Bucs look past eventful off-season in Spring Training

The Pittsburgh Pirates are going into the start of Spring Training with a hefty controversy on their shoulders, and, in a recent interview, third baseman David Freese spoke about the attitude of the team as a whole last season. His comments were honest, and strongly worded, which is surprising, coming from a player who is still with the team.

“You have to understand when you walk through the door why we’re here,” Freese said. “It’s to stay out of the red, I guess, a little bit, but it is about winning...You don’t have to make the postseason or this or that, but, at the end of the year, you have to say, ‘We honestly went for it.’”

These are harsh words to hear coming directly from a player, and they seem to make sense. After two consecutive losing seasons, it seems that the problem with the Pirates might not boil down to the talent that they have, but an inability to break out of the mindset of a historically bad team. Regardless of the troubles with Starling Marte and Jung-Ho Kang last season, one could look at the Pirates’ lineup and see a lot of good players. There’s no explanation other than a negative mindset. Freese just might be on to something.

After the Feb. 14 pitchers and catchers report, it’s safe to say that Spring Training has officially begun. Games start on Feb. 23, and if what Freese says echoes throughout the dugout, the Pirates may actually stand a chance to return to the caliber they were at three years ago.

The outfield need a bit of tinkering, but there’s no doubt you’ll be seeing Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte out on the grass. Marte, without a doubt, will be the starting center fielder after the Andrew McCutchen trade, and Polanco will likely reprise his role in right field, given his reported discomfort in left.

Polanco seems like he may be turning over a new leaf in terms of physical fitness. In the winter, he trained back in the Dominican Republic with the same fitness instructor that he had worked with until last year. Polanco says that his trainer focuses more on agility than pure strength, which is where Polanco seemed to struggle last year. Hopefully he can break out and live up to his potential.

There’s a race going on between the Pirates’ relievers. 12 different pitchers will be vying for just four open seats in the bullpen, and there are some interesting competitors who may prove to be what the Bucs have been looking for to re-establish their mid-2010s pitching strength.

Obviously, Felipe Rivero has the ninth locked down. There won’t be anyone replacing him in the closer’s role for quite some time, it seems. Setting up for the 100-mph flamethrower will more than likely fall on former San Francisco Giant George Kontos, who was impressive in his relief appearances after being claimed off waivers late last season, and Daniel Hudson, who might not be the best choice, after what was a lackluster 2017.

The other four spots, however, are open to whoever can prove themselves. Michael Feliz, Kyle Crick, Dovydas Neverauskas, Edgar Santana, A.J. Schugel, Josh Smoker, Jack Leathersich, and Jordan Milbrath will all get the opportunity to fit into the relief rotation. I like the look of Santana and Smoker, especially. Santana was a great strikeout guy after being called up in September of last year, and for Smoker, it seems like a change of scenery from the New York Mets could do him good. All of the relievers have the stuff that the Bucs will need from their bullpen, so whoever ends up grabbing the seats will hopefully make us proud.

Spring Training games start on Feb. 23, and the first few are only being broadcast on radio, so make sure to tune in and get an early taste of that baseball fever!