A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE PIRATES
They're gonna give St. Louis a run for their money, and they're built to sustain this for years.... Andrew McCutchen is probably the best player in baseball. He's a very smart player, and he's compact, strong, aggressive, under control.... If McCutchen wasn't there, Starling Marte would be the everyday centerfielder. He can run, throw, hit for power, play great defense. He's a fastball hitter and has a little trouble recognizing breaking pitches, so he swings early in the count to avoid them.... Gregory Polanco added 15 pounds of muscle this year. There's a lot of pluses on his card, but he's gonna have to learn to hit the other way against lefthanders and recognize breaking balls.... Francisco Cervelli's a definite downgrade from Russell Martin, but who isn't? ... Neil Walker got better last year righthanded. Usually guys have more power righthanded, but he's just the opposite. It was a stay-inside-the-ball, use-the-whole-field approach. He lets it fly a little lefthanded.... If you get to a one-game playoff, Francisco Liriano could beat you 1--0. But the arm action—you look at it and you say, Yeah, there's a chance for him to get hurt. It's not the best finish, and the delivery's a little bit open.... Gerrit Cole's got top-of-the-rotation stuff. The improvement I've seen is the ability to command his fastball and his breaking ball for strikes. His changeup could be better, but that should come with innings and maturity.
Josh Harrison was one of the best stories of 2014, a utility player who hit .315 and moved into an everyday role at third base down the stretch. The narrative, though, shouldn't blind Clint Hurdle to the fact that despite the high batting average, Harrison hasn't changed as a player. He was no better managing the strike zone or making contact than he'd been in the previous three seasons, but he went from batting .289 on contact to batting .374. That kind of jump is most often a fluke when not accompanied by underlying changes in a player's skills. Harrison has enormous roster value; he can play five positions and is good defensively. He has enough speed to pinch-run, and he stole a career-high 18 bases last year. But as an everyday third baseman—and leadoff man, his role this spring—his lack of on-base skills will be a drag on the lineup. The Pirates are better off seeing what Korean import Jung Ho Kang, a shortstop by trade, can do at the hot corner.
LEAGUE RANK 4
MANAGER CLINT HURDLE 5TH SEASON WITH PIRATES
2015 PROJECTED STATISTICS BY ROTOWIRE.COM
GENE J. PUSKAR/AP (MCCUTCHEN)