BRADENTON, Fla. — Pirates spring training is in full swing as the pitchers and catchers went through their second day of workouts on Tuesday and several notable position players have arrived, as well.
But the focus remains on the pitchers and catchers, and in at least one department, the Pirates don’t have a lot work to do to figure out the opening day roster.
Manager Clint Hurdle said Thursday that he anticipates Joe Musgrove, who was acquired from the Houston Astros in the Gerrit Cole trade, to assume a starter’s role and that his rotation is largely set, with Musgrove joining holdovers Chad Kuhl, Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams.
Musgrove, 25, split time between starting and relieving with the Astros in 2017, and he had better outcomes out of the bullpen. In 15 starts, he had an .882 OPS against. In 23 relief appearances, he had a .565 OPS against.
“We need to get him out there and see how it plays,” Hurdle said. “He’s going to have every opportunity to get into the rotation and pitch.”
The Pirates finished 14th in the National League in home runs in 2017 with 151 as a team. Their ISO was .142, again 14th in the league, as was their slugging percentage at .386. Since then, Andrew McCutchen, who is the Pirates player that had the most home runs (28), was first in slugging (.486), and second in ISO (.211) has been traded. That’s left a hole in the power department that won’t be easy to fix.
“We’ve never been a team since I’ve been here that’s been in the top five in the National League in power,” Hurdle said. “We’ve been seven, eight, around there, but we’ve done enough other things well. We’re looking to add more power. We’re looking to find more power in people and get them on the field more often again.”
Hurdle said the biggest source of improvement may the internal, as the Pirates hope for full seasons out of Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, in addition to the acquisition of third baseman Colin Moran.
“We missed Marte for 80 (games), Polanco three times on the DL, Cervelli on the DL.,” Hurdle said. “Are they home run guys? Two of them are. It’s about power and it’s about OPS, to be quite frank. In Marte and Polanco, there’s more there. The emergence of Moran, we’ll see how that plays out.
“Josh Bell, two years ago, I’m having conversations about ‘he’s got no power’ and ‘when is his power going to come?’ There’s power that will show up this year that we might not even have on the chart. I’m confident in the fact that we’re going to find guys that have more power, power that’s necessary and power that’s needed.”
STAYING ON THE FIELD
The Pirates had a rough season in 2017 when it came to keeping players on the field. From Jung Ho Kang and Marte’s off-the-field issues, to multiple injuries for Cervelli and Polanco, and then Jameson Taillon’s cancer diagnosis. One of the changes the Pirates have made this offseason is a revamped training department, with head athletic trainer promoted to director of sports medicine and placed in charge of a larger department.
“That was a challenge,” Hurdle said. “We believe we’ve taken steps with the personnel, the new programs, a lot of new programs went into work this winter with case-specific guys. We’re seeing some of the benefits from an eye test. We’ll have more testing done.
“If you win 75 games, you need to peel back the layers. You need to turn over some things and ask some honest questions of yourself and everybody.”
McCutchen will not just vacate center field, but will also leave the No. 3 spot in the batting order, which he held down for most of his Pirates tenure. But Hurdle seems to have had a change of heart about penciling in his best hitter in that spot going forward.
“There’s a model that’s out there that your best two hitters hit second and fourth and then you look for your on-base guys to fill in one and three,” he said. “The biggest misnomer in the game, and I was one of the guys that overlooked that, was putting your best hitter third. You look at the guys and look at how many times they came to the plate with two outs and nobody on. It’s alarming. So, can you rearrange the furniture?”
SPEEDING UP THE GAME
The Pirates have had internal conversations amongst the coaching staff about what to do if Major League Baseball does implement a proposal to have a pitch clock or some other way to speed up the game between pitches, but Hurdle is in favor of his pitchers keeping things timely whether it’s league-mandated or not.
“We’ve always been an organization that wants our guys to be efficient with their time on the mound,” he said. “We keep clocks on guys as far as when they catch the ball and when they release the ball. … We actually did a drill last year where we showed our entire team the average time of the game was 2:58, or whatever it was for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The actual playing time was like 17 minutes. So how can we just be more efficient with it? So, we’ve talked and we’ll continue with it.”