Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers and catchers report to Bradenton today for Spring Training. Here are the top Pirates storylines to watch this spring.
As the Pittsburgh Pirates hit Bradenton to begin their 2017 Spring Training sessions, a myriad of storylines start to take shape.
Some carry more weight than others, and those will be our focus here today. Here now are the four storylines most worthy of your attention for Spring Training and beyond.
Have the Pittsburgh Pirates Done Enough To Address Their Rotation?
After hearing Neal Huntington’s comments on 93.7 The Fan Friday morning, in which the general manager intimated the club was not comfortable meeting the demand for White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, the skepticism felt by many fans was brilliantly re-ignited.
Though some fans can see their way through understanding why a deal for Quintana was not consummated, that fact serves as little consolation for those who still feel that Huntington has not done enough with this rotation to return it to a team strength.
Huntington did find a way to re-sign Ivan Nova to a deal well below market value, and at least part of the reason for the rotation’s failure in 2016 was out of his control. Gerrit Cole muddled through an injury filled year, Francisco Liriano lost his effectiveness. Juan Nicasio deserved every shot to start out of Spring Training, yet many let that experiment go on for far too long.
The skepticism felt by many fans was brilliantly re-ignited
2017 is now here, and the feeling about the rotation is very different than this time last year. If it hasn’t done a 180, it is damn close. Many are excited to see what a full year of Jameson Taillon looks like, and there was nothing in Ivan Nova’s time with the club that suggests it wasn’t repeatable. Cole’s health and mindset remain a question mark, but many predict a return to form for the young ace.
But with uncertainties abound on the back end with the uncertainty around Tyler Glasnow – more on him later – as well as the team’s investment via prospect capital in Drew Hutchison, some of the same concerns do remain.
2016 taught us that despite a solid lineup, the Pittsburgh Pirates are still very much a club that requires quality pitching to compete. Is there enough quality in 2017’s model? It’s a valid question, and a storyline that will dominate the spring.
Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review reported that Jung Ho Kang will likely not challenge to change his February 22nd South Korean court date on DUI charges. Though not a surprise, this officially serves notice that Kang’s spring will be a shortened one. Add in the lingering possibility of Major League Baseball imposing its own punishment, likely in the form of a suspension, and suddenly the Pittsburgh Pirates have a huge question at third base.
The fact is, the Pirates are equipped to make do should Kang miss ample time. That does not mean that the solutions in place are ideal.
David Freese will start at third in Kang’s stead. This seems more than acceptable on the surface, as Freese is a solid major league bat. However, dedicating Freese to third would rob the Pirates of some flexibility. Freese was never going to assume a 2014 Josh Harrison-like role, but he was slated to bounce regularly between third and first base. With Freese needed elsewhere, first base will now be manned by Josh Bell and John Jaso. With the Pirates ideally using Freese to guard against shaky defense from Bell, they now will not have such a luxury.
And the Pirates will undoubtedly miss Kang’s bat. Kang’s second year at the plate went largely unnoticed. Despite having gone through a rigorous rehabilitation process and playing a large chunk of the year with off-the-field issues hanging over his head, Kang still took strides at the dish. Despite a drop in average, Kang kept a steady strikeout rate year-to-year while increasing his walk rate by nearly four percent. His on-base stayed more or less static while he gained 52 points in slugging. All of this added up to a 133 wRC+, painting the picture of a second year player who avoided a sophomore slump.
Having Kang at the fifth or sixth spot and serving as a solid power threat would have been perfect for the types of players that are presumably going to hit around him. The Pirates will have to figure out how to adjust, and quickly.
As we turn to our next storyline, we take a look at someone who figures to have a ton of attention paid his way.