Catchers: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler
Paulino is a defensive first catcher who is graded by scouts as one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. He stuck around with the big league camp until the final round of cuts so the Pirates must see something in him. Cutler is an organizational player who is a bat first catcher.
1st Base/DH: Alex Dickerson, Matt Curry
Both Dickerson and Curry are prospects to some degrees. If it wasn’t for the logjam of 1B types in AAA (Hague, Larish and possibly Robinson) Curry would almost certainly be there after a good season in AA. Both players have received a little time in LF this Spring but neither is an option there long term. Both players are good hitters but the question is whether either has enough power to make up for their defensive limitations.
Middle Infield: Jarek Cunningham, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi
Cunningham will be the starter at 2nd and Ngoepe at shortstop. Cunningham is repeating the level because he struggled last season but has good power for a 2nd baseman so he is worth keeping an eye on. Ngoepe doesn’t do much with the bat but is a slick fielding shortstop. If he can hit even a little his glove will almost certainly carry him to the majors. Maggi was given an overslot bonus just a few years ago but is now just an organizational player. He could see time just about anywhere including the outfield but his primary purpose will be backing up the middle infield.
Other Infielders: Stefan Welch, Adalberto Santos
Welch and Santos figure to split the third base duties. Neither is a 3rd baseman by trade as Welch is better suited for 1st base and Santos has played almost exclusively the outfield. Welch is coming off an excellent season in A+ in 2012 which earned him a promotion to AA. He started off hot but quickly cooled down. He did have a good showing in the WBC for Team Australia this spring though. Santos has hit at every level the Pirates put him on and probably should be up in AAA this year but the roster figures to be a little crowded. He played exclusively the outfield last season but played some 2B the year before that. Santos is likely to see time in both the OF and 2B as well as adding 3B to his duties. If he can be passable defensively eat each position it coupled with his good contact skills could make him an intriguing bench option.
Outfielders: Mel Rojas, Andrew Lambo, Justin Howard, Andy Vasquez
Rojas is the only real prospect in this group. He has a good set of tools but hasn’t really put everything together. He probably isn’t ready for AA but with Polanco moving up to A+ the Pirates have decided to give him an aggressive push and let him continue playing center field. Lambo will be spending his 5th year at the AA level. This his last year before minor league free agency so if he is going to ever live up to that prospect hype its likely now or never. Howard has good contact skills but is poor defensively and has little power. In reality he shouldn’t be in the outfield but the only position he plays even half decently his first base and there is just no room for him there. Vasquez is a utility player who has been in the Pirates organization seemingly forever. He has played a little bit of everywhere but it appears he will serve mainly as a backup outfielder this season. In addition to these guys Santos is likely to see a lot of time in the outfield and Maggi, Dickerson and even Curry could get the occasional start as well.
Starting Pitchers: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, Tyler Waldron
Taillon is of course Taillon. He is the only true top flight prospect at this level. The main question surrounding him is when will he move up to AAA. Pimentel was acquired in the Joel Hanrahan trade and has a lot of upside but has struggled in AA in the past and is on his last option so he is going to have to impress quickly. Cumpton had moderate success in the AA rotation last year but wasn’t overwhelming so the Pirate have opted to have him repeat the level. Sadler is a prospect I like a lot but he is better suited for relief than starting. He pitched well last year both as a starter and a reliever in A+ and the Pirates like to keep their pitching prospects starting for as long as possible. Waldron was supposed to be moving to the bullpen but I guess the Pirates have had a change of mind. He really didn’t pitch that well last season in A+ but he was promoted near the end of the season so the Pirates must see some potential in him.
Relief Pitchers: Tim Alderson, Nate Baker, Jason Townsend, Jeff Inman, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Kenn Kasparek
Alderson has seemingly been around forever but is still relatively young at only 24 years old. He gets another go around in AA and this could be his last chance to salvage his career. he still has that great curveball and his fastball is back in the lower 90s so anything is possible. Baker was in the AA rotation for most of last year but struggled and was moved to the bullpen. He did well there and as a left hander he shouldn’t be completely dismissed as an organizational player quite yet. Townsend was a prospect I was initially excited about when the Pirates drafted him because he was throwing in the upper 90s and striking batters out. However something happened last year and that good velocity and strike out numbers were no longer there. I will be curious to see if he can regain that form this season. Inman was a fairly highly touted 12th round pick by the Pirates who only slipped that low because of health concerns. Well so far those health concerns have proved to be a big problem as before last year he pitched in only 17 games over 3 seasons. he did remain relatively healthy last year and displayed good velocity but his strike out rates were low largely do to the lack of a good secondary pitch. The other 3 relievers were added this offseason to provide depth and are only organizational players.
The players I’m the most surprised to not see here are Zach Thornton, Kelson Brown and Dan Grovatt. Thornton was acquired this offseason for Resop and was talked about as the potential closer for the AA team. He had a high strike out rate last year but he was admittedly old for the level. Kelson Brown had a good showing in AA last year and looked like a possible future utility player in the major leagues. He didn’t have much of a ceiling but I would say he had a shot at a Rob Mackowiak type career. Finally Grovatt was one of the better hitters at A+ last year which again really isn’t saying a whole lot as the offense was terrible at that level. One other player to watch but he is not a notable omission is Ryan Beckman. Fan Graphs recently called Beckman a sleeper prospect and I agree with that assessment. Ordinarily he would be on this roster but he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
1. Jameson Taillon
2. Alex Dickerson
3. Gift Ngoepe
4. Adalberto Santos
5. Stolmy Pimentel
6. Casey Sadler
7. Mel Rojas Jr
8. Matt Curry
9. Carlos Paulino
10. Brandon Cumpton
11. Jarek Cunningham
The Pirates have sort of a gap in talent between AAA and A+ so the AA squad is a difficult one to predict as there are not really a lot of prospects. Some of the borderline players I have making the team in AAA are of course a possibility to start in AA and I will do my best to mention them but of course my projection will ultimately include players not projected on to any of my other levels. As we get lower and lower it becomes increasingly more difficult to project minor league rosters because there is an increasing number of players who still look at least some what promising. So this is essentially just a stab in the dark.
Candidates: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler, Devin Ivany, Lucas May, Ali Solis
Analysis: There is really no prospect who is a guarantee to be at this level. Of the above listed catcher Carlos Paulino appears to be the best prospect of the group but is coming off a year in which he struggled in A+. Still if he were to repeat the level it would be his third season there and that doesn’t seem likely especially since he played well at the A+ level in 2011. The other options include whoever loses out in the Lucas May/Ali Solis battle to be the backup catcher in AAA and a couple of minor league veterans in Charlie Cutler and Devin Ivany. There is a case to be made for essentially any of these players to begin the year at AA but in the end only one will be here as the starter and another one as a backup, most of the rest will probably stay in extended spring training until their services are needed.
Prediction: Carlos Paulino
Candidates: Alex Dickerson, Justin Howard, Stefan Welch, Jarek Cunningham, Oscar Tejeda, Alex Valdez, Jeremey Farrell, Andy Vasquez, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi, Benji Gonzalez, Kelson Brown
Analysis: There are other candidates who I did not list, specifically the players battling for spots in AAA who miss out. Notably because they are the two I have missing out are Jeff Larish and Anderson Hernandez. However I believe those two will serve as depth for AAA and take a spot should one of the non roster invitees to spring training opt out instead of taking the AAA assignment. As for the rest of the crop the only two prospects in the group are Alex Dickerson and Gift Ngoepe. Dickerson is coming off a solid year in A+ and should be the everyday starter at 1B. Ngoepe is a masterful defender who’s bat probably isn’t ready for AA but he is probably going to be forced up a level because of the players behind him. That leaves two spots open second and third base. Most of the rest of the players listed are at this point organizational players with little to no prospect value so it is difficult if not impossible to figure just how the Pirates may handle playing time. Cunningham still has at least some potential in him so figure on him taking one spot but the other is pretty wide open.
Prediction: Alex Dickerson (1B), Jarek Cunningham (2B), Alex Valdez (3B), Gift Ngoepe (SS)
Candidates: Adalberto Santos, Andrew Lambo, Mel Rojas, Evan Chambers, Dan Grovatt
Analysis: Like Larish and Hernandez above Brad Hawpe is also a candidate but I don’t see him accepting an assignment to AA so I am assuming he is not a realistic possibility. The rest of the crop gives us some rather unimpressive options. Some of the infielders who don’t wins spots would be candidates for the outfield as well like Howard, Tejeda, Vasquez and Maggi in particular. However I believe the starting three will come from this group. Santos has a strong case to be in AAA but a numbers game will likely keep him down meaning one spot should be his. The others are really open for debate. Mel Rojas should get one if the Pirates opt to promote him but he struggled in A+ in 2012 so I think they will have him repeat the level to begin the season. Of the remaining options Evan Chambers would appear to be the best option for center field. The last spot will probably be mainly split between Grovatt and Lambo but since Lambo has an ounce more of potential I’ll give him the nod.
Prediction: Andrew Lambo (LF), Evan Chambers (CF), Adalberto Santos (RF)
Analysis: The candidates are everyone discussed above. Obviously the Pirates will keep a backup catcher but in reality it could be nearly anyone on the list. Also a reserve infielder will be kept and it should obviously be someone with the ability to play shortstop and because he still does have at least some potential I am currently leaning towards Drew Maggi. Also a fourth outfielder will be kept as I have mentioned earlier Dan Grovatt and Andrew Lambo will probably share left field duties so the other one will most likely be the 4th outfielder. The last two spots will go to a DH and a utility player which once again could be just about anyone. AA is really a crap shot this year.
Prediction: Charlie Cutler (C), Justin Howard (DH), Drew Maggi (IF), Dan Grovatt (OF), Andy Vasquez (U)
Candidates: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Casey Sadler, Aaron Pribanic, Tyler Waldron, Nathan Baker, Aaron Poreda, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Tim Alderson, Brooks Brown
Analysis: Aside from the obvious Jameson Taillon starting the Pirates really don’t have many intriguing starting candidates so it is likely to come from the above group with the possibility of a few more non-interesting names thrown into the mix. To me the four most interesting names outside of Taillon listed are Pimentel, Sadler, Waldron and Alderson. However with only one option remaining Pimentel will probably be converted to relief, Salder appears better suited for relief, Waldron has been rumored to be moving to relief and Alderson has lost almost all of his prospect luster and doesn’t appear to be a viable starter anymore. Of those four I really only expect Sadler to start the season in the rotation. The rest of the rotation will be filled out by the minor league veterans listed and I’m sure a few more names.
Prediction: Jameson Taillon, Casey Sadler, Aaron Pribanic, Nathan Baker, Luis Sanz
Analysis: Aside from a few obvious names like Stolmy Pimentel and Hunter Strickland the AA bullpen like all minor league bullpens is just a guessing game. So I picked 7 players I kind of sort of liked and called it a bullpen.
Prediction: Stolmy Pimentel, Hunter Strickland, Zach Thornton, Tim Alderson, Ethan Hollingsworth, Jason Townsend, Tyler Waldron
C: Carlos Paulino
1B: Alex Dickerson
2B: Jarek Cunningham
3B: Alex Valdez
SS: Gift Ngoepe
LF: Andrew Lambo
CF: Evan Chambers
RF: Adalberto Santos
C: Charlie Cutler
IF: Drew Maggi
OF: Dan Grovatt
U: Andy Vasquez
DH: Justin Howard
SP: Jameson Taillon
SP: Casey Sadler
SP: Aaron Pribanic
SP: Nathan Baker
SP: Luis Sanz
RP; Ethan Hollingsworth
RP: Jason Townsend
RP: Tyler Waldron
RP: Tim Alderson
RP: Zach Thornton
RP: Hunter Strickland
RP: Stolmy Pimentel
The Pirates appear pretty set up the middle and there is little to talk about there. Sure the Pirates could seek upgrades but right now they seem content with what they have. A Martin and McKenry tandem behind the plate should provide adequate production, maybe even major league average offense and major league plus defense. Clint Barmes should continue to provide great defense and will hopefully rebound from last season and put a non-horrible OPS somewhere in the .650-.670 range. Not great but adequate. The other two up the middle players Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker are of course key cogs in the Pirates machine.
All of this leaves the corners as the part of the lineup that will determine how well the Pirates do offensively this season. The only certainty appears to be Pedro Alvarez who should once again be manning 3rd base. Even with him there are questions about whether he is ready to hit cleanup and if he can handle left handed pitching well enough to not need platooned. Outside of Alvarez the next closest thing to a certainty is Garrett Jones. There is some speculation he may get dealt before the season begins but right now I doubt that will occur. It seems to be a little unclear whether Jones will be playing 1B or RF and how much he will be allowed to face left handed pitching. Logic seems to suggest he will platoon at 1B and be largely protected from left handers but only time will tell.
With those guys out of the way we are left with a very interesting assortment of players. The Pirates have some prospects who may be ready to help at some point this season, some depth players of varying levels who may at some point get a chance to prove themselves and 5 players fighting for what will likely be 4 positions out of Spring Training.
There are only two real prospects who look like they may be ready to significantly contribute to the major league team some time this season. They are Matt Curry at 1B and Adalberto Santos in the OF. Neither is a great prospect but both have shown some ability and could possibly become solid major leaguers. Curry hasn’t shown the ability to hit for as much power as you’d like from a 1B and his defensive ability limits him to the position but even so should Jones be traded for any reason the Pirates would probably consider giving Curry a shot if he shows he can handle AAA pitching. Santos is a slightly different breed. Like Curry he doesn’t profile to hit for much power but throughout his minor league career he has shown a good ability to just plainly hit. With a good showing in AAA anything is possible but it appears Santos may be limited to a bench role and with a little bit of versatility (he has also played 2B) he could be a decent option. The remaining prospects include players such as Quincy Latimore and Andrew Lambo who are probably actually closer to minor league depth at this point but either one could enter into the corner OF, or in Lambo’s case maybe even 1B, equation with a good showing in AAA. It is not a certainty that either will start the season in AAA though. The only other possibility for a corner player would be Alex Dickerson, who will be making his AA debut, but he would need a few very hot months to even realistically enter the conversation.
The Pirates have numerous depth options who could be called upon should injury or ineffectiveness arise. Jeff Larish and Matt Hague seem to be the most uninteresting of the group. Larish is coming off a poor 2012 campaign and Hague as we saw last year is limited in what he can do. The Pirates did bring in two minor league outfielders who it wouldn’t be shocking to see get a chance at the majors some time this season in Felix Pie and Darren Ford. Ford is a pure speedster and Pie is a once top prospect who has fallen from grace. Both have some talent and either one might be called up if the Pirates sense a need. The last depth player is actually technically still a prospect in Clint Robinson. Robinson has never really gotten a chance to prove himself at the major league level but has hit exceptionally well in the minor leagues. Defensively he is limited to 1B but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as he has shown some decent power and surprisingly even has shown good plate discipline. Should Jones be traded or forced to play extended time in the outfield expect Robinsons to get the first crack at the 1B job.
Major League Options
The Pirates have 5 major league options who figure to be fighting for 2 starting spots and two bench spots. Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley and Gaby Sanchez will enter this spring fighting for playing time. Marte appears likely to start the season as the everyday LF but he has no track record and while he was respectable in his brief minor league stint last season it would not be crazy if the Pirates felt he could benefit from some time at AAA. Snider as things stand right now figures to be the starting RF but his spot appears to be in a little bit more jeopardy than Marte’s. Snider performed well immediately after coming over at the trade deadline but struggled after getting injured. It is not quite clear what the Pirates plan to do with him. He is out of options so he will surely make the team but he could be relegated to bench duty should the Pirates opt to start Jones in RF. Jose Tabata is coming off a disappointing season but actually finished the 2012 season rather strongly which gives some hope that he is back to being the Tabata we seen in earlier seasons. As a right handed hitter Tabata figures to probably make the team as the 4th outfielder and platoon with Jones or Snider in right field. If his performance at the end of the season was a sign that he has turned things around Tabata could quickly regain his starting job in RF as his ability to leadoff is something the Pirates are sorely missing. The last outfielder of the group is Alex Presley. Presley has an option remaining so the Pirates will likely use it and send him back to AAA to start the season but he will be given a chance to show what he can do. Presley looks like the prototypical 4th outfielder who can do a little bit of everything but doesn’t really stand out in any area. His skill set is probably better suited to a 4th outfielder role than Tabata’s but given the facts he has an option left and that of Snider and Marte it is most likely that the left handed hitting Snider will need a platoon partner he is probably below Tabata on the depth chart. The last option is Gaby Sanchez. As things stand right now Sanchez appears slotted to be Jones platoon partner at 1B. As someone who has consistently hit very well against lefties that is probably a good position for him. If Sanchez performs well he could be given a chance to start everyday at 1B which would force most likely Snider out of the lineup.
The four corner positions are likely to have a huge impact on the Pirates this season. With Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones the Pirates hope to have some stability and certainty at 2 of the 4 positions but the other 2 remain rather big question marks. The Pirates are undoubtedly planning to give Marte and Snider the two highest upside players of the bunch a chance to fill those question marks but should they fail the Pirates do have some other alternatives who will hopefully step up and take advantage of the opportunity. Assuming the Pirates actually do add a good starter for the middle of the rotation is is my opinion that the performance of the players I have discussed is what will decided whether this team once again finishes below 500, makes the playoffs or anything in between.
Borderline Outfield Prospects
Andrew Lambo:Lambo was acquired along with James McDonald in the 2010 trade of Octavio Dotel. Like a lot of Neal Huntington acquirees Lambo was once a top prospect who his old team had soured on. Lambo is not strong defensively but he has the potential to be a very good power hitter. Going into 2009 Lambo was the Dodgers #1 prospect and was rated #49 overall. The Dodgers drafted Lambo is 2007 and he started off strong hitting very well in rookie ball and then moving up to A ball the following season where he continued to hit very well. The Dodgers jumped Lambo to AA before the end of the 2008 season just to get his feet left and started him there in 2009. Lambo had not a spectacular season but a very solid one for a 20 year old in AA. The Dodgers sent him back to AA in 2010 and he started off on fire but then he got suspended 50 games for what is believed to be testing positive for marijuana. After returning from the suspension his play tailed off and this is when the Dodgers decided to send him to Pittsburgh. After coming to Pittsburgh Lambo hit well until he injured his shoulder and that seemed to affect him through his end of season slump. The Pirates sent him to AAA in 2011 (he was still only 22 at the time) and he was awful so he got demoted to AA. He started slowly there but finished the year strong. 2012 was pretty much a lost season for Lambo as he suffered a hammate injury early in the season and only had 92 AB at the AA level. The good news he finished the season strong after returning. Lambo is with the Pirates one last season before he becomes a minor league free agent so 2013 is likely make or break for his prospect status.
Quincy Latimore: Outside of Pedro Alvarez and Josh Bell there is probably no one in the Pirates organization that has better raw power than Quincy Latimore. The Pirates drafted him in the 4th round of the 2007 draft for that very reason. Latimore is actually on the small side for a power hitter at only 5’10” 175 lb but he drives the ball really well. Latimore’s defense and speed are probably average but what he struggles with is plate discipline as he strikes out a ton and often looks bad doing it. The start of Latimore’s pro career was just so-so as he had decent season in 2007 and 2008 at the rookie level and A- levels respectively. It was in 2009 he became the hitter we know him as today as he started show some great power, putting up some great hit streaks but also showing some really cold cold streaks and striking out a ton. In 2010 Latimore basically had a repeat of the 2009 season with the exceptions that he showed more power and struck out even more. In 2011 he got promoted to AA and essentially did it again positing a few great months but overall striking out a lot and posting a rather unimpressive overall line. Latimore repeated the AA level this past season and while his overall stat line was only slightly better than 2011 he showed solid improvement in his walk and strike out rates and managed to keep his power numbers up. Latimore has some big holes in his game, namely his plate discipline but his great power potential has kept his prospect status alive and he should move up to AAA next season with a chance to prove himself.
Dan Grovatt: Grovatt was drafted by the Pirates in the 11th round of the 2010 draft. He was described as a solid all around player with the exception that he had limited power but there was a thought that the limited power could have been due to his unusual swing. Grovatt is a very good defender with a plus arm and he has above average speed. After signing with the Pirates Grovatt appeared in 3 games at the rookie level; his numbers weren’t good but it was only a sample of 11 AB. In 2011 the Pirates pushed Grovatt to A ball and he had a very odd season. In the first half of the season Grovatt showed great plate discipline. He drew a lot of walks and struck out at a very low rate but he also showed next to no power. At some point Grovatt must have changed his approach because in the second half Grovatt had just the opposite line as his walk rate dropped, his strike out rate rose and his power numbers also rose. The Pirates promoted Grovatt to A+ in 2012 and he decided to continue going with the aggressive approach as his walk rate stayed low. He displayed a little power and actually managed to improve upon his K rate but I think it’s rather apparent Grovatt is at his best when he decided to be disciplined rather than aggressive at the plate. Nonetheless Grovatt had a decent season and will likely move up to AA next year. I’m hoping we see the more discipline approach come back as that Grovatt is at least interesting compared to the aggressive Grovatt who just looks like a typical organizational player.
Jesus Vasquez: The Pirates signed Vasquez out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. Vasquez has very good power potential and has pretty decent speed as well. In his first two seasons as a pro ball player in the DSL Vasquez put up solid numbers for a 17 and 18 year old but outside of showing some of that power potential really did nothing to stand out. That changed in 2011 though as in his 3rd season at the DSL Vasquez was arguably the best hitter in the league finishing second in HR and slugging percentage and first in OPS. He also showed improved plate discipline as his walk rate rose but his strike out rate also remained high. The Pirates brought Vasquez stateside this season and started him at the rookie level. Due to a very crowded outfield Vasquez played primarily 1B but he does have the defensive ability for the outfield. He showed some pretty good plate discipline but the power wasn’t there. Later in the season the Pirates sent Vasquez to A- because of opening in the outfield and he flourished defensively, showing off a good arm by recording 10 assists in 33 games. His power returned at the A- level but his plate discipline took a serious hit. Vasquez’s power potential makes him interesting but like a lot of these outfielders his plate discipline hold him back.
Harold Ramirez: Ramirez received the second largest bonus the Pirates have ever given out to a Latin American prospect behind only Luis Heredia. The Pirates signed him in 2011 for just slightly over 1 million dollars. Ramirez skipped over the DSL and came directly to the states which was an aggressive placement for the 17 year old. Ramirez has good potential in his bat, excellent speed and has the defense to stick at center field, although his arm is somewhat questionable. Ramirez missed the start of the season with a leg problem and because of that lost his chance to claim CF and was instead relegated to playing the corners. As a 17 year old making his pro debut and adjusting to a new country he held his own. His season wasn’t great by any stretch but it was a rather decent showing considering his circumstances. Ramirez no doubt has a ton of potential and going off strictly that is a better prospect than I am giving him credit for but right now he is also very raw and very far away from having an impact on the majors. Ramirez is definitely one to keep an eye on and he has the potential to shoot quickly up the prospect lists with a strong showing in the next couple years.
Elvis Escobar: Essentially everything I just said about Ramirez applies to Escobar. He is a Latim American prospect signed last season for a big bonus (his was only 570K) and he skipped over the DSL this season in favor of starting his career in the states. There are some differences though of course. Escobar has only good speed not outstanding like Ramirez’s and his power potential is thought to be significantly less. Those are the negatives regarding Escobar but on the positive side he appears to be a slightly more advanced hitter plate discipline wise. Escobar started the season off at the rookie level playing center field and established himself at that position before Ramirez came back which is why Ramirez despite being the slightly better prospect was forced to a corner. Escobar did more than hold his own this season as he actually had a very solid showing at the rookie ball level. Escobar started off slowly but finished strong and is actually now probably considered a slightly better prospect than Ramirez because he seems slightly more polished but the difference is not really important at this point. Both Escobar and Ramirez should move up to the A- level next season and both have the potential to quickly shoot up the prospect list.
Jose Tabata: After starting the 2011 season as the everyday left fielder Tabata will shift over to the right field starter for the 2012 season. Considering his idol is Roberto Clemente the fit seems to be a perfect match. Typically right field is reserved for power hitters but obviously Tabata does not fit that description. Instead the Pirates will rely on him for his speed, on base skills and defense. Tabata will likely be the leadoff hitter this season and I expect him to fare whether well in that role. We should see a little more power from Tabata this season, I’m saying 8 home runs and I expect him to also post a solid OBP in the .360 range. If Starling Mart earns a promotion this season it could ultimately push Tabata in to a time share with Presley in right field but that would be a good problem to have and is not worth worrying over now. Tabata won’t put up the production of a typical right fielder but he will still be valuable to the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates.
5th Outfielder: I’m not sure who will fill the role but the Pirates are going to employ a fifth outfielder to begin the role. There is an outside chance it might a traditional route with Gorkys Hernandez or Brandon Boggs filling the role but I doubt that will happen. It could also be by carrying an extra infielder like Yamaico Navarro or Josh Harrison who has experience in the outfield. If the Pirates went this route they could let Navarro or Harrison serve as the 5th outfielder or they could have Garrett Jones handle that role. My guess is that the Pirates will let Nick Evans and Jake Fox battle for the last bench spot. Both of these players have experience in both the infield and the outfield and could serve as a platoon partner with Jones at 1B if McGehee is needed to platoon with Alvarez at 3B.
Josh Bell: The best power hitting prospect in the Pirates’ system is Josh Bell. Drafted in the 2nd round last season and given a huge signing bonus much is expected of Bell this season. He will likely start the year in A ball and will be watched closely to see if he can put up dominating numbers. Seeing as this will be his first real taste of pro ball it is tough to know just what to expect from Bell but considering all we have heard about him it is not out of the question to think he will put up a very solid line in A ball and maybe even a promotion to A+ by the end of the season. Overall I am expecting him to be a legit candidate for the Pirates minor league hitter of the year.
Andrew Lambo: Once a highly regarded prospect, Lambo’s status has dropped considerably. Last season Lambo started in AAA but was demoted back to AA due to poor performance. After being demoted Lambo put up strong numbers in AA and should once again get a chance in AAA. At 23 years old he will amazingly still be a little on the young side for AAA. Even though he is young this season could still be his last chance to step up and prove himself. He does have some power potential and if he managed to put it together it would be a nice bonus for the Pirates. I however am not expecting such a turnaround from Lambo but hopefully he will do something in AAA to at least showcase himself as a somewhat valuable asset.
Willy Garcia: As of now Garcia looks more like a center fielder but he profiles to add power and since I already had three center fielders listed I decided to shift Garcia to right field. He may or may not ultimately end up in a corner but for now I am assuming he will. Garcia had a strong debut in the states last season and is the best of a group of toolsy outfielders the Pirates have in the lower levels. He should start the season in short season ball and I am expecting a strong showing from him.
Summary: None of the Pirates current options for right field fit the description of the power hitting slugger for the middle of the lineup. This does not mean the Pirates do not have good options for the positions though. For this season anyone from the group of Jose Tabata, Alex Presley and Starling Marte could do a good job handling the duties. For the short term future those same guys could fill the role or prospects such as Andrew Lambo or Robbie Grossman could handle the position. Like stated earlier none of these options fit the typical description but they all have the potential to be solid contributors and to hold down the position down. For the long term the Pirates have Josh Bell to handle the right field position and unlike the Pirates short term options he does fit the traditional mold of a power hitting slugger. Like the other two outfield positions, right field appears to be fairly settled both in the Pirates’ short term and long term plans.