Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Season Recap: Corner Outfield
In Spring Training, the corner outfield position looked to be an easy lock for the Pirates. Alex Presley would break big league camp for the first time in his career and play left, with Jose Tabata playing in right field. Presley was coming off a .298 average during his rookie season in 2011, which earned him the Opening Day job. Tabata missed a lot last season due to injuries, but healthy in spring, Pittsburgh left Bradenton with him being their right fielder.
But both Presley and Tabata struggled in 2012, and both saw trips to Triple-A to reignite their game and get back on track. The Pirates tried numerous players in the outfield looking to fill that void in the lineup. Drew Sutton and Gorkys Hernandez both saw playing time in left with the Pirates, although neither are still with the organization. Garrett Jones nearly saw more playing time in right field this season than he did first base. And come the trade deadline the organization traded relief pitcher Brad Lincoln to Toronto in exchange for outfielder Travis Snider.
The biggest factor was the anticipated debut of top position player prospect Starling Marte. And from the get-go, Marte showed why he was highly regarded. In his first Major League at-bat in Houston, the outfielder took the first pitch he saw and deposited it into the seats in left field. Marte started off strong, but an oblique injury hindered him for over two weeks.
“There’s no secret that Presley and Tabata were challenged this season,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “Marte has come up and done what he’s done. I think we know we have a better idea of what we have for a Major Leaguer at this level and the areas of improvement. I think you have two outfield corners that are going to be open for competition going in. You have your mindset on how you’d like to see them.”
Heading into the 2013 season, left and right field will be a competition for four players: Starling Marte, Alex Presley, Travis Snider and Jose Tabata, which should make for an interesting spring training. If the Pirates do not acquire an outfielder in the offseason, one will be the odd man out and be sent to Triple-A with another being the club’s fourth outfielder.
After an impressive rookie campaign in 2011, where he finished with a .298/.339/.465 line over 52 games, the 27-year-old broke spring training with the starting job in left. But Presley struggled in his sophomore year and was even demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis to get back on track. Presley put up strong numbers while in the minors — a .307 average, and five home runs in 40 games with Indianapolis — but struggled to translate them into the Majors this season.
Presley finished with a .237 average, with 14 doubles, seven triples, 10 home runs and 25 RBI in 104 games with Pirates. Presley did show flashes of getting back on track. He led club with his career-high seven triples, the most by a Bucco since Andrew McCutchen in 2009 (nine), and also hit double digits in homers for the first time in his career. Presley will have to put together an impressive spring training in order to break camp with Pittsburgh.
Tabata struggled for the Pirates in 2012, which saw him get demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis after hitting just .230 in his first 72 games. Tabata spent over a month in the minors to reignite his game and put up solid numbers. The outfielder hit .297 in 41 games at Triple-A Indy, and after his recall back to the Majors showed much better play for the Pirates.
Tabata hit for a .284 average in his final 31 games after being recalled in August, .333 in his last 18 games, which improved his season average to .243 on the year. Tabata is one of four that will battle for the outfield job with the Pirates in spring.
Jones was expected to split playing time at first base this year, but the struggles in the corner outfield spot gave him playing time in right field as well. But Jones was able to put up career numbers in 2012, keeping himself in the lineup. Jones finished with a .274 average with 28 doubles, three triples, 27 homers and 86 RBI in 145 games with Pirates. Jones established career highs in home runs and runs scored (68) and also tied career high in RBI (also in 2010).
Jones provided a strong bat for the club this season in the heart of the lineup. He hit .315 with runners on base and .308 with RISP. Jones also improved his numbers against left-handed pitching, but will likely sit with a southpaw on the mound once again in 2013.
Marte put up solid numbers in his limited playing time in the Majors his rookie season. He spent 98 games in the Minors, and while fans eagerly awaited his debut, the outfielder put together a .286 average, 12 home runs and 61 RBI during that span. Marte was off to an impressive start for the club getting everyday playing time in left field before straining his right oblique running the bases in August.
Marte returned from the injury ad went on to hit .264 over his final 24 games. Overall, Marte hit for a .257 clip with three doubles, six triples, five homers, 17 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 47 games with Bucs. Marte will enter spring battling for a role with the club.
Snider was acquired from Toronto at the trade deadline looking to fill a corner outfield spot not for just 2012, but for several years down the line. Snider got off to a strong start, but a hamstring injury hindered him for most of his time with the Pirates this season. The outfielder finished with a .250 average, five doubles, a triple, a long ball and nine RBI over 50 games. Snider, too, will battle for a job come spring training.
“Just getting healthy,” Snider said of his offseason goals. “Continuing to progress with offseason training. Making adjustments throughout the off-season and getting down to Florida in good shape and ready to compete. ”
Harrison made one appearance in left field in 2012, 12 in right for the Pirates in his super utility role. Harrison broke camp with the Pirates out of spring training for the first time in his career and spent the entire season in Pittsburgh. The 25-year-old hit for a .233 clip with nine doubles, five triples, three homers and 16 RBI in 104 games with Pirates. Harrison can play five different positions and will likely continue his utility role with the Pirates in 2013.
Navarro played in 10 games in the outfield with the Pirates in 2012. Navarro made the team out of spring training, but struggled out of the gates with Pittsburgh after a solid spring training in his first year with the organization. Navarro was acquired from Kansas City for minor league pitcher Brooks Pounders. The 24-year-old hit just .160 over 29 games this season.
After being sent to Triple-A in late May, Navarro made one more trip to Pittsburgh to make an impression but was optioned back to the minors. Navarro finished with a .279/.366/.491 line with Indianapolis over 66 games.
by Tim Williams
The Pirates don’t have a lot of upper level outfield prospects. Most of the guys they’ve been counting on are currently in the majors. Jose Tabata made his debut in 2010. Alex Presley made his debut in 2011. Starling Marte made his debut this year, and got enough playing time to remove his prospect eligibility. The other top outfield prospect coming in to the year was Robbie Grossman, who was traded to Houston as the key piece in the Wandy Rodriguez deal.
Because there are so many young options in the majors, the Pirates don’t have a pressing need for outfield prospects in the upper levels. The only prospects they have are guys like Adalberto Santos, who don’t project to be impact players.
The top outfield prospects are currently in the lower levels. Gregory Polanco is the top outfield prospect in the system now that Marte is ineligible. He spent the 2012 season in West Virginia, and should move up to Bradenton next year. If he continues to hit, he could reach Altoona in 2013. Josh Bell also has a ton of upside, but missed most of the 2012 season with a torn meniscus, and won’t return to action until Spring Training. Willy Garcia also has a ton of upside, but is raw and didn’t put up the numbers we saw from Polanco.
Bradenton has a raw, five tool talent in Mel Rojas. Rojas was a third round pick in 2010, and didn’t fare so well in high-A. He’s dealt with major consistency issues, with flashes of his potential. He’s a candidate to repeat high-A next year, and it’s getting to the point where he needs to start showing results, rather than relying on potential.
In the lower levels the Pirates have a few high upside guys. Barrett Barnes, taken in the compensation round of the 2012 draft, has a lot of power potential, enough to handle a corner outfield spot down the line. Harold Ramirez, Elvis Escobar, and Luis Urena are three highly talented international hitters. They could be the next Gregory Polanco as far as outfield prospects. They could also be the next Willy Garcia, continuing to show flashes of their potential, but still appearing too raw to be considered in the long-term plans.