Bucs new, improved, ready to take on 2021

March 26th, 2021

After a 19-41 campaign in 2020, the Pirates entered this year’s Spring Training looking for major improvements. By and large, they’ve seen them.

Pittsburgh entered Thursday’s action with a .773 team OPS and a 4.43 team ERA in Grapefruit League games -- both gains from last season's .641 OPS and 4.68 ERA.

“We're ready,” manager Derek Shelton said. ‘We’re ready to move on and start the regular season.”

Now, the Bucs will hope the improvements made this offseason and spring -- including on the bases, where they’ve been extremely aggressive during Grapefruit League play -- will translate into results during the regular season. As we look ahead to Opening Day, let’s also look back at some of the big spring story lines that could shape the new season.

Best development: Middle infielders raking
As mentioned above, the Bucs struggled to hit collectively last season. That was true for their primary middle infielders as well.

: 48-for-209 (.230)
: 41-for-181 (.224)
: 35-for-156 (.223)

Eentering Thursday’s action, all three have showed up and slugged to increase their confidence -- and the team’s confidence in them -- heading into Opening Day.

Frazier: 18-for-32 (.563)
González: 12-for-34 (.353)
Newman: 16-for-22 (.727)

With Newman and González batting so well, Cole Tucker was optioned on Wednesday after entering camp in competition for the shortstop position. However, it’s unclear if González -- who made the most starts at shortstop last season -- or Newman -- who was the everyday shortstop in 2019 -- will get most reps there.

It’s a great problem to have.

“It’s been good,” Newman said. “Anytime you can get some knocks to start the spring off, it’s kind of a good feeling to build some confidence as you’re getting ready to go into the season.”

Unfortunate events: Injuries to ,
The Pirates lost their most likely Opening Day starter option when Brault was ruled out to begin the year with a strain in the latissimus muscle of his left arm. Director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said Brault will not throw for a month, then will be reassessed, and he’s likely due out of game action for 10 weeks “at best."

The club also lost another pitcher in Cederlind, who underwent Tommy John surgery on Tuesday. The 25-year-old is seen as a future closing candidate due to his high-velocity arsenal, but he will now be out of action for the season and likely into the 2022 campaign.

Player who opened eyes:
Bednar was acquired from the Padres in the Joe Musgrove trade, and the Pittsburgh native is shoving out the gate with his new club. The right-hander, who complements his well-placed fastball with a strong splitter and a curveball, struck out 14 batters through his first eight appearances this spring, and he’s allowed no runs and owns a .077 batting average against.

“He’s awesome. I love the new addition in Bednar,” reliever said. “He’s a great dude. Very humble, well-spoken, good dude.”

'Wow' moment: ’ arsenal
Another key piece picked up via trade this offseason, Contreras has drawn eyes in his two outings thus far. Pittsburgh’s No. 20 prospect has fanned five over two innings, including striking out the side in his most recent appearance. Though Contreras has come out of the bullpen in Spring Training, he’s been a starter at every stop in the Minors, so his high-octane heater and sharp curveball could be stretched out at Double-A or Triple-A this season.

“That’s exciting,” Shelton said after Contreras’ second game. “Like we’ve talked about before, for Pirates fans to see a kid like this come in, a kid we acquired, it was cool.”

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