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30 in 30

30 in 30: The 2020 Pittsburgh Pirates

Time to avoid the injury bug and focus on youth

PNC Park by David Mark is in the Public Domain

30 in 30: The 2020 Pittsburgh Pirates


Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

The Pittsburgh Pirates finished 2019 at the bottom of the NL Central. The only team with a worse record than them in the National League was the Miami Marlins. After losing long-time manager Clint Hurdle to retirement, it’s time for a change in The Steel City. After finishing 22 games back in a surprisingly weak Central division, and 20 games off the wide open Wild Card, what needs to be done in 2020 to help them climb the ladder?

It starts with new manager Derek Shelton. The team is in shambles and he has to play the role of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, hoping for a different result.

The Ever Growing DL

One of the biggest factors will be staving off the injury bug. As bad as the Pirates were in 2019, a big part of that was watching guy after guy go down. They had to fill so many holes there was no real consistency in the squad. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these guys were underperforming as well. But injuries didn’t help. For the most part that stuck to the pitching staff.

Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon each spent a significant amount of time on the DL, the latter only pitching seven games before doing so. When 40% of your rotation is out, that doesn’t bode well.

Beyond those two, Pittsburgh saw the likes of Kyle Crick, Chad Kuhl, Gregory Polanco, Edgar Santana, and youngster Jason Martin end their seasons early. Maybe it’s time to take a look at the training staff? If they can get healthy, they can compete. Will they compete for a playoff spot? Probably not. But it won’t take much to improve upon the abysmal performances PNC Park witnessed last season.

Youth

There are some promising young players who will at the very least get a shot to prove themselves in Spring Training. Righties Mitch Keller and Blake Cederlind, and recent bullpen transplant Cody Ponce headline a youth class that could turn some heads for the Pirates. Ponce started his career as a SP propect with Milwaukee, but never really found his rhythm. Since moving to the bullpen he’s seen a resurgence that could prove valuable to the back of Pitt’s ‘pen. With a fastball in the mid-90s and some decent breaking balls, he could be a tough matchup late in games.

Cederlind is a hard throwing prospect who most didn’t expect to be protected from Rule 5 draft. But clearly the Pirates organization sees a future in him. His fastball clocks at 100 regularly, but he needs to refine his other pitches. However with someone throwing that hard hitting the game in the 7th inning, he may not need to rely on much else until he’s more confident in his other stuff.

Keller is the one who had a brief time in the majors last season. His numbers weren’t all pretty (1-5, 7.13 ERA, giving up 72 hits in 48 innings). However his 65 Ks and 16 BBs don’t look so bad. If he can find his spots a little better Keller can establish himself as a mainstay in the Pirates rotation.

What about stars?

When you leave the pitching staff to take a look at position players, there’s not much pop. Josh Bell (37) and Starling Marte (23) carried the team in the long ball department. The rest of the starters combined equaled Bell and Marte with 60 dingers.

That’s bad, folks. Real bad.

But it looks like Marte could potentially be on the move before Spring Training opens next month. With Josh Donaldson leaving Atlanta for Minnesota, the Braves could be looking to fill that offensive void.

That would be a huge blow to a Pirates team that already struggles with driving in runs. I’m not sure what return GM Ben Cherington could pull off, but it would have to be significant. Many expected Marte to be on the move, but unless some big prospects and/or a big league ready outfielder coming back, I don’t see how the Pirates even try to compete this year. As is, they’re already down Melky Cabrera, who opted for free agency. Two holes in the outfield are a lot harder to fill than one.

This team doesn’t have a hard time getting on base. Every guy who played 100 games not named Elias Diaz managed to hit .277 or better. It’s mind boggling that you can hit that well and not have guys crossing the plate with any sort of consistency.

Maybe it’s time for some more small ball. Grab one more heavy hitter to provide some pop, then steal bases, hit and run, bunt all you can. Shelton is going to have to reach deep into his bag of tricks to make this Pirates team relevant.

Kevin is an actor and musician who works in tech and lives in Brooklyn. He is a die hard New England sports fan and supporter of Tottenham Hotspur in England's Premier League. Food and sports are his passions. Preferably consumed together.

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