When adjusted for park effects, the Pittsburgh Pirates boasted the fourth-best offense in baseball last season. The Buccos were also an very good base-running squad. Defensively, Pittsburgh was bad by both traditional andÃ‚Â advancedÃ‚Â measures, though some position shuffling and new faces should up those defensive stats in 2015.
Something worth noting before crowning the Chicago Cubs the future kings of the National League Central: None of the Pirates’ everyday players scheduled to take the majority of the plate appearances at their position in 2015 isÃ‚Â currently overÃ‚Â 30-years-old, and all are under team control through 2016.
Projected starter: Francisco Cervelli. Projected reserve: Tony Sanchez.
Russell Martin was wooed away by the Blue Jays, who signed him to a five-year, $82 million deal. It will be interesting to see how the BucsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ new backstops handle the staff and frame pitches, two things Martin did very well. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ The 29-year-old Cervelli is expected to be the regular starter after coming over this offseason in a trade from the Yankees. CervelliÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s career on-base percentage is .348, but heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s never appeared in more than 93 games in a season. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Chris Stewart (hamstring) is likely to begin the season on the disabled list, which means Sanchez is the backup to Cervelli.
Projected starters: Pedro Alvarez/Corey Hart (first base); Neil Walker (second base); Jordy Mercer (shortstop); Josh Harrison (third base).
The left-handed Alvarez and right-handed Hart are expected to platoon at first base, though the latter is the only one with substantial major-fielding experience at first. (Alvarez is transitioning from third base.) Hart has only appeared in 68 games over the past two seasons. The platoon makes sense on paper, as AlvarezÃ‚Â is dreadful against left-handersÃ‚Â and Hart clobbers lefties.Ã‚Â … Walker has quietly blossomed into one of the NLÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top second baseman at the dish over the past five seasons. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ With a strong spring, Mercer has a firm hold on the starting shortstop job ahead of Jung Ho Hang. Thanks in part to some bad batted-ball luck, Mercer regressed a bit in 2014. MercerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s minor-league profile suggests that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a better hitter than his .255 average in 2014 would indicate, and the 28-year-old also crushes lefties, posting a .340/.382/.531 slash line in 230 career plate appearances vs. southpaws. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Harrison enjoyed a breakout 2014, slashing .315/.347/.490 en route an All-Star selection. HarrisonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s emergence helped encourage a move to first base for Alvarez, thereby rendering Ike Davis expendable (he was traded to the Athletics). Harrison should still hit well enough to play every day at the hot corner, but the 27-year-old is due to come down to Earth after a BABIP of .353 in 2014.
Projected reserves: Alvarez/Hart; Sean Rodriguez; Jung Ho Kang.
MercerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s inspired spring and KangÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s struggles — he recently broke out of a 2-for-29 streak — ensured that Kang will begin 2015 on the bench. The move could be a blessing in disguise for Kang as he adjusts to MLB-level pitching. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Rodriguez, who has seen time in the majors at every position except for pitcher or catcher, was acquired from the Rays in the offseason and is a nice insurance policy. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Pedro Florimon remains in the mix to make the team. Rodriguez — who manager Clint Hurdle has already said will be on the roster — would be the fifth outfielder if Florimon makes the squad.
Projected starters: Starling Marte (left field); Andrew McCutchen (center field); Gregory Polanco (right field).
One could do a lot worse than MarteÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s slash of .282/.342/.445 through his first two-plus seasons in the bigs, and those numbers plus his All-Star-level talent have many feeling the 26-year-old could deliver a monster season. Marte has stolen 83 bases so far in 317 games, but could be in for more of a power boost in 2015 as heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s slated to bat further down in the lineup in 2015 — Roster Resource projects him to bat fifth — than his customary position in the leadoff post. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ McCutchen missed time this spring with Ã¢â‚¬Å“lower-body sorenessÃ¢â‚¬Â — the vagueness of the disclosure of his injury brings to mind NHL teamsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ affinity for injury secrecy — but he is apparently fine. The 28-year-old is a bona fide superstar and should be in line for his fourth straight top-3 finish in the NL MVP voting. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ If Marte and McCutchen deliver their standard seasons, the Pirates outfield will be exceptional. If the 23-year-old Polanco — who struggled during his cup of coffee in the bigs last season — can begin to realize some of his potential, the Pirates outfield should be the best in baseball. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ A NL scout said the Marte-McCutchen-Polanco trioÃ‚Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“could be one of the all-time great outfieldsÃ¢â‚¬Â defensively.
Projected reserve: Rodriguez or Andrew Lambo.
Lambo is a career minor leaguer who has done nothing of note in limited major league at-bats. Either Lambo or Florimon will be the final position player to make the club.