The Pirates have seen some struggles from their bench throughout the year. At the start of the calendar year it looked like they could have a very strong bench. They had Jung-ho Kang, Corey Hart, Sean Rodriguez, and Travis Snider — four guys who had either been starters for periods of time in the recent past, or who had a chance to be starters in the future.
They traded Snider before the season, opting to potentially sell at his highest value and get a few prospects, while going with a combination of Andrew Lambo, Jaff Decker, or Jose Tabata. The Snider trade worked. The replacements didn’t work. Lambo was injured early in the year after struggling. Tabata did about the same thing he has done the last few years when called up. Decker didn’t really stick in the majors in his limited callup, after dealing with injuries the first half of the season. Making matters worse, a few of the other bench players didn’t work out.
Kang was the biggest success story, but he was moved to a starting role by mid-season with Jordy Mercer struggling. There were also struggles from Gregory Polanco, which shifted Josh Harrison to the outfield at times, buying more playing time for Kang at third base.
The remaining guys on the bench were Corey Hart and Sean Rodriguez. The hope with Hart was that he could rediscover his old offense, and that didn’t happen. Rodriguez has put up decent numbers in the past, but hasn’t done that this year. He has been excellent defensively, which gets lost on a bench that desperately needed a bat. And it’s not as if Snider would have saved the group, since he struggled in Baltimore to the point of getting released by a team competing for the playoffs and in need of outfield help.
The bench has struggled most of the year, but the Pirates are finally about to see a very strong bench in the coming weeks.
The improvements will start when Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison return from their injuries. That will lead to a more flexible team all around, especially with the emergence of Kang. Mercer is a better defensive shortstop than Kang, and Kang has been better at third base. The best approach would be to have Mercer playing most of the games at short, Kang playing most of the games at third, and Harrison moving to a super utility role.
That would push Aramis Ramirez out of the lineup, and he’s been hitting well lately. He’s also been learning first base, making him an option at the corners. The Pirates also have Michael Morse, who has settled in as the right-handed platoon option at first base, and has done well in an extremely small sample size. Morse had fantastic numbers last year in San Francisco, but probably won’t get a chance to show what he can do against right-handers as long as Pedro Alvarez stays hot.
With Mercer, Harrison, and Kang on the left side, you’ve got at least one starter that will be on the bench everyday. Morse and Ramirez give two interesting bats off the bench, basically each providing what you hoped for out of Corey Hart at the beginning of the season. Then there’s Rodriguez, whose defensive skills and ability to play anywhere works a lot better when everyone else is providing the offense.
Add to that mix the return of Travis Snider in September, plus a few other potential callups from Triple-A, and you only get more depth down the stretch.
The Pirates have an improving bullpen, and an offense that makes it seem like they are never out of any game. It will be good to add an upgraded bench to that combo. And if the starting rotation gets back on track, then this team that was already on pace for 97 wins could get scary.
**Another Strong Outing From J.A. Happ Leads to Another Win for the Pirates. Pete Ellis breaks down Happ’s latest start, and what has been working for him recently. I don’t want to call Happ a success just yet, but it’s good to see him seemingly on the right track and doing so well.
**More to the Eye Than a Slump for Max Moroff. Sean McCool looks at Max Moroff’s slump recently, and what has been happening behind the numbers.
**Prospect Watch: Coley Goes Seven Strong, Mathisen Picks Up Four Hits. Live report tonight from Sean McCool in Altoona, with more reports on Moroff.
**Pirates Add Josh Wall to Bullpen, Pedro Florimon Designated For Assignment. Tough break for Florimon, who hits the game winner one night, and gets DFAd the next night. That would have happened eventually when Jordy Mercer returned, so it’s not a big loss. It would be nice if he clears waivers again, allowing the Pirates to keep him and bring him back in September.
**Travis Snider Will Sign Minor League Deal With Pirates. I broke down the move, looking at how Snider can help the bench depth, but probably won’t live up to expectations that are based on the outrage displayed when he was traded.
**Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison Getting Closer to Returning. Ryan Palencer with the latest update on the two rehabbing infielders, including an interesting quote from Harrison on his potential return.