The Pirates Lineup is Set, But Who Takes Over in the Event of an Injury?

Every year at the start of Spring Training I outline the position battles for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I do this by breaking up the team into four main groups: the lineup, the rotation, the bench, and the bullpen. Usually there are a few battles per section, and by breaking it up, you can focus an article on each main battle.

This year there are very few position battles for the Pirates heading into Spring. And when you break it up into these groups, you get a group of positions that is set, with no battle at all. That’s the case with the starting lineup.

The Pirates are set at each of their eight starting positions, whether you like it or not (and I’m guessing there are some who won’t like the first base position). As a result, there’s not much to write about here, heading into Spring Training. The only thing to focus on will be keeping all of these guys healthy. If an injury does come up, that is where a starting spot could come in question. So I decided to look at exactly that. The starters are known, but I wanted to give a breakdown of who else could be getting playing time this year, and who would be the top starting option to take over if there was an injury in Spring Training.

Catcher

Projected Starter – Francisco Cervelli

Playing Time Situations – Chris Stewart could split time with Cervelli, as I don’t see Cervelli getting a full workload. Cervelli projects to be the primary catcher, and the big question is how much will the playing time split be between him and Stewart?

If An Injury Occurs in Camp – Tony Sanchez would be the top option to take over, and I think he would be the favorite to start over Stewart if Cervelli went down.

First Base

Projected Starter – Pedro Alvarez

Playing Time Situations – Corey Hart should get some time at first base against left-handers. At his best, he didn’t really have a big platoon weakness, so he could emerge as a full-time option later in the year.

If An Injury Occurs in Camp – Hart needs to show that he’s healthy and productive, and Spring Training might not provide enough time for him to prove this. Andrew Lambo needs to prove he can hit in the majors. One of these two would start, although the Pirates would have to choose between two different types of unknowns.

Second Base

Projected Starter – Neil Walker

Playing Time Situations – Walker should get most of the playing time, although the Pirates could spell him with one of the many other options to keep him fresh.

If An Injury Occurs in Camp – The Pirates have several options here, from starting Jung-ho Kang, to Sean Rodriguez, to moving Josh Harrison over from third base.

Shortstop

Projected Starter – Jordy Mercer

Playing Time Situations – This is another situation where the starter will get the bulk of the workload, but might get subbed a little more often to stay fresh.

If An Injury Occurs in Camp – Jung-ho Kang would be the ideal choice if he proves he can hit and play shortstop in the majors. Otherwise, the Pirates could go with a defensive specialist like Pedro Florimon.

Third Base

Projected Starter – Josh Harrison

Playing Time Situations – Harrison is an option to move all around the field, but he’s kind of locked in at third base due to a lack of options. A productive Kang could make it possible for Harrison to move around.

If An Injury Occurs in Camp – Kang is the top option at the other infield spots (excluding first base), and he’s pretty much the only good option here, unless Deibinson Romero shows something.

Left Field

Projected Starter – Starling Marte

Playing Time Situations – He should get more playing time than most, although that could be cut down by injuries, especially with his tendency to get hit at the plate.

If An Injury Occurs in Camp – The Pirates have a lot of options here. They could move Gregory Polanco over to left field and start Corey Hart or Andrew Lambo in right. They could move Josh Harrison to the outfield if Kang can cover third base. Jose Tabata, Jaff Decker, Mel Rojas, Keon Broxton, and Gorkys Hernandez are options in Triple-A.

Center Field

Projected Starter – Andrew McCutchen

Playing Time Situations – No one gets more playing time on the Pirates than McCutchen, so don’t expect someone to cut into his playing time.

If An Injury Occurs in Camp – The best options would be to move Marte or Polanco over to center field and replace them in the corners.

Right Field

Projected Starter – Gregory Polanco

Playing Time Situations – He’s the starter, but if he struggles again this year early in the season, he could see someone cutting into his playing time.

If An Injury Occurs in Camp – Corey Hart and Andrew Lambo are the top options, although there are risks with either player, as highlighted in the first base section.

  • Arik Florimonte
    February 17, 2015 5:57 pm

    I started making a chart of what would happen if any combination of TWO starters went down, but it got pretty monotonous. Catcher is obvious, 1B is Hart, then if any other infielder or OF goes down it probably creates space for Kang either directly or indirectly.

    So if two guys (other than C or 1B) are out at once, in general it should be Kang + Rodriguez if you need two infielders, Kang + Lambo if you need 1 IF 1 OF, or 2 OF.

  • Tim, What do you see in Lombardozzi? I talked to a few Orioles fans and I got the feeling the O’s fans feel like he could have been an everyday player. A lot of their fans said that they felt Buck Showalter shafted him by never really giving him enough of an opportunity to play. They really liked him. Do you see any other way other besides injury that he makes the big league team?

  • that’s depth that we’ve not seen in forever. major leaguers replacing major leaguers. I don’t love the fourth OF and catcher could be a problem, but on,paper we’re solid everywhere else.

  • Hey Tim. Something I have wondered about for awhile now. Would it not make more sense to swap Harrison and Walker? J-Hay would be an upgrade at 2b over Walker from a defensive standpoint. Walker also played a lot of 3b in the minors and always received rave reviews for his defense. His bat also plays well at that position. While Walker might not be in favor of the switch because it could hurt his value on the free agent market, I think the team is better off this year with the switch. Curious as to your take.

  • Tim or anyone,

    Do you ever remember the Pirates with so much depth?
    (of course, you are much younger than me)

    We even have some depth that we could use in a trade if we had
    a need at a position or for talent we may need in the future.

    My only concern is 3rd base and even if we had to go that deep
    I think we have a player at Indy who may be better than last
    year’s option(s)

    Now if the pitchers could only use the bat a little better.

    I am quite optimistic but not sure I am 90 wins optimistic.
    Maybe they will prove me wrong and win 100, but that
    would be really tough in our division.

    and yes, I have started reading my Pirate Prospects!)

    • Off the top of my head, last time the Pirates had this much depth was early 90s, when guys like RJ Reynolds, John Cangelosi, Wally Backman/Jeff King, Gary Redus/Orlando Merced and Don Slaught manned the bench.

      • And you’ll notice I didnt even list a back-up middle infielder (Curtis Wilkerson, who sucked). Always blows my mind when Pirates waste one of only 5 bench jobs (Leyland’s teams carried 6 extra men and a 12-man staff and still only had 1 back-up middle infielder) on an all-glove / no-hit THIRD SS. If Florimon makes the opening day roster over Lambo, which i fear, I’m gonna scream. When you have JHay, Rodriguez AND Kang as potential options to fill-in at SS temporarily, it’s ludicrous to consider keeping Florimon on the 25-man just for his glove.
        Mercer is rarely going to get PH for, so the need for a glove-only SS with the current construction of the roster is non-existent. I would much rather have an extra bat that would provide a threat as a PH (Lambo preferably, but even Tabata or Decker or Rojas I prefer over Florimon).

      • That was a real good bench!

  • I think you nailed it when you wrote: ” A productive Kang could make it possible for Harrison to move around.”

    I catch a lot of flak when I talk about hoping Josh can return to his role as a utility player instead of being an everyday third baseman, but point is, his versatility is a huge asset you’re not taking advantage of if he’s holding down a regular position.

    For example, yes, we have a lot of options if Marte gets plunked on the wrist on opening day and has to miss eight weeks. But are Hart, Lambo and Tabata good options? They have value as bench players and pinch hitters, but would you feel comfortable knowing one of them had to be a long-term starter? Or would you sleep better at night knowing you could just plug Josh into that spot with little or no appreciable drop-off in talent?

    The same could be said if Walker, Polanco or even Cutch is hurt (in which case Marte would play center and Josh would handle left).

    I’m not saying Kang should just be given the job. What I’m saying is that if Kang can be a productive Major League shortstop — and I’m cautiously optimistic he can — then most of the what-if scenarios listed above can be reduced to a one-word answer: Josh.

    And that’s a pretty darned good answer to have.

    • I think that “flak” comes from what I’d call an antiquated view of “respect”. Most folks of that persuasion speak of Harrison “earning” the 3B job, as if playing somewhere else is a slight. Just don’t see how that’s close to being true in 2015 Major League Baseball, unless you’re an Arizona Diamondbacks fan.

      • Or Josh Harrison, who’d no doubt like to think of himself as having an everyday position. And I can certainly understand his feelings.

        But from the team’s standpoint, Josh’s being able to replace at least half the position players on the field with no drop-off in production is an asset you’re not using if he’s settled in as an everyday player.

        As was amply demonstrated last year, injuries and slumps happen, and there will be countless opportunities for a guy with his skill set to get at-bats as a utility player. The point is, we know he excels in that unique role and, if Kang can produce as an everyday third baseman, Josh can go back to being a human Swiss Army knife and we’re a better team because of it.

        • Josh does not want to be a human Swiss Army Knife for one very good reason, players get paid larger sums of money by position, if he hits this year like he did last year as a third basemen, he will make more money than he would as a utility player.

          • Normally true. But the typical utility player doesn’t hit .300+ with full season AB. Josh would have a very strong case to make to be compensated as a regular, and the Pirates would be foolish not to pay him as such.

            • And regardless, arbitrators looks at at-bat totals, not press clippings of who is considered “a regular”.

              Harrison is gonna get at-bats, regardless of where they come.

          • Try telling that to Ben Zobrist…

  • -I hope the switch flips, and the throwing issues disappear as quickly as they came, but barring that, Tony Sanchez will not be getting significant time as a starting catcher for the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates. Major League ball clubs don’t tell a guy he better learn a new position, then decide he’ll be a starter at the harder position he couldn’t handle. Not at catcher, just too important.

    -Prior to 2014, the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise had just two shortstops that could be considered league-average players in the last *30 years*. I can completely understand the emergence of Jordy Mercer making folks think the position is “set” in that context. But without any glaring holes, the Pirates will now have to squeeze out the few extra wins needed to be Division champs by upgrading *current* positions. Jordy Mercer – a solid glove who makes the plays he’s supposed to but not much else and has hit 20% below league average against RHP for his career – would be one of those positions. If Kang shows he can hit, and hit RHP, he should be getting the lion’s share by the end of the year.

    -Neil Walker will be learning First Base sooner rather than later. I’d rather him be ready to move over in the event of Alvarez failing, allowing Kang to man 2B, than rely on Corey Hart’s knees or Andrew Lambo, period. Or just play Kang at 1B, which would be an even easier transition.

    • For Sanchez, I think it depends on whether Diaz is ready. They moved Sanchez to a new position to get Diaz the bulk of the work in AAA. But if Cervelli goes down in April, I don’t see them calling up Diaz. It would be Sanchez coming up.

      • Definitely with you there. Just don’t agree that Sanchez would be taking starts from Chris Stewart in the event of a Cervelli injury.

        I give the club enough credit to realize that Francisco Cervelli has yet to show the ability to stay healthy for any length of time. Given the high importance of the catcher position combined with the club’s refusal to do *anything* to improve the position upon Russell Martin turning down their offer, the only logical connection for me is that they’re happy with Stewart getting regular starts.

    • Outside fans and writers brokering opinions has anyone actually heard or read anything from the Pirates about Walker playing 1B?

      Agree on Tony Sanchez, I remember a quote from I believe Huntington about expecting more starts from Stewart with Cervelli on the team and Martin gone. Sanchez is serviceable in about all facets, but the throwing is a non-starter.

      • Dejan wrote, last week I believe, that the club *has* had internal discussions about Walker moving. First I’ve actually read anything of the sort, as you allude to. DK hasn’t exactly been batting 1000% for the last few years, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. Just makes too much sense.

        • I hadn’t seen that.

          Personally, I don’t really get why the Pirates would extend Walker with the intention of moving him to first base, that would be a significant amount of money locking a non-elite hitter into the 1B spot.

          • Very much agreed, especially for a team that really shouldn’t be prioritizing such investments at the position in the first place. Can’t imagine Walker will earn much less than $15m/yr on the open market, given the state of prices and offense. If Jose Abreu – even unproven Jose Abreu – was too rich for them at that position then I most certainly would expect 30+ year old Neil Walker to be as well.

          • Given the way their pitchers hit, Bucs will be voting for NL to adopt the DH 🙂

            Ergo, Neal will have a job into his late 30s!

  • If marte is going to continue getting hit by pitches here is a bit of advice, learn how to get hit by a pitch, he’s not the first guy to use getting hbp as a weapon. The ones who are or were good at it don’t use wrists or forearms as the focal point. Find out what they do and mimic it.

  • IMO, middle infield is not nailed down, Kang could steal one of those spots, having a power hitter that can play middle infield is every bit as good as what they have now and I do believe Kang can and will hit major league pitching, he will also strike out a lot, the only difference between the guy we already have that leads the world in K’s is that Kang will still hit for a decent average.

    • The Pirates prioritize defense at shortstop. Kang needs to do more than just hit for power to steal the job from Mercer.

      • I do not see better defense from Mercer than I see from Kang, more like a wash on defense IMO.

        • I agree, although you really can’t scout how consistent a fielder will be. But yeah, Mercer doesn’t look any quicker than Kang and he certainly doesn’t have a better arm.

          There is also *immediate* past precedence of the Pirates choosing a worse defender at short in exchange for a better hitter.

        • AwakenedAngryAmerican
          February 18, 2015 7:34 am

          No way is Kang a match defensively to Mercer. Ever watch the rainbow throws on Korean highlights? Kang better hit like he thinks he can.
          Personally. My prediction is that Mercer will be an NL All-Star Starter and at the top at his position this year.

          • AwakenedAngryAmerican
            April 14, 2015 9:42 am

            After watching the Pirates at Mckinnie Field in person a month ago. I have to admit that the Korean Highlight video I watched 2 mos ago did not do Kang’s arm justice.

            His arm and defense is not an issue.
            He certainly has pop with the bat.

            He looks over matched at the plate. He will be lucky to hit .230 unless he figures out ML pitching and makes the adjustment. But I’m sure he could hit 20-25 bombs if he somehow ends up starting.

            I stick by my prediction that Mercer has a breakout season and will be the starting NL ss at the All-star Game.

  • Depth at each position looks good except the corner IF spots. A recurring theme.

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