KDKA-TV Sports’ Bob Pompeani, Rich Walsh and Josh Taylor make their predictions for the 2018 Pirates season.
Bob Pompeani: Optimism springs eternal when it comes to opening day. And while I am an optimistic person in general, I am also realistic enough to know that this Pirates season is a rebuilding one. That is not their take; that’s my take.
How can it be anything BUT a rebuild? They traded Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole and were the ONLY MLB team to NOT sign a Major League free agent.
BUT they do have some younger players who will be interesting to watch.
Overall, for the record I see this as a 4th place team in the NL Central Division. The record will fall something around 75-87. St. Louis and Chicago will duel it out for the Division Title with a strong push from the Brewers who did go out and vastly improve, in my opinion.
The key for the Pirates to improve and begin the rebuilding process is consistent starting pitching. They know that Jameson Taillon is capable to be their top guy. But after that, not much is guaranteed.
Ivan Nova was wildly erratic and they would need the good Nova and not the bad Nova all season.
Both Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl are coming off impressive rookie seasons but can they duplicate or improve upon what they did last year? That is important. While we don’t know much about one of the players acquired in the Cole trade Joe Musgrove, we do know he has the stuff to be successful. Whether he harnesses it and avoids control issues will determine how much he can contribute this year.
For me, if the Pirates are gonna make a surprisingly bigger step, ultimately Tyler Glasnow must escape the bullpen and become one of their five starters. He has the stuff. We know that. Can he avoid falling behind Major League hitters and develop a reliable fourth pitch? If he does, that will speed up the process.
The bullpen always appears to be Neal Huntington’s best work. He can acquire arms and turn them in reliable back end guys. Felipe Rivero is a player the Washington Nationals wish they never traded for Mark Melancon. The GM made a heist right there. George Kontos appears ready to be a good set up man and Michael Feliz, another player picked up in the Cole trade, is ML ready.
Offensively, this team will lack power. Aside from Josh Bell, there isn’t much unless both Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco do what they are supposed to have done and become big run producers. Cory Dickerson is coming off an All-Star 27 HR campaign with Tampa Bay… Can he put up those numbers in Pittsburgh? If the answer is yes, that will also provide some excitement.
The Pirates have really not gotten much from their third base position over the last 2 years. Jung Ho Kang is somewhere in this world…but not here and won’t be here again. Last year David Freese was overmatched at playing every day. This year Colin Moran was another brought in for Cole. Can he blossom as a rookie? Tough to do and that is another big key.
Going with with 13 pitchers makes their bench limited and without power.
Overall, the Pirates are not ready to compete for any playoff consideration. But they have the opportunity to make strides and begin what is another rebuilding process even if they refuse to call it that. That is what it is.
Rich Walsh: The Pirates made some unfavorable moves this off season. Losing the face of the franchise was a public relations nightmare, but the organization has been adamant that it will be better for making those moves. I don’t agree with making those trades and not putting that money directly back into the major league roster, but I don’t think the Pirates will be as bad as most fans think. Oddsmakers have the Pirates winning only 73 games this season. I think they will win more. I think this year’s team will finish around .500.
You might think I’m crazy but I have the Pirates finishing with a record of 80-82. Losing Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole hurts. I think Cole will definitely be tougher to replace on the field. McCutchen hurts because he was the face of the franchise for so many years. The starting rotation might take some lumps without Cole but Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams should both be better than last year. Joe Musgrove is an unknown but has potential to pick up some of the slack. I think the outfield will be just as good if not better than last year. If you listen to the Pirates, analytically they are better than last year. Starling Marte is projected as a better option in Center. Corey Dickerson will be the starting left fielder. He had a better slugging percentage than McCutchen last season and only one less home run. If Gregory Polanco can stay healthy for an entire season, this should be a formidable group.
The infield will also be better. Josh Bell is the new face of the franchise. He will be more comfortable at first base this year. So we should expect better numbers all around. Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer will continue to take care of the middle infield. Colan Moran is an unknown but he was a key piece in the Cole trade, so the Pirates have high expectations for Moran. The bullpen is better and will be a key part of this team this year anchored by one of the best in the major, Felipe Rivero.
All I’m saying is don’t count the Pirates out just yet. They might actually be better than I even think.
Josh Taylor: Looking around Major League Baseball this off season, the slow movement among most of the teams in the free agent market was more of a red alert to most other fan bases than in Pittsburgh. The Pirates seem to be set on building this year’s team around their homegrown talent and other players that were brought in by means other than the open market. The jury is still out on the return for the Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen trades, but trading troubled relief pitcher Daniel Hudson to bring in a 20-plus home run threat in Corey Dickerson was their best move by far in terms of both addition and subtraction.
The acquisition of Colin Moran in the Cole trade and starting him at third base accents the arrival of Dickerson quite well. With the two newcomers both hitting from the left side of the plate, along with Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco, the Pirates finally have the power potential to take advantage of the Clemente Wall in right field, which they’ve failed to do since PNC Park opened in 2001. If Starling Marte can play a full season (or close to it) in center field like the All-Star and Gold Glove winner we saw two years ago, both the offense and defense will be better for it. However, the underlying truth of this everyday lineup is its success will be largely dependent upon the success of the outfield. Otherwise, things might fall apart quickly just like they did within the first couple months of the 2017 season. Perhaps finding a spot for Adam Frazier to start three to four days a week could make things a little easier, but not much. His bat is reliable in the leadoff spot, but is his glove good enough for an everyday defensive position? I’m not so sure.
Even with a lineup that encounters the best-case scenario offensively, the pitching staff will ultimately determine just how good this team will be. A healthy Jameson Taillon is paramount at the top of the rotation, and Ivan Nova has to show he can log big-time innings after reaching a career high last season, which explains him hitting the wall in August and September. After that, one can only guess what to expect from newcomer Joe Musgrove, or Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams. Maybe one of the three emerges to be reliable and somewhat consistent (my money is on Williams), but the odds of all three finding their stride at the same time are paper thin.
This roster is full of potential from top to bottom, but for this team to be a postseason contender, all of that potential has to blossom at the same time. Hoping for that might be too much for even the most optimistic man in Clint Hurdle. I expect a record of 77-85. There will be a few moments that will be fun to watch, but still not enough to build hope for a winner just yet.