BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates have been faced with questions all spring about how they will handle losing so many players from Spring Training action to the World Baseball Classic.
They’re losing their entire starting outfield, with Andrew McCutchen playing for Team USA and Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco playing for the Dominican Republic. Francisco Cervelli will play for Italy, while Josh Harrison was recently added to Team USA. That removes five of their eight regular starters. They will also send Eric Wood to Team Canada. Ivan Nova, Jared Lakind, and Luis Escobar could also go, with the latter not being in MLB camp.
The concern all along is that missing those players could impact the development and buildup of most of the starting lineup heading into the season. But the silver lining here is that losing all of those guys will create some opportunities for the fringe players on the roster to get playing time and show what they can do. That’s especially important in the outfield, where the Pirates aren’t currently projected to carry a true fourth outfielder on the bench, and will instead use a super utility player.
“We’ve got guys who can play out there,” Hurdle said. “We’re going to move some of our versatile infielders out there at times. Plus we’ve got the backup outfielders.”
Hurdle mentioned Jose Osuna, Austin Meadows, Barrett Barnes, and Danny Ortiz as guys who could get more playing time with the WBC crowd gone. He mentioned that Meadows will get some starts in left field, due to input from the player development staff.
“Talked to our minor league guys while he’s here,” Hurdle said. “Down the road at some point in time maybe left field is an option.”
The Pirates will also use some of their utility infielders in the lineup, such as Adam Frazier, Chris Bostick, Max Moroff, Alen Hanson, and Phil Gosselin. Not all of them will play outfield, but there will be some opportunities at second base with Harrison gone.
The interesting thing is that these super utility assignments might not be temporary. Hurdle said that the team has discussed moving Josh Harrison around a bit, and said he believes Harrison will be used as a super utility player for Team USA. That fits with the plans the Pirates had for him this spring. If they plan on moving him around during the season, they could use other players at second base, and go with a group of utility players at different spots, rather than a traditional lineup, especially when injuries come up.
The Pirates did this last year at the end of the season when injuries came up. They had Josh Bell switching between first base and right field, and Adam Frazier switching between second base and the outfield. It will be interesting to see how they handle the super utility group this year, and who will be used the most as the backup outfielder. That decision might be based on the playing time over the next few weeks, and who shows the best abilities on the field while the starting outfielders are gone.