Posted on March 15, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
Outside of the Miami Marlins, few teams did more during the offseason to hurt their chances of competing in 2018 than the Pittsburgh Pirates. The club traded away Andrew McCutchen and ace Gerrit Cole. Will those moves doom the Pirates to a lost 2018 season or can they surprise some people with their young talent?
Trading Cole will undoubtedly hurt, but the Pirates still have a nice contingent of starting pitchers. Jameson Taillon has the stuff to be a frontline starter and could be ready for a breakout year. The Pirates also have stability at the top of their rotation with veteran Ivan Nova. Joe Musgrove, who came over from the Astros in the Cole trade, could give the Pirates a solid mid-rotation starter.
The backend of Pittsburgh’s rotation is actually in good shape. Both Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams proved to be steady and reliable starters last season. Neither has elite stuff, but both are solid and the Pirates should feel comfortable with them taking the no. 4 and 5 spots in their rotation.
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The Pirates also have some young arms with high-end talent who could make an impact on 2018. Tyler Glasnow dominated triple-A last year but couldn’t translate that to success in the big leagues. However, he has the upside to pitch alongside Taillon at the top of the rotation. Mitch Keller is one of the team’s top prospects and no. 19 in all of baseball, according to MLB.com. He could be major league ready the second half of the season.
The Pirates had a solid bullpen last year, although that bullpen will look much different in 2018. One of the few consistencies will be closer Felipe Rivero, who has been signed to a long-term deal after an outstanding 2017 campaign. If Rivero can continue to pitch at that level, the Pirates could have one of the better closers in the National League.
Helping setup Rivero will be the likes of George Kontos, Kyle Crick, and Michael Feliz. Kontos is an established setup man with a career ERA of 3.00, so he should give the Pirates a reliable arm in the 8th inning. Feliz and Crick were acquired in trades this winter and have the stuff to be quality late-inning relievers. Finally, A.J. Schugel and Edgar Santana give the Pirates a couple more young bullpen pitchers who flashed great promise in 2017.
Offensively, the Pirates have some upside despite plenty of uncertainty. Despite trading McCutchen, Pittsburgh still has Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco as everyday players in their outfield. Both had disappointing seasons last year, but the Pirates know that both are capable of bouncing back and having a big year in 2018. The Pirates also added Corey Dickerson, who was an all-star with the Rays last year and should provide plenty of power in the middle of their lineup. Top prospect Austin Meadows is also a young player who could make an impact the second half of the season.
On the infield, the Pirates are happy with the production they got out of young first baseman Josh Bell last year. The same is true for second baseman Josh Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer, who both had one of their best offensive seasons in 2017. Pittsburgh is also curious what Colin Moran can give them at third base after coming over in the Cole trade. Players like Sean Rodriguez, David Freese, and Adam Frazier also give the Pirates plenty of depth and versatility coming off the bench.
Despite the trades they made over the winter, the Pirates are not devoid of talent. Obviously, the odds of them competing for a playoff spot are long. But Pittsburgh’s roster is littered with young players who have potential. Look for them to finish the season 72-90, which is only a few games worse than last year’s record. They won’t be a pushover, and if everything clicks, the Pirates could flirt with a .500 record in 2018.