Pittsburgh Pirates

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Overview (Present Rank: 16th | Future Rank: 5th)

After 20 consecutive years of regular season disappointment, the Pittsburgh Pirates finally reached the postseason in 2013. As an encore to their first playoff appearance of the 21st century, the Bucs reached the playoffs two more times in each of the last two seasons. While the Philadelphia Phillies were once the leaders of baseball in Pennsylvania, the Pirates have effectively taken over the Keystone State. Unfortunately for the Pirates, Clint Hurdle’s squad has been unable to win a single postseason series with the last two seasons ending in the one-game Wild Card playoff.

Despite being the only team in MLB history to hit a a walk-off home run in Game 7 of the World Series (in 1960), the Pirates clearly haven’t had luck on their side in recent years. Right when Pittsburgh is primed to win the division with the Cardinals finally seeing age catch up with them (after winning the most games in the league over the past five seasons), the Cubs are emerging as the league’s next great dynasty. The Pirates can’t catch a break in the rigorous NL Central. If they can get past that Wild-Card playoff game once and for all, GM Neal Huntington has built a team that can go toe-to-toe with any contender in the league over a five or seven-game series. Pitching has always been an issue in the Steele City, but with numerous young starters developing into top-tier pitchers, the Pirates could finally have the all-around team needed to win the big one.

 


*Detailed analysis conducted April 2, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.

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Catcher (Present Rank: 19th | Future Rank: 23rd)

A clear indicator of good coaching is seeing a player with average tools outperform his abilities. Manager Clint Hurdle and his staff deserve credit for Francisco Cervelli’s emergence as an average starting catcher in the major leagues. GM Neal Huntington had to give up the services of quality reliever Justin Wilson, but Cervelli has been more valuable than the lefty over the past two years since the trade. The Pirates must think about keeping the pending free agent for a few more years before Reese McGuire is ready for Major League pitching. (EDIT: Pirates have extended Francisco Cervelli for 3yrs/$31MM [5/17/16])

The No. 6 catching prospect in the game (according to Baseball America) is only 21 years old, but he could make his major league debut as soon as late-2017. Reese McGuire was the team’s first round pick in 2013 going 14th overall. After showcasing an improved swing in the Arizona Fall League, McGuire is now projected to be at least an average starting catcher. He has a high floor as a valuable defensive catcher with a solid ceiling as a productive two-way player.

(EDIT: In a surprising move, the Pirates traded Reese McGuire along with OF Harold Ramirez and LHP Francisco Liriano to the Toronto Blue Jays for RHP Drew Hutchison. Click here to see how McGuire will fit in to Toronto's depth chart considering the team recently signed Russel Martin to a 5yr/$80MM contract [8/1/16]).

Chris Stewart and Elias Diaz are nothing more than backups going forward. Stewart’s .292 batting average over the last two years has been the third best among catchers with at least 50 AB’s (Behind Buster Posey and Francisco Cervelli). However, that’s just evidence that Hurdle had perfected his utilization of Stewart to receive such great production from a backup catcher.

Future Outlook: Cervelli holding it down by hiself

(EDIT: Francisco Cervelli was extended by the Pittsburgh Pirates for 3yrs/$31MM while Reese McGuire was traded to the Blue Jays which has completely changed the future outlook of Pittsburgh’s catching situation since Opening Day. While the length of Cervelli's contract is more than ideal, the team can always trade him with a year or two left on his deal to recoup some value before he descends as he ages into his mid-30's. This was a good idea by Huntington for keeping a productive player in town for at least another year or two at a reasonable cost. Trading McGuire (and Ramirez) for a lackluster pitcher like Drew Hutchison (career 4.92 ERA) is not a good idea, even if it does rid the team of the remaining $17MM left on Liriano's contract. GM Neil Huntington now must find a catcher for the future when Cervelli's production inevitably declines, and he won't have the luxury of relying on McGuire to fill the role [8/1/16]).

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First Base (Present Rank: 29th | Future Rank: 3rd)

With Pedro Alvarez no longer launching mammoth shots to the Allegheny River outside PNC park like, GM Neal Huntington had to find a short-term replacement before top prospect Josh Bell would be ready to take over the position. The team elected to go with John Jaso on a two-year deal for only $4MM per season. Jaso could be well worth the small investment as the 32 year-old has batted .273 with an .804 OPS over the past four seasons. He still has at least two more years of high-quality production left at the plate. While Jaso is productive when it the batter’s box, fielding is a completely different story. The former catcher moved to designated hitter almost exclusively in 2015 because of his poor fielding abilities. The Pirates are hoping he learns to play first base quickly, but considering Ron Washington in Moneyball referred to learning the position as “incredibly hard,” that may be easier said than done.

The player that makes first base look incredibly easy is the team’s No. 3 prospect (according to Baseball America). Josh Bell has punished minor league pitching for long enough. The 23 year-old should finally make his long-awaited major league debut this season. Bringing in Jaso to stabilize the position makes sense considering Bell wouldn’t make much of an impact the first half of the season. Whether it’s this year or next, the Pirates will be getting a switch-hitting top-of-the-order bat that can get on-base at a high clip and has enough raw power to potentially warrant hitting third in a major league lineup. Bell is a blue chip prospect that will soon be recognized by the national media as one of the best first baseman in the league.

Jason Rogers will never reach the level Bell has the potential of reaching, but he proved last year he could handle major league pitching just fine. While his track record may limit him to a bench role, a .296/.367/.441 batting line in 152 major league at-bats could elevate him to receiving starting consideration. Rogers is already 28 years old though and will have to prove that limited sample size was no fluke if he wants to become a major league regular going forward.

Future Outlook: Philadelphia has the Liberty Bell, Pittsburgh has Josh Bell

Philadelphia once ruled Pennsylvania in American related attractions. Not only are they the home of the iconic Liberty Bell, but for years America’s pastime (baseball) was dominated by the City of Brotherly Love. However, a different story has transpired in the 2010’s. While Philly still has the Liberty Bell, the Steel City has prevailed in having the better baseball team. It’s becoming a more likely possibility that Pittsburgh will have the more entertaining ‘Bell’ as well, especially when he does things like this. Baseball America’s No. 38 overall prospect Josh Bell is set to make his debut sometime in 2016. Once he reaches his prime in the 2020’s, the now 23 year-old could become the most recognizable ‘Bell’ in PA as well.

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Second Base (Present Rank: 15th | Future Rank: 21st)

Like top prospect Josh Bell, 23 year-old Alen Hanson could be ready for the show as soon as this season. However, a lack of confidence in his abilities for the 2016 season led to the team signing David Freese which should move super-utility man Josh Harrison over to second base. Harrison was one of 2014’s biggest surprises as the 28 year-old turned in three seasons of an OPS below .700 before posting an impressive .837 OPS along with a .315/.347/.490 batting line in that breakout 2014 campaign.

Fueled by a .353 BABIP, many baseball analysts were predicting Harrison to regress in 2015. That’s exactly what he did as he finished with only four HR’s, 28 RBI’s, and 10 SB’s in a disappointing season. Pittsburgh locked up the former sixth rounder to a 4yr/$27.3MM deal (with a $10.5MM Club Option for 2019 and a $11.5MM Club Option for 2020) before the 2015 season, so they’re hoping the 2014 version of himself shows up in 2016 instead of the 2015 one.

The Pirates have high hopes for Hanson as well. While they don’t have $27.3MM invested in the 23 year-old, they do believe Hanson is capable of becoming a quality everyday second baseman. The Dominican native has a solid hit tool with plus speed that could make him an ideal leadoff-hitter at the next level. However, maturity issues have concerned the team over the past couple years. Mental lapses affecting his play could be his ultimate obstacle from ever reaching his full potential. If he can get over his immaturity, Hanson could develop into a quality two-way player for Pittsburgh as soon as next year.

Max Moroff and Kevin Kramer are two other second basemen with the potential to fill a major league roster spot. Like shortstop minor leaguer Cole Tucker, Moroff and Kramer don’t have very much offensive upside, and will likely be limited to bench roles in the majors.

Future Outlook: Hanson must be able to handle regular second base duties

The Pittsburgh Pirates believe they have a future starting second baseman in Alen Hanson. However, questions about his makeup have clouded his future outlook. A player’s mentality is possibly the biggest factor in how likely a player is to reach his potential. Whether Hanson is ready to handle the pressures and responsibilities that come with being a starting major league second baseman or not, Pittsburgh has their version of Ben Zobrist locked up for at least the next three years in Josh Harrison. Harrison could move back over to third if Hanson proves he’s ready for the show, but if not, he’ll stick to being a reliable producer at second base.

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Shortstop (Present Rank: 16th | Future Rank: 26th)

With Hanson likely getting more seasoning in 2016, Jordy Mercer will get another year to prove he’s a starting caliber shortstop. Nobody doubts his fielding abilities, but it’s his hitting that has held him back from being drafted high (or at all) in fantasy baseball drafts. Mercer hasn’t hit above .260 since his solid rookie season in 2013. With Kang and Harrison both capable of playing shortstop, Mercer could be out of a job if Hanson proves ready for a starting role by 2017.

Sean Rodriguez won’t be a candidate to take any of Mercer’s playing time, but he could be a decent replacement if Mercer were to get injured for a significant amount of time. Rodriguez will likely catch on as a bench utility player somewhere else when he reaches free agency after the 2016 season.

Pittsburgh has two highly regarded shortstop prospects in their system as well, but neither Kevin Newman nor Adam Frazier will threaten Mercer for playing time anytime soon. Frazier could be ready for a starting role by next year, and the versatile 24 year-old can play almost anywhere on the diamond. Scouts are concerned his power will limit him to a utility bench role, but a quick swing and an excellent approach at the plate could force his way into the everyday lineup.

Kevin Newman on the other hand is faster, a better fielder, and comes with a higher offensive ceiling than Frazier. However, the 2015 first round pick is already 22 years old, but is only starting the year in High-A ball. Newman has a high floor with his sound defensive abilities, and if he keeps putting the bat on the ball, he could become a decent regular. Newman is looking to make an impact on the big league team as soon as 2018.

Future Outlook: No mercy for Jordy Mercer

Jordy Mercer is a mediocre MLB player. He’s a prototypical defensive-minded shortstop with limited offensive production. It’s no surprise Pittsburgh was excited to get more production at the position when Jung-Ho Kang played over half his games at shortstop last season. With Kang at the hot corner for now, the Pirates are stuck with Mercer as their starter for at least another year. Kevin Newman and Adam Frazier represent positive reinforcements down the road, but they’ll make little to no impact over the next two years. If the team can find an upgrade over Mercer in the meantime, they should show no mercy in pulling the trigger.  

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Third Base (Present Rank: 29th | Future Rank: 20th)

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Jung Ho Kang received the third most votes in the National League Rookie of the Year voting despite an historic rookie class in 2015. While Kang likely won’t sport a .344 BABIP again in 2016, he could hit for much more power. The 29 year-old dropped 40 bombs in the Korean League before signing with Pittsburgh for 4yrs/$11MM after the 2014 season. Not only is he a valuable commodity at the plate, but he has also increased his defensive versatility by playing both shortstop and third base. With an abundance of promising young infielders in Pittsburgh’s farm system, that could prove to be a great benefit for the Pirates over the next few years.

With Kang dealing with a knee injury that should keep him out for at least the first month of the season, GM Neal Huntington created depth at the position by buying low on David Freese. The 2012 All-Star has faltered since his memorable heroics in the 2011 World Series, but he still remains a quality player. His agent should be fired considering Freese registered at least 470 plate appearances in each of the last four years while maintaining an OPS above. 700 all four times, and yet he only netted a 1yr/$3MM deal on the free agent market despite being 33 year-old.

Down on the farm, the Pirates have one of their most exciting prospects now in the team’s system. After being selected 32nd overall in the 2015 draft, Ke’Bryan Hayes could have the highest ceiling of all Pittsburgh position player prospects (although Josh Bell would disagree). The 19 year-old has massive offensive upside when observing the young third baseman at work. The ball flies off his quick bat with an even swing path. Hayes’ approach at the plate is already getting positive reviews as well, and should only get better as he continues to see more pitches. The Pirates are hoping they have a cornerstone third baseman for years to come once he reaches the majors in 2019.

Future Outlook: Hayes, get your smile on

The Pirates are now going with a new third baseman for the third consecutive year. After Pedro Alvarez moved to first base and Josh Harrison moved to second base, Jung-Ho Kang will now be moving over to third. It could be a brief stay as Alan Hanson’s promotion would move Kang back to shortstop and Harrison back to the hot corner. However, Harrison could be a free agent anytime between 2019 and 2021 depending on whether the team decides to exercise his club options. By that time, 2015 first round pick Ke’Bryan Hayes should be ready for the show.

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Outfield (Present Rank: 4th | Future Rank: 3rd)

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The Pittsburgh Pirates are entering 2016 with the best outfield in baseball. Not only does the team have the 2013 National League MVP on board, but the front office has surrounded him with former top prospects on the verge of becoming premium outfielders themselves.

Andrew McCutchen has unquestionably been the face of Pittsburgh’s recent renaissance, but the 2005 first round pick slightly changed what his own face looks like when he cut off his signature dreadlocks for charity. Coincidentally in the same year, McCutchen suffered through his worst offensive campaign since garnering his first All-Star appearance in 2011 despite entering his physical prime at 29 years old. The four-time Silver Slugger will look to regain his MVP form and continue to be one of the best bargains in all of baseball with less than $15MM/year in salary.

GM Neal Huntington made a point of extending Andrew McCutchen early in his career to save millions of dollars during his prime while gaining more team control. The two-time Executive of the Year runner-up was proactive in extending Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco to two team-friendly deals early in their careers as well. The Pirates now have Marte under team control for the next six years while Polanco’s under team control for the next seven.

Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are both former top prospects with Polanco ranking as the team’s No. 1 prospect two years ago. While Marte showed glimpses of dominance in 2015, both players have only scratched the surface of what they can offer in their prime. As Marte turns 27, expect another step in the right direction while he continues to be one of the best defensive outfielders in the game (2015 Gold Glove). Polanco might need a little more time to become an All-Star caliber player, but he too should emerge as a presence in the heart-of-the-lineup Pittsburgh can rely on in the future.

Even though the team has one of the most stable outfield situations in the game, GM Neal Huntington didn’t want to solely rely on Sean Rodriguez or Adam Frazier if any of the team’s marquee outfielders got injured. The team decided to bring in Matt Joyce on a cheap one-year deal worth $1MM. The former All-Star performed horribly in 2015 (.564 OPS), but it was only a few years ago he approached 20 home runs with an OPS around .750. If they can get that kind of production off the bench, the meager $1MM salary will be a fraction of his total value.

Down in Pittsburgh’s farm system are two of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects. The 22nd name on the coveted list is Austin Meadows, Pittsburgh’s 9th overall pick from the 2013 MLB Draft. Meadows has the look of a potential five-tool player if he can ever tap into the raw power possesses. He doesn’t have the best arm strength either, but it should be enough for him to be an above-average defensive center fielder considering his terrific glove work. Meadows’ excellent hit tool and plus speed should keep him atop of the Pirates lineup for years to come. The only problem is finding an opening for him in the everyday lineup. He won’t warrant a starting role this year, or even next year, but 2018 will be his time to shine.

The other top prospect in the Pirates’ system is Harold Ramirez. Ramirez isn’t nearly as touted as Meadows, but the future starting left fielder receives acclaim in his own right. The 21 year-old won’t be the best fielder, but if he sticks in left where his weak arm won’t affect him as much, he should be serviceable. Offensively, Ramirez already has an above-average hit tool even though the power is likely to never show up. Ramirez won’t be hitting 20 home runs a year, but he could be batting over .300 with an OBP near .400. That’s still pretty valuable in today’s game.

(EDIT: To shed the remaining $17MM on Liriano's contract, GM Neil Huntington shipped Harold Ramirez along with C Reese McGuire and LHP Francisco Liriano to the Toronto Blue Jays for RHP Drew Hutchison. Click here to see if Ramirez will be the favorite for a starting opportunity anytime soon in a much less crowded outfield in Toronto [8/1/16]).

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Future Outlook: Pick your poison

The Pirates are absolutely loaded in the outfield. The only thing preventing them from ranking first in both present outfield and future outfield is Miami’s intriguing bunch as well as the fact McCutchen’s contract expires after 2018. Austin Meadows could step in for the Pirates legend and instantly become similarly productive. Harold Ramirez is another top prospect that gives Pittsburgh firing power in trade talks over the next few years. Teams likely won’t see much value in a future platoon bat like Willy Garcia, but any of Pittsburgh starter’s could collect a king’s ransom.

This is the Pirates prime opportunity to take advantage of the excess talent in the outfield. GM Neal Huntington must be seriously considering trading one of the team’s premier players that opens up a spot for a top prospect with just as much potential. Any deal for McCutchen, Marte, or Polanco would net Pittsburgh an elite pitcher that can join Gerrit Cole atop of the pitching staff in hopes of bringing the Commissioner’s Trophy back to the Steele City.

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Left-Handed Starting Pitchers (Present Rank: 25th | Future Rank: 25th)

The Pirates rotation is the glaring weakness of the team right now. Other than RHP Gerrit Cole, the team is relying on Francisco Liriano, Jon Niese, and Jeff Locke to pitch every fifth day behind a playoff caliber offense/defense. Liriano is unquestionably the best of the three with a 3.26 ERA in 510 innings over the past three years. The 32 year-old walks batters at a high rate (career 3.9 BB/9), but also strikes them out at high clip (career 9.2 K/9). He has two more years left on his contract before he goes for the last lucrative contract in his career.

Niese and Locke cover the back-end of the rotation as below-average starters. The Pirates had to give up productive second baseman Neil Walker in order to obtain Niese. Considering Harrison can hold it down until Hansen is ready for the bigs, getting rid of Walker before watching him leave in free agency for nothing was a good move. However, exchanging Walker for a starter that barely cracks the rotation as it is, and has seen his velocity dip in each of the last four seasons could prove to be the wrong decision. At least the team has the option of keeping Niese for another two years ($10MM Club Option for 2017 and $11MM Club Option for 2018) whereas Walker was going to test the free agent market regardless.

Jeff Locke can be under team control for the next three years, but for a much cheaper price. He’s earning $3.03MM this year under his first year of arbitration eligibility. Locke should be playing at or around $5MM for the next two years as well. He does have an All-Star appearance to his name in 2013, a season he finished 10-7 with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.383 WHIP. He’ll only be 28 years old in 2016, so Locke could potentially regain that mid-rotation starter form, but rocky 2014 and 2015 seasons make it that unlikely.

Steven Brault is the only minor league lefty Pittsburgh has that could claim a spot in the big league rotation. Brault seems a good bet to become an effective lefty reliever, but his four pitch mix and intriguing changeup have scouts believing he can stay in the rotation. Brault seems likely to settle into a No. 4 role once he gets established in the show.

Future Outlook: Finding the key to the Locke

The Pirates don’t have any potential frontline starters throwing from the left side. Liriano produced like a No. 2 arm last year, but now that he’s 32 years old, he’s likely going to begin his descension. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, he only has two more years left on his deal. Niese and Locke can each be controlled for the next three years, but both pitchers will have to give Pittsburgh a reason to keep them around. Steven Brault is making some noise as a minor leaguer, but at his age (24) that should be expected. The Pirates have had a Locke for a while, but now it’s time they figure out the key to acquiring a frontline starter that bolsters the pitching staff (hint: trade an outfielder).

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Right-Handed Starting Pitchers (Present Rank: 18th | Future Rank: 6th)

While the Pirates might lack an ace from the left-handed side of things, they’re surely not missing one from the right side. Gerrit Cole has successfully become the prototypical No. 1 overall pick by evolving into the team’s No. 1 prospect to now being the best pitcher on the big league team. The 25 year-old is coming off a tremendous season that saw him sport a 2.60 ERA, 202 strikeouts, and a fourth place finish on the NL Cy Young award ballot. Cole is well on his way to becoming one of the best pitcher’s in the game. The Pirates will have to think about extending him to a big contract before it’s too late, and he becomes too expensive for the small-market club to afford.

Cole isn’t the only ace-caliber arm in Pittsburgh system. The Pirates are also looking forward to the debuts of Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow as well. The two righties should make their presence known at some point during this season. Taillon is recovering from Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss the last two seasons. The No. 2 overall pick from 2010 was always supposed to headline Pittsburgh’s rotation along with Cole before the injuries derailed his career. Motivated to come back strong, Taillon will show the world what he has to offer in 2016. If he can put the injury behind him, Taillon has the stuff of an excellent No. 2 starter in the league.

Tyler Glasnow also has a chance at being a Cy Young award candidate some day. The 22 year-old features a fastball that’s already touching 98 MPH along with a curveball that can be straight up unhittable at times. His developing changeup completes his arsenal with the makeup and athleticism to continue to improve as he gains more experience. Glasnow (6’8”) has the look of an ace, he clearly has the stuff of an ace, and Baseball America is recognizing him as a future ace. It’s all on Glasnow to deliver on his potential and become that dominant top-of-the-rotation pitcher the Pirates can rely on for years.

Nick Kingham and Mitch Keller don’t have the same upside as Glasnow or Taillon, but they could be quality starters in their own right. Kingham should make his debut this year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery while Keller likely won’t be a fixture in the rotation until 2020. With average repertoires and passable command, a No. 4 spot in the rotation appears to be the ceiling for both young righties. Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams on the other hand would be lucky to crack the rotation at all. Their stuff makes them borderline No. 5 starters, but with the potential in Pittsburgh’s farm system, they’ll likely be stuck in the ‘pen or traded to another team before they become regular starters in PNC Park.

Future Outlook: Three Aces and a King

Right now, Pittsburgh only has one ace that can go toe-to-toe with the best pitchers the league has to offer. Cole ultimately fell short in the one-game playoff a year ago to Chicago’s Jake Arrieta (2015 NL Cy Young award winner), but he’s now a year older with another year of experience under his belt. Soon enough he should be joined by Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow. Both pitchers have dominated in the minors and have the look of future frontline starters. Even Mitch Keller and Nick Kingham figure to be prominent names in the future rotation. With all of those pieces, the Pirates have three aces and a King(ham).

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Bullpen (Present Rank: 23rd | Future Rank: 18th)

The Pirates’ bullpen is anchored by one of the best closers in the game. Leading the league in saves with 51 while accumulating the eighth most Cy Young award votes last year has placed Mark Melancon into the national spotlight. The two-time All-Star isn’t underrated anymore after striving in high-leverage situations for the playoff-bound Pirates. Entering a contract year at age-31, Melancon is looking to have his best season performance yet before cashing in after the 2016 season.  

(EDIT: Amidst a dominant 2016 campaign, the Pirates traded two months of Melancon's services to the Washington Nationals for LHP Taylor Hearn and LHP Felipe Rivero. Click here to read more about how Hearn and Rivero will impact the team's pitching staff going forward [7/30/16]).

Setting up Melancon will be the left-handed Tony Watson, but after that is where the problems start occurring. Jared Hughes is the prime candidate to take over the other setup role, but his peripherals point to major regression. Watson on the other hand has been one of the best southpaw relievers over the past two years. His 1.77 ERA over the past two years ranks among the best left-handed relievers in the game.

Some combination of Neftali Feliz, A.J. Schugel, Arquimedes Caminero, Juan Nicasio, and Ryan Vogelsong form the rest of Pittsburgh’s bullpen. Feliz was once one of the game’s elite closers, but has fallen off in recent years while Schugel, Nicasio, and Vogelsong don’t have much relieving experience. Caminero proved to be a reliable relief arm last year, and his 98 MPH fastball gives the Pirates reason to believe he can repeat his productive performance from 2015.

(EDIT: The Pirates have traded Arquimedes Caminero to the Seattle Mariners for a player to be named later. Click here to see how Caminero fits in with Seattle's bullpen [8/6/16]).

Yeudy Garcia has also spent most of his time in professional ball as a starter, but he’s lacking a third effective pitch as well as the consistent command needed to stay there. All signs point toward him ending up in the bullpen where his mid-90’s fastball and sweeping slider could make a much bigger impact. Stephen Tarpley is another starter without the command needed to stick in the rotation. He could be one of the few southpaw arms in Pittsburgh’s bullpen after the 2017 season.

One name going under the radar is Montana DuRapau. Considering his name is Montana DuRapau, it’s surprising he hasn’t gotten the recognition he deserves, but the 24 year-old has the stuff and minor league track record needed to be Pittsburgh’s next closer. He’s always been older than his peers, but a 1.38 ERA with a 7.67 SO/BB ratio cannot go unnoticed any longer. DuRapau is a name to keep an eye on going forward.

Future Outlook: Find the next big thing

The Pirates are in a really good place as a franchise. They have a strong core of young players in the field as well as a trio of righties with ace-potential in their rotation. However, the bullpen still remains an issue. Mark Melancon and Tony Watson are reliable high-leverage relievers, but the rest of the cast leaves much to be desired. The Pirates are already at risk of losing Melancon to free agency after this season.

Even if they manage to keep Melancon, Pittsburgh must prioritize another high-end relief arm they can utilize in key games when it’s 2-1 in the eighth inning and Chicago’s slugging first baseman Anthony Rizzo is coming up to the plate with two men already in scoring position. Pittsburgh has some excess talent at a few positions in the field it can use as trade bait to acquire that marquee reliever. Unless Montana DuRapau performs in the majors like he has in the minors, the Pirates must address the bullpen’s glaring issues going forward.

(EDIT: The Pirates may have found the next big thing in Taylor Hearn, the LHP prospect they acquired in the Mark Melancon deal [7/30/16]).

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OVERALL OUTLOOK: Young, eager, and ready to win it all

While Andrew McCutchen has undisputedly headlined the Pirates’ recent resurgence, he doesn’t have to do it by himself anymore. Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, and Mark Melancon have all developed into All-Star caliber players that can help Pittsburgh get over the hump. With quality position players and a wealth of young talent on the brink of making an impact, Pittsburgh just needs a couple of reliable arms that can pitch behind Cole and Liriano in the rotation before Glasnow and Taillon assert themselves as legitimate aces. GM Neal Huntington has brilliantly put together an all-around great team, but he needs some more arms in the rotation and the bullpen to complete his masterpiece. If the eight-year executive acquires those starters and that marquee reliever, the sky’s the limit for these Pittsburgh Pirates.

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