Looking at the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017, there are many possibilities on how the season might go. They may win 101 games. They may win 63.
Here are some bold predictions on how certain Pirates will perform this season. Let me remind you that these predictions are in fact bold. The first three predictions will be pessimistic and the three after will be optimistic. Bad news before the good news, right? Also, all of these predictions will not include injuries. Let’s get it going.
Tony Watson will lose his job in a month
Watson was given the closer duties last season after Mark Melancon was traded. He was okay in that role giving up 10 earned runs in 23.1 innings. He struck out 19 batters and walked five in that span converting 15 saves in 18 attempts. Overall, Watson wasn’t quite himself last year. His ERA stood at 3.06 but his FIP was 4.37. His ground ball rate was down 4% from the previous two years when he dominated.
This season, I find it very possible that Watson struggles early in the year and loses the closer gig to Felipe Rivero as early as May. Watson has only thrown 5.1 innings this spring but has given up eight earned runs in that time. His velocity has been down a bit. Meanwhile, Rivero has been a stud since being acquired. His time is coming.
Chad Kuhl will be sent to the minors
Coming into the spring, Kuhl was all but guaranteed a spot in the rotation due to the success he enjoyed last year. He posted an ERA of 4.20 and FIP of 3.95 in 70 innings pitched in 2016. That being said, Kuhl really struggled against left-handed batters as they hit .301/.358/.496 against him.
With guys like Steven Brault and Drew Hutchinson waiting in the minors leagues, a lot of pressure will be placed upon Kuhl to be effective at the major league level this season. Don’t be surprised if the pressure takes hold. That coupled with opposing hitters gaining experience against him from last season could make for a bad combination. Don’t forget that Kuhl was actually behind Tyler Glasnow, Trevor Williams, and Brault in terms of prospect rankings last year. He has overachieved quite a bit up to this point.
No Pirate will hit 30 home runs for a fourth straight year
This may not be the boldest prediction in the world, but it is worth talking about. It has been three years since a Pirate last hit 30 home runs. The last Pirate to do that in a season was Pedro Alvarez in 2013 when he smacked 36. The closest since then was Alvarez again in 2015 when he hit 27.
Looking at the roster in 2017, Jung Ho Kang would have had the best chance for 30 home runs but he is currently on the restricted list and his return to the Pirates is in doubt. Andrew McCutchen once hit 30 home runs but he will most likely fall in the 20-25 range like he has for the past four years. Gregory Polanco has a decent chance. He hit 22 home runs last year and his total has increased every year he has played. Like McCutchen though, I would expect him to fall in the 20-25 range. Starling Marte certainly has the strength to hit 30 bombs, but his style of play allows for him to spray the ball all over the field, not necessarily hit for power even if he can. Josh Bell is too young and that’s pretty much it.
Now for some positive predictions…
Jordy Mercer hits 20 home runs
Mercer enjoyed a nice spring hitting .326 with three home runs in 46 at bats. He has added a few pounds of muscle over the winter, according to play-by-play man, Greg Brown. In his age 30 season, Mercer could be poised for a nice little power breakout.
He has the tools. Standing at 6’3, Mercer is one of the taller shortstops in baseball. Last year in Arizona, he hit one of the longest home runs of the season. His career high mark is 12 and he hit 11 just last season. Mercer plays enough games to do it as he has played at least 116 games over the past three years. The one glaring problem with this prediction is the fact that left field at PNC Park is huge and pulling home runs is a tall task. That being said, Mercer posted a career high in the rate of which he hit the ball to the opposite field at 29.4%. Some opposite field power may follow.
Starling Marte: MVP
Marte has always had one thing holding him back over his career and that is health. Last year he only played 129 games. He has only played in 150 games once over his four and a half year career. That being said, Marte is one of the best two-way players in baseball.
With his move to center field, Marte will be in a more valuable spot. His defense is not in question. Marte could easily win a gold glove in center field this season and be regarded as the best defensive outfielder in baseball. Some already think he is. At age 28, Marte is entering his prime. He is due for an offensive breakout. Last year, Marte hit .311 but with only nine home runs. The year before he hit 19 home runs with a batting average of .287. For Marte, an MVP season might look like this: .315/.370/.510 with 25 home runs, 35 doubles, 10 triples, and 50 steals. Couple that with stellar defense in center field and you have yourself an MVP. That may seem a little farfetched, by Marte has the skill set. He just need to stay healthy.
Adam Frazier leads the Pirates in hitting
Not only will Frazier win a starting job, he will excel. As we all know, Frazier has been the best hitter this spring along with Jose Osuna. Ever since coming up to the majors, he has done nothing but hit. Last year in 160 plate appearances, Frazier hit .301/.356/.411. That sample size is small yes, but not really that small. He has hit well over .300 at every minor league stop except high-A ball three years ago.
I just love Frazier’s approach at the plate. He is patient and picks out the pitches he wants to hit. He is short and quick to the ball and hits line drives all over the field. Frazier can hit lefties. For young left handed hitters, that is usually the last thing they are able to do at the major league level, if they ever figure it out at all. If given the opportunity, whether it be at second base or as a super utility man, Frazier will hit. He has even shown a bit of pop after having only three career minor league home runs. He hit two with the Pirates last season and three this spring. Frazier will lead the Pirates in batting average in 2017. Hell, he’s even going to hit 10 home runs.