The Pittsburgh Pirates will be kicking off Spring Training this Thursday. To get ready for Spring Training, we will be previewing one set of positions each day this week, with the final group coming on Thursday. We already previewed the infield yesterday. Today we will take a look at the outfield.
The Pirates have two of the three outfield spots set for the short and long-term. They should fill the final spot by mid-season when Gregory Polanco arrives. Until then, they will give time to unproven guys, hoping one will realize his potential, which is the same approach they took in 2013. Here are the roster predictions based on the current Spring Training invitees.
The Pirates look to be entering the 2014 season with the same outfield formation as they had in 2013. Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte will definitely be back for center and left field, respectively. I don’t need to go into detail on why those two have guaranteed spots on the roster. The right field spot will once again be up in the air, and once again the Pirates are going with a group of question marks, led by Jose Tabata and Travis Snider.
Last year Snider had the edge over Tabata as far as playing time early in the season. This year it seems that Tabata should have the upper hand. He’s more expensive ($3 M vs $1.2 M), he had better numbers in 2013, and the Pirates have a long-term commitment to Tabata. He’s done more to earn the playing time, and there’s more of a long-term reward if he works out.
Snider should still get some playing time, and one final shot to prove what he can do. He started off well last year during the first month of the season, then quickly fell off the table. That came right around the time that his toe injury occurred. The 2014 season will give the chance for Snider to show if his post-April struggles in 2013 were all due to the toe injury.
Bench and Depth
I project Snider and Tabata to make the Opening Day roster, since both players are out of options and making more than the league minimum. Behind those two, the Pirates have Jaff Decker and Chris Dickerson as backup plans. I don’t think the Pirates will carry five outfielders, unless they somehow go with Gaby Sanchez as a full time starter at first base. Because of this, I see Decker and Dickerson starting the year in Triple-A, with a chance to make it to the majors early in the season if Snider or Tabata struggle or get injured (with the latter being a very real possibility, considering the history of those two players).
Andrew Lambo could also factor into the outfield mix, although I think he’s the front runner for the first base platoon. If the Pirates add an external first base option, then Lambo would likely go to Triple-A, where he could serve as depth for first base or right field. Josh Harrison could also serve as an emergency outfielder, assuming he makes the bench in the infield.
Last year the Pirates didn’t have good results in right field. Jose Tabata and Travis Snider both struggled on the field, and dealt with injuries. Tabata started hitting well in August, but that was around the time that Starling Marte went down with an injury. The result was that the Pirates had to go out and trade for Marlon Byrd.
That shouldn’t be necessary in 2014. If Tabata, Snider, Decker, Dickerson, and Lambo don’t work out, then the Pirates have Gregory Polanco in the wings. Polanco is the top prospect in the system, and one of the top prospects in the game. He profiles as an impact player, and his advanced approach at the plate gives him a good chance to make a seamless jump to the majors when he’s ready, similar to what happened with Andrew McCutchen.
Polanco will need some time to get re-acquainted with right field. He will also need some time against upper level pitching. He did well in the Dominican against the equivalent of Triple-A pitching, but he’s going to need a bigger sample size to show he’s ready. The key thing here is that Polanco profiles as an impact player down the line, which means the Pirates should delay him until he avoids Super Two status. No matter how optimistic you are about Polanco’s immediate future in 2014, one extra month of his service in 2014 is no where near worth the cost that the Pirates would have to pay in the long-run if Polanco becomes an impact player with Super Two status.
Expect Polanco to arrive as early as mid-June. If one of the other outfielders are hitting at that point, then I’d still expect the Pirates to make a switch. One of the things the Pirates have lacked in previous years has been a strong bench. If Jose Tabata is continuing his late-2013 hitting in 2014, then he’d be an outstanding fourth outfielder on a contending team, and a guy you’d want to turn to if one of the other outfielders goes down with an injury. Polanco’s upside is bigger than anyone else on the team, which means he should be the starter when he’s ready at mid-season.
LF – Starling Marte
CF – Andrew McCutchen
RF – Jose Tabata
Bench – Travis Snider, Josh Harrison