Last week, while writing all of the first base articles, and looking at how the Pirates were loaded with talented first base options for once, I had an article idea. I wanted to go through each position and see who they had in the system as short-term replacements, and who the long-term replacements were in the system. The Pirates have a very talented, and very deep system, and the depth runs through almost every position. In the long-term, they’ve got top options for every spot, or they’ve got talented young players in the majors locked down for a long period of time.
The chart gives an idea of how things could play out in the future for the Pirates and their current starters. Right now, every position has its top prospect slated to arrive just before the big league guy becomes a free agent, which is what you want. The one exception could be at catcher, with today’s news on Elias Diaz putting his status up in the air. Other than that, you might want to get used to the John Jaso/Josh Bell situation this year, because that could repeat itself many times over the next few years.
Here is the breakdown of each position. Note that I didn’t include pitchers, because it would just be a list of every pitcher in the upper and lower levels, and a note that you can’t have too much pitching.
Current Starter: Francisco Cervelli
Under Team Control Through: 2016
Short-Term Replacement: Elias Diaz
Long-Term Replacement: Reese McGuire
Analysis: Diaz is having surgery, although his agent tweeted that it isn’t Tommy John. Right now, we don’t know how long he will be out, or the long-term impact. What we can assume is that Francisco Cervelli will be a free agent at the end of the season. This puts the Pirates in the same situation they were in two years ago when Russell Martin was in his final year of his deal. The entire season was spent wondering what they would do the following year without Martin, and hoping the Pirates would extend Martin. This time around, there’s the chance that Diaz could take over. If he’s not healthy, and if Cervelli leaves, then they’ll have to find another catcher to fill the gap until Reese McGuire is ready, or until Diaz is healthy. The thing about that latter point: Even if Diaz misses the entire 2016 season, they could still go with him as the starter in 2017.
Current Starter: John Jaso
Under Team Control Through: 2017
Short-Term Replacement: Josh Bell
Long-Term Replacement: Josh Bell
Analysis: I’ve written about this a lot in the last week. Bell is off to a great start, but he’s blocked by Jaso. This is a great situation to be in, having a productive player in the majors, and a top prospect living up to the hype in the minors.
Current Starter: Josh Harrison
Under Team Control Through: 2020
Short-Term Replacement: Alen Hanson
Long-Term Replacement: Alen Hanson
Analysis: If Harrison gets injured, or is needed elsewhere, then Alen Hanson could take over here. Hanson was in the mix to start for the Pirates until Jung-ho Kang returned, but the club eventually decided on David Freese as the temporary starter, which has been a good move. Hanson should eventually be up, and projects to be the starter at second in the long-term. Other options here are Max Moroff and Adam Frazier, although Hanson is the leader of that group.
Current Starter: Jordy Mercer
Under Team Control Through: 2018
Short-Term Replacement: Gift Ngoepe
Long-Term Replacement: Kevin Newman
Analysis: The Pirates are weak at shortstop in the short-term, relying on all-defense options like Gift Ngoepe and Pedro Florimon. They’ve also got all-offense guys like Adam Frazier or Alen Hanson. In the long-term, Kevin Newman looks like the starter of the future. Cole Tucker could factor in that mix, but Newman will arrive sooner, definitely before Mercer becomes a free agent. He’s got a strong hitting ability, and a lot of speed. If he improves his defense, then you’ve got a good all-around starting shortstop.
Current Starter: Jung-ho Kang
Under Team Control Through: 2019
Short-Term Replacement: Alen Hanson/Max Moroff
Long-Term Replacement: Ke’Bryan Hayes
Analysis: Technically, the short-term replacement is David Freese. And then I think the club might go with Jason Rogers if Freese is injured. But beyond those two, the club has Alen Hanson and Max Moroff in Triple-A. Hanson hasn’t played much third base, so he might not be high on the depth chart here, even though he’s a better prospect than Moroff. As for Moroff, he has more time at third base, but looks like a very short-term option as a starter at the position. Long-term, Ke’Bryan Hayes is the future at the position, even if other guys like Wyatt Mathisen or Connor Joe work out. He might even arrive just in time to replace Kang, spending 2017 between Bradenton and Altoona, 2018 between Altoona and Indianapolis, and 2019 in the Josh Bell role to Kang’s John Jaso role.
Current Starter: Starling Marte
Under Team Control Through: 2021
Short-Term Replacement: Adam Frazier
Long-Term Replacement: Austin Meadows
Analysis: The outfield is tricky. If Marte needs to be replaced in left, it either means he’s injured (probably by one of the many HBP that he’s subject to), or it means he moved to center field. Either way, the short-term options don’t look good. Adam Frazier looks like the best option in left field, although in 2016, Matt Joyce would be the answer. Long-term, Austin Meadows could have this spot, although that doesn’t mean that Marte would be off the team. I just think Meadows profiles best at this position.
Current Starter: Andrew McCutchen
Under Team Control Through: 2018
Short-Term Replacement: Starling Marte
Long-Term Replacement: Starling Marte
Analysis: Speaking of Meadows, he might factor in to the center field mix more than left field, at least with decision-making. Starling Marte is the short-term and long-term replacement for McCutchen in center field, but that would open up left field, which is where Meadows comes into play. The Pirates might eventually be faced with a decision on whether they want to keep McCutchen at a high price, or go with the younger Meadows to replace him.
Current Starter: Gregory Polanco
Under Team Control Through: 2023
Short-Term Replacement: Willy Garcia
Long-Term Replacement: Gregory Polanco
Analysis: Short-term, Willy Garcia might be the best prospect option in right field. Long-term, I’m just putting down Polanco. He’s under control through the 2023 season. His eventual replacement might be a freshman in high school right now, and probably isn’t even in the system yet (or in pro ball).
**Pirates Lose First 2016 Matchup Against Cubs, 7-2. James Santelli returns to the site, working on a special feature for this week. He also provided some game coverage tonight, looking at what went wrong with Gerrit Cole’s control.
**Pirates Fans, Theo Epstein Sends His Condolences. James also had a pre-game article, talking with Theo Epstein and Jake Arrieta about last year’s Wild Card game.
**Prospect Watch: Brault Labors Through Outing, Bradenton Puts Up 11 Runs. Kevin Kramer hit his first home run of the season tonight.
**Elias Diaz to Undergo Right Elbow Surgery. Hopefully the report that it isn’t Tommy John is true, and hopefully it’s minor enough to allow him to play in 2017.
**Brandon Waddell is the Pirates Prospects Pitcher of the Month for April. The 50th Waddell article I’ve written recently, it feels like. There’s a reason he was promoted to Altoona so quickly.
**Josh Bell is the Pirates Prospects Player of the Month for April. Some great trends with Bell, including increased power and better production from the right side.
**Draft Prospect Watch: New Rankings From MLB Pipeline. John Dreker takes a look at some new draft rankings.
**Morning Report: Thoughts on the Weekend Starts From Kuhl, Holmes, Eppler and Glasnow. John broke down the starts of four of the top prospects this weekend.