Well, the time has come to forecast how our favorite baseball team will do in 2015. I can honestly state that I am as excited for and as optimistic about the Pirates chances for success in 2015 as I have been since the halcyon days of Bonds, Bonilla, Van Slyke, Drabek and the Leyland teams of the early 1990's. However, before I come down with a prediction for the season, I thought I would structure this post a little differently than I have in past seasons. Instead of painting-by-the-numbers in a position by position analysis, I thought I would list the things about the Pirates that I DO NOT WORRY about and the things about which I WORRY. That way, I can always say that these are only my opinions so no one can point out how wrong I was at the end of the season.
That said, here we go....
- I DO NOT WORRY about the outfield. The trio of Marte-McCutchen-Polonco will be one of the best in MLB this season. McCutchen and Marte will be All-Stars. Polonco will be by 2016.
- I DO NOT WORRY about Pedro Alvarez. I believe that he will adapt well to his new position at first base, and I believe that he will hit between 28 and 36 HR's this year, and if he can somehow manage to hit in the neighborhood of .255 to .260, he will drive in 110 runs, give or take a half dozen.
- I WORRY about injuries. The loss of players like McCutchen, Cole, Walker, Cervelli, or Liriano for any significant length of time could render all predictions moot.
- I have heard enough good things about Francisco Cervelli that I DO NOT WORRY about the catching position, however, all such reports contain the caveat "if he can stay healthy", something that he has not been able to do throughout his career.
- I WORRY about the catching position if Cervelli reverts (see #3 above) to form and cannot catch 135 - 140 games for the team.
- I DO NOT WORRY about the top of the rotation. I think that Gerrit Cole is poised to become an elite pitcher in the National League. I think that Francisco Liriano will be just fine. I think that Charlie Morton could be okay, but will concede that he remains, in large part, an unproven front line starter over the course of a 162 game schedule.
- I WORRY about which A.J. Burnett will pitch this year. The one who, it can be argued, played such a large role in turning this team around in 2013-14, or the one who may have been the worst starting pitcher in the NL in 2014. He is 38 years old. How much is left in the tank?
- I DO NOT WORRY about Neil Walker. Period. (However, see #3 above.)
- I DO NOT WORRY about Jung Ho Kang. As of now, he is a utility infielder and pinch hitter. I trust the Pirates scouting and judgement on this one. Does that mean he's a sure thing? Of course not, but I think when it's all said and done, it's going to work out for the Pirates.
- I WORRY that Josh Harrison's 2014 season may turn out to have been a one hit wonder. His performance in the spring suggests otherwise, if you want to put any stock in Spring Training stats. Harrison has earned his starting position at third base going into the season. Let's hope for more of the same in 2015.
- I DO NOT WORRY about Neal Huntington. Yeah, I know that there are Grandstander posts from 2010 through 2013 that ripped Neal pretty good, but he has proven to me that his "plan" was the right way to go, and that his judgement has proven, for the most part, to be accurate. Does that mean I'll agree with everything he has done and will do? Not at all (for example, I'd feel much better if it was Travis Snider and not Andrew Lambo as the fourth outfielder), and his ability to talk for hours and say nothing will still drive me nuts, but, all things considered, he's earned his stripes.
- Ditto for Clint Hurdle. I DO NOT WORRY about him, either.
- I DO NOT WORRY about the bullpen. Tony Watson and Mark Melancon are solid at the back end. As for the other guys, Huntington has always managed to put together a good bullpen ever since he came here, and I'm confident that he will do it again for 2015, even should Menalcon falter (as closers have been known to do).
- I DO NOT WORRY about the front office not pulling the trigger if certain guys do not work out. In what has been a bland spring training, people are looking for things to complain about and they are finding it with role players like Corey Hart, Chris Stewart, Stolmey Pimentel, and Jung Ho Kang. If these guys aren't contributing and the Bucs are in a pennant race, which I believe they will be, I have confidence that Nutting-Coonelly-Huntington will make the moves that need to be made.
- I DO NOT WORRY about the bench. I think that Hart, Sean Rodriguez, and Kang will be solid contributors given the roles they have been assigned. It wasn't so long ago that the team was signing guys like Hart and Rodriguez to be starters (do I have to list the names for you?). If that were the case this year, then I would WORRY.
- I DO NOT WORRY about who the fifth starter is. If Locke falters, Worley will replace him, and vice versa. There is a reason these guys were competing for the fifth starting position in the rotation. And there is depth in Indianapolis.
- As alluded to in #6 above, I WORRY, a bit, about Charlie Morton being consistent and effective for 25-30 starts a year.
So, how does that all stack up, grade-wise:
Outfield - Excellent
Infield - Good to Very Good
Catching - Uneven, but with a chance to be Okay to Good
Starting Pitching - Good, with a chance to be Very Good
Bullpen - Very Good
Bench - Good
Depth in the Minors - Good, especially at Pitching
The Pirates will have to play better within the Central Division this season. In 2014, the Pirates went a combined 22-35 against the Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds, and even with a 14-5 record against the Cubs, they were below .500 (36-40) in the Central. They have to improve on that, and I am thinking, hoping, that this year they will take the next steps to improve that intra-divisional performance.
I say that this all adds up to seeing this guy fly 91 times this season, and, what the hell, an NL Central Division Championship, edging out the always strong St. Louis Cardinals.
And speaking of the Central Division, I do see it as a battle between the Pirates and Cardinals this year. By all accounts, the Brewers and Reds have stepped back this year, and it is the Cubs who are the chic and trendy pick to surprise major league baseball this season. I heard Tim Kurkjian on the radio recently say that, yes, with all of the young talent that seems destined to arrive in Chicago this season, the Cubs could win 95 games this year. However, because the team is so young, they could also win 75 games. I will believe in the Cubs when they actually do something, so I will guess that the win total at Wrigley this year will be closer to 75 than to 90.
Okay, these guys are ready....
....this guy is ready....
....and I'm ready for some games that count. Oil up the old Rawlings, rub up the baseballs, file the spikes, and let's play ball!
See you soon at PNC Park, and Let's go Bucs!!!!