Two of the three outfield spots in Pittsburgh look promising for the long term, with Andrew McCutchen under control through the 2015 season, and Jose Tabata under control through the 2016 season. However, the third spot is up for grabs. In the short term, the Pirates are going with a platoon of Garrett Jones and Matt Diaz, which could be a strong combo if both players play up to their previous platoon splits. The Pirates do need someone to step up as an everyday long term option. Fortunately, they have three candidates starting the 2011 season in Indianapolis.
Gorkys Hernandez, Andrew Lambo, and Alex Presley are currently slated to start the 2011 season in AAA, after all three were cut last week. Hernandez and Presley were optioned to AAA, while Lambo was assigned to the level shortly after the demotion. None of the three options are really a guarantee to be a starter in the majors, although all three have the potential.
Hernandez and Lambo both have a similar story. They were top prospects in the game prior to coming to the Pirates, and were only traded once their stock dropped. Prior to the 2009 season, Hernandez was the #62 prospect in baseball, and Lambo was #49. The Pirates acquired Hernandez in June 2009 in the Nate McLouth trade, along with Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke. Prior to the trade, Hernandez was hitting for a .316/.361/.387 line in 212 at-bats with Atlanta’s AA affiliate. After coming to the Pirates he struggled in Altoona, with a .262/.312/.340 line in 344 at-bats. He continued those struggles in 2010, but started hitting again in June, hitting for a .306/.369/.414 line in 186 at-bats, before going down with a broken finger in July.
Lambo was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2010, along with James McDonald, in exchange for Octavio Dotel. Lambo struggled in his jump to AA in 2009, with a .256/.311/.407 line in 492 at-bats. He didn’t do much better in 2010 with the Dodgers’ AA affiliate, with a .271/.325/.420 line in 181 at-bats. He hit for a .275/.353/.352 line with the Pirates after the trade. The numbers don’t show it, but his power improved after coming to the Pirates. That was shown initially, until he suffered a shoulder injury which limited his power. That power returned in the Eastern League playoffs, and carried over to the Arizona Fall League.
Presley is a different story. He came in to the 2010 season with not many expectations placed on him, after combining for a .257/.313/.379 line in two seasons at the high-A level. Presley got hot right away, hitting for a .350/.399/.533 line in 246 at-bats in his jump to AA. He carried that success over to AAA, with a .294/.349/.460 line in 272 at-bats, which was enough to get him a promotion to the majors in September.
Hernandez and Presley are both strong defensively, but lack power. Presley did show some power in 2010, but needs to show it was more than just a fluke season. Hernandez has the potential to add power, but is getting to the point where that opportunity could be running out. Hernandez is the best defensive outfielder in the Pirates’ system, and has speed, which means he could get by in the majors if he just hits for average and gets on base at a good rate. Presley needs to repeat his 2010 numbers, and hit for a decent amount of power to give value to his defense and speed.
Lambo, on the other hand, isn’t as strong defensively, but does have power potential, which we started to see at the end of the 2010 season. Since he lacks the defense that Presley and Hernandez have, he will need to hit for power to have value as a starter one day. That’s especially the case if he only hits for a .275 average.
All three players have things they need to work on to make the jump to the majors as a valuable starting option. At the same time, they’re all young enough that they are far from a complete product, and with the Diaz/Jones combo in right field in Pittsburgh for at least the 2011 season, all three players have time to improve their game. They don’t have all of the time in the world though, since another group, consisting of Starling Marte, Quincy Latimore, and Robbie Grossman, will be waiting in the wings. For the long term, the Pirates need one of these outfield prospects to emerge as a starter, joining what is already a promising duo of Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata in Pittsburgh.