With baseball season creeping up on us only a little over a month away, it is certainly time for some baseball talk in regards to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Having already projected their starting rotation going into 2017 last week it is now time to turn our attention to their projected batting order. The offense last year was up and down sometimes looking like an offensive juggernaut and at others looking like a team that could use some extra ammo in their lineup.
The Pirates, winners of 78 games last year, lineup ranked just outside the top ten in two key categories. Their .257 batting average was good for 12th in the league and they scored 729 runs, which was middle of the pack ranking 13th in all of baseball. The Pirates’ main weakness was not being able to hit the ball out the park hitting only 153 dingers, 26th in the league, but made up for it by having a lot of hitters who had a knack for getting on base. The team’s .332 on base percentage was penciled in as the fourth highest mark in the majors and really helped the team by not having to rely on the long ball to produce runs. Productive veterans Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce were let go this off-season with really no replacements signed leaving it up to the existing roster to pick up the slack to get this offense back in 2013-2015 mode.
2B Josh Harrison– The Buccos are one of the few teams in baseball without a prototypical leadoff hitter, leaving second baseman Josh Harrison as the best option to fulfill that role. Not the most patient hitter at the plate judging by his .311 on base percentage and eighteen walks last year, Harrison instead brings other skills to this spot such as speed and the ability to make consistent contact. If he can improve on his .283 average and nineteen steals just a tad bit there is no doubt in my mind that he can be one of the better but unorthodox leadoff hitters in the game.
- 1B Josh Bell– Top prospect Josh Bell finally made his debut last year with the club appearing in 45 games at the end of the year. He definitely impressed looking like every bit the player that the Pirates gave a record $5 million signing bonus to for a second round pick back in 2011. Bell had a good eye at the plate taking more walks (21) in his short stint in the big leagues then Harrison did for the whole year getting on base with ease as his .368 on base percentage tells. The power and run production will come but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this young man can hit, making the number two spot fit him perfectly at this stage of his career.
- RF Andrew McCutchen– The star outfielder had a year to forget batting .256 from the plate to go with a .336 on base and a .430 slugging percentage, all career lows. Hounded by trade rumors the entire off-season, the Pirates ultimately decided to keep Andrew McCutchen around but changed his position from his long time spot in center field to right. Towards the end of the year he showed some ability of old and still led the team in homers with 24, being the primary source of power in the lineup. You should never write off a former MVP winner of McCutchen’s caliber after one bad year so don’t be surprised if he regains his old form at the number three spot.
- CF Starling Marte– This is another spot in the lineup (like leadoff) where the Pirates just simply don’t have a guy who you look at as an ideal cleanup hitter. It is going to be a two man race between young stars Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte that Marte in the end will win out primarily because he does more things better than Polanco. Arguably the Pirates’ best player last year, Marte batted over .300, stole an astonishing 47 bags, and had a .362 on base percentage having all the tools to blossom into a bona-fide star in the near future. His power numbers last year took a dip but Marte is still only two years removed from hitting 19 home runs and driving in 81 runs showing that everything is there for him to become this team’s best overall player as soon as this year.
LF Gregory Polanco– Why it would be more beneficial for Polanco to bat behind Marte rather than in front of him is because Marte gets on base better and Polanco hits for more power. Being second on the team in homers last year with 22, he also drove in 86 runs leading the team in that category and forming into a serious power threat. The power is there for Polanco to succeed leaving him needing to just improve on making more contact because batting .258 again would be a major disappointment.
- 3B David Freese– Since Jung Ho Kang is going through his own set of issues to begin the new year, the Pirates are lucky to have a player like David Freese to be sitting on the bench for them. Starting the year at third in Kang’s spot, Freese has tons of big game experience because of his days with the St Louis Cardinals making him a good fit for the number six hole behind the Pirates stars. He’s still a reliable run producer batting .270 last year to go with 13 homers and 55 RBI’s. A replica of those numbers would put a smile on everyone in the organization’s face.
- C Francisco Cervelli– Gritty catcher Francisco Cervelli has been with the team for only two years now and already has turned into a fan favorite just like that. His ability to control a pitching staff and his excellent eye has turned him into a solid catcher that no one in the city of Pittsburgh is complaining about. Cervelli’s .377 on base percentage was the second highest mark on the team and he being able to grind out pitches every time he’s up makes his lack of power go for the most part unnoticed
- SS Jordy Mercer– Jordy Mercer provides a bit of pop at the bottom of the order after enjoying a solid campaign last year for the Buccos. His 11 homers and 59 RBI’s last year don’t look the part of a hitter batting eight but he can be a nice run producer at the bottom turning over the lineup to Harrison and Bell. At this stage of his career Mercer is who he is so don’t expect to see a quantum leap from the shortstop but similar number from the previous three seasons is good enough to get the job done.
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