2015 Season Previews: Pittsburgh Pirates

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Pittsburgh Pirates

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 80-82 (3rd in NL Central, 18th in MLB

Manager: Clint Hurdle (333-315 in four years with Pittsburgh, 867-940 in 12 years overall)

Top Three Players: OF Andrew McCutchen (6.1), OF Starling Marte (3.3), 2B Neil Walker (3.0)

Bounce-back Player: OF Gregory Polanco

After hitting .328/.390/.504 with 29 extra-base hits and 16 stolen bases in 69 games at Triple-A last season, Polanco landed in Pittsburgh to begin his career. The 6’4″, 220 pound outfielder ran like a gazelle, covering the outfield and the base paths with long-legged ease, but was somewhat disappointing in his first shot at the big leagues, posting a .235/.307/.343 triple-slash with 16 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases over 314 plate appearances. For that reason, Polanco is here, as he is likely to see huge gains, especially considering the fact that he wasn’t over-matched during his time in the majors in 2014, posting an 18.9 percent strikeout rate with a 9.6 percent walk rate. Polanco will be in his age-23 season and it wouldn’t surprise me to see more than 50 extra-base hits and 25 stolen bases out of the lanky, future superstar.

NL Cy Young contender, Cole Courtesy: CBS Sports
NL Cy Young contender, Cole
Courtesy: CBS Sports

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Gerrit Cole

Cole struggles with shoulder fatigue in 2014, which is quite worrisome for a pitcher, especially one who was just 23 last season. With an offseason of rest, Cole steps into a season that will catapult him into the elite of the National League, as he’ll become the top starter on the Pirates and one of the top ten pitchers in baseball – barring injury, of course. Cole improved his K:9 to 9.0 from 7.7 in his rookie campaign, and further gains are likely as he continues to grasp and build command of his impressive collection of power pitches. The Pirates are putting Francisco Liriano on the bump for Opening Day, but Cole is the ace of the Pirates rotation, and he’ll make huge strides in 2015 and put himself in the Cy Young conversation.

Offseason Overview: The Pirates brought Liriano back, as well as right-hander A.J. Burnett, strengthening their rotation with arms that have succeeded at PNC Park already. They’ll hope that RHP Charlie Morton can stay healthy and productive and that Vance Worley‘s success in 17 starts (8-4, 2.85 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) can be duplicated, forming a rotation that is capable of carrying the club to the top of the division. The focus of the offseason appeared to be acquiring depth, which Neil Huntington and company did quite well, bringing in super-utility players Sean Rodriguez and Steve Lombardozzi, first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart, and international shortstop signing Jung Ho Kang, who hit a robust .356/.459/.739 with 40 home runs and 117 RBI in 117 games in Korea last season. The loss of Russell Martin will be a huge factor with the pitching staff, but Francisco Cervelli was brought in to cushion the blow. We’ll see if that is enough to keep things balanced for the Pirates, who have made the playoffs the last two seasons after missing out on October fun from 1993 to 2012.

The Verdict: Pittsburgh is loaded with talent. It may seem unreasonable to expect the same type of season out of Josh Harrison that they had in 2014 (.837 OPS, 58 extra-base hits, 18 stolen bases), but they should get more out of 1B Pedro Alvarez (.717 OPS, 18 home runs), while the outfield begins (or continues) to carry the offense, with likely MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen being flanked by Starling Marte and Polanco in the corners – and we haven’t even mentioned 2B Neil Walker, who is one of the most underrated players in baseball. With continued improvement from the youngsters, particularly Cole and Polanco, the Pirates are capable of overcoming the loss of their leader, Martin, and riding the on-hand talent to a 90-win season and an NL Central title.

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