By Rob Biertempfel
BRADENTON, Fla. — Which Pirates player has the best chance to win the NL MVP award this year? The answer might surprise you. According to online betting site Bovada, Kris Bryant (11-to-4 odds), Bryce Harper (3-to-1) and Nolan Arenado (7-to-1) are the top three favorites. Also in the top 10 is outfielder … Andrew McCutchen.
Cutch got the same 33-to-1 odds as Yoenis Cespedes, Clayton Kershaw, Buster Posey, Max Scherzer, Kyle Schwarber, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Votto. McCutchen is coming off an awful season and ZIPS and Steamer project merely a modest comeback this year. Will McCutchen prove them wrong?
I’d expect most fans would say newly anointed center fielder Starling Marte is the Pirates’ best hope for an MVP winner. However, Bovada says Marte’s odds are 55-to-1 — a little bit worse than Matt Carpenter, Trea Turner and Adrian Gonzalez.
>>> UPDATE 12:31 p.m. — When he made his annual visit to Pirates spring training camp last year, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he wanted to recruit 6-foot-7 reliever Jared Hughes as a tight end. Hughes declined the offer, then hinted he might prefer to play quarterback.
When Tomlin stopped by camp again today, I asked if the Steelers had a QB vacancy to fill — a thinly veiled reference to Ben Roethlisberger’s supposed flirtation with retirement. Tomlin knew exactly what I was up to, and deftly side-stepped the query.
“I don’t know, I think this year I might be looking at (first baseman Josh) Bell,” Tomlin quipped. “I got a good, close-up look at the shoulders on Bell. I’m sure there’s something he could do for us.”
>>> UPDATE 9:18 a.m. — RHP Dovydas Neverauskas was optioned to Triple-A Indy. OF Barrett Barnes and C Christian Kelley were re-assigned to minor league camp. Baseball America ranks Neverauskas as the Pirates’ No. 24 prospect. He’ll likely fill a seventh- and/or eighth-inning role with Indy. “There was nothing I was told (by management) to work on,” Neverauskas said. “Just do the same thing I did last year.”
>>> Francisco Cervelli returned from the WBC on Thursday and is ready to get back to work:
>>> Catcher Jacob Stallings flew from Orlando to Nashville and made it to the hospital just in time to witness the birth of his child. Wi-fi on the plane helped keep him calm:
>>> You want links? I’ve got links:
Antonio Bastardo is taking nothing for granted at this stage of his career.
>>> Here’s a transcript of an interesting chat between a couple of stat wonks — Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com and Craig Edwards of Fangraphs — about whether the Cubs will be unstoppable in the NL Central this year.
>>> Friday’s game: Orioles at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root
Orioles: Chris Dickerson 9, Johnny Giavotella 4, Hyun Soo Kim DH, Trey Mancini 3, Chance Sisco 2, Chris Johnson 5, Logan Schafer 8, Paul Janish 6, Aneury Tavarez 7. RHP Gabriel Ynoa. Also pitching for Orioles: RH Logan Verrett, LH Donnie Hart, LH Zach Britton.
Pirates: Jordy Mercer 6, Alen Hanson 4, David Freese 5, John Jaso 9, Francisco Cervelli 2, Eric Wood 3, Austin Meadows 8, Danny Ortiz 7, Erich Weiss DH. RHP Drew Hutchison. Also pitching for Pirates: LH Felipe Rivero, LH Tyler Webb, LH Wade LeBlanc
>>> The Pirates and Orioles also will play a B game at 10 a.m. today in Sarasota. Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Trevor Williams. Also pitching for Pirates: RH Casey Sadler, RH Angel Sanchez. Orioles: Lineup TBA. RHP Mike Wright. Also pitching for Orioles: RH Darren O’Day.
>>> Saturday’s game: Pirates at Phillies, 1:05 p.m., Spectrum Field, Clearwater. Webcast: pirates.com
Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Tyler Glasnow. Also pitching for Pirates: LH Steven Brault, RH Pat Light. Rays: Lineup TBA. RHP Jeremy Hellickson. Also pitching for Phllies: TBA
>>> Sunday’s game: Blue Jays at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. Webcast: pirates.com
Rays: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Blue Jays: RH Mike Bolsinger, RH Casey Lawrence, RH Lucas Harrell, RH Dominic Leone, RH Bo Schultz Pirates: TBA. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.