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Is It Time for Pittsburgh Pirates to Press Panic Button?

The Pittsburgh Pirates dropped their third straight game via walk-off fashion Sunday afternoon as Kolten Wong’s solo shot in the bottom of the 14th inning led the St. Louis Cardinals to the weekend series sweep. 

With the loss, the Pirates have now lost three games in a row and five of their last six games.  The team has won just three of its first eight series on the season, dropping four series and coming out with a series tie against the Chicago Cubs April 20-23.  

With a 12-13 record on the season, the Pirates do not look like the team people had expected to make the leap this season from a wild-card contender to a division title winner.  

Now, a dismal start to the regular season is something this Pittsburgh squad is accustomed to.  On May 3 last season, the Pirates were 12-18 through their first 30 games.  So, they have already matched their win total through 30 games last season in only 25 games this season.  

Still, the slow start in Pittsburgh is nothing to just brush to the side and not worry about.  A quick turnaround after a slow start in 2014 does not mean the Pirates will automatically do the same this time around.  

The biggest cause for concern has been the inability of Pirates batters to manufacture runs.  The Pirates scored just four runs in St. Louis this weekend, losing each game by just one run.

There should be little concern of batters’ abilities to drive in runners from second or third.  Entering Sunday’s contest, Pittsburgh batters owned a .285 batting average when there was a runner in scoring position.

Still, that average dropped to .274 when Pirates batters left a combined 19 runners on base Sunday afternoon.  

When there is no one on base, the team batting average stands at a dismal .209 on the season. After seeing nine batters strike out Sunday, the Pirates have 213 strikeouts as a team, which is third highest in the National League

The Pirates have just four regulars batting over .250 this season: Gregory Polanco (.290), Starling Marte (.258), Jung Ho Kang (.281) and Neil Walker (.267).  

Where is 2013 National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen and 2014 standout third baseman Josh Harrison on that list? 

Harrison, who is expected to serve as the table-setter for McCutchen, went 0-for-7 Sunday with two strikeouts and four men left one base.  McCutchen, who has become accustomed to driving in runners while also setting the table for cleanup men Pedro Alvarez or Neil Walker, is batting just .193 after going 1-for-7 Sunday.

McCutchen, himself, is an example of a slow starter who has been able to turn it on in the middle stages of the regular season.  

After starting off slow through the first two weeks of last season, McCutchen‘s average stood at .298 through the team’s first 25 games in 2014.  Never in his career has he slumped as badly as he has this season through Pittsburgh’s first month and change of baseball.

Then there is Harrison, who had a breakout 2014 season in which he batted .315 with 13 home runs and 52 RBI in 143 games.  

Through his first 25 games in 2014, Harrison batted .217 with five strikeouts.  Through 23 games this season, he is batting .188 with 18 strikeouts already.  

On the bright side, the Pirates have received dominant performances from their top three starting pitchers.  Gerrit Cole owns a 1.76 ERA in five starts.  In the same amount of starts, Francisco Liriano has pitched to a 1.95 ERA.  Then there is veteran A.J. Burnett, who has looked like a pitcher who is still in his prime, pitching to a 1.45 ERA in five starts.  

Still, aside from Cole, who is 4-0 on the season, Burnett and Liriano have just one win (and one loss) to show for their efforts.  

A big reason for the lack of wins for those two has been the lack of production on offense.  The Pirates have scored two runs or fewer in all five of Burnett’s starts this season.  

Another reason, though, has been the lack in efficiency from relievers such as closer Mark Melancon, who has a 4.76 ERA in 12 games this season.  In 10 of those appearances, Melancon has looked like the dominant closer that he is.  

In the other two games, however, Melancon has a blown save and a loss and has allowed three earned runs in both of them.  

The Pirates could not be happier with the performances from the starting pitchers this season. Unfortunately, many of those performances have been wasted, as the Pirates continue to struggle.  

So, is it time to start panicking in Pittsburgh?  I wouldn’t go that far.  At the same time, however, saying the big bats in the lineup are slumping is being generous.  In reality, they have been awful, and if they do not wake up soon, the Pirates will struggle to keep pace with the Cardinals for the division title race and possibly even the Cubs in the race for a wild-card spot.  


*Statistics courtesy of Baseball

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3 Takeaways from Pittsburgh Pirates Opening Day Loss

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Baseball is back.  

The Pittsburgh Pirates opened up their season on Monday with a 5-2 loss to their division rivals, the Cincinnati Reds, at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

Let’s take a look at the three things you need to know following Monday’s opener.  


McCutchen‘s Track Record of Success in Game 1 

Trailing 2-0 with two innings left to play, the Pirates leaned on franchise cornerstone Andrew McCutchen, who knotted the game up at two with his first home run of the season.  

McCutchen is no stranger to hot starts to the season. In six Opening Day starts, the former MVP is 7-for-21 at the plate, which equates to a .333 average. In fact, the only game in which he did not collect a hit in that span was in 2012 against the Philadelphia Phillies, when Roy Halladay shut the Pirates down and the Phillies won 1-0.  

McCutchen had a solid spring training, where he batted .375 in 32 at-bats. However, he failed to hit a home run during that time. Any fears (though there shouldn’t have been any) about his power should have flown out the window faster than his batted ball flew out of the park yesterday.


Watson’s Rough Start to the Season

With the game locked at two runs apiece in the bottom of the eighth inning, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle called on his lockdown setup man Tony Watson.  

Watson has become arguably one of the best relief pitchers in baseball over the past two seasons, and he is coming off a 2014 season in which he went 10-2 with a 1.63 ERA in 78 games.  

What we saw Monday was completely uncharacteristic of Watson, as he was dealt the loss after giving up a three-run home run to Reds third baseman Todd Frazier.  

Watson’s first loss last season did not come until July 11, when he coincidentally gave up three earned runs against the Reds.  

Chalk Monday’s loss up to a rare bad outing by Watson, as there is nothing to worry about yet. Watson had a fantastic spring, yielding just three hits, one walk and zero runs in eight innings pitched.  


Leadoff Walks (Especially to a Pitcher) Loom Large

The Pirates were able to retain ace Francisco Liriano during the 2014-15 free-agency period this winter, and through one start, it is looking like general manager Neal Huntington made the right move.  

Liriano looked shaky early on in the game before settling down for a no-decision and allowing just two earned runs in seven innings pitched.

If there’s one rule to live by as a pitcher, it is this: Never allow the first baserunner to get on in a given inning via a free pass. More importantly, never allow that batter to be the opposing team’s pitcher, who is almost always a sure out.  

However, that is just what Liriano did in the third inning, walking Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto to start the inning. With Billy Hamilton at the plate, Cueto was erased with a force out at second base.  

After a single off the bat of Joey Votto landed runners on the corners with one out, Liriano allowed his first earned run of the season by balking on the mound, which again is a mistake you simply cannot afford to make.  

The disappointing part about Liriano’s shaky third inning is that the next batter struck out, and the batter after that popped out to end the inning. So, without Liriano’s balk, the run never would have scored. More importantly, however, without the leadoff walk, there wouldn’t have been a baserunner to score from third on the balk.  

Overall, it was a solid outing for Liriano, who earned the quality start. The Pirates will need him to perform at that level throughout the season if the team has any real visions of winning the National League Central Division.

Over a 162-game schedule, one loss is not going to hurt the Pirates. There were a lot of positives to take from the opener, and although Watson was dealt a rare loss, it doesn’t look like it is going to be the new trend for him this season.  

Pittsburgh has the day off and will resume play tomorrow night in Cincinnati at 7:05 p.m. EDT. Gerrit Cole will get the nod for the Pirates as they look to bounce back and erase the zero from the wins column.  


Statistics courtesy of

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Bounce-Back Season from Pedro Alvarez Is Vital to Pittsburgh Pirates Success

Pedro Alvarez was a dynamic offensive force in the middle of the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup in 2013. Although he batted just .233 and led the National League with 186 strikeouts in 152 games, he blasted a career-high 36 home runs while driving in 100.  

The 2014 season was a down year for Alvarez, who collected just 18 home runs and 56 RBI while missing 40 starts due to a lingering foot injury.  

No player on the Pirates roster came close to driving in 100 runs last season, though the team still managed to win 88 games and make the playoffs as a wild card.  Andrew McCutchen led the Pirates with 83 RBI in 146 games.

Although the Pirates endured success even without their most powerful bat in the lineup for about one quarter of the season, a bounce-back year from Alvarez is crucial for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015.

For one, it gives McCutchen the protection behind him needed to see more strikes thrown his way and potentially drive in 100-plus runs for the first time in his already illustrious career.  In fact, the three-four lineup combination of McCutchen and Alvarez has been arguably the best in the National League over the last three seasons, as the pair has combined for 161 home runs and 504 RBI from 2012-14.   

While the Pirates would surely accept another berth in the Wild Card Game this season, they cannot be satisfied with that, as the team has made the playoffs as a wild card in two consecutive seasons and has only advanced past the one-game playoff once.  

As always, we can expect the St. Louis Cardinals to be potential front-runners in the race for the National League Central Division title, as they managed to retain most of its lineup while also acquiring the dangerous right fielder Jayson Heyward from the Atlanta Braves.  

Then there are the Milwaukee Brewers, who cannot be taken lightly after the hot start to most of the season in 2014 before they crumbled and failed to make the playoffs.  

While the Chicago Cubs are probably still a year away from making a major impact in the division race, the acquisition of ace starting pitcher Jon Lester along with their young star-studded lineup gives them the potential to make a run at a wild card.  

Needless to say, the Pirates will need all hands on deck as they pursue their first National League Central Division title in franchise history.  

Health is the main concern for Pedro Alvarez, who just turned 28 in February and is entering his sixth major league season.  

His average over the last two seasons (.233 in 2013/.231 in 2014) has remained consistent with his overall career average of .235.  So, you can expect to get a low batting average from him, but his tremendous power and ability to drive runners in is a major trade-off that any manager would gladly take, especially in an era of baseball when scoring is down and pitching has dominated.  

The Pirates batted .230 as a team with runners in scoring position in 2013.  Alvarez accounted for a lot of those hits, batting .243 in that situation.  

Last season, however, the Pirates batted .249 with runners in scoring position, but Alvarez brought that average down from what it could have been if he was healthy and producing at his normal rate, batting just .202.  

Aside from a minor elbow injury that kept him off the field for a few games, Alvarez is off to a great start this spring, batting .333 with two home runs and nine RBI in nine games for the Pirates.

With the emergence of Josh Harrison as a star third baseman for the Pirates in 2014, Alvarez is likely to see a considerable amountif not a majorityof his playing time at first base this season.  He played five games at first base last season, and the Pirates already have him listed as their primary first baseman on the team’s depth chart.   

The 25 errors he committed at third base in 2014 is what led the organization to make the transition. Meanwhile, Harrison made just three errors in 72 games at the hot corner in 2014.  

Right there alone, the Pirates will improve defensively, as runs will likely be prevented thanks to Harrison’s glove.  

What is most important to the Pirates, however, is that Alvarez remains healthy enough to play a full season in 2014, as the power he brings to the table can take them from being a wild-card team to potentially winning the division and making a deep run into the postseason.  


*Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference

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Tony Sanchez: Pittsburgh Pirates Biggest Feel-Good Story This Spring

Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez has shown glimpses of stellar play at times with his bat over the last two seasons as one of the Pirates’ backups.  

At other times, he has looked completely lost.  

Such is not the case this spring, as Sanchez has been undoubtedly the Pirates’ best player in camp, and if he makes the Opening Day roster, it would be perhaps the most soothing story for Pirates fans.

Sanchez, who will turn 27 in May, has spent six seasons in the minors, collecting just 445 hits in 1,679 at-bats, which equates to a mediocre .265 average. He spent four full seasons playing in the minor leagues before making his Major League debut in 2013 for the Pirates.  

Sanchez has played in 48 games for the Pirates over the last two seasons, batting .252 with four home runs and 18 RBI. He had served as the third-string catcher behind backup Chris Stewart and three-time All-Star Russell Martin.  

According to R.J. White of CBS Sports, Stewart has a hamstring injury, and he has collected a hit in only five at-bats this spring.

Francisco Cervelli, who the Pirates acquired through trade with the New York Yankees during the offseason, has yet to live up to the Pirates’ expectations, collecting just two hits in 12 at-bats.  

With star catcher Martin a distant memory after he left the club during free agency for the Toronto Blue Jays, Cervelli struggling at the plate and Stewart trying to stay healthy, Sanchez has excelled in the role he has taken on with the team.  

Sanchez currently leads all teammates with two home runs and seven RBI in nine games this spring. He has remained red-hot at the plate throughout camp, batting .526 with 10 hits in 19 at-bats.

Now, all indications point to Cervelli still being considered the Pirates starting catcher. 

Jason Butt of CBS Sports reported Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said: “The nice part is, Sanchez has had a great camp on all sides of the game. And if Chris is not ready, we feel strongly about having somebody who can step in.”

By those words, it seems that Huntington has no intention of stripping Cervelli of his title as the starting catcher for the Pirates just yet.  

However, if Cervelli’s offensive woes continue over the next two weeks while Sanchez continues to rake, could Huntington really be so adamant about keeping Sanchez as a backup, at most?

Sanchez clearly has the talent to be a catcher in the big leagues. Whether he has the ability to lead a pitching staff throughout a full season is yet to be determined, as he simply hasn’t had the opportunity to prove his worth with Martin patrolling the backstop position over the last two years.

Sanchez is a prime example of a hard-nosed player who has had his fair share of long bus rides in the minors and who has found his form after struggling to get things going offensively in the past, which is why it makes Sanchez’s journey such a feel-good story.     

With two mediocre catchers as starters in Cervelli and Stewart, the competition is wide open for Sanchez, and he is doing pretty much everything in his power to take over.  

According to Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sanchez said when he walked into the clubhouse on the first day of spring training, “Hey, if I could play half as well as Russell Martin, I’d be happy.”

So far, so good.  

*Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference

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Six-Man Rotation Could Make Sense for Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015

With the increasing number of arm injuries to pitchers in baseball, talks of possibly going to a six-man rotation instead of the usual five have heated up.  

The idea is that with a six-man rotation, starters would not only be given more rest in between starts, but they would also be throwing fewer innings per season, which could increase their longevity by reducing the risk of devastating injuries.  

One team, in particular, jumps out at me as potentially being the perfect fit for this new format: the Pittsburgh Pirates.  

Let’s take a look at how that rotation could play out for the Pirates in 2015: 

1.  Francisco Liriano

Undoubtedly the ace of the staff for the Pirates in 2015, Francisco Liriano has managed to keep relatively healthy since 2008, when he made only 14 starts as a member of the Minnesota Twins due to an elbow injury that led to season-ending Tommy John surgery.  

In six seasons since, Liriano has averaged exactly 27 starts per season.  With a six-man rotation, how many starts would a pitcher make on average?  Exactly 27.  

Over the last two seasons with the Pirates, Liriano has pitched to a 23-18 record and a 3.20 ERA in 323.1 innings pitched (161.0 in 2013, 162.1 in 2014).

Given 27 starts this season, Liriano would be expected to perform on the level he has over the past two seasons in Pittsburgh. However, with that extra day of rest between each start, he may perform even better, which could help the Pirates claim the National League Central Division title (a feat they have never accomplished since the division was formed).  

Liriano is already 31 years old, and as the Pirates have him under contract for the next three seasons, it would make sense to consider moving to a six-man rotation.  

2.  Gerrit Cole

Many feel that 2015 will be the year that potential ace Gerrit Cole will take the next step to becoming one of the best pitchers in the game.  

Cole pitched to a 3.65 ERA in 2014, his second season in the majors, but made only 22 starts due to a lat injury that led to multiple disabled list trips.  

The good news for the Pirates was that his injury was not to his throwing arm. Moving to a six-man rotation would still benefit Cole as it would reduce the stress being put on his body.  

Cole will turn 25 in September, so he still has plenty of time to mature as a pitcher.  

Allowing him to throw 200 innings would be putting his health in jeopardy, as we have learned over the past few years with the injuries to an abnormal amount of pitchers. Cole threw 117.1 innings in 2013 before pitching 138.0 in 2014. A sensible target of innings for Cole to pitch this season would probably be somewhere around 160-170, which would be plenty of innings for him to win games and help the Pirates reach the playoffs again.  

3.  Charlie Morton

Perhaps the biggest question mark in the Pirates rotation heading into spring training, Charlie Morton is reportedly on track to be ready to pitch in April, according to Tom Singer of

Morton made 26 starts for the Pirates last season, going 6-12 with a 3.72 ERA, before being shut down to undergo surgery to repair the labrum in his right hip in September.  Four years ago, he had surgery to repair the labrum in his left hip, and, in 2012, he underwent Tommy John surgery.  

So, just what kind of pitcher will Morton be when he returns this season?  With three major injuries over the last four seasons, it would be difficult to predict that Morton would have a 2015 season free from injuries.  

However, implementing a six-man rotation in Pittsburgh could certainly benefit him.  Morton’s 26 starts were the second most he ever made in a single season.  In 2011, he made a career-high 29 starts for the Pirates, but given his inability to remain healthy over the last four seasons, it is unlikely that he will return to that type of durable pitcher.  

Morton has shown over the past two seasons that he is capable of being a tremendous help to the Pirates when he is healthy. Why would the organization want to risk having him sustain another major injury?  That is why the six-man rotation would benefit both sides in 2015.  

4.  A.J. Burnett

There is no question that giving a pitcher like A.J. Burnett an extra day of rest between starts could help the Pirates to not only get back to the playoffs, but to have the pitching depth needed to make a deep run in the postseason.  

Burnett, who turned 38 in January, made it clear when he signed his one-year deal with the Pirates this offseason that this would be his last go-around in what thus far has been a successful 16-year career.

Ironically, Burnett’s second-most innings thrown in any single season came just last year when he was 37 years old and pitching in his first (and only) season with the Philadelphia Phillies. He went 8-18 last year with a 4.59 ERA.  

However, in two seasons with the Pirates from 2012-13, Burnett pitched to a 26-21 record with a 3.41 ERA. Regardless of his ERA, however, one thing that has always remained constant with Burnett is his track record of staying healthy and making his scheduled starts.  

Since making just 25 starts in 2007 for the Toronto Blue Jays, Burnett has made at least 30 starts in seven consecutive seasons.  

Still, giving an aging Burnett more rest can only benefit both his personal performance and the Pirates’ performance in 2015.  

5.  Vance Worley

Vance Worley was surprisingly one of the main reasons the Pirates made the playoffs in 2014.  

In his first season with the team, the 27-year-old pitched to an 8-4 record and a 2.85 ERA in 110.2 innings after being called up from the minors in June.

Worley had a similar season in 2011 as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies when he went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 131.2 innings pitched.  Aside from those two seasons, however, Worley‘s record amounts to just 8-15 in parts of three seasons.  

What kind of performance should we expect from this Pirates starter in 2015? Will Worley improve on his stellar 2014 season, or will he regress to the pitcher he was in 2013, when he went 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA in 10 starts for the Minnesota Twins?

Perhaps Worley is meant to start somewhere around 20 games? He has performed wonderfully when he has reached that total throughout his career.  

A six-man rotation would give Worley that ability while also allowing him to pitch the full season.  

6.  Jeff Locke

Jeff Locke should serve as a prime example of why the Pirates should consider using a six-man rotation in 2015, as this one really is a no-brainer.  

Locke was named to his first All-Star team in 2013, and rightfully so, as he went 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA during the first half of the season.  In the second half, he was a completely different pitcher partially because of a back injury that lingered and cost him some playing time.  

Locke finished that season with a 10-7 record and a 3.52 ERA in 30 starts.  

Last season, he went 7-6 with a respectable 3.91 ERA in 21 starts.  

Assuming he has returned to full health, it is wise to predict that Locke could have a much better season in 2015.  However, given the fact that he is still only 27 years old and entering his fifth major league season, it would be smart for the Pirates to limit him to a certain number of starts.  

At the same time, why would the Pirates want to limit him to a specific number of starts and shut him down before the playoffs start?  With a six-man rotation, they wouldn’t have to worry about that.  

Pittsburgh has what it takes to go a long way in 2015 as long as its starting rotation (which is still shaky) manages to stay healthy.  

Implementing a six-man rotation would give the Pirates’ starters more rest between each start, which would lead to increased stamina during the final months of the regular season and, for hopeful Pirates fans, the postseason.  

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Why Pittsburgh Pirates Could Still Use Another Starting Pitcher This Winter

After a relatively quiet start to the offseason, general manager Neal Huntington and the Pittsburgh Pirates have added a few key pieces to the team’s roster that could help lead them back to the postseason for the third straight year.  

While the signings of starting pitchers Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett were much needed insurance for the Pirates’ rotation, there are still doubts about the back end of the rotation.    

With Liriano and Burnett, the Pirates will head into the regular season with a pretty solid rotation that also consists of Gerrit Cole, Vance Worley and Jeff Locke.  

There is no question about Cole’s dominance on the mound. The No. 1 overall pick by the Pirates in the 2011 amateur draft, Cole has gone 21-12 with a 3.45 ERA in two seasons, and while he only started 22 games last season, he looks primed to have a breakout year in 2015.  

Then, there is Worley, who was a key contributor to the Pirates’ second-half surge last season, going 8-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 17 starts; however, he has never made more than 23 starts in a single season.  

Based on his performance in 2014 and on the Pirates’ need for starting pitching, Worley will likely fit in nicely as a No. 3 or No. 4 pitcher. At the same time, it will be interesting to see if he can put a full season of work together for the Pirates.  

Locke is unique because of the spurts of dominance he has had over the last two seasons for the Pirates. In 2013, Locke started a career-high 30 games, going 10-7 with a 3.52 ERA; however, those statistics are not as impressive when you look at the drop-off he had in the second half of the season.  

In the first half of the 2013 regular season, Locke was 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA and was in serious consideration for the National League Cy Young Award. Those talks quickly went out the door when he went 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA in the second half.  

In 2014, Locke made just 21 starts, going 7-6 with a still respectable 3.91 ERA.  

Simply put, the Pirates could use another starting pitcher to compete with Locke for the fifth spot in that rotation.  

While the organization is not in the running for big-name free agents such as Max Scherzer and James Shields, there is still talent available on the market.  

Consider a guy like Ryan Vogelsong, who pitched for the Pirates for five seasons during 2001-2006. Although he is going to be 38 in July, he has displayed great stamina and durability throughout his career.  

In 2014, as a member of the San Francisco Giants, Vogelsong went just 8-13 with a 4.00 ERA but was able to throw 184.2 innings. At this point in his career, he probably isn’t seeking a lengthy contract, and he could serve as a nice No. 5 guy in the Pirates’ rotation if Locke cannot find his groove.

Another avenue the Pirates could head down is considering a guy like Carlos Villanueva, who could serve as a spot starter or a regular reliever.  

The 31-year-old righty has not been very good as a starting pitcher, going 18-33 with a 5.00 ERA in 76 career starts. Over the last two seasons, however, Villanueva has gone 12-15 with a 4.27 ERA in 89 games (20 of those he started).  

On the bright side, Villanueva is 27-17 with a 3.55 ERA when coming out of the bullpen in his career (439.0 innings pitched). Depending on what kind of deal he is seeking, the Pirates may benefit from having a versatile player like Villanueva who could give them a spot start on any given day.  

The Pirates have managed to put together a solid-looking team on paper this offseason, and if Locke and Worley can both put together full seasons of work, Pittsburgh will likely contend for the National League Central title.  

If even one of them fails to stay healthy and/or productive, however, the Pirates will need another insurance arm to slide into the starting role.  


Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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Could Jung-Ho Kang Be the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Franchise Shortstop?

Ever since the departure of former shortstop Jack Wilson, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been searching for an everyday player who could potentially become their franchise shortstop.  

Wilson had a successful career in Pittsburgh, serving primarily as the Pirates’ everyday shortstop from 2001-2009.  In 1,159 career games with the Pirates, Wilson batted .269 with 60 home runs, or roughly 10 home runs per season.  

Current shortstop Jordy Mercer seemed to be on the track to stardom in Pittsburgh after batting .285 in 103 games in 2013 before seeing his numbers drop off last season (.255 average in 149 games).  

Mercer certainly could continue to serve as an everyday shortstop for the Pirates, as he has managed to remain healthy and in the lineup throughout his short career.  However, a change may be on the horizon for the Pirates.  

The Pirates made headlines in December when Tom Singer of reported that the team had won the bidding rights to Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang.

The 27-year-old shortstop has played nine seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization, owning a career batting average of .298 with 139 home runs 3,070 at bats.  His best year came in 2014 when he blasted 40 home runs and collected 117 RBI in 117 games.  

If the Pirates go on to sign Kang, it would be difficult to predict how his statistics from playing in the KBO would translate to the major league level.  After all, only two South Korean-born position players have made the transfer to Major League Baseball.  

Shin-Soo Choo is the most notable of the couple.  Aside from his down year in 2014, Choo has been a major league success story, batting .282 in 10 major league seasons.  

The Pirates would welcome that kind of talent to their lineup with open arms, and if Kang could make a smooth transition, the Pirates may have found their franchise shortstop for years to come.  


Jordy Mercer as a Trade Chip

Assuming the Pirates do go ahead and sign Kang to a major league deal, Mercer would likely be left on the roster without a starting job.  After all, the Pirates probably aren’t going to be willing to dish out a great deal of money for someone who will platoon with Mercer at shortstop.  

Could general manager Neal Huntington have Mercer in the back of his mind as a potential trade chip?  It is hard to imagine that he wouldn’t be shopping Mercer if the deal with Kang gets done.  

It is not as if the Pirates do not already have tremendous talent at the other middle-infield position, as second baseman Neil Walker has emerged as one of the most reliable second basemen in the league and has added a Silver Slugger Award to his name.

The main weakness on the Pirates’ depth chart is in their starting pitching rotation, although they were able to bolster it by bringing back Francisco Liriano on a three-year deal.  

Perhaps trading Mercer along with a couple of prospects could be enough to land a quality starting pitcher who could put the Pirates over the top for 2015.  At the same time, however, keeping Mercer as a backup would be a great asset for the organization as well.  

After today, the Pirates will have just 19 days left to sign Kang, as the window for signing someone after winning the bidding rights to an international player is just 30 days.  

If the organization is successful in signing Kang, it could become one of the key signings of Huntington’s reign as general manager of the team.  


*Statistics courtesy of


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Pittsburgh Pirates Players Who Could Have Breakout Seasons in 2015

The Pittsburgh Pirates have gotten key contributions from a variety of young players over the last two seasons, making it to the playoffs both years.  

While these players have had solid seasons, they have not nearly reached their potential.  In 2015, however, that could be a different story. 

Let’s take a look at three players who could have breakout seasons next year for the Pirates.  


Starling Marte, Left Field

In 2007 and at the age of 19, Starling Marte was drafted by the Pirates as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic.

Marte made his major league debut in 2012, batting .257 with five home runs and 17 RBI in just 47 games for the Pirates.  

A year later, he played in 135 games, batting .280 with 12 home runs and helping his team make it back to the postseason for the first time since 1992.  

This past season, his numbers continued to increase, as he batted .291 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI in 135 games.  

There is no question that Marte will be the starting left fielder heading into the 2015 regular season, but Marte still has not had the type of season he is capable of.  

Given the fact that his numbers continue to climb season by season, one would have to believe that Marte is primed for a big season in 2015.  It would not be surprising to see Marte hit between 16-20 home runs and drive in 70-85 runs, which the Pirates would gladly take.  


Gregory Polanco, Right Field

This is more of a long shot than the prediction about Marte, as Gregory Polanco still has a player in front of him on the Pirates depth chart in Travis Snider.  

Still, if he has a solid spring training, there is no reason Polanco should not go into the regular season patrolling right field for the Pirates.  After all, he was rated the No. 1 prospect in the Pirates’ farm system by Baseball America heading into last season.

Polanco played in 89 games for the Pirates in 2014, blasting seven home runs and collecting 33 RBI in 277 at-bats.  Polanco is capable of hitting for an average much higher than .235, which he showed toward the end of the regular season and when he first came up in June, hitting .288 that month.  

Could Polanco have a breakout season in 2015?  Absolutely, but he would have to be given the opportunity to start the majority of the games for the Pirates in right field.  


Francisco Cervelli, Catcher

In the seven seasons he has spent in the big leagues, Francisco Cervelli has served primarily as a backup catcher for the New York Yankees.  

That could have all changed for him, however, when he was traded by the Yankees to the Pirates in November.  

The Pirates knew they would not be able to bring back catcher Russell Martin as he was seeking a deal too expensive, so the organization went out and acquired a good catcher with potential in Cervelli.  

There are many teams in the majors that Cervelli could have been a legitimate starter on throughout the last seven seasons.  To his misfortune, he was a member of a team that already had a franchise catcher (first Jorge Posada, then Martin and finally Brian McCann last season).  

In 250 career games, Cervelli owns a batting average of .278 and a .348 on-base percentage, which are both very respectable averages for a catcher.  

He played in a career-high 93 games in 2010 for the Yankees, batting .271 with 38 RBI.  Last season, he batted .301 with two home runs and 13 RBI in 146 at-bats.  

It looks as if Cervelli will finally be given the opportunity to serve as the primary catcher for a big league team in 2015, and given his success in short bodies of work each season, he could be the next Pirates player to have a breakout season in 2015.  


Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference

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Why the Pittsburgh Pirates Should Consider Trading Outfielder Travis Snider

The Pittsburgh Pirates currently are in a situation that a lot of teams would like to be in: They have a surplus of reliable and productive outfielders.  

The most well-known outfielder on Pittsburgh’s depth chart is obviously 2013 National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen, who has become the face of the franchise in his six-year career.  

Then there is left fielder Starling Marte, who has made a huge impact on the club’s performance through his first three big-league seasons, owning a career .282 batting average and a career-high 56 runs batted in in 2014.  

Marte is poised for a breakout season in 2015, as his numbers have steadily increased season by season. 

The problem (if you can call it that) is in right field, where Travis Snider is currently listed as the Pirates starter on the team’s website.

Snider had the best season of his seven-year career in 2014, batting .264 and blasting 13 home runs in 140 games played for the Pirates.  At the same time, however, the Pirates have an ever-so-promising young player in Gregory Polanco, who may be ready to patrol right field on a daily basis in 2015.  

According to a report from Baseball America, Polanco was rated the No. 1 prospect in the Pirates’ farm system entering the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season.  In 89 games with the Pirates, he hit .235 with seven home runs.  

On paper, an outfield consisting of Marte, McCutchen and Polanco could match up with just about any team in the National League.  So where would that leave Snider?

Of course, the Pirates performed just fine with Snider and Polanco platooning in right field throughout the second half of last season.  At the same time, however, with the Pirates’ needs for other position players and starting pitchers, it may be beneficial for the team to include Snider in a trade package, especially if the organization fails to sign any stellar pitchers during this free-agency period.

As former Pirates starting pitchers Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano listen to offers from teams interested around the league in free agency, the Pirates organization ought to be out looking for potential replacements, as there is a very real chance that at least one of those two starters will not return.  

The future pitching staff of the Pirates is shining brighter than ever with hope, as both Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon should make their major league debuts within the next couple of seasons.  Taillon, who missed all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April, may even break through sometime in 2015.  

Still, the Pirates will need to acquire at least one more proven starting pitcher before the regular season starts, as a rotation currently consisting of Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Jeff Locke and Vance Worley likely will not yield a division-best record.  

The Pirates could go out and trade for a starting pitcher in exchange for a proven veteran such as Snider and perhaps a less proven minor league player.  

One potential move that could make sense for both sides is a trade for Mat Latos of the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Snider and, as stated above, a minor league player.  

Latos is coming off an injury-plagued 2014 season in which he pitched in only 16 games for the Reds. However, he has pitched tremendously throughout his career, owning a 3.34 ERA and a 60-45 record in six seasons.  

Given the fact that Latos had elbow problems in 2014, this would be a risky trade for the Pirates, but it could also offer huge rewards.  More importantly, Latos is set to become a free agent after the 2015 season comes to a close, which is a reason for the Reds to consider taking something they can get in exchange for him instead of possibly losing his services in exchange for nothing in free agency next offseason.  

The move would also make sense for the Reds because the team does not exactly have a complete outfield right now, as their starting left fielder currently is Skip Schumaker, who averages about four home runs over a 162-game span.  

Platooning Snider with Schumaker would make a lot more sense for the Reds than it would for the Pirates, who have their future right fielder in Polanco.  So that is a move that certainly has to be considered a possibility for the Pirates.  

The Pirates are in great shape as far as their lineup goes.  Without a quality pitching rotation, however, winning enough games to make it back to the playoffs seems unlikely.  

While there are still months to go in free agency, the possibility does exist that the Pirates may not reel in any solid starting pitchers.  In that case, offering a player like Snider in a trade package for a starter may be the way to go.  


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Could Kris Medlen Be on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Radar?

The Pittsburgh Pirates currently are not a complete team.  

The team lacks starting pitching, as two of its top starters from last year (Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez) are both currently on the free-agent market seeking deals.

General manager Neal Huntington has made an effort to bolster the rotation so far this offseason, adding former Pirate A.J. Burnett on a one-year deal.  

The Pirates and other teams in search for a quality starting pitcher received good news Tuesday evening when Mike Axisa of CBS Sports reported that right-handed starting pitcher Kris Medlen is now a free agent, as the Atlanta Braves did not tender his contract for next season.

A five-year veteran, Medlen transitioned to his role as a permanent starting pitcher in 2013 after spending his first four major league seasons serving primarily as a relief pitcher.  

Medlen performed very well for the Braves that year, going 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA in 32 games (starting in 31 of them).  

Furthermore, Medlen is a proven dominant relief pitcher, as he went 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 138.0 innings pitched and finished 20th in the National League Most Valuable Player voting in 2012.

Unfortunately for Medlen, he missed the entire 2014 season due to an elbow injury that resulted in Tommy John surgery.  

Would the Pirates consider adding Medlen to the staff as a relief pitcher?  That is possible, but considering the fact that the Pirates need starting pitching more than anything right now, they would likely have him audition for a starting job in spring training.    

At only 29 years old, Medlen still has plenty of time to bounce back from his injury.  

The Pirates don’t have to look any further than within their own organization to find an example of a guy who has bounced back brilliantly from the operation in his career.  

Volquez underwent the procedure in 2009 when he was a member of the Cincinnati Reds, and he has made at least 31 starts in the last three seasons.  

Although the Pirates starting rotation currently consists of all right-handed pitchers except for Jeff Locke, offering Medlen a deal makes a lot of sense.

First of all, he likely will not come at too steep of a cost, as he has not pitched in a game in over a year now.  Most importantly, however, he could bounce back from the injury and return to form, which would have a huge impact on the Pirates’ chances of heading back to the postseason for the third straight year.

Imagine what the Pirates would be capable of achieving in 2015 with a healthy Medlen and Gerrit Cole at the top of that rotation.  Add a seasoned veteran like Burnett along with lefty Locke and Vance Worley to the combination, and suddenly the Pirates rotation is rounded out from top to bottom.

Of course, the Pirates would be taking a gamble by signing him, but the rewards he can potentially offer are worth it.


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