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Pirates

Five Pirates storylines to watch after the All-Star break

Chris Adamski
| Thursday, July 19, 2018, 5:33 a.m.
Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison strikes out with a runner in scoring position during the ninth inning against the Phillies Saturday, July 7, 2018, at PNC Park.
Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison strikes out with a runner in scoring position during the ninth inning against the Phillies Saturday, July 7, 2018, at PNC Park.
Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison grounds into an out during the fifth inning against the Brewers Sunday, July 15, 2018, at PNC Park. Harrison was injured on the play.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison grounds into an out during the fifth inning against the Brewers Sunday, July 15, 2018, at PNC Park. Harrison was injured on the play.

There were things to like about the Pirates’ first 97 games . There also was much not to like . But what does the future bring for the 2018 Pirates?

Almost certainly not a playoff spot. Fangraphs.com gives them a 6.7 percent chance at making the postseason , and for the “So you’re sayin’ there’s a chance!” optimists, it gives the Pirates a one-tenth of 1 percent odds of being World Series champions. But that doesn’t mean the so-called “second half (only 40 percent of the season remains) can’t hold some heavy intrigue.

A look at what to watch for over the next 2½ months regarding the Pirates:

1. Who will be traded?

We know with a degree of certainty that SOMEONE will be traded off the current roster. Not only are there a handful of well-paid veterans nearing the ends of their contracts, but Neal Huntington’s track record also says so. In Huntington’s previous 10 trade deadlines as Pirates general manager, he has made 22 deals in the week leading up to July 31.

This year, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Corey Dickerson, Ivan Nova, Francisco Cervelli and David Freese are widely considered candidates to be jettisoned. But will Huntington go “off the board” and trade someone such as Felipe Vazquez or Starling Marte? As they say, everyone has a price …

2. When will Meadows come back?

Austin Meadows has been one of the Pirates’ top prospects since he was drafted with the ninth overall pick in 2013. His .368 average, 1.088 OPS and five home runs through his first 20 MLB games made fans more eager for the Meadows era.

But Meadows did not homer over his final 111 plate appearances before being optioned back to Triple-A on Sunday. Over his final 13 days on the roster, Meadows started four games but had no extra-base hits in 26 plate appearances, singling five times with eight strikeouts and one walk.

Barring injury or an implosion for Indianapolis, Meadows almost certainly will be back in Pittsburgh at some point. Could it be as early as the next two weeks if Dickerson is traded? Will be it be Sept. 1? Somewhere in between? Or do we have to wait for 2019?

3. Will we see Keller?

Mitch Keller burst onto the scene in 2016 with a strong minor league season in Single-A and since has been regarded as one of the game’s top prospects. He started the Futures Game as part of All-Star festivities this past week not long after his promotion to Triple-A. At 22 and with only 78 career minor league starts, his profile makes it unlikely the Pirates would give him a September call-up (the organization, if nothing else, preaches patience with prospects). But if Nova is dealt, another starter gets injured and Keller starts dominating Triple-A, who knows?

If nothing else, watching MLB’s No. 12 overall prospect pitch for the Pirates would give fans reason to pay attention after football season starts.

4. Are any of these kids big parts of the future?

Forget the high-pedigree likes of Meadows and Keller. There’s a group of young players who aren’t as highly regarded, but each is being given an opportunity to show he deserves a spot on the 2019 Pirates and beyond. From starters Nick Kingham and Clay Holmes to relievers such as Richard Rodriguez, Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow and Michael Feliz to position players Elias Diaz, Jordan Luplow, Jacob Stallings and Max Moroff, the Pirates have no shortage of youngsters who have yet to carve out a future niche with the franchise. To varying degrees, each could get an opportunity to earn a role and force the Pirates’ hand into giving them a job next season.

5. Maybe the Pirates will contend?

This will come off as laughable to some. Others will mock those who are laughing as pessimists who ruin everything. The aforementioned long odds for making the postseason are real, but strange things happen in baseball (last season’s Twins, for example, were similarly mediocre in terms of talent and spent part of July with a sub-10 percent chance of making the playoffs, per Fangraphs).

The Pirates just won eight of nine games. They face last-place teams in six of their next nine games. All but eight of their other 59 games left are against teams they are chasing for a playoff spot. Plenty of ground can be made up.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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