All posts by Rob Biertempfel

Pirates A.M. — McCutchen’s uneasy start to spring training


By Rob Biertempfel

BRADENTON, Fla. — Wearing a grey hoodie and black cap, Andrew McCutchen met with reporters for about 15 minutes this morning after arriving at Pirate City. McCutchen had a turbulent offseason — he was the subject of trade talks, particularly during the winter meetings in December, then lost his job in center field.

McCutchen answered every question without hesitation, but his trademark smile never flashed during the interview. Some of his thoughts:

>>> On his emotions heading into camp: “Pretty motivated, ready to go. I worked hard this offseason. Just ready to show up and do what I’ve got to do.”

>>> On moving to right field: “There was at one point, it was my call – when I was ready to go to right, it was on me. (Now,) it was more, ‘This is something you have to do.’ It wasn’t an ask. It was more of a say that I have to move there and it’s for the betterment of the team. That’s one of the first times where that’s something I wanted to go against. It wasn’t something I was ready for or something I wanted to do. But as I’m saying that, I’m talking about myself. I had to not be as selfish and just accept that’s what I have to do and move over to right.”

>>> On coming to terms with the position change: “It didn’t take too long. Once I got over the fact I had to move, the more I started to try to look at it and get some positivity out of it. That’s one way to look at it. Playing in a position, a spot of a guy I idolized, (Roberto) Clemente. He set the standard for someone to be like. I would love to be half that guy. It’s an honor to be out there playing that position. To be able to have won a Roberto Clemente Award, that’s awesome. To be playing out there and following in his footsteps is an honor for me.”

>>> On getting started with spring training: “I’m looking forward to seeing everybody, my teammates. I really haven’t spoken to too many people yet. I’m looking forward to being back. Looking forward to just getting out on the field and playing. I know you’re all sick of hearing about everything that’s happened and I am too. I’m ready to get my feet out there. Ready to show that this is just the beginning of some good stuff. I’m looking forward to spring training and putting a bat in my hand again.”

In other news from this morning at Pirate City … The Pirates had a full-squad meeting at 9 a.m. today and will head to the fields around 10 a.m. Highlights include bullpens for the C and D groups, along with full infield practice and batting practice. … As promised, Ivan Nova showed up today with a fresh dye job. Nova’s hair is now (mostly) yellow.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.


Pirates A.M. — Busiest time of year for catchers


By Rob Biertempfel

BRADENTON, Fla. — During the season, a catcher has to worry about handling a dozen or pitchers. He has to know each guy’s strengths and weaknesses and must be able to quickly decipher whether that pitcher is in a groove or out of sync.

During spring training, the challenge is greater. The Pirates have 32 pitchers in camp — big leaguers and prospects, veterans and kids — and each catcher will work with most, if not all, of them. There’s a lot to learn.

PTR-Stallings03-032816“We need to get to know the pitchers,” catcher Jacob Stallings said. “For me, I need to get to know big league guys and Triple-A guys. The (coaching) staff does a good job of making sure we catch each guy at least one time in bullpen sessions.”

There’s a catcher’s meeting with pitching coach Ray Searage scheduled for today, where each pitcher’s traits and arsenal will be discussed.

“We do a lot of stuff to make sure the transition is as easy as possible.,” Stallings said.

>>> Andrew McCutchen is among the position players who will be in camp today. He and Josh Harrison are among the group scheduled for noon physicals.

>>> Tony Watson’s arbitration case was heard Wednesday and the outcome is expected to be announced today. Watson filed for $6 million and the Pirates offered $5.6 million. The board must choose one figure or the other.

>>> The A and B groups will throw bullpens today. Group B (which includes Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault) will go at 11 a.m. Group A (which includes Gerrit Cole, Ivan Nova and Jameson Taillon) will go at 11:20 a.m.

UPDATE 10:30 a.m.Josh Bell picked up a bat, looked at catcher Elias Diaz and smiled. “Time for me to go make that noise,” Bell said.

That noise was the sound of Bell making contact with baseballs in the indoor batting cages. He was cleared to begin taking swings with a tee, another step forward in his recovery from offseason knee surgery.

WatsonUPDATE 11:30 a.m. — Relief pitcher Tony Watson lost his arbitration case and will make $5.6 million this season. Watson had filed for $6 million.

That’s still a 62 percent raise for Watson, who last year made $3.45 million and inherited the closer’s role in late July when Mark Melancon was traded.

Watson was the only Pirate to go to a hearing this year. The case was heard on Wednesday by arbitrators Gil Vernon, Jeanne Wood and Steven Wolf.

Watson, 31, last season converted 15 of 20 save chances and posted a 3.06 ERA over 70 outings. The left-hander will be a free agent after this season.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.


Pirates A.M. – Jaso at 3B? Not so much.


By Rob Biertempfel

BRADENTON, Fla. — Some folks have asked if John Jaso will be an option to play third base if Jung Ho Kang ends up missing a significant chunk of time. You may recall Jaso said at the end of last year that he’d like to try to learn how to play third base before the start of the 2017 season.

Here’s a nugget I got from GM Neal Huntington during minicamp in January (which was about a month after Kang was arrested for DUI) when I asked about Jaso’s role: “There was conversation about third base, but it’s probably going to be more first base and outfield. As we do with a lot of our guys coming through the system, we’re not creating utility players, we’re creating avenues to make a major league team and help a major league team. John’s open to doing that.”

>>> Wednesday’s lineup for bullpen sessions is not as sexy as yesterday’s, when the top bullpen and rotation candidates toed the rubber:

Group C (11:05 a.m.) — Josh Lindblom, Dan Runzler, Trevor Williams, Pat Light, Jason Stoffel, Edgar Santana and Nick Kingham.

Group D (11:25 a.m.) — Clay Holmes, Dovydas Neverauskas, Brandon Cumpton, Jared Lakind, Cody Dickson, Tyler Eppler, Casey Sadler and Angel Sanchez.

PolancoAirport>>> Thursday is the deadline for position players to report, and a few (perhaps all) will check in today. Gregory Polanco is on his way, according to his Instagram account. Andrew McCutchen was spotted last night dining in St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota, just a half-hour down the road.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.


Pirates A.M. — The Candyman is in camp


CandyHurdleBy Rob Biertempfel

BRADENTON, Fla. — John Candelaria and Rennie Stennett are newcomers this year among the crew of former Pirates players who serve as special instructors during big league spring training camp.

Candelaria, 63, pitched 19 seasons in the majors. He amassed 124 wins with the Pirates from 1975 (his rookie season) to 1985 (when he was traded to the Angels). He spent his final five seasons working mostly as a reliever, including a 24-outing stint with the Pirates in 1993 (his final season).

Candelaria is scheduled to help pitching coach Ray Searage evaluate bullpens this morning. All the big guns — including Gerrit Cole, Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Tony Watson and Felipe Rivero — will throw.

Stennett, 65, played for the Pirates from 1971 (rookie year) to 1979. He spent his final two seasons with the Giants.

The other special instructors this year are Bill Mazeroski, Bill Virdon, Kent Tekulve, Mike LaValliere, Steve Blass, Manny Sanguillen and Omar Moreno.

>>> The trade that brought Phil Gosselin to the Pirates also brought him closer to home. Gosselin grew up in Malvern, about a half-hour outside of Philadelphia.

“It’s across the state, but still a lot closer than Arizona,” Gosselin said. “I grew up a Phillies fan … and the Flyers.”

Uh oh. Will Gosselin be OK with donning a black-and-gold jersey if manager Clint Hurdle schedules another Penguins-themed road trip?

“I might have to, but my buddies back home might not be happy with me,” Gosselin said with a laugh.

A four-year veteran, Gosselin said the management hasn’t yet given him a specific plan for his role if he makes the team. He can play second, third, short, first and left field.

“I’m open to playing anywhere,” Gosselin said. “I kind of like that role, bouncing around. It’s fun. It’s something different every day, so I’m ready for whatever they throw at me. I’m excited for the opportunity here. It seems like a great organization.”

>>> UPDATE 10:46 a.m. — Third baseman Jung Ho Kang will miss the start of spring training camp due to his trial for driving under the influence in South Korea, team president Frank Coonelly confirmed on Tuesday.

Pitchers and catchers held their first workout on Tuesday morning. The first full-squad workout is set for Friday.

Kang faces charges after a DUI incident on Dec. 2 near Seoul. His trail is set for Feb. 22.

“It is not known how long the trial will last or when any sentencing phase that might be necessary would be scheduled,” Coonelly said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to do whatever we can to assist he and his representatives in their efforts to resolve all necessary matters so that Jung Ho will be able to travel to the United States to prepare for and to play in the 2017 season, but his reporting date remains undetermined.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.


The most boring camp ever?


BoringWe are 26 days away from what might be the most boring spring training camp in recent Pirates history.

You want drama? You want position battles? You want lots of starting jobs and rotation spots up in the air? Don’t look to Bradenton, Fla.

This morning, I decided to come up with the probable 25-man roster for the April 3 season opener against the Red Sox. It required a lot less time and head-scratching than I expected:

Starting lineup (in no particular order): C Francisco Cervelli, 1B Josh Bell, 2B Josh Harrison, SS Jordy Mercer, 3B Jung Ho Kang, LF Andrew McCutchen, CF Starling Marte, RF Gregory Polanco

No surprises here, although there is a bit of intrigue regarding McCutchen and Kang. For our purposes, let’s suspend #CutchWatch and assume he’s not traded before opening day. The question then becomes whether he’s stationed in front of the Green Monster or in center field when the Pirates play the Red Sox on April 3. McCutchen could put up a case during spring training that he deserves to stay in center, but don’t forget he’ll be out of camp for a while to play for Team USA in the WBC. That could help his cause (if the Pirates don’t want to tinker with their alignment while their outfielders are out of camp) or hurt it (if management figures there’ll be less turbulence if the change is made while Cutch is not in camp to protest it). Kang’s status is a murky in the wake of his DUI arrest last month. He could be suspended and/or he could miss time while participating in an alcohol-abuse rehab program.

Bench: Chris Stewart, David Freese, Alen Hanson, Adam Frazier, John Jaso

Freese will start at third if Kang is absent. Stewie and Jaso also are gimme picks. Hanson is a multi-position guy and (more importantly) is out of minor league options. Frazier clearly has been groomed to replace Super U Sean Rodriguez.

Starting rotation: RHP Gerrit Cole, RHP Ivan Nova, RHP Jameson Taillon, RHP Chad Kuhl, RHP Drew Hutchison

Barring a late acquisition — Jose Contreras? Jake Ordorizzi? Jason Hammel? Jorge De La Rosa? Henderson Alvarez? (OK, that last one might be a bit of a stretch.) — the No. 5 rotation spot should be the biggest question mark at the outset of camp. I gave the nod to Hutchison because of his big league experience. Also, the front office would like to see some return on an investment that will cost the Pirates $2.3 million this year, along with a former opening day starter (Frankie Liriano), a former first-rounder (Reese McGuire) and some outfield depth (Harold Ramirez). Also in the mix: Steven Brault (who would be the lone lefty in the rotation), Tyler Glasnow and Trevor Williams. Nick Kingham, who seems fit again after Tommy John surgery, also could claim this job at some point this season.

Bullpen: LHP Tyler Webb RHP Juan Nicasio, RHP Jared Hughes, LHP Antonio Bastardo, LHP Felipe Rivero, LHP Daniel Hudson, LHP Tony Watson (L)

There are a lotta lefties here. Too many, probably. And this doesn’t even include Wade LeBlanc, a late-season pickup last year. His $750,000 contract is non-guaranteed, which means the Pirates are on the hook for only a fraction of his salary if he’s cut during spring camp. Bastardo will make $6.5 million, but about half of that is being picked up by the Mets. Hudson has reinvented himself after having two TJ surgeries and likely will be the closer if/when Watson is moved. Webb is a Rule 5 pickup who’s got some good life in his four-seamer. 

* * * * * *

There you have it. This bunch is significantly different from the 2016 opening day roster, but still has the same core — McCutchen, Marte, Cervelli, Kang, Mercer, Harrison, Polanco, Cole, Watson. Regardless of who gets the fifth starter gig, the rotation figures to be better than it was last year. The bench loses SeanRod’s pop and gains Hanson’s speed. The bullpen could be a work in progress all summer — if Watty is not dealt this spring, he’ll still most likely be traded at the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

Spring training will feature fewer moving parts than we’ve seen the past few years, but that’s usually not a bad thing. The roster is (more or less) settled; now all the 2017 Pirates have to do is find a way to make up for the 25 games they finished behind the first-place Cubs in the NL Central last season.

– Rob Biertempfel


Winter meetings day 3


By Rob Biertempfel

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Good day, and welcome to day 3 …

UPDATE 11:50 am – I’ve heard the Pirates are mulling a cluster of “six or seven” FA starting pitchers. Their interest in Ivan Nova is well-established. I figure the uncertainty over Andrew McCutchen‘s situation — specifically, what kind of pitching the Pirates would get back in a trade and if/how that would immediately impact the rotation — is a clog in the drain. Once that situation is resolved, one way or another, things probably will keep moving slowly.

>>> The annual lunch with reporters and all 30 big league managers gets under way at noon today. Last year, the Neil Walker trade was finalized during that luncheon. In 2013, news of Charlie Morton‘s contract extension broke during that lunch. Will McCutchen be dealt before dessert is served today?

UPDATE 2:37 pm – Dessert was some sort of chocolate thing. Tasty, but I never got coffee, which was a bummer. Still no signs of life from the Pirates’ war rooms at the Gaylord Resort.

>>> During a discussion this morning about the Pirates’ quest for pitching help, it was noted that the Diamondbacks have a stable of young, controllable arms. Some of them are coming off rough seasons, but still have upside — the kind of pitchers that often pings the Pirates’ radar.

However, there could be a couple of roadblocks to the Pirates and D’backs making a deal. Arizona is seeking controllable relief pitching, which is not a great match with the Pirates. Also, there is the Mike Fitzgerald factor.

Fitzgerald was the Pirates’ traveling sabermetrics guy — they’re the first MLB team to have one on the road with them at all times — who last week took a job with the D’backs. Fitz has the poop on all of the Pirates’ top players, which could tip the playing field toward the D’backs in trade talks.

The Pirates have lost several other members of their braintrust  over the past few years: Mark DelPiano, Jim Benedict, Jeff Banister. Is GM Neal Huntington worried that his secrets are being spread throughout MLB with each departure?

“If it were stagnant and a single-level model, yes,” Huntington said. “We’re working to continue to evolve and get better. We have lost some talented people and that’s a part of why we do this. That means we’ve helped them grow.”

Huntington said the Pirates have had “an immense amount” of requests by other clubs to interview their staff members. “Some have chosen to stay with us, some have interviewed and not gotten jobs, some have gotten jobs,” Huntington said. “Part of our challenge is to continue to replenish. We need to be very good in our selection process, not only on the player front, but with our staff as well. We feel every time we lose somebody, it’s an opportunity for us to grow and get better … a different voice, a different mind set, a different thought process.”

>>> The Pirates met on Tuesday with the agent for free-agent LHP Derek Holland. Duritng the confab, the Pirates did not indicate which direction they’re heading, but a source said things could move quickly either way later today.

>>> It doesn’t seem likely the Pirates will pick anyone on Thursday in the big league phase of the Rule 5 draft. However, they could lose a player such as 3B/OF Eric Wood.

Wood was named to the Arizona Fall League top prospects team after batting .330 with five doubles, three homers and 20 RBI in 23 games. At Double-A Altoona last season, he hit .249/.339/.443 and improved his strikeout and walk rates. Was it a mistake to leave Wood off the 40-man roster and expose him to the Rule 5 draft?

“I’ll tell you on Friday,” Huntington said with a laugh. “We certainly recognize that he took a step forward this year. He had a nice Arizona Fall League and he’s continued to do some good things in winter ball. We talked a lot about should we protect him. As we walked through our criteria, we knew it was a risk. We recognize we may not see him again if he gets selected in the Rule 5 draft. We also recognize it’s really hard to carry a guy for a full year, especially if you’re going to try to be a competitive team.”

Players selected in the Rule 5 draft must remain with their new teams for the entire season or be offered back to their original club.


Winter meetings day 2 thread


By Rob Biertempfel

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — There were no surprises from GM Neal Huntington this morning when he chatted with Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio on XM. Although talks with the Nationals appear to have cooled, it still seems likely Andrew McCutchen eventually will be traded.

“If we can trade two years of an All-Star player into multiple years of really good players, that’s how we keep this thing moving forward,” Huntington said. “We have to operate differently from the top markets and differently than even some of the middle markets. That’s purely because of revenue stream. Because of our great fan base, our revenues are above what our market would dictate.

“(Playing in the postseason) is how we reward and appease our fan base. It’s not by keeping one great player. We have the ability to keep any one great player we want. It’s (about) how do we put a championship team on the field.”

Although they won the 2013 wild-card game, the Pirates have not won a playoff series since the 1979 World Series.

>>> Next season should be an important one for second baseman Alen Hanson, 24, who is out of minor league options. In 27 games with the Pirates last season, he hit .226 and was 2 for 3 in stolen-base attempts.

An above-average defender with good speed, Hanson needs to get on base more often to win playing time. He could share a utilityman role with Adam Frazier next season; one or both of them would benefit if Josh Harrison is traded.

Hanson hasn’t yet decided whether to attend the Pirates’ voluntary minicamp in January. Those workouts often are a good way for younger players to be noticed by the coaching staff and build traction for the majors. Hanson hopes to train this winter with his pal  Gregory Polanco in the Dominican Republic.

While sliding into home plate during winter ball game in the Dominican, Hanson sustained a minor hand injury. Hanson sat out a few games, but did not require surgery.


Winter meetings day 1: Let’s talk pitching


By Rob Biertempfel

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — News, notes and flat-out speculation from the first day of the winter meetings:

UPDATE 3:40 pm – I was told the Nationals balked when Pirates asked for OF Victor Robles and RHP Lucas Giuolito in exchange for Andrew McCutchen. Deal-breaker? Not necessarily. As far as I can tell, though, the two sides remain in touch about a possible swap.

The Nats raised concerns about McCutchen’s declining physical skills — he appears to have lost a step, his offensive stats reached career blows, blah blah blah.

But here’s something new: the Nationals evaluators also wondered about McCutchen’s mood and presence in the clubhouse. McCutchen had a few outbursts about ball-strike calls, one of which led to his first career ejection. He had some out-of-chareacter moments — he slammed the bat down at the plate, interacted with some hecklers in the stands — that have been mentioned by manager Clint Hurdle.

No one actually believes McCutchen is a bad guy. He had a rough season, probably realized early on the Pirates were not going to extend him, and reacted out of frustration. Still, it’s not surprising the Nats would bring up those kind of questions during trade talks; it’s normal business procedure to seek any kind of advantage in negotiations.

>>> GM Neal Huntington is scheduled to meet with reporters at 4 pm today. Look for updates soon about what he says on McCutchen, Jung Ho Kang and other topics.

UPDATE 12:45 pm — Uh oh. John Heyman tweeted there is a “mystery team” in the McCutchen sweepstakes. Could it be the Giants? They have some dandy prospects to dangle, including RHP Tyler Beede and INF Christian Arroyo.

Beede, 23, was a first-round pick in 2014. He made 24 starts at Double-A this past season and went 8-7 with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. Fastball is 91-94 mph and touches 97 mph. Changeup (Pirates front office looooooves it some changeup) is his best secondary pitch, but is inconsistent. Beede also throws a 12-6 curve and a cutter.

Arroyo, 21, was a first-rounder in 2013. He was drafted as a shortstop, but likely will move to third base  due to his power bat and limited range. In 119 games at Double-A, he hit .274 with 29 walks and 72 strikeouts in 474 at-bats.

>>> Let’s talk pitching.

You don’t have to be Bill James to know that finding a veteran starting pitcher is the Pirates’ top priority this offseason. The rotation was their biggest disappointment last season.

It doesn’t have to be a No. 1 guy. It’s about time Gerrit Cole starts to live up to his hype and fills that role. When I talked with Gerrit a few days ago, he was still unwrapping wedding gifts and is getting ready to ramp up his offseason training routine. Cole was injured during the last offseason — no one from the Pirates ever said exactly how that happened — and needs to be smarter with his approach this year.

The Pirates need to be smarter, too. Manager Clint Hurdle wonders if the team didn’t rush Cole back into action last April.

“Cole played catch-up, pretty much it seemed from spring training on,” Hurdle said. “It was hard for him and it was hard for us. You want to honor the kid; he wanted to complete. Did we do the right thing? I think we all learned from it. If that situation arises again, there will probably have to be some harder conversations about making sure that we’re as good to go as we can be before we get back and compete.”

Jameson Taillon did as well as anyone could have expected last season — maybe even a bit better. There was a stretch in the second half when the rookie right-hander was the most reliable guy in the rotation.

Is Taillon ready to be a No. 2? That’s probably a bit much to ask of someone with only 18 big league starts on his resume. Yet, it also seems reasonable to expect Taillon to be ready for that job sooner than later.

Beyond Cole and Taillon, the Pirates have … questions.

Is Chad Kuhl for real? Will Tyler Glasnow tap his enormous potential and learn how to reduce the walks and control the running game? Do Steven Brault and Trevor Williams take paths to the rotation or the bullpen? And who and what, exactly, is Drew Hutchison?

That’s a lot of uncertainty — too much, actually — to cram into 60 percent of the starting rotation.

That’s why general manager Neal Huntington and his lieutenants arrived at the Garylord resort intent on uncovering at least a couple additions to the pitching mix.

There are free-agent options, such as Ivan Nova (who rebuffed the Pirates’ contract offers in late September), Doug Fister, Jason Hammel and Jorge De La Rosa. The Pirates have had varying levels of interest in all of those guys in the past.

Huntington’s best route to finding a reliable pitcher with some measure of team control probably is to make a trade. For openers, he’ll place a call to the Rays, who are motivated to move a starter.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times offers a good breakdown of the Rays’ possible trade pieces. The most attractive candidate is RHP Chris Archer (signed through 2021 for $38.5 million). The most likely candidate is LHP Drew Smyly (third-year arb eligible, projected to make $7 million). The Pirates could split the difference and go hard after RHP Jake Odorizzi (first-year arb, $4 million).

The D’backs, who recently acquired Taijuan Walker, appear to have a surplus of young, controllable pitchers. And, of course, the Nationals could send a pitcher (or two) this way in a package for Andrew McCutchen.

Elsewhere …

>>> Eric Wood was named to the Arizona Fall League top prospects team. Wood played third base for Double-A Altoona, but is listed among the AFL outfielders. He led the AFL with 20 RBI and ranked second in hits, third in at-bats, fourth in total bases, sixth in batting (.330) and eighth in OPS (.876). In 23 AFL games, he hit five doubles and three home runs.

The Pirates did not place Wood on their 40-man roster, so he could be snatched up in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. It’s a bit odd Wood, a sixth-round pick in 2012, wasn’t protected, as he has some of the best raw power in the Pirates’ farm system (although might be faint praise, considering there’s not a lot of thunder there, top to bottom). Last season at Altoona, Wood, 24, hit .249/.339/.443 with 16 homers in 118 games.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.


Fangraphs looks at future and sees …


The folks at Fangraphs gazed into their crystal balls and predicted the Pirates will finish the 2016 season in the middle of the pack in the NL Central.

It can be a magic number, but not when finishing third means missing the playoffs.
It can be a magic number, but not when finishing third in the division means missing the playoffs.

The website’s Steamer projections slot the Pirates third in the division with 83 wins (.514) — and expects them to sit out the postseason for the first time since 2012. The Cubs are the likely division champs, according to the site, with a projected 95-67 record. The Cardinals are second at 84-78 and will play the Giants (86-76) in the NL wild-card game.

Taking a closer look at some of the Steamer data …

Cole will carry the load for the starting rotation in 2016.
Cole will carry the load for the starting rotation in 2016.

Starting pitching: The Pirates have a predicted starting rotation WAR of 13.7 — which puts them in the middle of the 30 MLB teams, but also has them below clubs such as the Padres, White Sox, Red Sox and Mariners. The top three are the Dodgers (18.5), Mets (18.4) and Cubs (18.3).

It’s no surprise the Pirates’ top two starters are expected to be Gerrit Cole (4.3 WAR) and Francisco Liriano (3.7). The rest of the rotation is underwhelming: Jon Niese (1.6), Jeff Locke (1.6) and Ryan Vogelsong (0.6). Tyler Glasnow will pitch in the majors at some point this year; Fangraphs pegs him for 55 innings and a 0.7 WAR.

The only starter projected to top 200 innings pitched is Cole (206.0), although Liriano (185.0) is close to what he worked last year (186.2). Vogelsong is listed at 109.0 innings, which falls in line with an expected midseason arrival by either Glasnow or Jameson Taillon.

Bullpen: If the rotation falters, the relievers will pick up the slack, right? Um, well … Fangraphs gave the Pirates’ pen a 2.8 WAR, which ranks 18th in the majors. The site doesn’t think much of the Pirates’ offseason additions, either. Only Juan Nicasio (0.3) gets a postitive WAR. Neftali Feliz, Guido Knudson, Trey Haley and Yoervis Medina each has a 0.0 predicted WAR.

All in all, Fangraphs expects the pitching staff to take a step back this year — going from 3.68 runs allowed per game last season to 4.07  RA/G in 2016. The offense could be about the same (4.30 runs scored per game in 2015; 4.20 RS/G in 2016), but the Pirates’ expected run differential shrinks from plus-101 last year to just plus-21 this season.

John Jaso had a 2.6 WAR with 360 PA with the Mariners in 2012.
John Jaso produced a career-best 2.6 WAR in 2012, when he got 360 PA with the Mariners.

Offense:  Fangraphs expects John Jaso (402 plate appearances) to get the bulk of the playing time at first base ahead of Mike Morse (175 PA). Jaso gets a 1.1 predicted WAR, meaning first base (1.3 overall WAR) will remain the Pirates’ weakest position.

The situation is only slightly sunnier at shortstop (1.4 overall WAR), where Jordy Mercer gets a 1.1 WAR. Jung Ho Kang (2.7 WAR) is expected to recover quickly from leg surgery and get 560 plate apps at third base.

The highest projected WAR among Pirates batters belongs to, of course, Andrew McCutchen (5.8). Starling Marte (3.9) is second. Gregory Polanco (2.0) has some work to do.

 — RB



Pirates eye former cricket star


powellCricketBRADENTON, Fla. — When Kieran Powell, a former international cricket player, arrived at IMG Academy a bit more than a month ago, he recorded a video of his first baseball workout. Although Powell is a natural athlete who was a standout batsman for his native West Indies, his baseball skills were … well, pretty awful.

“If you saw that video compared to now, you’d be able to tell there’s a distinct difference,” Powell said with a laugh.

“He probably wanted to burn that video,” joked Dan Simonds, IMG’s director of baseball.

Powell said the adjustment from cricket to baseball wasn’t too difficult for him. “The hardest thing is trying to keep your bat (level),” Powell said. “Apart that from that, it’s getting used to using a big glove instead of your two hands.”

After a dispute with the West Indies cricket federation about an excused absence from competition in 2014, Powell walked away from the sport. His agent convinced him to come to America and give baseball a try. He has been workout out at IMG for about five weeks.

“Just getting him adjusted to the game was the biggest thing,” Simonds said. “This is very unusual for us to take a guy who’s never played baseball, especially at 25 years old. He’s raw, but he’s a very good athlete. He’s got a good skill set.”

Wednesday, the Pirates and 10 other teams — including the Giants, Reds, Yankees and Cubs — sent scouts to watch Powell in a private workout at IMG Academy in Bradenton. He also has had one-on-one tryouts with the Mets, Brewers and Dodgers.

Pirates director of player personnel Tyrone Brooks and director of Latin American scouting Rene Gayo attended the half-hour session on a chilly, overcast afternoon. Powell was clocked in a sprint, made throws from right field to third base and home plate, and took a couple dozen swings.

“A slow start, but it ended well,” Powell said. “It took me a while to warm up.”

Powell certainly is fast, as a couple of scouts nodded as they checked their stopwatches after his sprint. The rest of the workout didn’t go as well. Powell’s first throw overshot third base and scattered the folks standing near the dugout. He also had a bit of trouble scooping balls that were hit to him on the hop. None were hit to hit on the fly.

A left-handed batter, Powell made decent contact and sent a couple of balls over the outfield fence.

When it was over, the scouts left without showing any emotion, which is not unusual for a workout. Powell seemed optimistic he can get a minor league deal and reach the majors “in two or three years.” Simonds seemed upbeat: “I think he’s ready for the next step.”

Still, no professional cricket player has ever made the jump to MLB. Rinku Singh, one of the “Million-Dollar Arms” the Pirates signed out of India, played cricket recreationally and so far has not made it past Class A in the minors.

Powell smiled and changed the topic when I asked if he planned to return to cricket if baseball did not pan out.

– RB