First Pitch: The Future of the Pittsburgh Pirates – Position Player Edition

I’ve been working on the final edits to the 2020 Prospect Guide, while casually watching the push for Kumar Rocker from the Pirates. With the 2020 season nearing an end, I thought it would be a good time to look at the future of each position on the team. Today, we’re going to focus on the position players. Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.

Catcher – The Pirates are getting strong production from Jacob Stallings this year, primarily fueled by his defense. I think that will remain going forward. Stallings could be good enough to start for a few years, but the Pirates will need an upgrade. Unfortunately, there aren’t any immediate upgrade options in the system, where catching depth is very thin.

First Base – This is a tough situation. Josh Bell is under control through the 2022 season, although he has yet to live up to his potential as an impact player. He was a 2.5 WAR player in 2019, but hasn’t come close to that yet in 2020. My guess is that he would be gone by the end of 2021 if he has a bounce back year next year. That’s based on the idea that the Pirates won’t be competitive in 2021, and would be sellers at the deadline. As a Scott Boras client, I don’t see him signing any extensions. This would put focus on Will Craig to develop into a major league starter in the short-term. Mason Martin is a sleeper candidate to start here in the future.

Second Base – Adam Frazier has turned into a solid defender at second, with very inconsistent offense. That makes it difficult to count on him as a starter, although the Pirates don’t have many better options right now. Frazier is also only under control through 2022. One of their shortstop options could move over to second, but that would require one of them to step up and claim the shortstop position first. My best bet right now is that Kevin Newman would be the long-term option at second base, which would require him to hit like he did in 2019.

Shortstop – The Pirates have some interesting long-term options here, but no reliable short-term options. Erik Gonzalez could be the answer at shortstop in the short-term, providing Freddy Galvis like 1.5 WAR. I see that as his ceiling, and that’s something they’d want to upgrade over. For some reason, Cole Tucker is now banned from the shortstop position. Kevin Newman is an option, but Gonzalez has the better defense, giving him the edge. They have a lot of interesting long-term options in the minors — Oneil Cruz, Liover Peguero, and 2020 first round pick Nick Gonzales — and honestly I could spend an entire article looking at the possibilities here and how they might impact other positions. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates get 3-4 long-term starters from their current batch of young shortstop options in the majors and minors.

Third Base – Ke’Bryan Hayes. That is all.

Left Field – Bryan Reynolds had a huge season last year, but has been replacement level this year. I think he’s likely to end up in some middle ground with a 2+ WAR performance going forward. That’s not ideal, but we’re long removed from the days of the Dream Outfield, where the Pirates could count on 8-10 WAR from their outfield trio.

Center Field – After a decade of Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte manning center field, the Pirates are now turning to… Cole Tucker. The experiment with Tucker in the outfield hasn’t gone well, and he hasn’t hit enough to justify the poor defense. His defensive value is low due to a lack of range, which could be solved by more time at the position. I feel like he’d be better suited working at a more familiar position, where he could focus on offense, but I can’t imagine where the Pirates could find a spot for him in his natural element on this team. Long-term, the Pirates have Travis Swaggerty and Jared Oliva topping their center field depth charts. I think Swaggerty has the best chance of being more than an average starter. Oneil Cruz could be an interesting sleeper here, and ultimately I think he’ll factor into the long-term outfield somewhere, potentially giving the Pirates another 4+ WAR outfielder. I could see a Reynolds/Swaggerty/Cruz outfield coming up with 8-10 WAR per year combined. In the short-term, I think Anthony Alford is an interesting option for 2021, which says a lot about the position right now when the best option is a recent waiver claim.

Right Field – With my dying breath, as I’m overcome by some combination of soot from the west coast, hurricanes from the south, COVID-19, and general depression, I will utter the words: “Gregory Polanco can still be an impact player.” I’m guessing that will happen the moment he leaves Pittsburgh. I’d actually try him at first base, eliminating the defensive impact, with Josh Bell as the designated hitter. As I said earlier, I could see Oneil Cruz being the long-term option here, which is ironic as he has a very similar profile to Polanco, with a massively high ceiling, and questions about how high he can go from a replacement level floor.

We’ll take a look at the pitchers tomorrow.

The 2020 Prospect Guide returns to print for our tenth anniversary! This year we are releasing three variant covers, featuring Mitch Keller, Ke’Bryan Hayes, and Oneil Cruz. Visit our shop page to order these extremely limited items!


First Pitch