, it's going to be a baseball thing now. Mrs. Black-N-Gold World Series prediction is Pirates over Indians in 7 games. Start planning the parade. Let's Go Bucs!!!!!