Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.
I think it is a fair assumption to say the year Jones had in 2012 was more an outlier than something we should expect from him going forward. Make no mistake if the Pirates properly hide him against most left handed pitching this year Jones can still be a valuable player and an important contributor but the chances of him slugging over .500 again and belting 27 home runs are probably slim. Last season Jones ended up splitting his time between first base and right field but with so many options for the outfield this season it is difficult to envision seeing him play more than a handful of games in the outfield. So defensively Jones should be able to concentrate fully on first base and in theory it should make him a little more sound. He is never going to be a great defender but I expect to see some improvement from him in that aspect. Another part of his game that is lacking is his base running as he is caught in some bad situation fairly frequently because of it. Improvements in these two areas, even minor ones, could go a long way to helping Jones recover some of the value he will lose from not being quite as productive as a power hitter. All of this is not to say I’m expecting a complete collapse from Jones as I still see him as a 1.5 WAR player who should hit about 20-25 home runs and with a reasonable control of how many left handers he faces post a line of about .250/.320/.460. If Jones can improve on other aspects of his game there is plenty of value in a platoon hitter like himself.
It is difficult to get a real feel for what Gaby Sanchez is. He put up two very solid seasons in 2010 and 2011 but was awful for the Marlins in 2012 and just about average for the Pirates during his time in 2012. Chances are he will not be as bad as he was in 2012 nor as good as he was in the two previous seasons. On the plus side Sanchez should primarily face left handed pitching and otherwise be a pinch hitter off the bench which should help make his offensive numbers appear a little better than they normally would. One thing Sanchez does have going for him is that he is a plus defender as first base which should allow him to spell Jones in late game situations for defensive purposes. There is still a chance Sanchez returns to his 2010-11 form but the Pirates should not give him a chance to show out at the beginning of the season. If he earns the chance as the season goes along with a strong performance in his role that is another story though. For now Sanchez seems like the perfect platoon compliment for Jones. He isn’t horrible against righties, mashes left handers and can play some good defense at first base. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Pirates try Sanchez some at third as well but if they do it will probably be a minimal amount. I’m expecting fairly good things from Sanchez this year as I see him as another 1.5 WAR player who should post a very respectable line of something like .260/.340/.410. Those numbers aren’t exactly setting the world on fire but from the small half of a platoon and main bench piece those are more than adequate. Also if the Pirates fall out of it by the trade deadline I could see them dealing Jones and giving Sanchez a full time look at first base.
Robinson appears to be Garrett Jones insurance. I’m of the belief that the Pirates were waiting to get a good offer on Jones and were willing to deal him if the price was right and if that happened Robinson would have gotten a chance to replace Jones on the roster but probably would have had to split playing time with Sanchez a little more evenly than Jones will. However Jones wasn’t dealt so that means Robinson will likely start the year in AAA and with Matt Curry also there I can see him spending most of his time there as the DH. I expect that he will reach the majors at some point this season but it is difficult to forecast when and even how successful he will be. He has shown some good power in the minors but that doesn’t always translate to the majors but on the plus side he has also shown some good plate discipline and that has a better chance of translating. Still I can’t see Robinson getting much playing time at the major league level and his lack of experience makes it tough for me to believe that if he does get any significant time that it will be anything much greater than replacement level. There is some potential here but I think it is highly unlikely Robinson gets a chance to show off that potential unless Jones is either traded or gets injured.