By Jared Lankes
The Pirates lineup certainly took a major hit (no pun intended) when they lost Jung Ho Kang to Visa issues related to his drunk driving. In turn, this leaves the lineup one power threat short. Though, this doesn’t mean the Pirates still don’t have a potent lineup.
Looking up and down the lineup card, we will see capable bats throughout. Here, I will preview how the general lineup will look like, even though I know Hurdle will be flexible with his lineups as always.
1) 2B Josh Harrison: I have been advocating for Francisco Cervelli to leadoff for awhile. However, I do not think Hurdle sees it that way. One criticism I have with Hurdle is that he’s a believer in speed at the leadoff spot, even if the other skills needed for that spot may not be there. Hence why Harrison is in this spot. I get the sense that Hurdle will force Harrison into the leadoff spot despite him not being the best fit there, simply because of speed alone.
2) CF Starling Marte: I think the Pirates are still under the impression that they want their best hitter to hit second. However, Cutch will bat third and that has been confirmed, and Polanco fits well somewhere else in the lineup, which we’ll get to. So naturally, Marte, a great hitter in his own right, may get the nod to hit second. While I like Marte as a more middle-of-the-lineup guy, I think the Pirates may place him here to start him off in the Marte-Cutch-Polanco chain in the lineup because of his natural ability to hit for contact and steal bases.
3) RF Andrew McCutchen: I don’t believe in “comfortable spots” in a lineup for players too often, but I think McCutchen is an exception. I feel the Pirates realize that him hitting third is what is best for him, as well as the team. They’ve already confirmed he will hit third, so there’s that too.
4) LF Gregory Polanco: I like the idea of a Marte, Cutch, Polanco chain in the lineup, which I eluded to earlier. I think it is where they can really do damage. I have Polanco hitting cleanup based on his skill set. He is primed for a breakout year where the homers just keep coming. Polanco has been bulking up in order to realize his power potential, and this appears to be the year where he may crack 30 HRs. Without Kang, and possibly even with Kang, Polanco may be best suited to hit cleanup.
5) 1B Josh Bell: I like Bell in the 2 hole, but I don’t think the Pirates will hit him there, and it’s not a huge deal in this case. Bell’s bat will play anywhere you put him in the lineup because of his pure ability to hit and get on-base. If his power develops, that’d be a major boost.
6) 3B David Freese: Freese will fill in at 3B, and that’s not so bad. Him being a substitute 3B means you have it pretty good. While he’s not a great hitter, he will do enough to be an asset in that department. Let’s just hope the strikeouts cease a bit.
7) C Francisco Cervelli: Cervelli is a high-OBP guy with very little power, which is why I want him leading off. I do not think that happens though, as I previously mentioned. Therefore, he gets taken all the way down to the 7 spot. He will do what he does and be what he is; nothing more, nothing less, and that’s not so bad to have.
8) SS Jordy Mercer: Mercer’s bat leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s a pretty okay SS nonetheless. He is coming off his best offensive season though so maybe something has clicked for him. If he can have a similar year to his 2016 year at the plate, the lineup would receive a major boost.
As I said, I think Hurdle will mix and match lineups based on matchups, who’s hot, etc. but the one thing that I hope won’t change is the Marte-McCutchen- Polanco chain in the lineup. Overall, I see a very good Pirates lineup that I think is the biggest strength of this 2017 team.