Spring Training Battles: Outfield

The July trades of Jason Bay and Xavier Nady brought eight players in to the fold for the Pirates, including top prospects Jose Tabata and Bryan Morris, but in exchange, left the corner outfield spots open for competition this spring. Going in to the 2009 season, the Pirates have Brandon Moss, Nyjer Morgan, and Steven Pearce competing for the two corner outfield spots, with top prospects Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata the eventual successors to the positions.

The current projection has Brandon Moss playing in right field, if healthy, and Nyjer Morgan playing in left field. The Pirates expressed a need to bring in a right handed power bat this off-season, and thus far have acquired left hander Eric Hinske and right hander Craig Monroe, both veterans with power potential, but neither close to the players that we saw patrolling the outfield corners last season.

Brandon Moss is pretty much a lock to win a starting spot. First, he has no options left, so he can’t be sent to the minors without having to clear waivers. The bigger thing is that Moss was one of the pieces the Pirates got in exchange for Jason Bay, meaning that the Pirates will want to see what they have with him due to the price they paid to bring him in, along with Andy LaRoche, Craig Hansen, and Bryan Morris.

Moss showed impressive power last season for the Pirates, hitting six homers in 158 at bats for a homer every 26.33 ABs. That is similar to his 27.33 AB/HR ratio in 656 AAA at bats, showing that the power may not have been a fluke. The problem was that Moss displayed a .222 average during that stretch, which doesn’t help.

Moss has displayed the ability to hit in the majors, with a .291/.348/.456 line in 103 at bats for Boston. The sample size is small, but Moss also hit .282/.359/.485 in 656 AAA at bats, and .277/.346/.440 in over a thousand AA at bats. My prediction for Moss in 2009 is a .280 average and 20 homers.

That solves one issue for the Pirates, but leaves the left field spot open. Nyjer Morgan has been impressive so far in his short major league career. In 267 career at bats he has a .296/.351/.397 line, but only one homer. He was very impressive in 118 at bats last August and September, hitting for a .347 average with a .391 OBP.

His competition is Steve Pearce, who hasn’t shown the success that Morgan has, with a career .266/.294/.412 line in 177 at bats. Morgan would make a great leadoff man for the Pirates, but that’s not as big of a need as extra power in the lineup. The Pirates would be fine with Nate McLouth batting leadoff.

McLouth hit .273/.362 last year as the leadoff hitter for the Pirates, with 17 homers in 326 at bats. The Pirates would be fine with Morgan hitting leadoff, and McLouth batting third (where he hit for a .284/.352/.394 line last year in 208 ABs), but with the loss of power in the lineup, a better approach would be to keep McLouth at leadoff and go with another power bat in the outfield.

That points to Pearce, who has the power potential, but hasn’t displayed that potential at the major league level. A month ago I wrote that a platoon of Eric Hinske and Steve Pearce would be the best option for the Pirates. Hinske is solid against right handers, but struggles against lefties. In his limited time in the majors, Pearce has done much better against left handers than right handers. The combo of Pearce/Hinske could give the Pirates a .280 average and 25 homers from the left field position, which is much more valuable than anything Morgan can provide. That also leaves Morgan open as a reserve outfielder and a pinch hitter/runner later in the game.

My opinion is that Moss in left field, and Hinske/Pearce in right field is the best approach. However, it is likely that Morgan will play in left field, Moss in right field, and Pearce, who has two options remaining, will be sent to AAA.

In the end, these battles may provide the Pirates with nothing more than trade bait. Andrew McCutchen should be up no later than June to claim one of the outfield spots (probably center field, with McLouth moving to left field), and Jose Tabata could be up in 2010 to claim the final outfield spot. That leaves Moss or Morgan as either reserve outfielders, or trade bait to fill some other holes on the team.

Enjoy this story? Pirates Prospects will be switching to a subscription site on 4/13, so that we can continue bringing you the best Pirates coverage there is. For a very small monthly price, you can continue getting articles like this, along with coverage from every minor league city. Get more information here, and subscribe today!

Share This Article

Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Grapefruit Tie; One Pitch for Grabow

Next Story »

Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training Tracker

Latest Analysis

  • Keller Supak Hinsz

    Even With the New Draft Rules, the Pirates Are Still Loading Up on Projectable Pitchers

    1 day ago

    From 2008-2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates spent a lot of resources on projectable pitchers out of high school. So far, this approach has led to breakout performances from ...

    Read More
  • Josh Bell made the move to first base over the off-season. (Photo credit: David Hague)

    Why Should You Care About Prospects?

    3 days ago

    Yesterday I had a shorter day than usual. The Pirates had cuts at the MLB level, and a road game. The day was shortened at Pirate City, ...

    Read More
  • Gregory Polanco

    Q&A: Trading Prospects For Rentals, Polanco Concerns, Meadows vs Appel

    4 days ago

    I missed the Q&A last week due to a common problem in Spring Training: I forgot what day it was. It was around 6:00 that I was ...

    Read More
  • Nick Kingham f

    Improving His Two-Seam Fastball will Make Nick Kingham a More Effective Pitcher

    5 days ago

    With Jameson Taillon returning from Tommy John surgery, and unlikely to make an impact at the Major League level early in the year, the top prospect to ...

    Read More
  • Arquimedes Caminero 3

    The Roster Situations That Could Impact the Makeup of the Pirates Bullpen

    7 days ago

    There are less than two weeks remaining in Spring Training, and the one area where the Pittsburgh Pirates had actual position battles is heating up. There were ...

    Read More
  • Jordan Luplow

    How the Pirates are Trying to Stay Ahead of the Curve With the New Draft Rules

    1 week ago

    The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement brought a lot of changes to Major League Baseball. The biggest change for the Pittsburgh Pirates came in the draft. From 2008-2011, ...

    Read More
  • Alen Hanson

    The Key For Alen Hanson to Help the Pirates in the Majors This Year

    1 week ago

    When the Pittsburgh Pirates moved Alen Hanson to second base last year, part of the plan was to get him to the majors faster by putting him at ...

    Read More
  • Tyler Glasnow 2

    What the Stats Don’t Tell You About Tyler Glasnow

    1 week ago

    The stat line for Tyler Glasnow’s start at Pirate City yesterday looked great: 3 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K. The lone run ...

    Read More
  • JaCoby Jones Josh Bell

    JaCoby Jones Did Fine in the Move to Shortstop, But Needs to Cut Down on Strikeouts

    2 weeks ago

    The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted JaCoby Jones as an outfielder in the third round of the 2013 draft, then surprised everyone the following year when they moved him ...

    Read More
  • Cody Dickson is a lefty with the upside of a middle of the rotation starter. (Photo Credit: Mark Olson)

    The Mental Adjustment that Led to Cody Dickson’s Dominant 2014 Second Half

    2 weeks ago

    Trusting his stuff and not trying to do too much — that has been the key for left-handed pitcher Cody Dickson so far in his professional baseball ...

    Read More
  • Browse More Articles

    More