Corey Dickerson

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3 Up, 3 Down: How Pirates Can Compete, How Things Can Go Bad

Chris Mack Explains What Could Swing The 2018 Pirates' Season

Chris Mack
March 27, 2018 - 3:02 pm

There are a lot of questions marks surrounding the 2018 season. Pirates Pre and Postgame Host Chris Mack takes a look at three things that could push the Bucs into contention, as well as three thigns that could send them spinning out of control.

3 UP:

New Additions Moran and Dickerson Combine For 40 Homeruns

The biggest problem for the Pirates the last two years has been a lack of offensive production, especially in the power department after losing Jung ho Kang. Trading away their leading home run hitter in 2017, Andrew McCutchen didn't help. The team has led the Grapefruit League in HRs this spring though, and if Colin Moran and Corey Dickerson can bolster the offense by pulling some cheap fly balls down the right field line in to the seats above the Clemente Wall, it will bode well for a team that must score more than they did in 2016 and 2017.

Josh Bell Gets Even Better

When the old, already tiresome "Face of the Franchise" discussion is had, it always turns back in Josh Bell's direction, and for good reason: He's the most talented guy with the biggest upside on the roster. If Bell can go from 26 HR/.255 BA/.334 OBP to 30 HR/.265 BA/.350 OBP he'll be an All-Star at midseason, help his team win more games when they need at least 5 runs to do so, and take pressure off not just the new additions, but the guys who should be front-and-center this season: Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco.

Marte & Polanco Return to Pre-2017 Form

The much ballyhooed "Best Outfield in Baseball" of 2015 wasn't tagged as such just because an MVP-level McCutchen was at the heart of it. It was as much because Marte and Polanco showed flashes of being just as good as McCutchen. Since then, they've been horrid disappointments, hitting rock bottom last season when Marte missed 80 games due to his PED suspension and Polanco simply couldn't stay on the field. Both look healthy, productive, and ready this spring (at least offensively), combining to slash .333/.366/.594/.960 in the Grapefruit League. If they can clean up their fielding - blame it on the 'high skies,' wind, sun, and smaller parks of the Grapefruit League if you want, but both have looked atrocious at times this spring - and combine for 40 HRs, 70 SBs, and an OPS in the .750 range, they'll prove themselves worthy of being this franchise's centerpieces and drag the Bucs back into contention sooner rather than later.

3 DOWN:

Young Starters' Development Stalls

​Nothing may be more crucial to the Pirates' hopes of success than a positive next step in the development of Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl - and perhaps even Steven Brault and/or Tyler Glasnow. None of them has command of the kind of wipeout stuff needed to get the swings and misses necessary against some of the stacked lineups they'll face in Chicago and Milwaukee, though. A full, healthy season in the big leagues for Taillon will be welcomed, but the arms in the Bucco rotation need to do more than just show up. They need to produce the kind of dominant stretches we saw from the likes of Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Edinson Volquez during the 2013-15 runs. As good as Taillon, Williams, and Kuhl have looked at times, there still hasn't been an indication they can reel off the kind of winning streaks necessary -regardless of run support- to do that. A poorly timed injury or two could further tax a rotation that has a decent ceiling but also a wealth of inexperience.

Bullpen Goes Up In Flames Again

Speaking of inexperience on the mound, the Pirates' relief corps is relatively unproven in how they'll get the ball from a starter who leaves in the 6th or 7th inning to Felipe Rivero in the 9th. While there is an implicit level of faith in Rivero at the back end, and George Kontos looked good as a set-up man once he was scooped up by Neal Huntington in August, presumed 7th inning man Michael Feliz had enough issues that he wasn't even on the postseason roster for the Houston Astros last fall. While his stuff may find new life here in Pittsburgh, there should be concern surrounding lefty Josh Smoker, rookies Dovydas Neverauskas & Edgar Santana, as well as Glasnow & Brault. The 2017 season imploded early due to some ugly bullpen failures, and if inexperienced arms can't protect leads, no level of improvement from the starting staff will help.

Ugly Glove Work

The organization had to make the decision to try and add punch at the plate in the offseason, but the additions of Colin Moran at third base and Corey Dickerson in the vast expanse of PNC Park's left field could offset those gains on offense. David Freese was a Gold Glove nominee last season at 3rd, and with Marte and Polanco doing little to assuage fears that they simply aren't the outfielders they were as they came up through the organization, Dickerson can't afford to provide John Jaso/Jose Osuna-level defense in left. With a rotation that's short on strikeout pitchers, there will be balls in play that need to be tracked down, and if Moran's limited range, coupled with sloppy outfield play - or a possible step back at 1st base from Bell - cost this team runs, it will only hamstring a team (no pun intended, Gregory) whose margin for error (pun intended) is already slim to none.