If the Pittsburgh Pirates want to contend again in 2017, they will need especially big seasons from a few select individuals.

With the Pittsburgh Pirates about to break camp and head north, projecting how Clint Hurdle’s team will finish in 2017 is no easy task. Is this team capable of recapturing its 2015 form?

For that to prove true, several Pirates will have to play very important roles.

Who are the most important keys to the Bucs making a trip back to the postseason?

Let’s take a look.

Gerrit Cole

Let’s state the obvious right off the bat. If Cole doesn’t get back to being an ace, the Pittsburgh Pirates have no chance in 2017. It is that simple.

Some will debate that Cole isn’t a top of the rotation pitcher and that very well may be true, but he has to be for this team to succeed this season. If he is the guy who finished 7-10 with a 3.88 ERA and 1.44 WHIP, then the Pirates are in trouble. But if Cole is the guy who went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 2015, then the Pirates will be very competitive.

The key with Cole is good health and he is healthy right now.  That wasn’t the case last season. Cole doesn’t need to be Clayton Kershaw for the Pirates to succeed, but he has to be dominant nonetheless.

My guess is Cole gets back closer to the guy we saw in 2015 instead of the guy we saw last season.

Andrew McCutchen

Sticking with the obvious again, but McCutchen has to rebound for the Pittsburgh Pirates to compete.

He finished August and September better after a miserable four month start to the 2016 campaign.

The .766 OPS McCutchen put up last season was the worst of his career by far and if that happens again, the Pirates won’t compete and McCutchen will also be tough to move at the trade deadline should the Pirates look to explore that avenue once again.

McCutchen is a true professional though and is playing with a chip on his shoulder. Those will both be big boons to the Pirates in 2017. He may not get back to MVP level, but McCutchen has to be the best hitter in the Pirates lineup on a nightly basis. If that happens, this lineup should be very good in 2017.

Ivan Nova

I could have gone with several candidates in this spot, but I lean towards Nova. We all saw how bad the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff was last season and ultimately that was the reason for a down season.

The starting rotation must be better in 2017 and Nova is a huge part of that. Behind Cole and Jameson Taillon, Nova has to have a big season as the Bucs’ third starter. He pitched well enough down the stretch to earn himself a big contract. Now Nova must back it up.

If he is anything like the guy who went 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.09 WHIP after the trade deadline then the Pirates could have a steal on their hands.

The one common thread with the Pirates three playoff teams from 2013-15 is that they received solid production from their number three starter. The club just did not have that last season.

Nova needs to play a big role this season on this team. He can’t revert to being the inconsistent starter he was in a Yankees uniform. If Monday’s spring training start is any indication, Nova very well could be in store for a big 2017 season.

Honorable Mention- Josh Bell

I include Bell on this list for a couple of reasons.

The first is the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to miss Jung-Ho Kang’s bat, especially his power. Bell is going to be given the opportunity to play and he has to live up to the hype. Bell doesn’t necessarily have to replace Kang’s power, but he has to be a very solid bat in the Pirates lineup right from the start of the season.

Another issue is Bell’s defense.

He’s going to have to play good enough defense that Hurdle can run him out there most nights. If Bell kills the team defensively, he’s going to be more harmful than helpful as he won’t be in games for long. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a rookie, but Bell is going to have to come through with an impressive season.

Image Credit – Keith Allison – Flickr Creative Commons

Matt Shetler

Matt is a life long Pirates fan with both a newspaper and radio background. Before coming to Pirates Breakdown he was most recently the co-owner and lead columnist for Pittsburgh Sporting News. He has been a credentialed writer for all four major sports and also has written for plenty of other sports and fantasy sports websites.

  • Bobby Ewing

    Enough with Bells defense it’s getting old we all know his defense has to get better

    • Lee Foo Young

      how do we “All” know this???

      His defense is bad….he has slow feet and hands. It is, at best going to get less than mediocre. Get used to hearing it….it will never go away.

  • redrage97

    Cole went lost three WAR between 15 and 16. If he would have kept those three wins pirates would’ve been over .500. In the first half he pitched decently 3.5 era going 2 and 5 and a 1.3 whip.. Not what we’d expect for sure… certainly not as good as he would want.. the horrible defense the Pirates played to start the season didn’t help much. The second half he did even worse with a better playing defense. Some of that could be attributed to nagging injury so they say But that ‘injury’ might have been just an excuse to get him out of the rotation to work on what ever was going wrong?

    If he is closer to 3ERA, 1.2Whip than 4ERA and 1.4 WHIP over the course of a full season then I think we’re in good shape with him.

    Cutch. Flip it. HORRIBLE first half.. mostly respectable second half. everyone that has played with him this spring in the WBC and Spring Training says dont’ worry.. he’s okay. I can go with that. While its happened before I dont’ see and MVP going to struggling to stay in the league after two seasons. If he isn’t over .280/.340 with his pretty steady power numbers Meadows will probably be getting a call sooner than later. Again he went from a 4.9 WAR to a -0.7 WAR over one season.

    Nova Is a back end pitcher.. no more no less. He’s always had his ups and downs. I’m worried we got him when he was ‘up’ and that we’re going to hit that down pretty quick in to the season. Luckily the front office seemed to take this into consideration when signing him. The good news is.. his down times are in line with what we usually have for a back and rotation so.. “shouldn’t” hold us back much should he hit one.

    Bell. Not to worried here. I doubt he’ll be a great fielder but he should be better than Pedro. As long as his bat is playing decently he’ll be in there. If he struggles.. there are plenty of infield options to give him a break.

    Bell’s auto linker failed again. I think after the BBRef update it put it back to auto linking to the other Bell. Maybe after he gets more time he’ll be given priority on the linker

    • Jason Rollison

      hah I hope it updates

  • leadoff

    The chances of McCutchen improving IMO. The biggest problem is that he will hit 3’rd no matter what. The Pirates should look at where Leland had him hitting. He can’t get around on power pitchers.

  • leadoff

    Bells defense should get a little better, I doubt he is going to develop into a very good defensive player anywhere, but should be adequate.