Pirates Notebook: An Early Look at Who Could Win the Left Field and Rotation Battles

BRADENTON, Fla. – Clint Hurdle met with the media today after practice for about 20 minutes. There were a lot of questions about the trades of Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, and how the Pirates will go on without them on the roster. Hurdle said the team would move forward, and that “It’s an opportunity for a new era of Pirates baseball.”

Hurdle also said that he doesn’t expect any backlash from Josh Harrison over the trades when Harrison reports to camp next week, and that the focus for the team is going to be on the opportunities in the outfield, rotation, and other Spring Training battles.

I’m not going to go into the breakdown of the trades, or the expectations for the team. Instead, let’s look at those position battles, and how they’re shaping up, based on what Hurdle said.

The Outfield

Hurdle said that the outfield battle for left field looked to be between Adam Frazier, Jordan Luplow, and Sean Rodriguez. He said that Daniel Nava could also work into the mix as a guy off the bench, although they’d find a way to get starts for anyone coming off the bench.

“Right now as we stand today, those would be the three top guys to look at, and maybe Nava finds his way to a corner position from time to time if he works his way onto the club,” Hurdle said.

When Nava was signed, there was talk that he could participate in a platoon. The interesting thing is that he struggled against lefties last year, which means that his best role in a platoon would theoretically be as the primary starter, and not the guy mostly coming off the bench. The Pirates could go with split playing time, rather than a platoon based on splits, which would accomplish what Hurdle is talking about.

Osuna’s Role

Jose Osuna, looking slim this year, was taking grounders at third base today. Hurdle noted that Osuna played better as a starter last year, but there might not be many opportunities for him on this team, based on the comments.

“Osuna showed what he could do as a starter. He played better as a starter than he did as a pinch hitter,” Hurdle said. “You’re still talking about a big outfield. That’s not Jose’s strength.”

Hurdle said that Osuna could play in some smaller outfields on the road, much like he did last year when playing left field at Citizen’s Bank Park. However, most of his time will come at third base.

The problem here is that third base appears to be Colin Moran’s spot.

“We want to give him that opportunity to come in and take hold of it,” Hurdle said of Moran and third base. He also noted that they got some good information from Alex Cora in Houston from Pirates’ infield coach and Alex’s brother Joey Cora.

There’s also David Freese on the roster to play third base, so it’s unlikely that Osuna would get much time there, even if Moran doesn’t make every start.

The Pirates don’t see Osuna as an option for left field at PNC Park due to a lack of range, and he’s third on the depth chart for third base, as well as behind Josh Bell and likely David Freese at first base. Outside of any starts on the road in a smaller outfield, that doesn’t leave many opportunities for Osuna.

My guess is that he makes a good depth option out of Triple-A, but probably won’t fit on the team on Opening Day.

Adding Power

The Pirates were one of the worst teams in the majors last year in terms of power. Hurdle mentioned that some of this was due to the internal struggles and roster situations they had.

“That was a big handicap for us,” Hurdle said of the power. “You miss Marte for 80 [games], Kang never comes back, Cervelli’s out. There’s a lot of home runs or power that are absent from that equation.”

Hurdle also said that the team would look at increasing the power on the team, and looking at specific coaching methods for specific players. They’re also going to let Colin Moran share some tips from the changes he made last year in Houston.

“He’s going to have a conversation and share how he embraced it, how he went about it,” Hurdle said of the changes Moran made.

If anything, Moran should help boost the power, along with Marte returning, and the potential for more power from Polanco. But it wouldn’t hurt if someone else increases their power, and perhaps someone can pull a Moran this year in overhauling their swing.

Musgrove Might Be In and Glasnow Might Be Out

From the sound of things, Joe Musgrove might get the final remaining rotation spot, and Tyler Glasnow might go to the bullpen. I had that thought today when Musgrove was throwing with mostly starting pitchers, and Glasnow was throwing with mostly relief pitchers. But then Hurdle hinted at this when talking about Musgrove after practice.

“We’d like to plug him in the rotation and let him run with it,” Hurdle said. “We believe he’s got the tools to do it. … Off the bat, we envision him in that rotation moving into the season.”

If that happens, what will happen with Glasnow? Would the Pirates send him to Triple-A, or keep him in the majors as a reliever?

“It’s going to be an opportunity where he’s still going to get to pitch,” Hurdle said. “There’s so many intangibles in Spring Training. Tyler is going to have an opportunity to go and pitch, show us the consistency and ability to get outs in the Spring Training vacuum, whether it’s finding a way in the rotation somehow, some way, or whether it’s an opportunity to be a multiple inning reliever in the bullpen.”

My guess right now is that Musgrove joins the rotation and Glasnow starts in the bullpen at the beginning of the year, barring any injuries.

  • Look, everybody likes Freese, but saying that he is blocking Osuna at third, and even first seems kind of dumb, if Osuna continues to develop as a hitter. Is there any guarantee that Freese is even here for much longer? Yeah, he’s a vet, but he’s also a below average hitter. Osuna is a pretty good first basemen, potentially adequate at third, and has a great arm in the outfield (albeit, no range). If David Freese is blocking people, we are really going to suck.

    • I couldn’t agree more with this comment. Why hold a young power bat back with an aging vet.
      I like Freese absolutely but the fit issue should be his not Osuna’s.

  • What if MNeadows appears to get it all together this spring, do they start him in left field or go with the “pick of the litter” approach and send him to Indy, always good for deadening a young player’s soul??

  • Great stuff Tim. This alone is worth a subscription:

    Hurdle also said that the team would look at increasing the power on the team, and looking at specific coaching methods for specific players. They’re also going to let Colin Moran share some tips from the changes he made last year in Houston.

    “He’s going to have a conversation and share how he embraced it, how he went about it,” Hurdle said of the changes Moran made.

    Really happy to read that. Sounds very open minded to at least exploring a few different things.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    February 15, 2018 1:01 pm

    Playing guys like Nava and SRod contributes what to the long term future of the team and development of the young players? Zippo….

    Whatever they are paying those two (along with Nova and Hudson) imagine if they used that money instead to sign 1-2 highly regarded International free agent prospects from LA from each of the past 2-3 years? Instead, they spent most of their pool this year on 45-50 low dollar “suspects”, and the vast majority will likely not get beyond the DSL…..

  • Hurdle should have never been extended.

  • Test comment

  • We’ll likely need at least 7 quality starters to get through the season, so Glasnow (and Brault) will get opportunities.

    I like our rotation. If nothing else, just about every start will be worth watching to see if a guy can take a step forward. I think other P2 subscribers will agree that the process of development can be more interesting than game results–that’s what I’m looking forward to with Taillon, Kuhl, Williams, Musgrove, Glasnow, and Brault. (Just don’t hold me accountable for this statement when one of them pitches well but take a tough loss :).)

  • NH likes to stockpile #4-5 starters it seems along with high upside, high era bullpen arms. Remember, last year Drew Hutchinson was penciled in at 5.
    I’m a little skeptical about asking Colin Moran to be a batting coach also and teach everyone how to hit more homers. Launch angle has been around for a while and other teams have been adopting to increase power. What does this say about our hitting coaches and development?

    • I think it has ,more to do with selling the concept after having a successful Adjustment and will be geared to younger guys. I am thinking specifically about Frazier.

  • Also, I would stretch Glasnow out as a starter first. You have to be prepared for an injury – and Glasnow and Brault should be the first ones in followed by Kingham and Holmes.

  • I’m curious about starting the season with two platoons:
    1. Luplow and Frazier
    2. Polanco and Osuna

    Polanco has held his own against lefties only once in his short career (2016). So I wouldn’t assume he is a full time guy yet.

    And Osuna has a strong arm and could conceivably take the RH platoon in whichever field (right or left) is smaller

    • Regarding Osuna: only in very small fields. Osuna’s range is about the same size as will be found in most kitchens.

      • His range wasn’t optimum no doubt. But maybe that changes a bit with lost weight and better conditioning? Wish we could roll with the young guys vs. having SRod and Nava holding down spots. Freese provides good backup. If we could get anything good… would prefer to move Harrison and Nova. Just don’t see those occurring until July.

        • I agree with your points. There may not be good offers on the table now for JHay and Nova. Maybe by the trade deadline the offers will be better.

    • Polono did well vs LH in the minors. Sitting him won’t help get back on track.

  • WAitamminnit……Osuna may NOT make this team? Sacrilege!!!!!

  • “Hurdle also said that the team would look at increasing the power on the team, and looking at specific coaching methods for specific players. They’re also going to let Colin Moran share some tips from the changes he made last year in Houston.”

    Pittsburgh Pirate hitter development is a f*cking trainwreck.

    • Pretty bad when your going to let a a newly acquired player explain how to hit for power when he’s even yet to do it in the majors. Although if he does help some guys with it can we please have him talk to Will Craig.

    • I agree, this sounds a bit backwards. Launch angle and hitters utilizing it to increase power has been being discussed a few years now and the Pirates brass have to bring in a player to instruct everyone?

    • If they are looking for assistance from Colin Moran (no disrespect to him) I have to agree.

      • I’m sympathetic to the Q&A media scrum format, I really am. I’m sure these guys feel pressured to say *something* and don’t necessarily have the most well-thought out answers.

        This one in particular just happened to confirm a lot of the bias I admittedly already have about hitter development.

        Like, imagine a situation where another club figured out the 2seamer-ground ball thing in 2012, then sometime around 2015 the Pirates acquired AJ Burnett and he taught them about the strategy. What would we be saying about the vaunted Pirate pitching development staff?

    • I guess you have a valid point. I was simply encouraged not to hear something like “we think Colin is best when he is hitting to all fields etc”. I’m not really expecting them to change any existing players into flyball hitters. But I guess I’m just happy to hear they won’t try altering someone who has already reconditioned his swing like Moran.

    • LMFAO so true

    • What do you mean. Starting 3b and hitting coach. Frees up money for a free agent.

  • the more i think, the more okay with a Frazier – X platoon in LF.

    well by the defensive numbers, and i think a lot of people forget how strong of a
    second half he had (accompanied by a slightly elevated, but still
    reasonable… .333 BABIP)

    .304 / .360 / .462

    • A strong second half for Frazier?

      From Jun 1, when he was still hitting .300.

      He hit .261, OPS of .709.

      The league figured him out, in my view. I don’t want him in LF, but I guess we have not choice. We might finish last in LF producation, between him, SeanRod and Luplow (who I think needs ABs at AAA)

      • it’s not clear to me what span of games you’re talking about.

        but i mean i got that slash line directly from fangraphs. those are his second half numbers. that is a strong second half.

      • I never saw a flaw in Frazier’s at bats or swing last year that suggests the “league figured him out”. Sometimes players just go into slumps. The dude can hit. If he could just play an adequate 2B he would be an above average player at that position. At this point He will be the opening day starter in LF and will bat lead off, unless they sign a OF.

      • he had a bad June but that was really it. July he got back to himself. As Jay points out, the 2nd half had his OPS at .822

      • WillyMoGarcia33
        February 15, 2018 12:02 pm

        From what I gathered, it appeared Frazier started struggling when pitchers actually started attacking him. To which, he himself had to then tweak his approach. He had a 163 BA after 0-2 count. Part of the reason I like Frazier, is he’s very patient and won’t swing at crap. But pitchers started using that patience against him, and throwing straight down the middle to try and go 0-2 on him.

  • Looking forward to hearing more about Glasnow’s, changes people were mentioning yesterday…

  • IF Glasnow forces his way into the starting role…why not go with a 6 man rotation or some modified 5+ man where a guy skips a start every so often? Keep the young arms fresh for the whole season. I’m sure there’s some article out on the interwebs discussing pros/cons….think I’ll go to the googles

    • BZ

      I’ve been saying this for a long time. Years, actually, musing on the fact that the Bucs probably have 10 “good” pitchers. I wouldn’t even have a bullpen… just a 10 man rotation and whenever one guy sits, the next gets up. You’d wind up with everyone stretched out and everyone rested up for the long season.


  • I really do hope Glasnow gets it together but I will be surprised. His delivery and release were just so all over the place and inconsistent. Not sure that can be fixed.

    • Those things can be fixed, those are mechanical issues that with practice and time can be overhauled. What you can’t change is his natural talent and overall skill set. He has the ability to do this, what has held him back is mechanics and mentality.

    • They said same thing about Randy Johnson

  • Put Glasnow in a time machine and trade him 3 years ago.

    • Disagree. THAT kind of upside, you be patient with. If Glasnow figures it out, we’ve got an ace. Put him in the bullpen in long relief and let him work it out against big league hitters.

  • Carlos Martinez was in the cardinals pen for a season. I’m cool with Glasnow doing the same. He needs to learn MLB hitters, and how to get them out

  • I would rather see Glasnow pitch ever 5th day in the minor than be in the big league bullpen. I know he has accomplished all he can at AAA but get him innings.

    • Why? We have seen what he can do in AAA…he needs to face major leaguers

    • At this point, he needs to see MLB hitting more. Being in the bullpen may help him feel things out better and perhaps eventually he’ll move to the starting rotation. This has been done before by other ball clubs.

  • I really don’t get people talking about these position battles. The bullpen and the final bench spot are the only ones up for grabs. Moran is the 3B and Musgrove is in the rotation. They most likely will go with a LF by committee if Luplow makes the team and a platoon with Frazier and Nava if he doesn’t. Serpico isn’t going to be a starter and will unfortunately get a lot of late inning time at 1B. Only interesting decisions are in bullpen and who makes it out of Moroff Ozuna and Luplow. If they add a starting OF, make a trade, or add Nunez type things may become a little more interesting

  • It fills my heart with joy that they’re open to changing their team approach to increase power.

    And I really hope Glasnow comes out in spring training and forces his way into the rotation somehow.

    • It was Hurdle & that stat geeks who change the whole system into spray hitters.
      Hurdle listing Srod in the LF starting equation is one of the main reasons he should’ve never been brought back.
      I like David Freese, great guy, but he won’t be around when Pirates turn the corner, Osuna should be ahead of him & Srod at every position.

      • Osuna at SS and 2nd over Srod? 🙂

        • I dont know if you’ve seen Srod at SS, it was horrific, not saying Osuna is an option there, but Srod shouldn’t be either. Srod, Freese & Nava shouldn’t be taking AB’s away from Osuna, Frazier or Moroff