At the start of the 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a lot of options in the outfield. They had to make some difficult cuts at the end of Spring Training, cutting the hot hitting Alex Presley and Felix Pie in favor of Jose Tabata and Travis Snider. The outfield in the majors had some major question marks. Starling Marte wasn’t established, and Snider and Tabata had both seen their prospect stock fall. With question marks on either side of Andrew McCutchen, the team needed some depth in Indianapolis.
That doesn’t seem to be the case now. There’s a #MartePartay every night, it seems. Travis Snider is hitting for a .294/.368/.397 line in 68 at-bats, and only five of those at-bats have come against left-handers. He’d be in a perfect position to platoon with Jose Tabata, but Tabata is 1-for-20 against left-handers. That’s hiding the fact that he’s hitting for a .310/.412/.483 line in 29 at-bats against right-handers. It’s a small sample size, but that’s much better than Snider’s numbers against right-handers, which also come in a small sample size.
Simply put, the Pirates don’t have a lot of question marks in the outfield. So there’s not a big need to have a lot of immediate depth in Triple-A. When Presley and Pie were sent down, they were viewed as guys who could potentially help the team this season. Pie was compared to Garrett Jones, with the similarity being that he was an older guy who had a good Spring and could continue those strong numbers in Triple-A and force a mid-season call-up. As a result of both guys going to Triple-A, Andrew Lambo was forced back to Altoona, along with Adalberto Santos and Matt Curry.
So far Presley is hitting, with a .288/.382/.439 line. Felix Pie is not hitting, currently putting up a .176/.238/.203 line in 74 at-bats. It’s to the point that the Pirates have been giving time to Brett Carroll, who has a .257/.345/.405 line in 74 at-bats, but is also 30 years old and has been in Triple-A or the majors since 2007.
The guy that was bumped to Altoona for Pie was Lambo, who is hitting for a .287/.352/.500 line, and just hit his fifth homer tonight. Lambo started the season strong, reaching base safely in his first 21 games. That included an 11 game hitting streak. He has homered on back to back nights now, and only has two games out of 29 this year where he hasn’t reached base safely. Lambo has also been at the Double-A level for parts of six seasons. He’s still only 24 — he first reached Double-A at the age of 19 — so he’s still age appropriate to be a prospect. But no matter what he does in Altoona, it’s going to be viewed with that big asterisk that he’s been at the level for so long.
The Pirates don’t have question marks in the majors any more. Starling Marte looks like he has arrived. Tabata and Snider are both hitting right-handers, and the team seems to be leaning towards Brandon Inge and Russell Martin to handle the left-handers. If an outfielder goes down, Jose Tabata is on the bench, and Alex Presley can come up. So there’s no reason to keep playing an unproductive Felix Pie when you’re blocking a guy who still could be considered a prospect, and looks deserving of a callup.
The same could be said for Adalberto Santos. He hasn’t spent a lot of time at the Double-A level, but he has been fantastic in the time he’s been at the level. Last year he hit for a .340/.425/.433 line in 238 at-bats in an injury shortened season. This year he has a .381/.500/.548 line in 42 at-bats, also seeing his season limited due to an injury. He has reached base safely in all 15 of his games to lead to that amazing .500 OBP. Santos doesn’t have a strong defensive position, but plays second, third, and the corner outfield spots. He’d be an option to take over for Pie, or he could step in for the struggling Jared Goedert at third base. Goedert is hitting for a .194/.326/.361 line in 72 at-bats. He has done better in the past, and has a career trend of mashing left-handers. That has continued this year, with an .847 OPS against lefties. If Goedert was replaced, then I’d still like to see him getting playing time, since he could be an interesting depth option for the majors, since Pedro Alvarez can’t seem to hit left-handers.
As for Lambo and Santos, they aren’t the biggest of prospects. Lambo is more of a platoon player, struggling throughout his career against left-handers. Santos profiles more as a utility player, since his defense isn’t good at any position and he doesn’t hit for enough power to start anywhere. He’s probably not going to hit for a ridiculous average in the majors, which will limit his upside. Both players could still have a shot at the majors. I could see why you’d want to keep Santos down for a bit. He has less than 300 at-bats in Double-A, and there’s some upside with Jared Goedert that could help the major league roster. But there’s no upside with Pie. He’s not hitting now, and even if he does start hitting, he doesn’t fill a need in the majors. Meanwhile, there’s no reason for Andrew Lambo to still be in Double-A. If Lambo pans out, he’s probably going to be the same as Snider or Tabata — hitting right-handers and struggling against left-handers. But it would be better to give him time in Triple-A, rather than Pie, since Pie probably isn’t going to help the Pirates in the majors at all at this point.
Links and Notes
**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5.
**Be sure to check out the new podcast: P3 Episode 2: The Returning Pitchers, The Hot Start, and a Robby Rowland Interview.