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Pirates entering new era as camp begins

Franchise cornerstones are gone, leaving room for other stars to emerge
MLB.com @adamdberry

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Every year, for every club, Spring Training is about starting anew. It's a fresh start, a new chapter, a clean slate -- a welcome cliché. But it's particularly true for the 2018 Pirates: This spring will be a season of change.

Gone are the franchise's ace and face, and the latter can't truly be replaced. But the Pirates will move forward without Andrew McCutchen in the outfield and without Gerrit Cole in the rotation. They will begin building around a young core -- but not "rebuilding," they insist -- and laying the foundation for their next contending team.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Every year, for every club, Spring Training is about starting anew. It's a fresh start, a new chapter, a clean slate -- a welcome cliché. But it's particularly true for the 2018 Pirates: This spring will be a season of change.

Gone are the franchise's ace and face, and the latter can't truly be replaced. But the Pirates will move forward without Andrew McCutchen in the outfield and without Gerrit Cole in the rotation. They will begin building around a young core -- but not "rebuilding," they insist -- and laying the foundation for their next contending team.

Pitchers and catchers checked in Monday at the Pirate City complex. Their workouts officially begin on Wednesday. Position players must report by Sunday, and the first full-squad workout is set for Feb. 19 -- four days before their Grapefruit League opener against the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla.

"There's a lot of excitement and a lot of energy and a lot of guys looking forward to a new era of Pirates baseball," manager Clint Hurdle said last month on MLB Network Radio. "We're thankful for the guys who poured into the last one we had."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Joe Musgrove, part of the Pirates' return for Cole, echoed his new manager's enthusiasm. With the Astros, Musgrove saw a team with the worst record in baseball create a talented young core and transform into a World Series champion in a matter of years.

"It's really exciting to see the group of guys we've got here," Musgrove said Monday. "It's very familiar, from what I came [from] with the Astros, so I'm really excited to be part of that young group of guys that comes up and hopefully builds something special."

Most predictions and projection systems forecast a third straight losing season for Pittsburgh. The Bucs' lineup could rebound after a dismal 2017, but they lack proven power hitters. Their rotation is high on upside, but low on experience. They have many bullpen options, but few sure things.

They have not signed a Major League free agent, even after shedding about $19 million in payroll by trading McCutchen and Cole. It's not clear who will join Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco in the outfield. The Pirates have to finalize their rotation, settle a few spots in the bullpen and answer a number of individual questions.

With this slow-developing market ripe for late signings and trades, are they done shaping their roster? Will Marte rebound? Is this Polanco's year? Will Francisco Cervelli stay healthy? Is Josh Harrison happy here after publicly requesting a trade?

What's next for Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon and the large group of players who only recently shed their rookie status? How much will Colin Moran, Musgrove, Michael Feliz and Kyle Crick contribute? What will the Felipe Rivero-led bullpen look like? Is the next wave of prospects -- including Austin Meadows, Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker -- nearly ready to make an impact?

Video: Pirates expect big things from Musgrove

Despite all the doubts, general manager Neal Huntington has said that the Pirates intend to be competitive this year. Before they can surprise others, however, they must prove themselves.

"I keep using the same word, but it's exciting," Moran said. "A lot of guys that are the same age, a lot of guys that are in maybe a similar position of trying to prove some people wrong, [can] go out there and have a good year."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

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