With pitchers and catchers reporting today, and Spring Training starting up this week, we will be previewing the position battles to follow throughout the Spring. To keep track of the players who are in camp, and the updated status of each position battle, check out the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training Tracker.
The Pirates only have one established outfielder at the major league level, and that’s Andrew McCutchen. After that they have five players battling for the corner outfield spots. I’m approaching this assuming that Starling Marte has the starting left field spot locked down. That leaves right field open to a battle between Travis Snider, Jerry Sands, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley.
Contenders: Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata
Travis Snider - The Pirates added Snider at the trade deadline, in exchange for Brad Lincoln. The outfielder used to be one of the top prospects in the game, but has never put it together at the major league level. Snider looked like he could have been seeing his power return prior to the trade. He had a .263 ISO in Triple-A with Toronto, and a .306 ISO in limited time with the Blue Jays in the majors. After being traded to the Pirates he suffered a hamstring injury, which plagued him the rest of the year. Snider is in a similar situation that Pedro Alvarez was in last year. He’s a former top prospect, just turning 25, but people are starting to write him off. It might be too early to do that. He was showing some positive signs before the trade and before his injury. He should get a shot in 2013 to see what he can do when healthy.
Jerry Sands - Sands was one of the main pieces added in the Joel Hanrahan trade. Throughout his minor league career he’s shown a lot of power. He hasn’t carried that power over to the majors yet, although he’s only seen 251 at-bats. Travis Snider and Jose Tabata are out of options, so they have to make the majors or be designated for assignment. Sands has one option remaining, so he could go to Triple-A to start the year. He had success in Triple-A last year, but that came in the PCL. Sending him to the International League would help to get a better idea of his true power, since that’s not a hitter friendly league like the PCL.
Jose Tabata - Tabata signed an extension two years ago which looked like it could be an incredibly team friendly deal at the time. Now it looks like he could be over-paid as a fourth outfielder. He hasn’t been hitting for power, and in 2012 his on-base percentage was way down. In the previous two years he was up around the .345-.350 range, with a decent average. Tabata doesn’t necessarily need power if he can hit for average and have a high on-base percentage. Last year he had neither of those things, and also wasn’t hitting for power. He’s out of options, so he will need to be in the majors. I could see him serving as a fourth outfielder, and getting a few starts a week to see if he can return to his 2010/2011 numbers.
Alex Presley - The other three players on this list were former top prospects — either in their organization, all of baseball, or both. Presley isn’t in that category. In 2009 he looked like he would wash out in high-A. Then he did a complete 180 in 2010 and broke out, going from Double-A to the majors in one year. He had a .298/.339/.465 line in 231 plate appearances in 2011. The power returned in 2012 (.168 ISO vs .167 in 2011), but his average went down by about 60 points. His walk rate dropped slightly, and it was below average in both years. The key thing for Presley is that he’s been hitting for power in each of the last two years. He didn’t hit for average last year, and will need that if he wants to stick in the majors. Presley looks like he has the upside of a strong fourth outfielder, or a starter in a weaker outfield. He has one option remaining, so he could start off in Triple-A and serve as an injury replacement if needed.
Projected Starter: Travis Snider