MLB Preview: Will the Pirates raise the Jolly Roger in 2014?

Andrew  McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen and the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to go deeper into the postseason in 2014.

by Brandon Karsten

Key acquisitions: IB Chris McGuiness, RHP Edinson Volquez, C Chris Stewart.

Key losses: RHP A.J. Burnett, 1B Justin Morneau, 1B Garrett Jones, OF Marlon Byrd

The Pittsburgh Pirates created a buzz througout Major League Baseball in 2013. The Bucs not only had their first winning season since 1992 (When a player named Barry Bonds was patrolling left field at Three Rivers Stadium), but also locked up the NL Wild Card with a one-game winner-take-all victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

The Pirates lost the Division Series in five games to the eventual National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals, but the season’s achievements gave the team new confidence. With the off-season dapartures of some of the players that got them over the hump last season, the Pirates will have to rely on some of their home grown talent keep that buzz alive in the Steel City.

To continue to build on last year’s success, Pittsburgh will have to turn to its mega-star, Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen won the National League MVP after finishing third in the MVP voting in 2012 and got his second straight Silver Slugger Award. But while McCutchen is the rock of the outfield, who’ll be helping him out?

With the free-agent departure of Marlon Byrd to the Phillies, the Pirates have three other experienced outfielders on the roster: Starling Marte, Travis Snider, and Jose Tabata. The lack of outfield depth may force the Bucs to pick up another player off the end-of-Spring Training waiver wire.

The infield has undergone some changes as well. Pedro Alvarez will continue to be a mainstay at the hot corner and in the heart of the lineup. Although Alvarez struggled at the plate with a .296 on-base-percentage, he led the National League in home runs (36) and cracked the 100 RBI plateau for the first time in his career. With Garrett Jones and Justin Morneau gone, Gaby Sanchez will get the bulk of the at-bats at first base. Travis Ishikawa will spell him from time to time.

Russell Martin returns as the starting catcher, but the Bucs need find a solid back-up catcher after Michael McKenry was designated for assignment. The Pirates got veteran backstop Chris Stewart in early December from the Yankees in exchange for a player to be named later. However, Stewart suffered a knee injury during a Spring Training on March 12 and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. He’s expected to miss four-to-six weeks. For now, Tony Sanchez will back up Martin.

LINEUP
C: Russell Martin
1B: Gaby Sanchez
2B: Neil Walker
SS: Jordy Mercer
3B: Pedro Alvarez
LF: Starling Marte
CF: Andrew McCutchen
RF: Jose Tabata

The starting rotation looks almost similar to 2013 with the exception of A.J. Burnett. Burnett went across the state of Pennsylvania to Philadelphia for a one-year, $15 million deal with an option for 2015.1 New to the rotation is Dominican righty Edinson Volquez, who signed a one year and $5 million contract 2 The Pirates will be counting on Gerrit Cole, who made his major league debut in the middle of the season, to build off his 12-game debut. (5-3, 2.91)

ROTATION
SP: Francisco Liriano
SP: Charlie Morton
SP: Gerrit Cole
SP: Wandy Rodriguez
SP: Edison Volquez

The bullpen remained pretty much the same from last year. Jason Grilli proved last year he was a reliable closer with 33 saves in 35 chances. When Grilli was injured in midseason, the Bucs showed they had a solid replacement in Mark Melancon.

BULLPEN
Jason Grilli
Mark Melancon
Tony Watson
Justin Wilson
Jeanmar Gomez
Stolmy Pimentel
Bryan Morris

BENCH

Clint Barmes and Josh Harrison are the utility infielders, with Harrison also the fifth out fielder for now.

Pittsburgh’s top prospect, outfielder Gregory Polanco,  was sent down to AAA Indianapolis aftera decent showing  in Spring Training. He’ll start the season at Triple-A Indianapolis, but could join the Pirates during the season.

Also waiting for a major league call-up this year will be Jameson Taillon. The righty Taillon spent most of 2013 at Double-A Altoona with some starts in Indianapolis. Taillon, the 2010 second overall draft pick, was one of the first cuts in the Pirates Spring Training camp and will start the year in Indianapolis.3

OUTLOOK

Just like last year, Pittsburgh will have to fight with St. Louis to win the NL Central. The defending NL Champion  Cardinals lost Carlos Beltran to free agency and traded away 2011 World Series hero David Freese, but still maintain a solid rotation in Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha.

With most of the key players back and a taste of the postseason in their mouths, the Pirates appear to be hungry and are primed to continue where they left off in 2013.

1 – mlb.com

2 – mlb.com

3 –  wtae.com

Brandon Karsten is a contributor to Designated Four Assignment. He can be found on Facebook or contacted by email at bkarsten2009@hotmail.com.

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