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.
Neal Huntington and the rest of his front office are about to enter a very interesting offseason and it will be an unusual one for the Pirates. The Pirates enter this offseason with no glaring holes on their roster. Before anyone jumps on me there are many places that look like they could use some suring up but there are none that look like the big gapping holes we seen last year at catcher and shortstop. The Pirates will no doubt look to sure up some of these sof spots but the question becomes which ones. The Pirates do not have the resources or frankly the roster spaces needed to try and beef up every soft spot. The Pirates will almost certainly bring in a catcher to compliment McKenry and do something with the roitation and as always we are likely to see some work done to the bullpen. So putting those aside for the moment where else will the Pirates find it necessary to dedicate their resources to.
Of the other 7 positions on the field the Pirates appear set at 2B, 3B, CF and 1B/RF (whereever Jones plays). Thats leaves three positions which could use some work. The Pirates have Barmes at shortstop and he is great defender but the Pirates can’t afford another year of his weak bat but Barmes did show some positive signs near the end of the season. There is little doubt Barmes will be back as the starter but what will the Pirates do as a backup plan? Will they stick with Harrison and Mercer or pursue other alternatives? In my mind this should be a no brainer the Pirates need to bring in some sort of backup plan and looking at free agency the best bet in my mind is Macier Izturis but we shall see what the Pirates Front Office decides to do.
This leaves LF and 1B/RF as soft spots for the Pirates. Brining in extra support seems like a no brainer but its not that simple. The Pirates have Marte, Snider, Tabata, Presley and Sanchez all vying to fill these roles. It may be easy to say just to move on from some of these guys but the Pirates might not see it that way. Marte, Snider and Tabata are all young outfielders (Marte and Tabata will play next season at 24, Snider at 25). Sanchez is the most established of the bunch having two good seasons on his record. Presley is probably the easiest one to ignore here but he has an option remaing and has the look of a good 4th outfielder which has some value. The Pirates front office absolutely has to be thinking of bringing somebody in to serve as a backup plan should Marte, Snider and/or Tabata falter. I mean Jones can do that but then that sort of makes the backup plan Sanchez and how much faith do you want to put in him coming off a down season?
For my money how the Pirates handle the quintent of Marte, Snider, Tabata, Presley and Sanchez is the most intriguing part of the Pirates offseason. It seems like a fairly safe bet the Pirates will do something at catcher, the rotation and the bullpen and whether they add a bench middle infielder or continue with the young players probably has little overall impact but what the Pirates choose to do here could reshape the team. I think the most likely sceanrio is the Pirates stand pat with Marte in LF, Snider in RF, Tabata on the bench, Presley in AAA and Sanchez serving as a platoon partner for Jones and the backup plan but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Pirates go a different route. Tabata with the good OBP skills he has shown in his carrer could warrant another look as the leadoff hitter. Marte with his plate discipline issues could warrant more time in AAA. Sanchez could show something that suggests he is back in 2010/2011 form which would probably force the Pirates to start him at 1B and send Jones to RF. The Pirates could opt to send Jones to RF and acquire a 1B. The Pirates could opt to bring in a leadoff hitter and play him in the outfield leaving only one starting spot availabe to these five. The Pirates could even opt to trade one or two of these five or who knows maybe even non-tender Sanchez or Presley. There is a hundred ways the Pirates front office could play this and how they choose to do so is likely the largest unknown variable that will shape the 2013 team. The other additions will of course matter as well but I think we have a reasonable idea of how the Pirates will likely handle those situations. Here, I don’t think we really do. It should be fun to follow this offseason.
Jose Tabata: Tabata just barely receive the most playing time for the Pirates this season in right field over Garrett Jones. Everyone knows Tabata started the year off poorly posting a wRC+ of 53 in April and 71 in May but what most may not realize is that he rebounded rather nicely posting a 109 wRC+ in June, 84 wRC+ in August and 143 wRC+ in September (for full disclosure in July his wRC+ was only 5 but that only included 5 PA so I’m ignoring it). In April, August and September Tabata didn’t receive regular playing time; he received only 168 PA combined during those 3 months so that is also something to consider. Anyway moving on from how he performed on a month by month basis Tabata received a lot of criticism this season for not trying which I don’t believe has any merit but it is worth noting. My opinion is his perceived not trying was related to his hip injury and there I fault him and management for not sitting him down to rest it. Either way it is clear to me that Tabata appeared to perform his best this season when relegated to part-time duty and that is the role I see him going forward. Like Tabata or not the one thing you can’t deny is that he has a good knack for getting on base which is something this Pirates club sorely needs. The Pirates currently are heading into next season with 4 internal options four internal options for the corner outfield and with 3 of them being 25 or younger the chance for hopefully 1 or 2 breakouts is still there. My expectation for Tabata is that he will start off next year on the Pirates bench platooning with Snider in RF and also spelling Marte in LF. When he is in the lineup because of his on base skills the Pirates will have little choice but to bat him lead off. As a final note before I give him a grade I will once again urge the Pirates to find a base stealing instructor not just for Tabata but the entire team. Overall Grade: C
Travis Snider: When looking at the Pirates roster and the performances of the player’s this past season it is easy to conclude that the corner outfield spots will be the easiest to upgrade this offseason. While that is true in theory the Pirates have 3 young players who they kind of have to give a shot at winning the starting jobs so blocking them with veteran free agent signing isn’t the way to go. Top on the list of young corner outfielders needing a chance to prove himself is Travis Snider. Snider was brought over this season at the trade deadline and before getting injured and then oddly rested and not rested nearly every other day was actually performing quite well. The Pirates handling of him after his injury is one of the oddest decisions they made this past season and I have yet to hear a good reason for it. Putting that aside though we saw some flashes from Snider this season and he has a good bit of power potential in his bat so not giving him a chance to build on that is probably something the Pirates shouldn’t do. I expect we will see Snider as the starting right fielder next season but the Pirates will have someone maybe Tabata or maybe an outside acquisition ready to step up should he falter. Overall Grade: C+
Josh Bell: Bell was a big story last year after the draft but is sort of now and after thought due to an injury he suffered that caused him to miss almost the entire season. There just isn’t a whole lot to dissect here with Bell. He got off to a bad start in A ball but seemed to be rebounding some when the injury stuck and sidelined him for the season. Bell has a ton of power potential in his bat and is still fairly young so he is definitely still a top prospect but as for this season all that can really be said is it was a lost year of development. Bell will likely remain in A ball next season and he will no longer be that young for the league (he’ll still be a little young but basically right around age appropriate) as he was a little older than most high schoolers when he was drafted in 2011.
Adalberto Santos: Santos is a very interesting case. He doesn’t have the power of a corner outfield nor much of a pedigree but he has just hit at every level he has played at. Santos suffered a knee injury in AA last season but his 340/425/433 slash line in 238 AB there is still impressive. Santos probably doesn’t have the power needed to be an everyday starter in the majors but his ability to hit could make a very intriguing bench player for the Pirates. In addition to player the outfield corners with the Pirates Santos also played a good bit of 2nd base in 2011 although curiously the Pirates didn’t play him there this season at all. Going forward Santos looks like someone who could develop into a nice bench bat for the Pirates. I expect he will open next season in AAA as the starting outfielder at one of the corner positions.
Tyler Gaffney: The Pirates drafted Gaffney in the 24th round in this past draft and the only thing really of note about him was that he was the backup running back at Standford and some people thought he wouldn’t sign for that reason. Gaffney signed relatively quickly and was sent to A- where he started off hot and continued that for nearly the whole season. His line of 297/483/441 is really quite remarkable for a 24th round draft pick. The high OBP needs taken with a grain of salt though as it was fueled by an unbelievably high HBP rate; he was hit by a pitch roughly once every 7.5 PA or to put it another way more frequently than once every other game. Gaffney played primarily RF this season but did move over to CF when Barnes got injured. His great start to his pro career could cause the Pirates to be aggressive with him and send him to A+ but I expect them to be a little more cautious and start him A ball possibly in center field.
Heading into this offseason the Pirates seem to have a lot of positions set on the 25 man roster but that obviously doesn’t mean that there are not spots that could and should be upgraded. Trying to upgrade these positions the same ways as in year’s past (signing middling free agents) is probably not the best way to solve these problems as is evident by the failures of the last several years. So a new direction is needed and that could possibly include trades, NRI signings, Rule V draft, internal solutions, international signing, etc. My preferred strategy for the Pirates this offseason is to be minimally active in traditional free agency and instead focus on finding players through other means. Still free agency can not be entirely ignored and the idea of going for just one upper level free agent should also be considered. With all that being said I have found six positions that the Pittsburgh Pirates would be well served to upgrade. So in no particular order the positions are:
1. Starting Pitcher
5. Corner Outfield
Now I will go over the type of player I believe the Pirates should be looking for at each position and I’ll give the best fit of the available free agents and where necessary I’ll give an example of the type of player the Pirates should look to acquire via a trade. Again I’ll reiterate I’m not necessarily advocating acquiring these players just giving an example of the type the Pirates should be looking for.
Starting Pitcher: The way I see it the Pirates have only AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez locked into the rotation to begin next season. James McDonald should also probably be in there some where but his end of the season struggles make him a question mark. Karstens is the other obvious candidate but he has durability/injury issues. The rest of the candidates, Locke, McPherson, Leroux, VandenHurk, Wilson, etc seem best suited for 5th starter or depth duty for now. So with three question marks of some variety in the rotation starting pitcher is an obvious need. In fact if the Pirates decide to go the route of one decent sized free agent signing I hope it is in the rotation as a Gavin Floyd or Edwin Jackson type could do a lot to help stabilize the rotation. However I am advocating different strategies this season so a trade for a good starter would be a good thing to consider as would a signing of a high upside risky pitcher. For example the pitchers I see fitting into this category are Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana and Scott Baker. All 3 of those pitchers have a ton of upside and could get a reasonably large sum in free agency but conversely all 3 have significant faults which could drop their respective prices making them prime targets for the Pirates.
Bullpen: The only two players who should be considered near locks for the Pirates bullpen are Jared Hughes and Tony Watson. I also expect Bryan Morris and Chris Leroux to be part of the pen but they aren’t guarantees but we will say the Pirates are looking for 3 players to fill out the pen. Hanrahan of course is someone who could take one spot but I think the Pirates will and should trade him, hopefully doing so fills one of the other holes. Resigning Grilli should be another move the Pirates consider but I wouldn’t go with a big salary for him, I think my max would be 2 years at 4 million per season. To fill the other spots I think the Pirates should do what they have done the past few seasons which is scour for players like Jose Veras or Juan Cruz or even select someone in the Rule V draft. Waiver claims and low-level trades could also work. It is always difficult to predict which relievers will be available for low salary contracts or NRI but some names I like are Kyle Farnsworth, Randy Choate and Jon Rauch. Internally guys like Justin Wilson, Duke Welker and even Chris Resop are candidates to fill out the bullpen.
Catcher: Let me start by saying unequivocally that Rod Barajas should not be brought back at any price. Now as for McKenry he is a decent part of a catching tandem but give him anymore than 90 starts and I have a feeling things won’t be looking so good. So obviously some help is needed for him. Eric Fryer and Tony Sanchez are the internal options but Sanchez could use more time in AAA and Fryer well just isn’t that good. There are bound to be some available catchers that can be acquired via a trade such as Hank Conger and the Pirates should seriously consider that route but if they want to go the free agent route there is a pretty decent free agent market for catchers. Napoli is obviously the best available but is not someone the Pirates should ideally locate a lot of money to. Other catchers such as Russell Martin, Kelly Shoppach and David Ross make sense as well. I wouldn’t rule out a trade here but I think I would prefer going after a catcher like Shoppach and using the trade resources to go after some of the other needs.
Shortstop: Clint Barmes wasn’t as bad this season as most Pirates fans would lead you to believe. He had an awful April and May but was exactly what the Pirates should have expected to get the remainder of the season. With all that being said Barmes production shouldn’t have locked down the shortstop job for next season. The Pirates could look at free agency for an answer but the pickings are slim. Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta headline the class but Peralta may not even reach free agency and Drew is coming off a season argubly worse than Barmes. Still something needs to be done to address the shortstop problem because at the very least another solution is going to be needed in 2014. If the Pirates choose to go the trade route I hope they look for someone who has good on base skills and could hit near the top of the lineup. Players like that are rare from the shortstop position and are usually pretty expensive in terms of salary and what it would cost to acquire them via trade. One name that sticks out to me who by all accounts isn’t available but I imagine could be for a good offer is Jed Lowrie. Lowrie can play good defense and has consistently put up a good OBP. If the Pirates can acquire a shortstop in that mold that is the way to go otherwise when considering the options available through free agency sticking with Barmes and adding in more Jordy Mercer to prepare him for 2013 is probably the way to go.
Corner Outfield: The toughest need to really explain. Let me start by saying I am assuming Garrett Jones will split time with Gaby Sanchez at 1B meaning he will only play in the outfield sparingly if at all. If the Pirates decide to make him a OF the need for a corner outfielder greatly diminishes but the need for a 1B to compliment Gaby Sanchez increases, however I’ll ignore that possibility for now. The Pirates production from the corner outfield this season sans Jones was awful. The Pirates received the 2nd worst offensive production from LF this season and were only marginally decent in RF thanks to Jones playing there about half the time. This would seem an obvious spot to upgrade but yet it isn’t. The Pirates have 4 players vying to man these two positions with 3 of them being 24 years old (1 of the 3 will be 25 for all of next season). The Pirates have a ton of youth and potential to fill these 2 positions in Marte, Snider, Tabata and Presley but not much actual success to go on. I would assume Marte has got to be given a chance in one corner due to the fact he has the highest upside of the bunch and had the best season of the four last year. The other spot is where the need comes into play Snider will be playing next season at 25 years old and Tabata will be playing most of it at 24 years old. The two of them look like they could make a decent platoon in RF but with the uncertainty in LF this is not something the Pirates should count on. If the Pirates wanted to make a big splash for an offensive player this is where they should do it. A player like Angel Pagan makes a lot of sense as he could come in play a OF corner and hit atop the order. However due to the youth and potential the Pirates have here I’d rather see a big splash investment go to the pitching side and this be solved with a less splashy option. I envision the type of addition that makes the most sense is a veteran outfield who has good on base skills and who wouldn’t mind being a 4th outfielder but is capable of being a borderline starting option. The two players in free agency that best matches this description are Juan Pierre and Reed Johnson, however I am not too enthused about either of them. Just to give an example of the type of player I’m talking about I’ll mention David DeJesus. Now I doubt the Cubs will actively be looking to move DeJesus but a player like him capable of playing all 3 positions in the OF and maintaining a .340+ OBP is exactly what the Pirates should be looking for. If they can’t find one and they don’t choose to make a big splash I think the best option is to play Marte in LF, have Snider and Tabata platoon in RF, have Presley available in AAA and be open to using Jones in the outfield once again. That may not seem like a great option but neither is bringing in a middling free agent.
Bench: If there is one theme to what the Pirates need to do this offseason it is they have to get deeper. Deeper in the rotation, the bullpen, the lineup, the minor leagues and the bench. This past season the two Pirates who received the most pinch hit appearances were Josh Harrison and Jeff Clement. Both of them struggled and Clement for one shouldn’t be back. Going into next season the Pirates bench figures to include a backup catcher say McKenry, T Sanchez or an outside addition, Gaby Sanchez, a young middle infielder say Mercer, Holt or Harrison and a 4th outfielder say Snider, Tabata or an outside acquisition. That leaves one final spot which this past season belonged to Harrison. Harrison should absolutely be given a chance to win a spot on the bench but only the reserve middle infielder job. The Pirates should allocate some resources to improving this spot with offense being a key focus. Just looking at free agency the Pirates could choose to go for a pure pinch hitter and sign a 1B like Jason Giambi or Carlos Lee. Or since they seem to have a desire to carry at least 4 middle infielders at all times a guys like Maicer Izturis or Adam Kennedy could be pursued. Or they could carry 5 outfielders on the roster (which with Jones on the team seems like overkill) and get a player like Austin Kearns, Raul Ibanez or Reed Johnson. The other option is of course to go with a Mike Fontenot or Jeff Baker type who can play all over the field but that would likely sacrifice offensive production. It is very difficult to speculate on who else the Pirates may be able to acquire here so I’ll just leave it at that but something needs to be done to improve the Pirates bench.
I’m going to cover a mystery player here today. A Pirates player who has receive a lot of grief this season, a lot of it deservingly so, but who has been overlooked and is thought to be performing far worse than he actually is. For the past couple of months this has been my argument about Clint Barmes but I have a new player to discuss today. This player since June 1st has hit for a line of .273/.364/.373/.737. Admittedly the slugging percentage leaves a lot to be desired and the sample size we are talking about here along with being fairly arbitrary is a small 189 PA. However that .364 number sticks out to me. The Pirates have very few players who are capable of psoting an OBP like that over a sustained amount of time. In fact I would argue it is only two. One of them is the face of the franchise and MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen and the other is the much maligned, despised, criticized and basically hated Jose Tabata.
Look I’m a Tabata advocate and I’ll freely admit there is a whole lot wrong with Tabata’s game. He appears to have lost a step even though I beleive how much he has lost has been greatly over exaggerated. He is not the best base runner, specifically base stealer but really this can be said about essentially every Pirate and hios defense this year at times was poor to say the least. I believe the base running/stealing is a coaching issue which will hopefully be addressed this offseason (but that is another discussion) and I beleive the defensive problmes he showed early in the season were a result of playing hurt or gingerly (ie his head had him convinced the injury was still there and going to act back up). Tabata has problems that require a lot of work to fix but one thing he can do and do rather well is get on base. Prior to this year Tabata had two seasons with an OBP over .340. This may not sound like much but the one thing the Pirates offense is really lacking are table setters, guys to get on in front of McCutchen, Jones, Alvarez and even Walker. Starling Marte and Travis Snider don’t fit this description and quite obviously neither does Clint Barmes.
For the last couple weeks (months really) I’ve been considering ways to improve this team and I cam up with a few (I’ll discuss later) but one of the first things that came into my head was that this team needed to be deeper. It needed an outfield with on base skills who could do a good job off the bench and who was good enough to hold down a starting position should an injury arise. My search led me to a few names but the one I liked the best was Reed Johnson. Upon digging a little deeper and realizing Johnson has been rather lucky the past 2 seasons with a high BABIP and after sitting down and giving it some critical thought I’ve determined that Tabata is more suited to the 2013 Pirates than Reed Johnson or an outfielder of that ilk.
Now should the Pirates decide to not move forward with an outfield of Marte-McCutchen-Snider with a little bit of Jones sprinkled in and pursue a higher level outfielder (a possible move I will discuss later on) the issue of cutting ties with Tabata (through a trade of course) becomes much less but as of now I expect the Pirates to keep that outfiled alignment and in the likely event they do I think the perfect 4th outfielder for that group is already with the team in Jose Tabata. He can spell Snider against lefties and help ease in Marte, meaning he should play about 3 days a week and in those days will be able to solidly fill the leadoff spot.
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.