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.

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  1. Would someone in the media talk to a visa lawyer and write and article on the Kang situation. Is he forever banned from working in this country b/c of the DUI? Is there any sort of process involved that would enable him back in the US or is it just a done deal, you have a criminal record hence you can never set foot in the US to work? I promise there are people out there that know the system and can answer this. I’m sure Kang isn’t the first DUI to try and reenter the country so there has to be some protocol.

  2. If I were playing for the Pirates, I would want Kang back. But as a fan of the team, I’m fine cheering for them without him. I understand that others will feel differently. For me, too many warning signs that I can’t ignore.

  3. This team will go as far as its starting pitching carries them…if the starting pitching is consistent and can get to the 6th/7th inning of most games, I think the bullpen will be pretty good – with potential to be very good.

    The starting 9, without Kang, is okay – the outfield is very good, but the infield defense is still what it was last year (below average) and the corner positions lack run production (unless Bell is actually given a chance at first base and comes through as his talent suggests) – Harrison, Jaso, Freese – will not scare anyone.

    Catching? Will we get the Cervelli of 2015 or 2016? If the former, that will be more than acceptable. If the latter, big concerns here. Stewart doesn’t belong on the 25, and hopefully he will play himself off the roster in short time as I expect. He can’t hit, his throwing is terrible, and defensively his glove work is below average. He’s a liability when he plays. Still can’t believe he’s on the roster over Diaz. Unbelievable.

    I am far more optimistic about this team, than I was last year – all because of the rotation and the potential of the bullpen. Anyone with a brain knew that last year’s rotation heading into the season was a train wreck waiting to happen – Niese, Nicasio, and Locke. The bullpen had to many AAAA pitchers. My only criticism of who was selected for the staff is Bastardo – he didn’t earn a spot and should not have one – but we all know why – $$.

    I do agree with Tim, Glasnow is an obvious huge key to 2017. But there are other keys…

    (1) Cole – will he pitch like a #1 again?
    (2) Nova – will we get the Nova who pitched the final 2 months of 2016 or the pre-Pittsburgh Nova?
    (3) Bell has to grab a hold of the full-time first base job and provide the pop the lineup desperately needs. We cannot win with Jaso at first base game after game.
    (4) Watson – He has to step up and be a solid, reliable closer…
    (5) Polanco – Needs to rise to superstar status in 2017 – and he is capable

  4. Of course none have the upside of Glasnow. However, I believe Meadows can have a significant impact this year. Not because of a ‘Cutch deal (if he is dealt, I believe the Bucs will be out of the race), but when one of the OF does on the DL, it should be Meadows that fills the spot.
    Also, Kingham could enter the rotation after June. That could be a major 2nd half plus.

    Oh, off to Fenway ……

    • Yes, that is my favorite, and it is always good for
      a chuckle or two, but this year, I might not find too
      much humor in it. The way I see it, without Kang,
      we are one major injury away from what could be
      a really bad year.

  5. I’d love to see Polanco put it all together this year, hit .280+ with 25+ homers and 5 WAR season.

    Also, Tim you mentioned above that losing Kang was like losing Cutch or Marte. Now you can’t get much better of a backup than David Freese but the Bucs don’t have an Austin Meadows waiting in the wings in AAA for 3B. Freese is a proven commodity but his upside as this point is maybe 2-2.5 WAR. Meadows’ upside 3x that. I could easily see him the best player on the Bucs as early as 2019.

      • You had them projected for 90 wins with Kang- so I’m guessing you are still projecting them for 87-88 wins even if Kang misses entire year?

  6. How does the Kang contract work? Are we still paying him? Does it pause and year 3 is 2018 if he cannot return?

    • He’s on restricted list so there will be no pay. If year 3 could be next year that will actually be great..

    • And let’s hope he can take the time to work on conditioning and recover that leg strength and mobility.

  7. It would be great to see Cutch be Cutch, Marte hit for a bit more power and Polanco and Bell break out. They will miss Jung Ho Kang, perhaps a lot. I’m with Tim though I think there’s a very significant chance he won’t play for them again ever. They need a strong year from Ivan Nova, hopefully that’s what they’ll get. Hate to say it but this team will be very challenged to contend for the WC. It would be great to see Frazier and Hanson surprise to the upside (Frazier seems like he’s a real player, I suspect that Hanson is unrealised talent with a much higher upside than people are willing to give him credit for). It would be nice to see Osuna and Ngoepe make contributions too at some point and it seems like they have some legit arms in AAA in Brault, Santana and Neverauskas. It would also be nice ot see them be competitive in games with the Cubs, they weren’t close to that in most of the games last year. Even 7 – 12 would be a plus! Let’s not forget that Cole and Taillon should be a very strong 1 – 2 and TG has huge potential. I would bet that we’ll see Felipe Rivero closing games too at some point, in my opinion Watson seems better suited as a set up man in the 8th.

  8. So much can be gained from beating the reds and Brewers the way the rest of MLB does – they would have come out ahead of the cards the last 3 years on that alone.

    • This is a great point. The Pirates were a good team against all of baseball except the NL Centra where they were a bad team last year.

    • Excellent point!!! Hopefully that trend will change. It has been one of those unexplainable things, and very frustrating too!!!

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