A rival scout sizes up the PIRATES
They can't overtake the Cardinals but they can be a wild card. The lineup is top-heavy, and they have concerns in rightfield and at first base, but they've got a good core.... A lot of people in the organization feel RUSSELL MARTIN turned the Pirates around last year. He helped out those younger pitchers by taking control of the game.... ANDREW MCCUTCHEN has a controlled aggressiveness: He swings hard but has a short path to the ball. McCutchen's a leader by example, with a lot of Kirby Puckett in him—the best player on the team running his butt off, even in spring training....STARLING MARTE is a five-tool player who can be a star eventually. He has a tendency to expand the strike zone by swinging early in the count to avoid breaking balls.... GREGORY POLANCO is some kind of talented player, with presence as well as tools. If he gets off to a good start in Triple A, he could be up, and all of a sudden they'll have three guys who can play centerfield.... It did GERRIT COLE well to go to Triple A last year and refine his secondary pitches (curveball and slider). I think he's going to have a big year.... FRANCISCO LIRIANO has one of the best sliders in baseball, but what made him last year was fastball command. The Pirates do a good job of taking guys that have trouble commanding their fastballs and tweaking their deliveries or arm slots.... WANDY RODRIGUEZ doesn't have great stuff for a guy making $13 million, but he's back to where he was in 2012. He's throwing all three pitches—fastball, curveball and changeup—for strikes.
2014 Projected Statistics and Run Totals by ROTOWIRE.COM
PROJECTED RUNS SCORED
NL AVERAGE 667
PROJECTED RUNS ALLOWED
NL AVERAGE 677
Last year, the Pirates broke their 21-year losing streak in part by applying data-driven analysis to their defensive positioning. Pittsburgh turned batted balls into outs better than all but two other NL teams. CLINT HURDLE should take that openness to new ideas and apply it to his bullpen. In JASON GRILLI, MARK MELANCON, JUSTIN WILSON and TONY WATSON, Hurdle has a core group that can be used not just according to inning and score, but in an even more customized fashion. Whether Hurdle needs a strikeout (Grilli), a ground ball (Melancon), to retire three righties (either one) in the seventh or two lefties in the ninth (Wilson or Watson) should dictate his choice of reliever, rather than hewing to the tenets of the save rule. Hurdle's willingness to embrace a new idea was a big part of the Pirates' success last season. His willingness to embrace an old one—that relievers can be used flexibly—could help them stay near the top of the NL Central.
RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES (COLE)
FRED VUICH FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (GRILLI)