Pitchers and catchers reported yesterday to Bradenton and count me among the few who feel the Pirates can be competitive. Not for first place in the division as the Reds enter the season as the team to beat and they are a far superior team than the Pirates and others in the NL Central, but there are areas about this Pirate team that has me somewhat optimistic.
The rotation is the deepest in years and while there’s question marks with what type of pitchers they will get from James McDonald, Francisco Liriano and whether A.J. Burnett can match last years level, I still think this group can be good enough to keep the Pirates competitive. When you throw in Gerrit Cole being a factor in the rotation at somepoint this season, there’s some intrigue with this group. Despite the loss of Joe Hanrahan, the bullpen should be okay and the Pirates have upgraded defensively at catcher position with Russell Martin.
Where the biggest question marks for me is offensively. A lot of things need to go right for an offense that ranked 23rd in runs scored last season. The Pirates need Andrew McCutchen to continue to play at an MVP level, Pedro Alvarez build off last season, Neil Walker stay healthy, Garrett Jones stay around and play at the level he did last year and Starling Marte show continued improvement.
The two burning questions with this group is whether another hitter can emerge, specifically in right field, and if Starling Marte can emerge into an impact lead-off hitter at the top of the lineup.
In right field the Pirates will have four players in the mix in Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley and Jerry Sands. The job will be Travis Snider’s to lose with the expectation being that Jerry Sands likely begins the year in the minors. What is lacking from all four of these players is any of them having power or showing any signs of being impact MLB hitters. This is a serious hole for this club.
IS MARTE AN IDEAL LEAD-OFF HITTER?
Starling Marte, had a line of .257/.300/.437 last season in 167 at-bats with 5 home runs, 17 RBIs, 6 triples and 3 doubles. After looking great in Winter Ball, Marte should continue to improve this season but is he an ideal lead-off hitter? Batting leadoff last season, in 144 at-bats, Marte hit .285/.320/.486 with 5 home runs and 16 RBI’s. Marte though walked just 5 times and had an OBP of .320. Scouts feel he doesn’t see enough pitches as Marte’s lack of walks have been a concern through his young career.
Of all the names the Pirates looked into last season around the trade deadline, notably Chase Headley, Hunter Pence, and Shin-Soo Choo, there’s a good argument that Choo would have been the best fit because of his presence as a lead-off hitter.