Behind the play of NL MVP Andrew McCutchen and some stellar starting pitching, the Pirates made their first playoff appearance since 1992 last year. That’s right. The last time they had made the playoffs, Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke, Jeff King, Doug Drabek, Randy Tomlin and a rookie named Tim Wakefield got them there. The 21 years that followed were dreadful for Pirates fans. How does a team finish last for so long without improving? They had top picks in the draft many of those years. Who was making those picks, Rachel Phelps? Anyway, times have changed, so let’s see what the outlook is like in Pittsburgh in 2014.
MVP Needs Some Help
Andrew McCutchen wasn’t, by any means, alone in this lineup last year, but he’s by far the best player on the team, and those guys can always use a little more support. The guys who will most likely support him the most this coming season are 2B Neil Walker (.251/.339/.418, 16 HR, 53 RBI), Starling Marte (.280/.343/.441, 12 HR, 35 RBI and 41 SB) and Pedro Alvarez (36 HR, 100 RBI). Marte and Walker need to get on base for Cutch, while Alvarez provides the protective muscle behind him in the lineup. If Alvarez could hit for just a little more average, he would be an absolute beast. As it is, he’s one of the most powerful hitters in the league, so I guess you can’t have everything in life. One other guy I’m pretty intrigued by is Jordy Mercer, who got a good chunk of playing time last year and hit .285/.336/.435 with 8 home runs in 103 games. Given a full season, and building on his experience from last season, he could be a nice little producer for them at short.
The Pirates let AJ Burnett walk himself to Philly this offseason, so it will be interesting to see how well this rotation fares without him. AJ remembered how to pitch upon being acquired by the Pirates from the Yankees following the 2011 season, and put up a 3.30 ERA in 30 starts in 2013. That’s not going to be easy to replace. Luckily for Pittsburgh, they have a nice rotation otherwise, and one of Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02), Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.26), Wandy Rordriguex (6-4, 3.59) or Jeff Locke (10-7 3.52) could possibly pick up the slack. The concern with Wandy and Morton is health, as both made 20 or less starts last year. That being said, the real ace up the Pirates’ sleeves has to be Gerrit Cole. The now 23 year old made 19 starts as a rookie in 2013, winning 10 games and posting a 3.26 ERA. With Wandy’s injury, Cole became a key cog to the Pirates success in 2013, and he handled it very well. Maybe the won’t miss AJ so much after all.
Jason Grilli returns to the closer role in 2014. He started 2013 as the closer and was pretty awesome, but was replaced by Mark Melancon after an injury about midway through the season. Despite that, Grilli still managed 33 saves, which is pretty impressive. Melancon will slide back to the 8th inning role he thrived in to start the year last year, and guys like Vin Mazzaro, Justin Wilson, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes will be there to support as well. Other than Hughes, all of those guys put up great numbers in 2013, so they should be pretty good in 2014 too.
The Reds and the Cardinals will still be very good in 2014, so things won’t be easy for the Pirates. I think the Cardinals will probably win the division, so the Pirates will be battling the Reds for one of the Wild Card slots again this coming season. I think Pittsburgh is good enough to compete, and only the Braves and maybe the D-Backs will challenge for a Wild Card, so I think the Pirates will be OK.
McCutchen is a first round pick, hands down. I think I’d go as far as calling him a top five guy too. Alvarez’s power production is a must have for any team, and Walker should bounce back a bit, which makes him very valuable for a second baseman. If Marte can add just a little bit of power to his game, he’ll be right up there too. He can hit and steal bases quite well.
Cole is an ace, and Liriano and Rodriguez should be good if they can stay healthy. That hasn’t been a sure thing lately for either of those guys, but I think they’re worth drafting. I like what Locke and Morton did last year, but I’m not sure I buy their track record just yet. I’d let them slip to the very late rounds, or even try to wait and see and possibly pick them up off the waiver wire if they succeed early on. Grilli is the man, and you should draft him too.
Featured image courtesy of: USATSI
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