So far I’ve reviewed the center field and left field positions, which are held down in the long term by Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata. Right field is a different story, with question marks in the short term, and no guaranteed options in the long term.
The Pirates started the season in pretty much the same way they ended it: plenty of options for right field, but none that have stepped up to take the job. Garrett Jones started the season in right field, with Lastings Milledge in left, and Jeff Clement at first. The Pirates had Jose Tabata arriving in June, and had options like Ryan Church and Steve Pearce for either right field or first base. Prior to the year, with Tabata expected up in June, the Pirates needed two from the group of Jones, Milledge, Clement, Church, or Pearce to step up for the first base and right field positions. Heading in to the 2010 off-season, the same situation exists with right field, as well as first base, which we will review tomorrow.
Jones wasn’t horrible, although his season totals were a bit of a disappointment in comparison to his 2009 breakout campaign. Jones hit for a .247 average with a team high 21 homers and a .720 OPS. He didn’t exactly light up right handed pitching, with a .262 average, a .775 OPS, and 15 of his 21 homers in 378 at-bats. However, he struggled against left handers, with a .220 average, a .621 OPS, and six homers in 214 at-bats, making him a potential platoon player.
Milledge had a similar situation. Milledge had a .277 average this season, with a .712 OPS and four homers. Against right handers he had a .256 average, a .602 OPS, and no homers in 254 at-bats. He had a lot of success against left handers, with a .320 average, a .926 OPS, and four homers in 125 at-bats. Milledge was also horrible on defense, with some very poor routes.
Clement was horrible, forcing Jones to first, and Milledge to right field when Tabata arrived in left field. The Pirates tried platooning Milledge with Church, which turned out to be a disaster, as Church was worse against right handers than Milledge, making a platoon useless. Ryan Doumit played a few games in right field, but his defense made Milledge look like a gold glover. John Bowker was added at the trade deadline, while Alex Presley and Brandon Moss were September call-ups, giving the Pirates three more options, but still lacking a starter going in to the off-season.
Short Term Options
The Pirates have Garrett Jones, Lastings Milledge, Ryan Doumit, John Bowker, Brandon Moss, and Alex Presley as options for right field. None of those options have established themselves as viable starters. The Pirates also don’t have space for all of them. Jones, Milledge, Bowker, and Moss are all out of options next season, while Doumit is under contract and isn’t likely to be traded.
The best internal option seems to be a platoon situation with Jones and Milledge. Jones would get the majority of the playing time, while Milledge would be in for his strongest moments: against left handed hitters. The weak defense from Milledge is a downside, but his hitting against lefties would make up for that aspect of his game.
The other options seem more like bench options. Bowker is the best option, but he has struggled in his career against left handers, making him similar to Jones. The Pirates have a similar situation at first base, meaning they will probably have to look externally if they want to upgrade the positions. They might not be able to upgrade both positions externally, and with more first basemen available on the market this off-season, the Pirates might want to explore the Jones/Milledge platoon as an internal option.
Two of the top outfield prospects in the Pirates system are in the upper levels. Starling Marte will make the jump to AA next season after putting up promising results in his two seasons in the United States. Marte is considered one of the top, if not the top, hitting prospects in the Pirates’ farm system.
Andrew Lambo was acquired at the trade deadline, and was a former top prospect in the Dodgers system. Lambo has struggled at the AA level, and hasn’t put up the numbers that made him the #49 prospect in baseball prior to the 2009 season. He is young enough to make it to the majors, but he’s not a guarantee.
The Pirates also have Gorkys Hernandez, who has struggled in AA over the last two years on offense, but is strong defensively. Hernandez started going on an offensive tear in June, but had his season shut down in July with a broken finger. Like Lambo, Hernandez needs to improve his offensive output, and is young enough to make the changes needed.
Marte seems like the best long term option, although the Pirates have Lambo and Hernandez as backup options. Marte could be in the majors as soon as June 2012, depending on how he handles the jump to the AA level.