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Kipper : Who's Ready For Some #Pirates Baseball? A Quick 2017 Preview

By Kipper @pghsportsforum
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Tomorrow is OPENING DAY!! Is everyone excited??
Pittsburgh Pirates Opening Day always seems to represent the end of Winter. The beginning of life, spring and even summer. After the 2016 season, the Pirates are looking for some new life. So what can we expect in 2017?
First off, the Pirates are very unpredictable. It was tough to predict their 2013 miracle season and their back to back end season collapses before that. One thing that we have learned from it all is this -
The Pittsburgh Pirates will Live or Die with their Pitching.
The Pirates over the course of the past 20 years have had some good Offensive squads. Who can forget the 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates who at one point were 4th in MLB in runs before evil Neal Huntington tore the team apart and every writer in Pittsburgh treated it like the '27 Yankees were destroyed. It was a team broken up because despite it's Offense, it's pitching was so atrocious that they had a losing record and were nowhere near .500.
In 2016, the Pirates pitching, pitched them to a sub-.500 record. Part of that blame lies on the Front Office for not replacing A.J. Burnett, replacing J.A. Happ with Jonathan Niese. Believing that Juan Nicasio was a starter and somehow, someone thinking Ryan Vogelsong was salvageable. The other part of the blame was with the guys that we expected the most from, failing.
Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano.
Injuries didn't help either one, but both of them performed well below expectations. When your Ace doesn't perform to Ace standards, it's going to be a long season.
Coming into 2017, the Pirates pitching staff is completely different from the one that started off 2016. It's young and unproven with the most upside we have seen from a Pirates staff since the early 90's. It's also completely unpredictable. The young guys could struggle. They could succeed. There's not enough to go by, but one thing is for certain... this is one of the more exciting Pitching staffs we've seen in decades.
Gerrit Cole
Ivan Nova
Jameson Taillon
Chad Kuhl
Tyler Glasnow

Gerrit Cole is the only Starter in that rotation who started the season with the Pirates last season. Do you think perhaps the Pirates Front Office recognized the issue?
The Bullpen looks solid but it won't matter if Tony Watson repeats his horrendous 2016 as a Closer. It's questionable whether Watson is a Closer and I don't think the Pirates will hesitate to swap him and Felipe Rivero if he struggles early.

How about that Offense? This is a very impressive lineup from 1-8. It has potential everywhere, but like the Pitching staff, that potential needs to reach expectations.
Josh Bell. Will he make strides in his 1st full season or struggle? The talent is there, the experience isn't. He hit .273 with a .775 OPS in 45 games last season. Most impressive for a guy that young is that he walked 21 times compared to 19 K's. That is an impressive ratio for any young player. If he builds off of that, this Offense could be dangerously dangerous!
Andrew McCutchen. He needs to rebound and he could. He's playing for his next contract and his next contract will be his Big contract that will extend to the end of his useful career past his prime. The Pirates need him to be produce like days of old.
Starling Marte. We can give up on his power potential. It's not going to be what we hoped for, but he has turned out to be the best hitter on this team. He's gotten better every year despite his K/BB ratio remaining ugly. We can expect another .300+ season from him and watching that arm plow guys down from CF.
Gregory Polanco. We saw in 2016 that this guy can be a true Threat to the 30 HR club. If this Coaching staff could ever figure out how to get this team to run bases better, he could be a 30-30 player. One thing he needs to improve on is cutting down his K's and improving his overall Batting Avg. Both are things that come with experience and comfort. We should see those numbers improve this year.
Jordy Mercer. Just hit north of .260 and we'll all be happy.
David Freese. For a stopgap guy at 3B, he didn't do bad in 2016. He hit for Avg with a little power and his Defense wasn't shameful. The Pirates lack a long term option at 3B, so getting the same production from Freese in 2017 is respectable for expectations
Josh Harrison. Injuries hurt him last season. When healthy, JHay can hit and can run well. Even with his injuries, he still batted .283 in 2017. I've seen people complain about his $7 million a year contract, but even with injuries, he still hits well above average. He has no power, but for a 2B that is okay. If he stays healthy and hits .283 or better, I'm not complaining, not even about his contract.
Francisco Cervelli. He wears the most protective gear on the team and is consistently injured. Not good, especially when the backup catcher is Chris Stewart who is injured just as much. We can't have Eric Kratz and Eric Fryer as catchers of any significance on this team again. When Cervelli is healthy, he can be a .300 hitter. When he's injured he's a .260 hitter. What Cervelli will we get this season?
The bench is talented. Adam Frazier and John Jaso can hit. Replacing Sean Rodriguez's fluke 2016 Power isn't realistic. I doubt Sean Rodriguez duplicates that especially since he is out for the entire 2017 season with a torn rotator cuff.. Adam Frazier has more upside as a pure hitter, hitting .301 in 2016 in 152 Plate Appearances.
The story for the Pirates in 2017 is simple. If the Pitching staff matches or exceeds expectations, this is a .500 and better team. If the Pitching staff matches or exceeds expectations and the Offense does the same, this is a Playoff team, most likely a Wild Card team unless the Cubs get the injury bug (crossing fingers and doing voodoo dances). Anything short of the Pitching staff matching expectations and this will be a repeat of 2016.
I have a funny feeling that the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates will return to their 2013-2015 form and Clint Hurdle's wad of gum will be as happy as Greg Brown announcing a Home Run.

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