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.
Garrett Jones: As of right now it appears Jones will be the larger part of a platoon at first base, meaning he should start roughly 70% of the games. Last season as part of a platoon in right field Jones did his job posting a .808 OPS against right handed pitching. There is no reason to think that Jones should not put up similar numbers this season. Jones is not a player you want starting everyday but as part of a platoon he could prove to be a useful player. I am expecting him to produce similar numbers to last year, maybe actually slightly above meaning I could see an .820 OPS against righties and a .770 OPS overall. He will also provide the power we know he is capable of (15-20 HR). Bottom line Jones will do what any sensible person would expect him to do.
Casey McGehee: He will likely be the smaller half of the 1st base platoon meaning he should receive about 30% of the starts. McGehee is the great wildcard here. If he puts up numbers similar to 2011 the Pirates will once again have below average production from first base. However if he puts up his 2009/10 numbers he can supplant Jones and become the everyday first baseman. Chances are though that the results will be somewhere in between meaning he will be a useful platoon partner for Garrett Jones. I am thinking there is a good chance McGehee posts an OPS against left handed pitchers in the upper 700s or even above 800. With McGehee’s power (10-15 HR in a part time role) combined with Jones the Pirates could manage to get league average production from their 1st baseman, although slightly below is the safer bet.
Nick Evans: Evans was signed as an NRI this offseason and I believe he has a good chance of making the major league team but that is under the assumption the Pirates actually decide to carry a fifth outfielder. Evans has never put up outstanding numbers in the majors but even so I think he could be as good a platoon partner for Jones as McGehee. Evans’s bat lags behinds McGehee’s but his defensive ability at 1st base would make him an asset for the Pirates. Using Evans and McGehee against left handed starters instead of Jones and Alvarez has its advantages but I don’t see the Pirates going that route. Should Evans start in AAA I am not sure of where he would play unless Lambo is held back so my hope is he gets a chance to showcase himself of the bench. I feel he could be a viable player off the bench but it remains to be seen if he will get a chance.
Jake Fox: Like Evans, Fox was signed as an NRI this offseason. He too will be given a chance to compete for the 5th outfield job assuming again the Pirates keep 5 outfielders. If he doesn’t make the major league team I am not sure where he fits into the Pirates plans. The roster at AAA seems pretty full and while it could supports one of Evans or Fox it probably cannot support both. I am assuming the Pirates are going to release one of these two or are counting on somebody opting out. My guess is that Fox decides to opt out.
Jeff Clement: The resigning of Clement came as a slight surprise to me. The only I could figure was the Pirates are figuring on neither Evans or Fox starting in AAA and needed a back up 1st baseman/DH for AAA. That is the role Clement will likely fill in 2012 and while I am rooting for the guy and think he has a chance to be successful in this position I do not see a future for him with the Pirates. I actually think Clement will do well this season and might even put up similar numbers to what Bowker did last season but at this point I would be shocked if the Pirates even considered him an option for the majors.
Alex Dickerson: Dickerson was drafted in the 3rd round of this past year’s draft and is the Pirates best 1st base prospect. He has a good bit of power and has the potential to one day become a force in the middle of the Pirates order. However that is years away and as for this season he will likely start off in A+ with a chance to be promoted to AA by midseason. Considering he is an all bat prospect and will be playing in a hitter friendly stadium I am expecting huge numbers from Dickerson while in A+. I hope the Pirates do not hold him back too long but with the prospect the Pirates have in the upper levels I see him staying in A+ for most of the season.
Matt Curry: I’m not sure what to make of Curry, personally I have never been too high in him but seeing how he dominated A ball last season made him look somewhat promising. He will likely repeat the AA level this season and with Dickerson on the way he will need to put up numbers right away to avoid being an afterthought. To be honest I just don’t see that kind of production coming this season he will adjust and put up better numbers but they won’t be eye popping and he will begin to lose his prospect status.
Matt Hague: I wasn’t sure if I should consider Hague organizational depth or a prospect. Hague appears ready for the majors but since he has yet to play a game he is still a prospect. In the end since I already had three organizational depth guys and since the Pirates are light in 1B prospects I included him here. Hague doesn’t have a ton of upside projecting as a Casey Kotchman type 1st baseman at best. I see him more as a corner utility player in the mold of Eric Hinske. However as far as this season goes I see him once again putting up strong numbers in AAA but unlike last year I see him getting a chance in the majors. I believe there is a decent chance the Pirates try to move Jones at the trade deadline and if they do the Pirates will give Hague a chance to prove himself (assuming McGehee and Alvarez aren’t both mashing). Hague will do respectably but it won’t be enough for him to lock down the position.
Summary: Overall I think the production from Jones/McGehee will prove to be near major league average. That will prove to be the best production the Pirates got from the 1st base position in years but obviously there will still need to be upgrades. Hague will be given the first shot to fill the position but I don’t see him as the long term answer. I have high hopes for Dickerson but unless he gets a chance to prove himself in AA and actually does so the Pirates have no choice but to try and find a long term solution for 1B by any means necessary (draft or trade). There is potential for decent albeit not spectacular production from 1st base for the Pirates this season but the future of the position is hazy and clearing it up should be one of the top priorities for the Pirates this season.