Pirates’ Spring Position Battles: Firstbase

Another position where there’s no battle at all for the starting job, firstbase this spring has more interest going forward than catcher.  Of course, long-term it’s impossible to say whether somebody might get moved to first, but for now the Pirates have at least one actual prospect at the position.

Colin Moran:  One collateral benefit of Ke’Bryan Hayes taking over at third is sharply reducing Moran’s ability to give up runs on the defensive side.  Moran also traded singles and doubles for home runs and walks in the plague season.  His OPS+ went from 96 in 2019 to 115, despite the fact that he played almost twice as often against LHPs as he had previously.  The Pirates have talked about playing Moran every day, which may or may not be a good idea.  He hammered RHPs in 2020 (254/340/516).  LHPs, not so much (231/286/365).  Moran has three years of control left.

Odds of playing in Pgh. this season:  100%

Todd Frazier:  He’ll have to make the team after signing a minor league deal, but Frazier probably has a strong likelihood of doing so.  He hasn’t looked quite washed up yet; he managed an OPS+ of 87 in 172 PAs in the plague year and 105 as mostly a regular in 2019.  He was exactly replacement level, by fWAR, in 2020, a figure surpassed by only seven Pirates’ position players, one of whom was Guillermo Heredia.  In 2019, he was worth 1.8.  If Clint Hurdle was still around, we’d have every reason to fear Frazier would take playing time away from Ke’Bryan Hayes.  Instead, it’s more likely he’ll cost Phillip Evans, who has two options left, a roster spot.  Or maybe Cole Tucker will lose out.  Anyway, the right-handed Frazier would certainly reduce Moran’s playing time against LHPs.

Odds of playing in Pgh. this season:  80%

Will Craig:  Things haven’t exactly gone well for Craig the last couple years.  He was a below-league-average hitter in AAA in 2019 as a firstbaseman and wasn’t called up in September.  In 2020, he was called up from the Altoona training site only long enough to get four ABs for a team that was suffering through a historically bad offensive season.  Then he got outrighted off the 40-man roster, which is pretty drastic for a former first-round pick after only four ABs in the majors.  And Craig is now 26 and the Pirates just signed Todd Frazier.  Still, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing ever if the right combination of better AAA hitting, injuries and bad performances afforded him a shot at some point during the year.

Odds of playing in Pgh. this season:  10%

Mason Martin:  Martin still gets little attention for a guy who had by far the most home runs and RBIs of any minor league player below AAA in 2019.  And he did it across the two single-A levels at age 19-20.  Yes, he strikes out a ton, but that’s not exactly unusual now and Martin has a good eye at the plate.  He has yet to play in AA, so a successful season for him will be getting to AAA at some point during the summer.

Odds of playing in Pgh. this season:  <10%