The Pirates sent a clear message this offseason. They are in a youth movement.
After dealing away star players like Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, the Pirates are rebuilding and expectations are not high for 2018.
Just don't tell that to manager Clint Hurdle, who vowed to field a competitive team this year and is especially high on Colin Moran. The 25-year-old third baseman was acquired from the Astros in the deal that sent Cole to Houston. Moran, who has appeared in just 16 MLB games over the last two seasons, is already penciled in as the starter ahead of veteran David Freese.
Here are three things on the Pirates' to-do list this spring:
1. Settle on a third outfielder
One of the reasons the Pirates traded McCutchen to the Giants is the club's optimism in promising rookie Austin Meadows. This spring will be key for Meadows to prove he can be an everyday big-league player. He will have competition, however, from 24-year-olds Jordan Luplow and Christopher Bostick, veteran Sean Rodriguez and free-agent acquisition Daniel Nava.
The Pirates know two of their three starting outfielders will be Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco; it's the third spot that must be won this spring.
2. Fill out the rotation
With Cole gone, Jameson Taillon is expected to slide into the top spot in the rotation. Taillon is 13-11 with a 3.98 ERA and 210 strikeouts to 63 walks over 237 2/3 innings the last two seasons.
Behind Taillon are a slew of question marks with six players vying for four spots. Former Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova, who was dealt to the Pirates in 2016, will likely fill one of those spots. The 31-year-old righthander was 11-14 with a 4.14 ERA last year. Then there are 25-year-olds Joe Musgrove, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams and Steven Brault, and 24-year-old Tyler Glasnow — none of whom have more than two years of MLB experience.
3. Be patient and creative
There will be growing pains this season. Hurdle will do everything he can to win games, but he may have to tinker with the lineup. Because the Pirates have such a young roster, finding the right mix could take some time. Now that McCutchen is gone, first baseman Josh Bell is probably the best hitter in the lineup — but even he's just 25 years old and struck out 117 times in 549 at-bats last year.
The Pirates might not have the same starting nine in consecutive games early in the season as Hurdle figures out the roster.
"The place is going to explode when we win it all," Hurdle told reporters last Wednesday, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "The place is going to explode. I still believe that. I look for the opportunity to stay and be a part of that. That’s unwavering belief."