A breakdown of your 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates
A key contributor to the team’s 2013 success, the Pirates’ pitching staff hopes to be a strength again in 2014.
Here’s how the rotation shapes up to start the season: Liriano, Cole, Morton, Rodriguez, Volquez. The starting five begins their life after A.J., with Liriano and Cole looking to take charge.
Coming off his “Comeback Player of the Year” campaign, Liriano returns for the second year of his two-year deal. It’ll be interesting to see if he can piece together back-to-back strong seasons, something he hasn’t been able to do in his career.
Gerrit Cole, entering his sophomore season, looks to develop into the workhorse the Pirates have been waiting for. The sky is seemingly the limit for Cole 45, whose blazing fastball and effective offspeed pitches could place him among the league’s best.
Morton, who inked a three-year contract extension this winter, really pitched well down the stretch after returning from Tommy John surgery in June. The 30-year-old sinkerballer could be a huge piece of the rotation this year.
Wandy missed the majority of 2013 due to injury, so he’s a question mark for sure. A full, healthy season would be nice for the veteran lefty, his last as a Pirate.
The big move of the offseason (hard to call it that) was the $5 million addition of Edinson Volquez. Someone who hasn’t had sustained success since 2008, he’s obviously a huge wild card. The Pirates are taking a gamble here and it could very well end up biting them, but they still believe Ray Searage & Co. can fix Volquez. We’ll see what happens.
The bullpen – one of MLB’s best in 2013 – looks very similar in 2014, consisting of Grilli, Melancon, Watson, Wilson, Morris, Gomez, and Pimentel.
The Shark Tank is highlighted by closer Jason Grilli and his setup men Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, and Justin Wilson. The two righties – Grilli and Melancon – were NL All-Stars in 2013 and could again be one of the best 8th/9th inning combos in baseball. The two lefties – Watson and Wilson – had breakout seasons last year and look to build upon their success.
In middle relief, the Pirates had four pitchers (all out of options) battling for three spots. The solution: designating Vin Mazzaro for assignment on Saturday afternoon, securing jobs for Morris, Gomez, and Pimentel. Mazzaro, 27, was acquired quite cheaply last offseason and gave the Pirates a solid year, posting a 2.81 ERA over 73.2 innings. Reports from Bradenton indicate that Bryan Morris had as strong of a spring as anyone, adding some velocity and movement to his pitches. The front office seems to love Gomez, while Pimentel gets to prove his apparently good stuff in the big league bullpen.
The biggest improvement between the 2012 and 2013 Pirates had to be behind the plate. Russell Martin was brought in on a two-year, $17 million deal which ended up paying big dividends. Playing in 127 games, Martin knocked 15 homers at the dish while performing his best behind it: he caught 36 base stealers (tops in NL), good for a 40% CS rate. All in all, Russ was worth over four wins above replacement, something the Pirates haven’t seen from a catcher since the Jason Kendall days.
Chris Stewart was acquired in a December trade with the Yankees to back up Russell Martin. However, a knee injury requiring a minor surgery will force him to miss the beginning of the season. Thus, prospect Tony Sanchez will get a chance to strut his stuff in the big leagues. Sanchez could have been the backup this season, though the Pirates would like to keep him in Indy to see regular at-bats.
An area that should have been better addressed this offseason, first base isn’t looking so good to start 2014. Gaby Sanchez returns, though his inability to consistently hit RHP makes him a platoon player at best. After Garrett Jones was non-tendered and signed with Miami, the Bucs needed to fill the left-handed hitting side of the platoon. Andrew Lambo, who hit 32 HR in the minors last season, looked to be the guy until his awful spring training, as he lost the job and was optioned back to Indianapolis. For now, it appears they’ll use 30-year-old journeyman Travis Ishikawa, a non-roster invite to camp this spring. He played just seven big league games last year; overall, he’s bounced around between four MLB clubs over six seasons while posting uninspiring numbers.
In the middle, the double play combo consists of Neil Walker and Jordy Mercer. Walker, entering his fifth season with his hometown club, could make a huge impact in the lineup by staying healthy for an entire season. Mercer hit .285/.336/.435 in 2013, earning a full-time job at short over veteran Clint Barmes.
An All-Star in 2013, Pedro Alvarez knocked 36 homers to share the NL lead with Paul Goldschmidt and went on to win the Silver Slugger award at third base. El Toro, one of the streakiest hitters on the squad, got hot at the right time last year: he hit .324/.390/.622 with 3 HR in the last 10 games of the regular season, then .300/.348/.800 in the postseason, recording at least one RBI in each game. As the big bopper in the lineup, the Pirates could use another powerful year from the Big Bull.
Barmes and Josh Harrison return to be the utility men again in 2014, both with the ability to play 2B, 3B, or SS. J-Hay can also play a little OF if necessary.
Andrew McCutchen… How much can you say about the guy? The 2013 NL MVP and face of the franchise has been dominant the last two years, hitting .322/.402/.531 over 314 games. He’s been one of the most durable players on the team, with 154, 158, 157, and 157 games played in each of his four full MLB seasons (knock on wood that he keeps it up). It’s hard to say anything bad about Cutch, who has evolved into one of MLB’s best young talents.
On the left field side of McCutchen is 25-year-old Starling Marte… and it’ll be staying that way for quite some time. Marte just signed a six-year, $31 million deal – with two option years, it could keep him in Pittsburgh through 2021. The young stud brings five-tool talent to the table, featuring an excellent combo of offense, defense, and speed. The long-term contract could be a total bargain if Marte continues to be a 4-5 WAR player like he was in 2013.
With top prospect Gregory Polanco waiting in the wings, right field again consists of Travis Snider & Jose Tabata for now. Both guys have underperformed and been sidelined by too many injuries, so any combination of those two factors could signal a callup of Polanco by midseason.
Clint Hurdle, Manager
Jeff Banister, Bench Coach
Jeff Branson, Hitting Coach
Ray Searage, Pitching Coach
Rick Sofield, First Base Coach
Nick Leyva, Third Base Coach
Dave Jauss, Coach
Jeff Livesey, Coach
Euclides Rojas, Bullpen Coach
Heberto Andrade, Bullpen Catcher
For the first time in two decades, the Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off a winning season… Not only that, but a playoff appearance. While they’ve lost their leader in A.J. Burnett, the culture has clearly changed in the Burgh. The core pieces in Cutch, Marte, Alvarez, Walker are still around, while Martin is behind the plate, the rotation looks almost the same, and the bullpen is nearly identical. Top prospects Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco are on the way as well. There’s a lot to look forward to in 2014, and while 2013 was awesome, it’s time for the Pirates to keep moving forward and keep getting better. As Clint Hurdle has repeatedly said this spring, the time is now.