The 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates may be perceived by some as lacking in some areas. However, they won’t be suffering from a lack of storylines.

Regardless of how many may feel about the current state of the Pittsburgh Pirates, all can easily agree that this particular team will not be lacking in intrigue.

If we limit our view to the Clint Hurdle era, we see a few seasons where pre-Spring Training thoughts were dominated by one particular storyline. In 2011, many were anxious to see what Hurdle could do with the club after a series of milquetoast skippers. 2012 observers wondered if the club would rebound from Epic Collapse I; ditto for the 2013 season and Epic Collapse II.

In the spring of 2014, many wondered if the magical 2013 season was a blip on the radar. 2015 and 2016 saw fans and observers solidified in their knowledge that the club was on solid footing.

In 2017, after a season in which the club left a bad taste in many mouths, there is no singular overarching theme on the cusp of Spring Training. It could be argued that 2017 will have the most intriguing storylines in recent Pittsburgh Pirates history. Like a spider crack in a windshield, the story of the 2017 Pirates  can go in many different directions.

Bounce Backs

For one, the term “bounce back” may be the single most-overused one as we observe the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Of course, Andrew McCutchen‘s attempts to return to his pre-2016 form will be front and center. There is also Gerrit Cole‘s quest to become the number one starter that many think he can be. But, sside from those two headline names, there are also a couple of rebound stories that are not so “front and center.”

Has Hurdle’s message gone stale? It may be a valid question.

Tony Watson in particular will have to show that he can recover from what many – but not all – perceive as a down year. Though his overall numbers may not bear out that thinking on the surface, his waning days of 2016 did not instill much confidence in those that though that his incredible usage over the three seasons had finally caught up to him. Hitters tagged Watson to the tune of a .918 OPS in September, and four of his ten home runs allowed came in the season’s final month.

After shaking off the injury-prone label in 2015, Francisco Cervelli will once again have to prove that he can withstand the rigors of a full season behind the plate. Though his hamate bone injury was not necessarily a function of playing the toughest position in baseball, it saddles him with the undeserved tag nonetheless. The same goes for the catching position as a whole, with Elias Diaz and Chris Stewart needing to prove they can stay healthy as well.

If we think more abstractly, we can consider that the relief pitching unit as a whole is in dire need of a bounce back year, as the unit could easily be blamed for putting the Pittsburgh Pirates behind the eight-ball very early in the season.

The Youth Movement Is Here

Perhaps more excitingly, the young talent that will play major roles for the club in 2017 is the storyline many are anxious to follow.

Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon acquitted themselves very well in their debut seasons, and many will be watching intently, looking for repeat-ability. Tyler Glasnow struggled in the opening stanza of his much-anticipated career. Fans and observers alike will likely be analyzing each start, each inning and perhaps each pitch to see if Glasnow can put it all together.

Lesser names will also be prominent in the minds of many. Trevor Williams, Steven Brault and Adam Frazier will look to have their roles clearly defined in 2017 and beyond. Alen Hanson, once a well-regarded prospect, has come to an inflection point in his professional baseball career.

And in the not-so far reaching corners of the typical Pittsburgh Pirates fan’s mind will be the ETA of Austin Meadows.

And A Whole Lot More

These myriad storylines may take the headlines, but there are many more that have their place in the mosaic that will be the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Has Hurdle’s message gone stale? It may be a valid question. The club has not yet exercised Hurdle’s 2018 option and may need to see how 2017 will play out before making that decision. Despite his success with Ivan Nova, Ray Searage‘s sterling reputation may have been dinged after the organization admitted to some modicum of failure in trading Francisco Liriano away.

In the spring of 2014, many wondered if the magical 2013 season was a blip on the radar. 2015 and 2016 saw fans and observers solidified in their knowledge that the club was on solid footing.

Josh Harrison‘s contract has become something of an albatross in the eyes of many. Can he perform well enough to justify the team’s investment in the fan-favorite? Can Jung Ho Kang overcome off-the-field troubles and continue to make strides against major league pitching? How badly will the club miss Sean Rodriguez‘s versatile play? Can the Pittsburgh Pirates find another Matt Joyce or David Freese, be it inside or outside of the organization?

The beauty of baseball’s long-season is that the storylines we track in the spring are often drastically different from the chatter that will occur throughout the season. The 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates can splinter off in so many different dizzying directions. Today’s headline stories will undoubtedly fade into yesterday’s news.

However, as it stands today, nine days removed from pitchers and catchers reporting to Bradenton, trying to get a grip on what to watch for in 2017 is a daunting task.

Jason Rollison

Jason Rollison has been analyzing baseball and the Pirates in one way or another for 4+ years. Jason's previous stops include rumbunter.com, Pittsburgh Sporting News, Call To The Pen and several print publications. He also covers the State College Spikes for the Centre County Gazette (State College, PA) When it comes to analyzing baseball, he likes to take a middle-of-the-road approach, with one foot on the analytics side of the fence and the other on the old-school side. Having said that, he is a sucker for pitchf/x. Jason has appeared as a phone-in and in-studio guests in numerous outlets, including Trib Live Radio and 93.7 The Fan (CBS Sports Radio)
  • PBD

    The REAL issue is that they have done NOTHING to improve this team. They are depending on every player to either improve or “bounce back” while everyone else spent the off-season acquiring players by many means to improve their chances of winning. The complacency of this team’s management is appalling and fans shouldn’t patronize a team whose ownership feels no need to improve a team who performed badly in the previous season while the teams they are in competition with make every effort possible to improve themselves. Ownership is only concerned with profit, not with winning. I am called almost weekly by the Pirates to ask me to buy a season ticket plan and my response is always the same. I will spend my money when you spend yours.

    • Bobby Ewing

      Well spoken pbd