Pittsburgh Pirates: 10 Thoughts and Observations In Pirates 6-3 ST Win Over Braves
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With about a week left till Opening Day, you can make a very strong case that the lineup the Pittsburgh Pirates went with on Wednesday may be the one that they start against the Chicago Cubs.
Led by five solid innings from J.T. Brubaker, the Pirates were able to erase an early deficit with a big sixth inning against Atlanta Braves' starter Ian Anderson. The Buccos' bats remained hot, and while you have to take spring training numbers with a grain of salt, it's certainly been encouraging to see the production of certain players during the spring.
Adam Frazier and Nick Gonzales went deep for the Pirates, Kevin Newman collected two more hits, and Gregory Polanco hit a double all in the victory. Pittsburgh now sports a 12-10 record in the exhibition season, tied for the third most wins in the Grapefruit League.
Here are some thoughts and observations from the game today.
Newman went 2-2 with a sac fly to bring his video game like batting average to .727 this spring. This would be so big for the Pirates if Newman can look more like his 2019 season, as opposed to last year where he batted .224 and posted a .556 OPS.
I think to an extent, the has never been a concern for Newman, it's if he can consistently man shortstop at a good enough level defensively. With Frazier a prime trade target this season, I still believe finishes the year as the second baseman with either Erik Gonzalez or Cole Tucker taking the reps at short.
Not sure how many wins the Pirates will have, but add a few more if Newman looks closer to his 2019 self.
Watching his interview after he left the game, I hope the best for Polanco this year. The better he plays the more likely he gets traded, but that wouldn't be a bad thing for him at this point. He tore the cover off the ball last season, when he managed to make contact.
Listening to him during the interview I feel like he could easily have a bounce back year. Sometimes a different perspective is all it takes to turn around a bad season.
That can be sometime as simple as getting excited to come to the ball park again. With all his struggles, as well as the overall difficulties 2020 presented, you can't really blame anyone for not having the greatest mindset about coming to the ballpark everyday.
While this year will have it's own set of challenges, Polanco seems ready to tackle them head on.
Mitch Keller probably has the best stuff of any Pirates potential starter, but Brubaker will have the best season.
Watching him today, and then last season, Brubaker has good enough stuff, and the ability to use it, to lead this version of the Pirates' pitching staff - especially if Keller falters again.
Talent wise he's a back-of-the-rotation starter, but that's pretty much the Pirates' pitching staff this year, and Brubaker is clearly the best of the bunch. The two-home runs weren't ideal, but he only allowed one other hit, as well as a walk in his five innings of work.
With Steven Brault out now, how about Brubaker getting the nod for Opening Day for the Pirates?
Ke'Bryan Hayes is a special, special player. That's about it. He had a single the other way on Wednesday, but he's such a special player he's worth mentioning as often as possible. There probably won't be a lot of good things happening this year, Hayes will be one of them.
I was impressed with Max Kranick in his inning and a third. Pirates are going to go through a lot of arms this season, and if he can get off to a good start in the minors this year - Kranick could eventually be one of the ones they call upon. Next season is a safer bet, but with no real set pieces in the rotation in the near future, Kranick's stuff could be an interest name to watch.
An eventual infield of Hayes, Liover Peguero and Nick Gonzales is going to be fun to watch. Altoona is going to be a treat to watch if two of the three of them start there this year.
Gonzales hit a homer run today, extending the lead to 5-3 for the Pirates. He hasn't had an official professional at bat yet but there is no doubting that the Pirates seventh overall pick from 2020 is going to be a special player.
You can hear it when he makes contact. I've seen two at bats from Gonzales this spring, a double and today's home run. Both times if you were looking away, the sound of the bat connecting with the ball had you snapping your head to watch. It's a different sound. He has it. I can't wait till he is in Pittsburgh.
The only change I would make to this lineup, and the Opening Day one, is having Anthony Alford in center field. Dustin Fowler is an intriguing player, and it's going to be interesting to watch the two potentially continue their battle for playing time into the season, but for now I believe Alford should start.
Having an ongoing position battle for a starter position can only be good things for the Pirates during the season. Helps keep everyone playing at the top of their game.
I'm not even sure on how to guess how the bullpen plays out, but Clay Holmes has looked good this Spring and should definitely be a part of it. Eight scoreless appearance after his one-hit inning on today.
I was a big Wilmer Difo fan when he was a prospect for the Washington Nationals, and would like to see him get a shot with the Pirates. I'm not sue what the Pirates plans are for their bench, especially with Newman and Gonzalez playing short and Todd Frazier potentially getting time at third.
Throw in the fact that Newman can also play second base, they may not need another player on the bench. It'd be nice to be able to squeeze in an extra body like Difo, but with the Pirates looking to carry an extra pitcher, Difo may be the last man out in the infield.
Say it's the Pirates fan in me, but part of me wants to agree with Joe Block that this team might not be as bad as everyone thinks. Expectations are so low right now, it actually might be easier than people think to over perform them. With the first overall pick this year, most seem locked in to believing that this Pirates team could make it two years in a row.
Something needs to click when it comes to the pitching, and when I say that I mean Keller, but the offense actually seems kind of promising with Reynolds, Hayes, and Newman. If Polanco makes more contact while still destroying the ball, he could very easily become the second best hitter on the team not named Ke'Bryan.
Yea, I know it's probably wishful thinking. According to DraftKings SportsBook, the Pirates have by far the worst odds to win the World Series. A $100 bet on them would net over $25,000 if they would win it all in 2021. The Los Angeles Dodgers, the odds on favorite to win the World Series, would net you only $450 on the same bet.
It's that kind of long shot. They won't win it all, but I'm willing to have enough faith in what I've seen - and not just today - to believe that while this team isn't going to be good, it's not going to be as bad as some think. Maybe i'll be wrong.
But it's definitely going to be fun to watch this year.
Follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy.