The Pittsburgh Pirates had a lot of injuries last year to their rotation, but remained contenders due to the strong rotation depth. It looks like they’ll have strong depth again this year.
Stolmy Pimentel Looks Like a Favorite For the Opening Day Roster. He will probably open the season in the bullpen, but everyone I’ve talked to in the organization seems high on him, and still views him as a starting pitcher. He could play a Jeanmar Gomez role this year. The link has a great reaction from Ray Searage after seeing Pimentel for the first time last year.
Brandon Cumpton was a great depth option last year, and should return this year in the same role. I looked at his 2013 season, and how he went from an early season disaster to great MLB depth.
The Pirates also tried to turn to Phil Irwin last year as early season depth, but he went down for the season with an injury after his MLB debut. I talked with Irwin about that injury, and noted that he’s healthy, and looking to get back to being Philthy.
With Pimentel, Cumpton, Irwin, Jeff Locke, Jeanmar Gomez, and the mid-season arrival of Jameson Taillon, the Pirates will enter the 2014 season with some solid depth once again, ready to step up if there are any injuries or struggles. This is a big reason why I think the Pirates will be a better team this year, compared to last year.
The outfield will be another reason why the Pirates will be a strong team this year. They already have an MVP in center field, and Starling Marte quietly had a great season in left field last year. At some point in 2014 they will add Gregory Polanco, who made some defensive adjustments last year in Bradenton, which he said makes him a more complete outfielder.
The defense will be key for that trio, and will be helped by the outfield shifts that the Pirates are looking to employ. Neal Huntington talked about those outfield shifts. The Pirates also have a program that allows them to track every step that their players take on the field. Read about that, and how it could help the future shifts.
The Pirates became contenders largely because of internal additions through their farm system. No team is built entirely using one avenue of talent, but the Pirates got here with their farm system, and the focus on keeping the farm system strong will keep them here. Fortunately the system looks good. Baseball America had seven Pirates in their top 100 this week. They also had 13 Pirates Prospects among the best at their positions.
This week I took a look at whether the Pirates are the top team in Latin America. The article includes input from Ben Badler of Baseball America.
Getting Ready for the Season
The Pirates move closer to the start of the 2014 season, with the full squad reporting this past week, and games beginning next week. Most of the news this week involved tracking players and their progression towards the start of the season.
**Francisco Liriano was named the Opening Day starter. It seems like that’s an early call, but it’s also an obvious choice, which explains why it was early. The added benefit here is that by starting on Opening Day, Liriano gets two starts at home to begin the season. Last year he was much better at PNC Park (1.47 ERA) vs the road (4.33 ERA).
**Jason Grilli has been slow getting ready for the season, although the move is intentional to avoid burning him out. Grilli took a few days off after his last bullpen, then returned to throw five pitches off flat ground, and 15 off the mound.
**Bob Nutting met with the team this week, then met with the media to discuss the 2014 Pirates, TV Deals, Prospects and the Trade Deadline.
**The Pirates have announced their Lineups For Tuesday’s Black & Gold Game.
While it’s still early in the process, there seems to be a consensus that this upcoming draft class is loaded with pitching. The college ranks boast at least ten pitchers that look like they will go in the first round and the prep class isn’t too far behind. There aren’t many quality bats in college, but since it’s still early, there’s still plenty of time for names to move up the charts. There seems to be a lot of corner infielders and outfielders at the top of the college class now and not much up the middle. Most high school teams haven’t started their season yet, so once they start playing we will get a better feel of what might be available there.
** With the Baltimore Orioles signing of Ubaldo Jimenez, the Pirates will move up one spot on the amateur draft. Baseball America released their top 30 list for draft prospects on Tuesday and they ranked right-handed high school pitcher Cobi Johnson 24th overall. Tuesday night is usually a slow night in college baseball, but some of the better names were in action. In that link, you can find results from Tuesday, along with an in depth report on Johnson and the strength/weaknesses of this draft class.
**Draft Prospect Watch: Top Tools and Two Prep Stars Square Off Nick Gordon and Forrest Wall are two of the top high school players in this draft and their teams met in an early season match-up. Gordon could shoot up the draft charts according to many experts, while Wall seems like a legit late first round pick at this time.
**Draft Prospect Watch: Grant Holmes Throwing Heat Grant Holmes was topping out at 96 MPH in the most recent scouting reports when we did the draft preview, but a scrimmage game this week saw him bump that up to 98 MPH. The link has a video of the right-hander, who also offers a power curve ball to go along with that plus fastball.
**Draft Prospect Watch: Big Game For Matt Chapman Chapman is a solid third baseman, with a strong arm and a nice bat. Interest in his season should be high for Pirates fans since third base is obviously a position of weakness. Right now, he profiles as a mid-first round pick.
**Draft Prospect Watch: Aaron Nola Throws Seven No-Hit Innings The recap of the top Friday night starters in the nation, including Kyle Freeland from Evansville, a new name to watch.