The bench is a pretty boring area to cover for a last place team.
If the players were good enough to start, they’d likely already be starting for the team. But a last place team has little need for the extra wins that depth provides, so they tend to stock their bench with guys who might be good enough to start in the future, when the wins will matter.
This leaves you with the same type of bench guys:
**27-29 year old MLB veterans who haven’t lived up to their prospect hype, but also haven’t fully extinguished their hope of making it in the majors
**23-25 year old prospects who have enough promise to see what they can do in the majors, but enough questions to make them work their way into a spot
**All of the waiver claims
If you search hard, you’ll find a future starter in the group. There’s always going to be one. We just never know ahead of time that it’s going to be a minor league veteran like Garrett Jones, or a fringe prospect turned starter like Josh Harrison, or a player looking for a better chance in a new organization like Travis Snider.
Today we’ll be looking at the members of the 2020 Pirates bench, focusing on the guys who will likely be on the bench in 2021, while also having a shot to move into a starter role in the future.
Moran is an interesting case here. He’s been a third baseman, but there’s no room for him there with Ke’Bryan Hayes. He’s not even the second best defensive option to back up Hayes. He’s shown better defense than Josh Bell at first base, but Bell has the better bat so far. Moran’s bat has shown some promise, with the most promising thing of his 2020 season being his .225 ISO. Unfortunately, his overall numbers were bad due to a drop in average. He went from .277 the last two years to .247 in 2020. His walk rate was at an all-time high, which helped to offset some of the lost hits.
Moran had a BABIP of .291, which is below his career average of .321. He showed good contact trends, with a 47.2% hard hit rate (up from a career 36.8%), a 13.4% barrel rate (6.9% career), and a 91.9 MPH exit velocity (88.8). Moran saw his soft contact go from 15% to 9.4% and that all went to hard contact.
The main downside is that he hit the ball on the ground way too often, with a 56.3% ground ball rate. His line drive rate went way down as a result. His launch angle fell from 12.4 to 8.3, which explains the increase in ground balls, as he had an angle that doesn’t typically lead to balls leaving the infield.
Moran is hitting the ball harder, and it’s leading to better power results. He’s walking more, and not striking out a considerable amount for his power. The problem is that his contact isn’t consistently good. If he could get back to his 2019 launch angle, while maintaining the current exit velocity and walk rates, you’d see a bat good enough to start at first base.
The question is whether the Pirates can keep everything in place while adding the missing piece.
Evans got into 11 games, and opened some eyes with his bat. He also played all over the infield and outfield. He was shut down with a broken jaw after colliding with Gregory Polanco on a fly ball in foul territory in right field. He should be guaranteed a spot on the bench to start the 2021 season. He has options, but he’s also one of the more promising bench guys right now, with the hope that he could emerge as more than a bench guy. Evans will be in his age 28 season next year and has five years of team control remaining.
Erik Gonzalez/Kevin Newman/Cole Tucker
One of these guys will be the starting shortstop. I could also see another being the starting second baseman if Adam Frazier is moved to the outfield. All three have a shot at the opening day roster, with Tucker being the most likely to remain in the minors if there’s a lack of space.
There’s a chance that this trio will take up 33-40% of the bench spots. It’s a weird situation for the Pirates to be in. You want these guys to be starters, with average starting upside across the board. Yet, you know that if they’re on the bench, it’s likely because they haven’t made the transition from “upside” to actual MLB production.
This seems like a case where we will either see two starters and the need for a stronger bench, or we’ll see a weak bench and weak starters. It’s difficult to envision a scenario where you have two starter quality guys from this group playing off the bench in 2021.
Alford was claimed by the Pirates off waivers, did well for about a week, then was shut down with an elbow fracture. They have very little outfield depth, especially regarding players who can play center field. It’s almost a guarantee that Alford makes the team in 2021 in some role. I could see them trying to upgrade the starting outfield from the outside, and letting Alford show what he can do off the bench, with a chance to work his way into a starting role. He’d have four years of control remaining beyond the 2021 season, which makes him an interesting guy to watch if he works out.