MADISON, March 9, 2014 — Over the next few weeks this column will unveil MLB Power Rankings starting with the weakest team and working towards the strongest. Today the process continues by looking at number 14, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
2013 Record: 94-68 with a +54 run differential.
Key Additions: RHP Edinson Volquez, C Chris Stewart and 3B Brent Morel
Key Losses: RHP AJ Burnett, 1B Garrett Jones,
Projected 2014 Lineup:
OF Starling Marte
SS Jordy Mercer
OF Andrew McCutchen
3B Pedro Alvarez
2B Neil Walker
C Russell Martin
1B Gaby Sanchez
OF Jose Tabata
Projected 2014 Rotation:
Edinson Volquez/Jeff Locke
Best Case: Largely a repeat of last year. Andrew McCutchen continues to hit like he did last year when he won the NL MVP. Pedro Alvarez’s BABIP ticks up closer to .290 allowing him to post a slash line of .250/.310/.500. Starling Marte continues to develop seeing slight upticks in his numbers across the board except in one important category, caught stealing, which he reduces to become a more effective base runner. Gerrit Cole takes another step forward to have his name spoken of in the same sentence as Jose Fernandez, Stephen Strasburg and Madison Bumgarner as one of the top young pitchers in all of baseball. The Pirates bullpen continues to be lights out like in 2013 when they had the third best ERA in MLB while logging the fourth most innings. The Pirates thrill their fans by winning the NL Central.
Worst Case: The Pirates offense continues it’s struggles, but this time the struggle impacts even Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates offense posted the ninth worst batting average in all of MLB last year despite McCuthcen hitting .317, which was 35 points higher than the next best Pirates regular. Attempting to fill AJ Burnett’s spot in the rotation with Edinson Volquez flops and Wandy Rodriguez spends much of the season on the DL like last year. The club’s attempts to fill those spots with some of their prized pitching prospects do not go as smoothly as Cole’s promotion went last year. The Pirates not only fail to make the playoffs, but finish behind the Brewers in fourth place in the NL Central causing their fans to wonder if they will have to wait another 21 years to get back to the playoffs.
Prospect Watch: After last year’s successful debut by Gerrit Cole Pirates fans will now turn their attention to the arrival of RHP Jameson Taillon. Taillon logged 147.1 innings across two levels last year with 143 K’s and a 3.73 ERA while finishing the year in AAA. It is likely that Taillon will begin the year in AAA but should see time with the big club this year. Another prospect expected to contribute to the big club this year is OF Gregory Polanco who flew through the minors last year. Polanco had a slash line of .285/.356/.434 while spending most of his season at AA. Other pitchers to watch include Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham who both averaged over 9.0 K/9 last year and could find themselves in Pittsburgh in either 2014 or 2015. Finally, the Pirates took OF Austin Meadows in the first round of the 2013 draft. Meadows was a high schooler and will be years off, but adds to the overall strength of the system.