McCutchen switch, Kang status keys

The Pirates season hinges on several key players with weird situations.

Orlando Jorge Ramirez—X02835
Mar 17

There were a few surprises in training camp for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the biggest ones came before it started.Andrew McCutchen was not traded and moved from center field to right after a subpar season, and Pittsburgh was able to re-sign right-hander Ivan Nova to remain an important part of the starting rotation.Still, there are a lot of questions surrounding a club that missed the postseason last year after a three-year run of playoff appearances and plays in the National League Central Division with the defending Worlds Series champion Chicago Cubs and perennially strong St. Louis Cardinals.The most impactful news in March for the Pirates was the status of third baseman and power hitter Jung Ho Kang, who remained in South Korea and on the restricted list after a DUI arrest. It was unclear when or even if Kang would join the Pirates.David Freese looks to inherit third base with Kang missing. Freese is part of a movement in which manager Clint Hurdle is keen on having a lot of interchangeable parts. That is, bench players and even some starting fielders who can plug in at different spots.Opening Day starter Gerrit Cole, 26, was slowed by three injuries last year but will be counted on to serve as the staff ace. Nova and Jameson Taillon have locked down spots in the rotation. Chad Kuhl has a strong inside track on the No. 4 spot.The fifth spot, however, is up for grabs, and going into the final week of spring no one had jumped way out in front. Tyler Glasnow seemed to be coming on, but he still needed to beat out Steven Brault, Drew Hutchison and Trevor Williams. It’s entirely possible that competition will bleed into the season.”Everybody had an opportunity to go create separation, and that hasn’t really happened in my mind,” Hurdle said. “They’ve all competed. We have our own thoughts and our own measurements that we’ll use. The good part is we’ve got depth, and they know it.”The bullpen returns fairly intact but Tony Watson, who inherited the closer role after stalwart Mark Melancon was traded last season, had a rough spring.The outfield could be more than solid after the big switcheroo, which was made to get Starling Marte’s substantial skill and arm into center fielder, where former NL MVP McCutchen regressed last season. Gregory Polanco moves from right to left.”We went through the process as thoroughly and as respectfully as we could,” Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington told “(McCutchen) wants to stay in center field, and he believes he’s a center fielder, but again, I can’t say this enough: Without Starling Marte, this is not a move we make.”