There Will Be No Need to Immediately Clear a Starting Spot for Jung-Ho Kang

A week ago, the news came out that the Pittsburgh Pirates won the bidding for the exclusive negotiating rights with Korean infielder Jung-Ho Kang. The rumored cost for Kang will be four years and $20 M, and that doesn’t include the $5 M that the Pirates spent to negotiate with him.

For the last week, one of the big themes I’ve been seeing in discussions about Kang is the anticipation for the other shoe dropping. The thought is that adding Kang (when it eventually happens, and I think it will) is going to result in a trade of someone else to clear a starting spot.

On one hand, this prediction makes sense. Kang is unproven, but that’s not much different than the Pirates going with Gregory Polanco as their starter in right field, or going with Josh Bell at some point in 2016 as their starting first baseman, or any other situation where an unproven prospect gets thrown into a starting role in the majors. The key difference here is that we don’t know how Kang’s numbers will translate over from Korea, and while we don’t know how a prospect’s numbers will translate from Triple-A, we at least have a pretty good idea of what that prospect can do.

The other side of this is that the Pirates don’t really need to clear a spot for Kang. Their infield has some question marks, but it looks set right now. As I wrote last week, they also have plenty of solid backup options to be starters, with Kang being one of them. You could trade away Neil Walker, for example, and Kang could work out, but that makes it more likely that a Michael Martinez or Jayson Nix type player is your late-season replacement when the inevitable injuries hit the team. The Pirates have enough money to pay Kang as a bench player this year, while maintaining everyone in their lineup.

The best approach with Kang is a hybrid of the two scenarios above. They can afford to have him as a bench player this year, and they can probably give him a significant amount of at-bats in that role. Last year the Pirates had 11 players with 290+ plate appearances. It wouldn’t be difficult for Kang to see 300+ plate appearances as a utility infielder and a backup at any of the infield positions if a player gets injured.

This trial year would allow the Pirates to see what they have with Kang. If he turns out to be a guy who could start, then they could make a mid-season change, or make a decision next off-season as to where he will be starting. We saw this happen in 2014 with Josh Harrison. By the middle of the season it was apparent that he was a guy who should be playing everyday, at least until he proved otherwise. A hole opened up at third base due to struggles from Pedro Alvarez, and by the end of the year, Harrison was the starting third baseman.

The idea that all four of the current infielders will work out as planned is very unlikely. There will be injuries and struggles, some of which will be impossible to predict before the season. If Kang does work out, there should be an opportunity for him. If he works out and the Pirates are fortunate enough to have all of their infielders playing well, then they would have a strong bench player for the 2015 season, and could make a decision next off-season as to where Kang will start. That’s when they can decide on who to trade to clear that spot.

Going back to the Polanco/Bell comparisons, one more key difference is need. The Pirates need Polanco in right field because they have no other options (Travis Snider’s second half breakout was nice, but I don’t think he’s a lock to repeat that, and I think Polanco provides more long-term upside). They currently have a hole at first base, and will need Bell for the long-term. Even if Pedro Alvarez works out, he will be gone as a free agent following the 2016 season. This isn’t the case with Kang. The Pirates don’t need him at any infield position in 2015. They might need him in 2016 or later if Neil Walker leaves. But until then, they’ve got an opportunity to see what he can do in the majors before throwing him into the starting mix.

  • What I’m surprised that we haven’t read already is that Travis Snider hasn’t been seen working out with a 1B glove. I know if I were in Snider’s shoes and thought for a second that there was a possibility that 1B incumbent Pedro Alvarez might continue his slump in 2015 or may have a setback from the broken foot that ended his season last year, I’d be trying out a 1B’s mitt. Hurdle really seemed to take to Harrison

  • I think the best situation would be a plan on having Kang (if and once he signs with the Pirates), rotate between 2B, 3B and SS, somewhat how Harrison did at times last season. This would allow Kang to get semi-regular at-bats and the Pirates as a team would benefit as the regular starters would get occasional rest. This is all contingent on whether there’s any regression / slide among the starters (Harrison, Mercer and Walker) and whether Kang can actually hit MLB pitching and field those infield positions. From there, you then could make a determination as to whether to start Kang in place of either Harrison, Mercer or Walker) or possibly trade one of those three initial starters.

  • GrilledCheese39
    January 1, 2015 5:28 pm

    Here is what I would do with Kang:
    In 2015, he starts out in AAA. If I were the Pirates, I sign Everth Cabrera to a deal as your backup infielder off the bench. The bench at the beginning of the year is Snider, Hart, Rodriguez, Cabrera, and Stewart. I give Hanson and Kang time in AAA till about midseason. If they are both ready, they take Cabrera and Rodriguez’s spots on the bench and battle Mercer for the SS spot. If no one wins the job this year, the battle carries into 2016 into Spring Training with the losers taking the backup and utility infield spots on the bench. This is off topic, but either midseason this year, or next year, I’d like to see the Pirates replace all their upcoming FA’s with younger players (in example: Lambo for Snider, Cumpton for Liz, Tallion for Burnett, Kingham for Morton, Diaz for Stewart, LaFromboise for Bastardo, etc)

  • There’s one angle to the “other shoe dropping” theory that I don’t see talked about, or at least connected here. The Pirates NEVER do this. They are never even remotely connected to players like this. They see something. They see something in his swing that they feel will play, and play well, in the majors. The pirates have made such strides the last few years because they have found inefficiencies in the market and exploited them. They see that here. If they sign this guy, considering the posting fee, and the contract he will get he would be the second most costly free agent acquisition in team history (Frankie being the first). They aren’t going to sign him and give Neil Walker what he wants. This is Walker’s replacement. He will be traded, and probably by the trading deadline this year. I think the Pirates scouting department and NH have earned the benefit of the doubt here. Kang will play a big role early. Whether it works or not remains to be seen. I like where they are headed though.

  • i do not know how much kang made in korea last year. i think he signs for much less than 5 million this year. polonco will be no doubt watching how much they offer this unproven guy. signing him could make or break the deal with el coffee.

    • lonleylibertarian
      December 29, 2014 9:46 pm

      Not sure why that matters – first thing Polanco needs to do is prove he is worth starting – I am leaning towards Travis Snider as the right fielder at this point. The hype around Polanco was over done – he has a LONG way to go to worry about how big his contract will be. He should have signed the deal they offered – he had a really awful second half of the season and lost his starting job.

      • Those statistics undervalue Polanco’s speed, and his ability to be a catalyst for scoring. Run a statistic of (Runs + RBI) / AB and you will see that Polanco is right behind Cutch at the top of the team leaderboard, well above Snider. Not that I don’t agree that Snider shouldn’t start out in RF if Polanco is slow out of the gate in ST. I think another 1/2 season in AAA would do him a lot of good then, and give Lambo a short shot in MLB. People forget that Lambo’s statistics were better than Polanco’s when Polanco was called up, but Lambo was hurt. Without Lambo’s injury he would have been the logical call up, leaving Polanco in AAA for the season.

    • Polanco is in a much different situation. The Pirates have him for six more seasons, and three of those seasons will be league minimum years. The other three will be arbitration years. Kang is negotiating a MLB contract which will determine how many years the team gets him, and for how much. It’s not a true FA contract, since there are no other bidders, but it is close. Not similar at all to Polanco’s situation.

      • so you don’t think the pirates are are trying to sign gp to a longer term deal? which gp team may or may not use kangs signing as leverage.

  • lonleylibertarian
    December 29, 2014 6:01 pm

    I actually think this is pretty simple – the Bucs saw a guy hitting 40 HRs – and see the lack of that kind of power in the majors now that we have de doped the players. If Kang shows the potential to hit 25+ HRs a year they will find a spot for him – if not they will move on.

    I don’t think you waste the time seeing how he handles AAA pitching – the investment is only good if he can hand NL pitching – so find out early

    • That being said….what kind of performance enhancing rules do they have in the Korean league?

  • I still think he starts the season in Indy. There is culture shock to cope with, and also this is a no-risk way to get a better handle on his skills. I could see him get called up quickly, and a move being made, if he just dominates AAA. But I would expect him to play about 50 games at that level so the FO can get a handle on him.

    That would have him hitting the ML roster in late May or early June if he shows he can handle it. He could get promoted earlier in case of injury, or poor performance from one of the other infielders.

    I could even see scenarios where we sign him and move him in a trade for a cost-controlled SP, like Syndergaard from the Mets or Severino from the Yankees. Possibly even get involved as a 3rd party in the inevitable Zobrist trade, I’m sure the Rays would appreciate having the cost certainty and would pass along a nice prospect or two from their haul.

  • If Kang is signed, the Pirates have simply placed themselves in a position to be VERY flexible and possibly trade to make the team even better down the road.

    I like all the back and forth about this player going and that player going and what have you for playing guys at X, Y or Z positions. But I have the feeling that the team is loading up it’s hand in a game of Gin they intend to win.

    I have the feeling they’ll just lay down all their cards at some point – BLAMMO – and we’ll all be like…. “No WAY.”

    The only reason we all have questions is we just can’t tell what NH is thinking. It makes me queasy. But it’s fun.
    “Hey. Mugsy. Take this mug for a ride…”

  • Arik Florimonte
    December 29, 2014 5:12 pm

    I’ve been poring over some numbers to try to estimate how Kang might perform in the MLB.

    1. Eric Thames managed almost as good numbers as Kang, Thames: 343/422/688 37 HR vs. Kang: 356/459/739 40 HR. Thames’ career MLB line was 250/296/431 (ages 24-25)

    2. Felix Pie managed an OPS of .897 last year in the Korean league, compared with a .664 in the MLB.

    3. Jorge Cantu had an .899 OPS last season, with 18 HR. In his major league career he hit a respectable 271/316/439, averaging 20 HR per 162 games.

    4. Yamaico Navarro slugged his way to a .969 OPS in Korea last year, compared with a career .801 in AAA between ages 22-25 (he only ever got a few MLB at bats and managed .524 )

    5. The Korean League as a whole had a .807 OPS, compared with .694 for the National League.

    Using these limited comparisons:
    1. Thames OPS 50% higher in Korea
    2. Pie 35% higher
    3. Cantu 19% higher
    4. Navarro 21% higher than AAA
    5. And, Kang’s OPS was 48% higher than Korean league average.

    Using the OPS ratios from these limited data points you get these possible outcomes:

    High end (Cantu side) 1.007 OPS
    Middle (Pie) .887 OPS
    Low end (Thames) .799 OPS
    AAA comparison (Navarro) .990 @ AAA
    48% higher than league = 1.027 OPS

    Every hitter will have different flaws and holes to be exploited by MLB pitching, but this at least gives a semi-scientific range of expectation. A mid to high .800s OPS is not guaranteed but it is clearly not crazy to hope for either. And it would be fantastic out of a middle infielder.

    • I think Thames and Pie would be the only accurate comparisons. That being said we’d all be happy with a .750 OPS infielder with Kang

    • I’d be interested in a three true outcomes comparison of these guys more than an AVG/OBP/SLG comp. How does each player get to their production, and how might that be impacted by the differences in the Major League game.

      Has Brian Cartwright looked into this? He seems to be doing a lot of work on KBO comps.

      • Arik Florimonte
        December 30, 2014 3:23 pm

        For Thames in KBL compared to his MLB stats:
        BB rate increased 100%
        K rate decreased 25%
        PA per HR roughly 50%

        For Pie:
        BB rate increased 25%
        K rate decreased 40%
        PA/HR roughly 50%

        For Cantu (using last 2 MLB seasons)
        BB rate increased 50%
        K rate INCREASED 20%
        PA/HR roughly 50%

        Below is the data I have in CSV format if you want to paste it into excel and look at it any other way.

        Pie,MLB,,KBL,,MLB (last 2),
        Cantu,MLB,,KBL,,MLB (last 2),
        Navarro,AAA,,KBL,,AAA (last 2),

  • I guess I see Kang as Pedro’s replacement in the lineup, if not directly as his replacement in the field. If Kang could be relied upon to hit .260/.350/.450/.800 with 20HRs would anyone hesitate to take that over Pedro’s production?

    • That line would be in the range of 30% above league average.

      It won’t happen, but no, I don’t think anyone would hesitate adding an all star bat to the lineup.

      • I am more optimistic about Kang’s future than you are.

      • I think that is the upper ranges of predictions so why wouldn’t it happen? He’d have to play everyday, but its certainly possible

        • I mean, Josh freaking Harrison hit 37% better than league average last year. Sure, anything COULD happen.

          I just personally don’t consider “relying” on Kang to put up a similar line something that is likely to happen, certainly not next year. Sure as hell would love if it did, though.

  • Who would the Pirates trade? I would think it would be a trade of reserve infielder for reserve 1st baseman. It would seem to be a big gamble to trade Walker in the hopes that one of the reserve options will pay off. Not only do they have to be capable, but they would have to replace a 4 WAR player. The Pirates don’t need any downgrades at this point. Last year you said it didn’t make sense to use Walker as the first-baseman they were looking for. Would that make more sense now with the depth the Pirates have at infield.

  • Kang could very well be the SS on this team this year, he is likely to hit for a higher average than Mercer and easily as many HRs. Defensively probably not much difference.

    • I think it’s more likely that Alvarez is traded at the deadline, Walker moves to 1B, Harrison moves to 2B and Kang takes 3B.

      • A complete shuffle like that would never happen at that point in a season unless a team was 25 out. An even then I would be surprised. If Alvarez was going that bad, what would his value be ? And if he is doing even league average and they are on contention, why would you do something like that ?

        • The universal consensus is that Pedro is in his last Pirates contract. So the departure points are: trading deadline this year, after the 2015 season, trading deadline is 2016 or end of 2016 season (though obviously he could be traded at any time). Trading Pedro is like trading an option (on Wall Street not baseball). There is the intrinsic value (WAR in baseball, the difference between the market price and strike price on the option) and the time value left on the contract. Right now Pedro’s intrinsic value is low compared to his potential but his time value is as high as it’s going to be. If it were known now that Kang will be more productive than Pedro then the sensible thing to do would be to trade Pedro now, even though his intrinsic value is low. But it’s not known until Kang proves himself vis-a vis Pedro. Assuming he does, then the Pirates should play the best player, and move Pedro ASAP. The question then is where to the players best fit. Moving Walker to 1B seems obvious. All three of Harrison, Mercer and Kang can play any of 3B, SS or 2B; though I wouldn’t want Harrison at SS. For SS, though it may be a push I’d stay with Mercer if only for continuity. Then the relative placements of Harrison and Kang are influenced by where Harrison best profiles, which I think is 2B, but I’m really agnostic on that. Placing Kang at 2B would minimize the moves if that were really an issue.

          • To keep this short : # 1, I have advocated a move to 1st base for Walker since early last season. # 2, I don’t need a book of lectures on player personnel movement in the Pirates organization, thank you.

      • that would never happen during the season, ever. by any team in the major leagues

        • Not so. Harrison already plays 2nd and 3rd. Kang will be prepared in ST to play 2nd, 3rd and SS in a bech role for the first half of the season. He could step into either 2nd or 3rd. The only player needed to make an adjustment would be Walker. To think that he couldn’t move from 2nd to 1B in the middle of the season is silly. The man’s a professional baseball player. 1st base is the easiest position on the diamond to field, according to all the “experts” (though I never thought so when I played it). Walker would do fine.

  • spring training surprises: Florimen beats out Rodriquez and Lambo beats out Snider for bench spots

    • 2 chances that Lambo takes a spot from Snider.

      • Snider could be a good trade candidate, to be replaced by Lambo. The two of them are strategic duplications, with similar expectations of upside. One has to go. Snider could return more in trade, and Lambo will be cheaper. Whether Snider stays depends on who else is available to be obtained in return, not so much on his performance.

        • I partially agree with you, but from all I have seen of Lambo he will never have the plate discipline and coverage of Snider. Or ever hit LH pitching as well as Snider. Defensively, while he isn’t an embarrassment, he isn’t as efficient as Snider either.

          • I agree about the plate discipline and coverage, but I think Lambo has more power upside due to bat speed. I am not as quick to agree with you on the L/R splits. Lambo’s 2013/2014 L/R splits in AAA weren’t all that bad. Of course the Pirates have basically platooned him in MLB so who knows what he can do with the Bucs. Defensively I’ll have to defer to you as you’ve seen much more of Lambo in AA than my small sample size. But what I’ve seen in MLB has looked serviceable, and Lambo has the flexibility to play 1B, which since he hasn’t demonstrated it yet we have to assume Snider does not.

          • For a team expected to contend, Snider is needed off the bench as a PH and for the “Lunchbox” ethic. He is a Pittsburgh type player with a defined role. He is entrenched.

            • Plus I think Snider has figured out his power stroke and how to give more consistent abs…he may not be what he was in the second half but he is a legit 20 HR per 600 AB guy for good now I think. 61 more ab last year than 2013: 10 more walks and 8 less Ks. Huge improvements and headed into his age 27 season. If he plays like he did last year, especially against lefties, he will cut into Polanco’s ab.

        • Then it won’t be a matter of Lambo taking Snider’s spot. Using your logic, it will be due to the fact that they will have a need, and Snider would bring the better return.

          • Yes, that and the fact that they both have “shelf lives”. Lambo is approaching MiLB free agency soon isn’t he? And Snider is climbing the arbitration salary ladder. Eventual he will price himself out of a job if he can’t become a starter. And with Polanco on board what’s the chance of that? They can’t really keep both of them for the mid range term, one will have to go, and I think it will be Snider because he’ll bring the better return. Who knows what they will need when they do, that will be determined by injuries or poor performnaces.

      • hopeful and unlikely. maybe we could get lucky and deal snider

    • TheSharkTankisNasty
      December 29, 2014 3:47 pm

      Lambo could possibly beat out Snider. But there is no chance that Florimon gets a spot over Rodriguez.

      • No he can’t. The organization will never be completely confident in Lambo.

        • If that’s true they should move on from Lambo ASAP. I hope that it’s not. I think Lambo has proved he can play at AAA. I’d like to see him in Pittsburgh. See if he really is MLB material.

        • that is irrelevant

    • I’m not sure why we need Florimon OR Rodriguez at this point.

      Rodriguez was acquired to fill Harrison’s former role as super sub at multiple positions. Kang can also do that, btu he figures to hit better. Why do we need two players doing the same thing, especially when Harrison is still around?

      If Kang is competent with the bat AND versatile in the field, we don’t need a defensive specialist. Neither Walker nor Mercer comes out for a pinch hitter or a late-inning defensive change. Consequently, we have the luxury of stocking up on an extra bench bat.

    • Snider is set. He will not get beat out. S-Rod set too but stranger things have happened.

  • Kang-Kong unleashed

  • Tim’s saying the same thing I said last week. That a trade of an infielder is inevitable, it is just a question of when and who. When it happens it won’t be a bad thing or a good thing it will just be a baseball thing.

  • We have to consider that this is going to be a huge culture shock to him, and there could be language issues. 2015 might not be the greatest year for him to begin with.
    That being said. let him move around the infield, and get a handful of starts each weak. He is probably a better fielder then walker, so if the charts say that the team should hit a bunch to the 2nd base area, let Kang play that day. If hitting to the SS is a lower average, then throw him in at SS. I think giving everyone a rest, if the player you are throwing in is comparable, is better for the team in the long run

    • I don’t know any manager that would substitute that way. They are not guessing with him, he can play defense in the infield as good as anyone they have at the major league level and his power is legit, he has played a major league style in Korea, unlike the Japanese style which is not major league style.

      • Leadoff, I didn’t know that there is a difference between Japanese and Korean “styles”. Please expand on what the Japanese do differently that makes their players unsuitable for MLB. Aren’t the rules the same?

        • Read this and you will have a good understanding of the differences. A rather large cultural spread.

          • Thanks for the posting Leo. It was an interesting read, but if the discount to OBA numbers were cited accurately you’d conclude that Japan is the better hitters league by a little bit. Not sure how that squares with Leadoff’s assertion that the Japanese style is not a major league style.

        • I did not say Japanese players are not suitable for MLB, just that they are trained differently because of their size and strength, they are taught to foul fast balls off because they can’t get around on them like the bigger Korean players can. They intend to foul enough pitches off to get the pitcher to stop throwing fastballs. The Japanese did it in the All-star series with the MLB team to the point where it was nauseating. The Korean players are bigger and can take the long power swing.

          • Sounds like the Japanese need to be pitched inside. Too far inside and I guess it’s, OOPS. I’ve not seen any Japanese baseball often, other than seeing Ichiro occasionally, but I’ve noticed the pattern that you describe. Baseball games in Japan must last as long as cricket matches.

            Anyway, when I look at Kang’s highlight tapes he passes the “eye test” for me. Defensively he looks about the same as Mercer or Walker, offensively the power looks legit, beut of course the unknown is how it will stand up to MLB pitching.

          • Which all comes from the much more aggressive personalities of the Koreans. And if players aren’t aggressive and competitive, they aren’t going to be around MLB for very long, if at all.

          • Korean players are also generally larger than Japanese. There are only a handful of Japanese players over 6ft or 200 lbs, compared to 53% of Koreans being between 6-0 and 6-2

        • We already know the Japanese can play baseball here, and excel. The Koreans are slowly proving they can too. Kang doing really well could cause a lot more to want to come here and prove themselves…and more teams to go after Korean players.

      • Does Korea league use any defense metrics to back that up? It sounds like all the reports are saying that his SS defense will not be all of that and a bag of chips

  • Kang will be making far too much money to be a backup, even a super backup and they will have to commit to a few years in a contract. I don’t believe the Pirates tried or are trying to compare Kangs Korean numbers with what they think he will do in Pittsburgh, IMO, they looked at him purely from a scouting standpoint and decided he can play good enough at the major league level to be a starter. I find it hard to believe however, that they will make any moves with any of their starting infielders until they get a good look at Kang in ST.

    • There is noone you can trade that wouldn’t downgrade the team. Harrison for Kang, uh no…..Walker for Kang? 20hr+ 2nd baseman do NOT grow on trees, and noone thinks he has the glovework to replace Mercer. so…….regardless of money, he will be on the bench until injuries dictate otherwise

      • If Kang plays great he will make the decision to start him easy and Harrison or Mercer or Walker can move around accordingly…if he is just solid he will also make the decision to give him 300 AB easy also. The catch will be wear he fits defensively. If Kang rips lefties I could even see him at 1B. I would love to see Kang be so good that the Pirates can deal Pedro…but I would love to see Pedro hit .250 with 25 HR in 450 AB. I just like that they have the options…and I love to speculate this time of year. I was bored the other night and was estimating everyone’s stats. Without getting into all the numbers I had the offense improving slightly but with very similar numbers to 2014. Incredibly similar. I am always conservative but a slightly improved offense, even 5-10% better will be a really good offense.

        • over the past 2 yrs, Kang
          vs RHP 636 PA 334/423/617
          vs LHP 220 PA 295/446/607
          vs sidearm 167 PA 313/407/583

          looks likes he hits them all about equally well

        • They could hit more HRs next season.

          • I did some totally unscientific predictions on 19-20 guys I thought would bat for them and then threw in the same pitching numbers although slightly better because they hit so bad last year. I did predict them to go 85-77 last year (3 games off) and 83-79 in 2013 (11 games off) so take that for what it is not worth. Here is what I got for 2014 in contrast to 2013: Runs per game +0.2 (4.41 to 4.21) +14 XBH, +10 HR, +33 R, + 18 SB (Totally Floated by a hopefully healthier Marte, a full season of Polanco, and Harrison hopefully starting 150+ games.) I actually had them with 18 more steals and only 3 more CS which is probably wishful thinking. I also had them at .414 SLG compared to .404 in 2013 which leads to a .744 OPS compared to .734…and I had their OBP at an identical .330, although a few thousandths of a point higher than last year. I had them hitting a few more HR and 3B and a few less doubles.

          • I had Kang predicted at: 242 AB, .259/.331/.403/.734…and 7 HR. 23 bb & 57 K.

      • I agree, unless Kang shows he can handle himself out of the gate, he’s not starting this year. His first year will most likely be him adapting to his new life in the states while learning the game from the bench with spot starts.

  • RichardJarzynka
    December 29, 2014 1:18 pm

    Polanco is not a lock to hit like Snider did last year. He should have to earn the job in Spring Training.

    • I agree, but Polanco is penciled in as the right fielder, it is his job to lose.

    • Is Snider a lock to hit like he did in the 2nd half of last season?

      • RichardJarzynka
        December 29, 2014 5:02 pm

        No. The job should be up for grabs in Spring Training.

        • Good teams… Deep organizations… Don’t use spring training stats to decide anything.


          • RichardJarzynka
            December 29, 2014 5:07 pm

            If that’s the case, then they should give the job to Snider to start the season based on the fact that he was much better than Polanco in 2014.

            • You make quite a habit out of handing out playing time based on what players have done in the past and not what they project to do in the future.

              • RichardJarzynka
                December 29, 2014 5:25 pm

                Steamer projects that Snider will hit for a .735 OPS and Polanco will hit for a .703 OPS. But my belief is that the job should be up for grabs in Spring Training.

                • What would either player possibly show in Spring Training to help you make your decision that you DON’T already know?

                  You aren’t seriously going off Spring Training stats, are you?

                  • RichardJarzynka
                    December 29, 2014 5:35 pm

                    The Pirates went into Spring Training last year with Andrew Lambo as their left-handed 1B. He lost the job before the season started.

                    Who do you believe should be the Pirates starting RF and on what are you basing that belief.

                    I believe Snider should have the edge going into Spring Training based on the fact that he was much, much better than Polanco last year. But he has such a small track record of MLB success that if he struggles in the Spring and Polanco hits well, then Polanco should get the job to start the season.

                    • Okay, if Polanco goes 1-30 in spring training, i’m okay with benching him, it won’t happen. Spring training in 2012 he did better than that, this isn’t his first rodeo, he has always hit in spring training

                • Projections for rookies and 2nd year players are pointless, they don’t include any statistical analysis of their minor league stats, we’ve all had this discussion before.

                  • why don’t projections include any statistical analysis of their minor league stats (unless you’re only looking at Marcel)

                • Ian Rothermund
                  December 30, 2014 7:14 am

                  Oh Boy! A .32 difference in OPS that one group posted.

                  Hey, how about the other areas that Polanco can make a difference in the game…are those irrelevant? Who’s a better base runner, and who can steal more bases? Who can play better defense? Who can hit better situationally?

                  Lastly…how does Polanco not getting AB’s help him get any better for the future? You’re just supposed to sit him on the bench and pray he gets better through osmosis? That’s ludicrous. A player like Polanco should be given the opportunity because of what he can do. A player like Snider should always have to prove himself to earn playing time…I mean, looking at the career numbers, what has he done?

                  • You can start Polanco in AAA if he hasn’t shown any improvement to what caused him to fall apart last year.. sniders career numbers trend could be seen as proof that Polanco may need more AAA at bats

                  • Polanco glove is so much better he gives the pirates one of the top fielding outfields in the game. have to allow a player to develop. Not to mention he gives them much more speed on the base paths. Plus Polanco was burnt out from playing winter ball last year.

            • He wasn’t. He was better in the second half at hitting and hitting only

              • RichardJarzynka
                December 29, 2014 6:39 pm

                He had a .776 OPS for the year. Polanco’s was .650. That’s a big difference. They were both well below average defensively. Polanco’s UZR/150 was -6.7. Snider’s was -7.6.

                • Polanco’s defense should take a pretty big jump forward this year…all the tools are there. Few can gouge the IL at 22 like he did last year…anything is possible and Polanco could fail but he will more than likely be the starting RF out of the gate…and Snider is awesome off the bench and handles the PH thing so well…throw in Polanco takes pitches and has speed and the Bucs need him to be the leadoff guy and I think it is a no brainer…but I would never rule it out if the Pirates would think Polanco needs to go back to AAA…but it seems extremely doubtful.

          • lonleylibertarian
            December 29, 2014 5:37 pm


            I seem to remember a guy with pretty good power and minor league stats losing his 1st Base job last spring based on 50 or so scattered at bats – and lots of folks here and elsewhere agreeing with that decision.

            • If Polanco looks horribly lost at the plate, and in the field, sure bench him. i don’t think anyone can take such a complete train wreck anomaly like Lambo and use it towards other players. The chances are really really slim

              • Polanco will not get benched any time soon. He will be given the starting job. The only way Snider gets the starting job during the season is if they have to send Polanco back to AAA. Which is a possibility. I argued last year that they rushed him too quickly . he is the real deal and I believe 100 % that he is a future All-Star. He too darn disciplined at the plate and to darn good to not be a impact ML player. it wouldn’t be the first time a player had to be sent back to figure it out.. He may need to develop more but will never sit on the bench for long

                • Monsoon Harvard
                  December 30, 2014 5:02 am

                  Polanco may have been a little rushed, but the bigger problem was that he was warn out. He went right from the end of the 2013 minor league season straight to winter ball, never taking any rest, and straight into the 2014 spring training and minor leagues, then up to the majors. At some point a guy needs to take some time off and regroup. This winter is the first lengthy break he has had in quite some time.

            • I remember continued rumors about the Pirates being linked to 1B trade targets and Gaby Sanchez arriving “in the best shape of his career” in order to win the 1B job.

            • …and Ishikawa was the best player last year out of Lambo, Pedro, and Ike Davis…in the field and hitting.

              • Do you count Ishikawa’s time in AAA compared to those players, or just a couple of ABs in the playoff ?

                • Ishikawa had a 0.3 WAR and 109 OPS+ in the small 81 Plate appearance after the Pirates released him, Ike Davis had a -0.4 WAR with the Pirates and so did Gaby Sanchez. Pedro had a 0.8 WAR but over 398 AB…and Pedro provided a .625 OPS in the second half and provided no value in the minimal time he played 1B. Definitely wasn’t trying to show how good Ishikawa was but how awful the Pirates 1B situation was. Throw in TI’s .711 OPS in the playoffs and he ended up with 112 AB and .268/.333/.393/.726. Ike Davis looking numbers really. Ishikawa is a good fielding 1B though…and he was surprisingly decent in LF. Also he hit into 1 DP in 112 AB with the Giants. He provided nice value for them down the stretch. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying the Pirates should have kept him, he probably would have gotten exposed with more ab, but he did outplay what the Pirates had although he had a -0.2 WAR in 15 games with the Pirates, driving the Pirates overall 1B WAR below -1.0 for the season. For lack of a better term: YUCKY

          • I don’t think richard said spring training stats wabbit.. he just said spring training. . The buccos fo isn’t running a fantasy baseball team with only fangraphs to determine who to draft.. they actually know what adjustments they wanted to see in given player over the winter and are likely fully capable of determining a satisfaction level in the limited ab’s given in spring training

          • Richard didn’t say spring training stats sir wabbit.. the buccos fo isn’t running a fantasy baseball team where they only have fangraphs to determine who to draft.. they know what adjustments they’re looking for in said player and are likely fully capable of determining a satisfaction level on his progress over the winter in the limited at bats during spring training. . I would think the good organizations have the resources in place to do so

            • Sorry about two responses. .

            • You mean like how they determined Wandy Rodriguez was a Major League quality starting pitcher during spring training last year?

              • Haha.. I’m guessing I don’t have to go into the irrelevance of that example.. but vereran recovering from an injury is much different then developmental prospect. .

                • And you know this based off what experience?

                  You just said that good organizations can tell, during spring training, if a player has what it takes to be successful.

                  That statement was ridiculous, and my example proved why.

                  • If wandy is the best example you have I actually count that as a win for me if we’re actually debating. I thought you were joking at first.. lol

                    • How many at bats against RHP did Hurdle give Gaby Sanchez before finally realizing he’s not an everyday hitter?

                      Do I need to remind you about James McDonald?

                      Better question is whether or not you can give me any actual examples of YOU being correct in your observation. Let’s hear ’em…

                    • Me thinks the issue is that we’re not having the same discussion nmr.. I was only saying that they can determine progress on a particular adjustment. . I was not trying to allude to anyone having a crystal ball, regardless of number of at bats

                    • Yeah, we were definitely talking past each other.

          • Richard didn’t actually say stats. .

        • You mean like the competition for the 1st baseman’s job worked out last ST ?

    • For those of you “liking” this, you truly are missing the point:

      1. Can Snider lead off? no
      2. Can Snider steal bases? no
      3. Does Snider have a rocket arm or cover any ground in the outfield? no
      4. Is there even a good chance that Snider hits like Snider did last year? Depending on what you term “good chance” i’d say also no.

      So what am i missing here? Who cares if Polanco hits like Snider did last year. He can hit .240 and be more overall value if the rest of his game plays as it should

      • RichardJarzynka
        December 29, 2014 6:36 pm

        In 312 plate appearances last year, Polanco had an overall value of 0.2 WAR. In 359 plate appearances, Snider had an overall value of 1.7 WAR. That’s a big difference.

        Polanco’s fielding was little better than Snider’s. His UZR/150 was 6.7 runs below average. Snider’s was 7.6 runs below average.

        • In Snider’s 1500 plate appearances prior to July 18th of last year he hit .241/.304/.392 wRC+ 88, not sure why we are placing so much value on his most recent 200 PAs. I put absolutely no value on 600 innings of UZR, more so when Inside Edge has 14 plays in 10%-90% range for Polanco.

          I think this decision is for the scouts, if the Pirates placed any value on Spring training stats, Volquez would have been cut last year.

          • Yes. Just last winter some people were saying (ridiculously) that Polanco could eventually move Cutch out of center. Dumb but shows you that Baseball America thinks Polanco has elite potential in the OF. A lot of kids come up and play a little timid first time around the mlb and in a new park. If Polanco is anything less than an above average fielder I would be shocked.

          • The irony of Richard’s argument is that by his own logic, Jose Tabata deserved the roster spot that Snider ultimately was given last year. By Richard’s logic, Snider should never have even gotten the chance to get those 200 PAs he’s now banking on.

          • If your going to go with Snyder’s last 200 AB, then go with Polanco’s first 200 AB. Cherry picking should be equal. Polanco’s best vs Snyder’s best.

            • I haven’t cherry picked anything, I’m just pointing out that Snider is entering his age 27 season and has over 1700 PAs of being a touch below average hitter.

              That is the player that should be consider in any evaluation. Prospects, even the top ones don’t hit the major league fully formed, especially in an era of increased information. There is a reason teams like veteran players as bench bats.

              • Andrew, I’m confused. Do you want Snyder starting over Polanco, or a bench bat.

                • Sorry these threads get long. I think Polanco should be the starter baring a Lambo like performance in spring. He doesn’t need to beat out Snider or earn his job just not roll over everything he makes contact with and pound the ball into the dirt.

                  Polanco is a top prospect for a reason, Snider has a long history of not performing to his upside. The Pirates will likely need 300 ABs from Snider, I’m just not starting him over Polanco.

                  • I agree. Snider is a very good bat coming off the bench, with play in outfield as needed. Polanco will be stronger in ’15 and should be well rested. PNC right field isn’t the easiest to play, but once he gets the hang of it, his dWars will go up.

          • Andrew.. I think there’s a reason Polanco was benched last year… i doubt it has anything to do with his stat line but more to do with his approach at the plate (approach/swing? ) I’m only suggesting that the reason was communicated and if Polanco was able to make suggested adjustments, spring training should be enough for the org to determine if he corrected the reason he was benched in the first place… perhaps it’s just as simple as him being fatigued and no adjustments are necessary?

      • Exactly Y2J

      • I think Snider has a rocket arm and is a better OF right now even though he doesn’t cover the ground as well. However, I do expect Polanco to have a better overall season this coming year.

    • Polanco is going to get every chance to play in RF they are going to lock him in there for most of the season. You can’t just give up on him in his first full year if he struggles. He is a big part f the future and he has HUGE upside. if he struggles they will just have to deal with it and hope there’s enough offense. If he doesn’t work out it would be a huge hit to the future. Benching him would make no sense this year . We need to develop him just like they did with Marte,Walker,Cutch and still doing with Mercer. They stayed with Mercer through a pretty bad first half and he doesn’t have near the potential of Polanco

  • Great article Tim. I can’t stand how some people think someone in the Pirates infield must be moved right away. Contrary to popular belief, depth is a good thing!

  • Tying your two articles together. Kang could buy time until Hanson is ready. Kang also allows for no glove first backup to Mercer. Kang could be the RH platoon mate for 3B if Pedro has to start for Harrison. Kang is a nice option to have and doesn’t need a definite position now.

    • Who has no glove?

    • Kang is not a placeholder for Hanson: I think the Pirates are a lot more bullish with Kang than they are with Hanson. I also think it is premature to label Kang as a no-glove SS.