As the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates attempt to reach the postseason for the fourth consecutive season — and that still sounds crazy to say out loud — they have been busting their humps at McKechnie Field and Pirate City.
Over the past week, I have kept a keen eye on some things in Florida and head back North with these observations:READ MORE: Pittsburgh Weather: Tornado Warnings Issued For Local Counties Expired; Cleanup Underway After Storms Hit
+ If you heard the interviews we did this week with both Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, the obvious seemed to be the obvious —- McCutchen seems a much better bet to be in Pittsburgh for the long haul than Cole is. That said, I agree with this. I actually expect McCutchen to play his entire career in Pittsburgh. But, also, just because of Cole’s recent comments about his salary — and lack of comments about a long-term commitment — what shouldn’t be questioned is his commitment to this team. Gerrit Cole is absolutely, positively committed to this club right now. The business of baseball sucks; it is something most players loathe talking about. With Cole there is no telling what his long-term future is, but his commitment to the organization and trying to be successful right now isn’t in question.
+ Josh Harrison is the consummate pro. Most people know this. But a story he told this week illustrated as much. In the past, he’d been asked incessantly what position he liked playing most. That was in the days when he bounced around, went position-to-position seemingly by the day.
So when Harrison — now slated as the every day second baseman — was asked the past few days at which position he feels most comfortable, he didn’t waver. He said second base. But that’s just the half of it. He admitted that in the past it always was second base, but he detested answering as such because Neil Walker was embedded as the starter at that position and he didn’t want to cause a rift. That speaks volumes about Harrison, who essentially told a fib the last few seasons when asked a question out of respect for a guy (Walker) who he is close friends with.
+ Josh Bell is enormous. In a good way. His broad shoulders sit squarely and strikingly on a powerful body. Put it this way: If you dropped him into the Steelers locker room and he was walking around in street clothes or just a towel, no one would think he didn’t fit in. That’s a big escape from most baseball players in a football locker room.
+ I kind of expected more from Jason Rogers. He might make the club, but in seeing what I saw, I don’t know how much of an impact he will make on the big league level for a good organization.
+ Many inside the clubhouse this week told me the Pirates will make a vested interest to be more aggressive on the basepaths this season — both in trying to take extra bases and attempting to steal more.READ MORE: 2 Deaths, 1 Injury Being Investigated At North Central Regional Jail In West Virginia
+ One of the most special moments I’ve ever stumbled upon in all my time covering Spring Training happened in the Pirates bullpen at McKechnie early one morning this week. As a Pirates farmhard was throwing a bullpen session in an empty stadium, highly-prized prospect Reese McGuire was catching him. On his own and just after he had finished some of his work running in the outfield, Chris Stewart stopped and tutored McGuire on some finer points of watching the release point of a pitcher to gain an advantage receiving the ball. Stewart — as many would — very easily could have retreated to the clubhouse and gone about his own day, not being bothered with coaching a youngster. But that isn’t who Stewart is. He saw an opportunity to help and jumped on it. It said a whole, whole lot about him. But if you know Chris Stewart at all, you know that’s the type of teammate and man he is.
+ Joe Block is a wonderful guy and I got to hear some of his broadcast one of the exhibition games down here. He is genuine, has a Pittsburgh connection and his style isn’t riddled and peppered with stats, but rather with a regular-man conversational tone and delivery. I like him. A lot. And there is no question Pittsburgh Pirates fans should like him too.
+ It feels like the Pirates have some confidence in Jeff Locke, but wouldn’t at all hesitate to bump him from the rotation if he stumbled. It feels like he’s almost starting the season on a probation of sorts.
+ Tony Watson, although a quiet and reserved guy, is one of the big-time leaders in that Pirates clubhouse. Several players told me as much. Also, several players cited Watson’s willingness in the Wild Card loss to partake in some beanball as to why everyone on this club respects him so much. So while Watson doesn’t speak loudly or often, he is a powerful force on this team.
+ Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco have both noticeably bulked up their upper bodies. Will that translate to more home runs for either or both of them? No idea. But I do know that they are both jacked.
+ Too many people in the organization are talking favorably about Juan Nicasio for him to not have a decent-sized role on this club to at least start the season.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.MORE NEWS: Westmoreland County Election Officials Ready For November