Bucs ready to rebound as camp approaches

Bucs ready to rebound as camp approaches

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Pirates squad each day this week. Today's topic: Spring Training is here.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Individually and as a group, the Pirates come to Spring Training with something to prove.

For Andrew McCutchen, it's that last year was a fluke. For Gerrit Cole, it's health. Up and down the roster, the Bucs can improve on a disappointing season. As a team, it's looking to show it is still a postseason contender in the National League, that a losing 2016 was a setback and not a full step back.

"When people count us out, we have our backs against the wall, that's when we play the best and we sneak up on people," shortstop Jordy Mercer said in December. "If we get some guys to step up on our pitching staff and keep us in the game, we can win a lot of one-run ballgames. That's our recipe. If we get back to that, we'll be fine."

The Bucs will filter into their Pirate City clubhouse this week, ready to get to work. But even if the Pirates return to form, they'll again face an uphill climb within their division. The Cubs are defending World Series champions, and most of that title-winning club is back this year. The Cardinals added Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil to last season's 86-win team.

"Our focus is not what our opposition is doing. Our focus is, how do we put the best team on the field that gives us a legitimate chance to compete for a postseason spot?" general manager Neal Huntington said. "We weren't supposed to win 98 games [in 2015]. There's been many teams through history that were supposed to win 95 that won 75 or 85. That's the beautiful part of our game. There is some variability to it."

Bucs' sights set high in 2017

Here is a look at the Pirates' Spring Training picture as the first day of camp draws near.

Pitchers and catchers' first workout: Tuesday

First full-squad workout: Friday

First Grapefruit League game: The Pirates will send a split squad to Port Charlotte, Fla., to face the Rays at 1:05 p.m. ET on Feb. 25. Another split squad will host the Orioles at LECOM Park at 1:05 p.m. ET.

New faces
The Pirates signed right-hander Daniel Hudson and expect him to fill a setup role in front of closer Tony Watson. Ivan Nova is not a new face, but this will be his first spring with the Bucs after signing a three-year, $26 million deal.

Pittsburgh acquired lefty reliever Tyler Webb in the Rule 5 Draft in December, hard-throwing reliever Pat Light from the Twins and traded for infielder Phil Gosselin last week.

Hudson's possible role with Bucs

Interesting non-roster invitees
Josh Lindblom has an interesting story and a brief history with the team, Dan Runzler has big league experience and Jason Stoffel put up great Minor League numbers last year. Also keep an eye on the progress of the Tommy John trio: Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler and Angel Sanchez.

Jacob Stallings and Jackson Williams could be depth options if the Pirates experience the kind of catching attrition they went through last season. Infielders Jason Rogers and Joey Terdoslavich provide experience at the corners, where the Pirates have questions about Jung Ho Kang's status and Josh Bell's knee.

Lindblom on infant daughter

Prospects to watch
This camp will be loaded with prospects, including nine of their top 15, according to MLBPipeline.com. That group includes first-timers Austin Meadows (No. 2) and Kevin Newman (No. 4). Tyler Glasnow (No. 1) will compete for a rotation spot, and Bell (No. 3) will work to establish himself at first base.

Potential Opening Day roster candidates include starters Steven Brault (No. 14) and Trevor Williams (No. 26), infielders Alen Hanson (No. 13) and Max Moroff (No. 19) and infielder/outfielder Jose Osuna (No. 27). A few others could help later in the year, particularly catcher Elias Diaz (No. 9), starter Nick Kingham (No. 10) and relievers Dovydas Neverauskas (No. 22) and Edgar Santana (No. 28).

Will Glasnow surprise in 2017?

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.