Pirates 2017 preview: Pittsburgh eyes postseason return after disappointing season

Despite playing in arguably the deepest division in MLB, Pittsburgh has enough talent in every facet to claw its way back to the postseason.

After losing in the National League wild-card gamein 2014 and 2015, the Pirates missed the playoffs altogether last season.

Injuries, poor play by Andrew McCutchen, and a changing rotation stifled Pittsburgh's promising progress. Yet, things are pointing in the right direction for a rebound.

Despite playing in arguably the deepest division in MLB — the NL Central — Pittsburgh has enough talent in every facet to claw its way back into the postseason.

Getting McCutchen back up to speed will be the first step. If he struggles as much as he did to begin last season, McCutchencould find himself on a different team by the end of July.

It will be interesting to see how the Pirates start sprinkling in theirlatest crop of young stars. Josh Bell andJameson Taillon are ready now, but the two with the most upside —Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows — are patiently awaiting their chance.

Pittsburgh Pirates schedule 2017

The Pirates begin the season with a three-game series at Boston, starting opening day, April 3. Gerrit Cole will face off against reigning AL Cy Young award winner Rick Porcello in Game 1.

Pittsburgh's home opener is April 7 against the Braves, which starts a three-game series.

The Pirates' key series in the opening month is a three-game road trip at Wrigley Field. Stealing a couple wins would be huge for momentum.

Pittsburgh Pirates roster

Pirates projected opening day lineup

1.Josh Harrison, 2B
2.Josh Bell, 1B
3.Andrew McCutchen, RF
4.Starling Marte, CF
5.Gregory Polanco, LF
6.David Freese, 3B
7.Francisco Cervelli, C
8.Jordy Mercer, SS






Pirates projected rotation

1.Gerrit Cole, RHP
2.Jameson Taillon, RHP
3. Ivan Nova, RHP
4.Juan Nicasio, RHP
5.Chad Kuhl, RHP



Pirates projected bullpen

Closer:Tony Watson, LHP
Setup:Antonio Bastardo, LHP
Setup:Daniel Hudson, RHP

Pirates fantasy baseball sleeper

Ivan Nova, SP — Nova's career floundered in New York with the Yankees, but he looked like a man reborn after a July trade sent him to Pittsburgh. He allowed just 22 earned runs in 64 2/3 innings during the last two months of the regular season. It will be interesting to see if he has turned a corner, or will revert back to his mediocre ERAs.

Pirates top prospect(s)

Tyler Glasnow, SP; Austin Meadows, OF; Josh Bell, 1B — The Pirates have no shortage of young talent. All three of these guys are likely to see extended time in MLB this season, with Bell projected to open the season at first base. Though Bell doesn't possess the pure power most first basemen displayin the minors, he has potential to hit over .300 and still launch15-20 home runs.

Glasnow has ace potential, but Pittsburgh will be patient with him after he struggled with walks last season.

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