BOSTON – The 2017 Pirates season is upon us, with the Pirates opening up the season in Boston. I will have full coverage from Opening Day, with a bit of a season preview tomorrow morning, game coverage tomorrow afternoon, plus post-game analysis. We will have our minor league season previews starting on Tuesday, gearing up for the start of the minor league regular season on Thursday.
But first, it’s time to do a bit of a recap of Spring Training. I didn’t want to go too in depth with the recap, since it’s hard to take some Spring Training stats and results seriously. I started off with a list of players who could impress and who could disappoint, but with a 25-man roster, that can be a bit of a stretch when you start getting past the big ones. So I decided to just focus on one player from either side, looking at the player who could add the most value to the Pirates this year, and the player who could provide the biggest loss.
The Biggest Potential Gain: Tyler Glasnow
I spent most of last year talking about why Tyler Glasnow wasn’t ready for the majors, despite some outstanding numbers in Triple-A. The biggest reasons were the lack of control and the absence of a changeup. He didn’t seem like he was committed to working on those issues, and seemed like he was frustrated by the end of the 2016 season, especially during his time on the disabled list.
Glasnow is like a new pitcher this year. He still has the control problems, and the changeup isn’t where you want it to be. But the approach has been fantastic. He actually realizes that he needs to work on the changeup. He realizes that he needs to do something about the command. He can get the results in Triple-A without working on those two things, but he won’t come close to his upside in the big leagues if he doesn’t make some changes.
So that’s what he worked on in camp. He added a new two-seam changeup grip at the start of Spring Training, and added a new pause at the start of his delivery, aimed at slowing himself down and getting better command. He also added a new slide step, with the focus of controlling the running game. He still has work to do in all of those areas, but the most important thing is that he’s now working on those, and realizes how important they are to him reaching his upside.
The Pirates obviously are going to let Glasnow work on his issues in the big leagues, as they gave him the number five spot in the rotation. At the start of camp, I thought Drew Hutchison would get the fifth spot, with maybe Steven Brault as a sleeper candidate. Hutchison fell apart in his last three outings of the spring, and Brault pitched well, but didn’t get the priority over Glasnow. At the moment, Glasnow isn’t really a better option than Brault, Trevor Williams, or even Hutchison when he’s on his game (which he wasn’t this spring). But in terms of upside, there is no comparison.
Glasnow has more upside than any of the other guys who competed for the final rotation spot. If you go with one of them, you might get some good results for a fifth starter, but the upside is a back of the rotation starter. Glasnow provides the only hope of shooting higher. If he ends up better than a back of the rotation guy this year, the Pirates will have a very solid rotation, moving Ivan Nova to their number four spot, and Chad Kuhl to their number five spot.
Nothing is guaranteed with prospects, but the good news here is that Glasnow is taking the steps necessary to have this type of season, and start to approach his upside in the big leagues.
The Biggest Potential Loss: Jung Ho Kang
Prior to Spring Training, I didn’t think the Pirates would lose Jung Ho Kang for much, or any time during the year. Now? I’m not sure they’ll see him back at all this year. We don’t know if he will return, or when he could return. We do know that the Pirates aren’t going to see him any time soon. The entire situation is disappointing, but from just a pure baseball perspective it’s a blow to the offense.
Kang has been the best hitter on the team in the last two years. His .362 wOBA in that span ranks higher than anyone with more than 300 plate appearances, with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte trailing him. It’s the exact same story with his wRC+.
The Pirates have some depth. They can replace Kang with David Freese, and could get a 2.0 WAR player out of the situation. But losing Kang is like losing McCutchen or Marte. It’s a loss that will be noticed, and that will need to be made up for.
The Pirates had a similar loss in 2016 when they saw McCutchen struggle for most of the season. They made up for that with production off the bench from David Freese, Sean Rodriguez, and Matt Joyce. It’s going to take more than just Freese to make up for Kang. They’ll need Gregory Polanco to finally step up and have his breakout season at the plate. They can’t have more struggles from Andrew McCutchen. They could go for Josh Bell showing more of his offensive upside. And I’m not sure there’s a guy on the bench who could do what Joyce or Rodriguez did last year, but that would be nice as well.
Obviously the Pirates don’t need all of this to happen in order to make up for the loss of Kang. But without Kang, the margin for error with this offense just got really small. They need a lot going right, and can’t have much else going wrong. The offense could still be a good group, but it’s going to be more difficult to put up that strong group effort without Kang.
**Pirates Option Jose Osuna to Indianapolis; Hanson and Gosselin Round Out Bench. The Pirates set their roster on Sunday, with Jose Osuna being the last big cut from MLB camp.
**Prospect Notebook: Another Hard Throwing Pirates Depth Option in Indianapolis. From Saturday, I wrote about Angel Sanchez and the depth he adds in Triple-A.
**Draft Prospect Watch: Updated Prep Rankings and an Interesting Pitching Match-Up. John Dreker has the latest rankings on all the draft picks ranked around where the Pirates are picking.
**Tony Watson and the Rarity of the Left-Handed Closer. Alan Saunders looks at how rare it is to see a left-handed closer.
**Nick Kingham, Barrett Barnes, Jin-De Jhang, and Adrian Valerio to Start the Year on the DL. From earlier this week, some of the big injuries to the top 50 prospects in the minors.