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2017 Pirates Preview

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The Pittsburgh Pirates ended the 2016 season falling short of the postseason and the higher expectations that recent success had created for the organization. With a record of 78-83 last year, the Pirates were 25 games behind the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.

If the Pirates hope to make a run in 2017 they will have to get better production from stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. Here’s a quick look at the 2017 Pirates squad.

The projected rotation for the Bucs starts with Gerrit Cole who instead of blossoming into an ace turned in his worst pro season last year. Cole posted a 7-10 record and 3.88 ERA in an injury-plagued 116 inning-season. However, the safe money is on Cole having a bounce-back performance, as his remarkable 2015 (19 wins, 208 innings pitched, 2.60 ERA and 202 strike outs). Cole's main concern will be staying healthy. Also on the mound will be right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon, who finished his rookie campaign with a 5-4 record and 85 strikeouts in 104 innings pitched. Veteran Ivan Nova will look to settle in with the Pirates in his first full season in Pittsburgh following a remarkable turnaround in late 2016. Finally, younger pitchers hoping to make a name for themselves are righties Tyler Glasnow and Chad Kuhl.

The overhauled bullpen will be anchored by lefty closer Tony Watson, sho struggled mightily this spring. Veteran addition Daniel Hudson will be Watson's set-up man, but could move into the closer's role should Watson continue to struggle. Antonio Bastardo, Felipe Rivero and Juan Nicasio will take care of the short work, while Trevor Williams and Wade LeBlanc figure to be the long guys.

For the past two seasons, Francisco Cervelli has manned the position. The 31 year-old Venezuelan had a stellar on base percentage last season with a .377 mark and even had six stolen bases to go with that. He was only able to knock out one home run last season in 393 at bats, and he battled injuries all season. Backing him up is Chris Stewart, a solid reserve who knows how to handle a pitching staff and gives the team adequate insurance should Cervelli have injury issues once again.

The Bucs have some concerns here with third baseman Jung Ho Kang on the restricted list because of his visa issues, which stemmed from a third DUI conviction in Korea. Veteran David Freese will take Hang's place for now, but expect to see some rotation during the season. Jordy Mercer will continue to be the starter at shortstop as well, with Josh Harrison at second base. The Pirates offense will need Harrison to produce like he did in 2014, when he set his career best numbers batting .315, slamming 13 home runs and slugging .490.

Rookie first baseman Josh Bell got his feet wet in 2016 and will look to elevate his game this season, especially defensively. Bell finished with a .368 OBP in the 45 games he played in last season, and the team believes he can eventually develop more power. Utility men Phil Gosselin, Adam Frazier and Alan Hanson will provide some more depth and plenty of flexibility. John Jaso can play first or third and could see some innings in the outfield as well.

Manager Clint Hurdle is going with a new approach to the 2017 outfield unit by moving former All-Star Andrew McCutchen from centerfield to rightfield, shifting Starling Marte to center and Gregory Polanco to leftfield. McCutchen is coming off a down year and his ability to rebound will be a huge factor for the Bucs success.

The right-handed Marte and left-handed Polanco had above average seasons as Marte finished with a .456 slugging percentage and Polanco finished with 22 home runs. A bounce-back year from McCutchen could result in the Pirates outfield being the best in the National League.

In addition, young talent Adam Frazier and veteran John Jaso will provide some depth in the outfield positions.

After a tough 2016, the Pirates must still have a sour taste in their mouthes heading into the 2017 season. If McCutchen and Cole bounce back, there's no reason this team can't be a playoff contender. The young rotation may have some growing pains, but there is depth in the minor leagues and players liie Nick Kingham, Steven Brault and Drew Hutchison could very well find themselves in the rotation at some point this season.

Without Kang, power will be an issue, so baserunning and timely hitting will be critical for the offense. A fair over/under for the 2017 Bucs? Let's place it at 85 wins.

The Pirates open at Boston against the Red Sox on April 3 at 2:05 pm.

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Josh Bell had not hit a walk-off home run since he was a member of the Altoona Curve in 2015. He changed that Friday with a soaring shot for the left field loonies.
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Francisco Cervelli is as passionate about the current state of Venezuela as anybody you'll find. Last month, the Pirates' catcher spoke passionately about the movement, his country's state of affairs and the future of Venezuela.
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