Pirates’ Spring Position Battles: Secondbase

Secondbase should be one of the Pirates’ more settled positions, as they have one of MLB’s better secondbasemen.  For a variety of reasons, it may not be.  This year, it may serve as something of an overflow for the shortstop situation.  And some minor league guys provide a good deal of long-term interest.

Adam Frazier:  The last two years, Frazier has been a finalist for the Gold Glove.  His defense was good enough that, despite a rough year at the plate, he ranked 13th among qualifiers at the position in fWAR.  In 2019, he ranked 11th.  For some reason, he just doesn’t hit in the first half of a season; his career monthly OPS ranges from .689 to .713 in April through June, and from .756 to .826 in July through September.  Maybe that’s what happened in the plague season.  Anyway, you’d think he’d simply be The Pirate Secondbaseman, but that’s not set in stone.  There are three variables:  the possibility of a trade, which is looking remote for the time being; the Pirates’ bizarre penchant for playing middle infielders in the outfield, which specifically has impacted Frazier; and the possibility that the team will want to see Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker at second, if only to get them some playing time.  (I’ll leave Newman and Tucker for the SS discussion.)  The more Frazier plays in the outfield, the less valuable he becomes.

Odds of playing in Pgh. this season:  100%

Phillip Evans:  A few days ago, Evans looked like he’d be the Pirates’ primary backup at the infield corners.  Then they signed Todd Frazier, who figures to get that role if he makes the team.  Evans has actually played a lot at second throughout his career, as well as spending more time at short than any other position.  If Adam Frazier gets traded, he could end up playing a decent amount at second.  The outfield is another possibility.  Evans has been a good hitter at the AA and AAA levels, and has 105 OPS+ in very limited major league time.  He also has two options left, so he’s no longer a lock to open the season in the majors.  He’ll probably be competing for a job with Todd Frazier and Tucker this spring.

Odds of playing in Pgh. this season:  90%

Rodolfo Castro:  One of the Pirates’ most interesting upper-level prospects, Castro hasn’t quite put all his ability in play yet.  That’s mainly due to a reluctance to take pitches.  A switch-hitter, he has legitimate power from both sides of the plate.  He can play second, third or short, although short might be a stretch on more than a limited basis.  He also runs well.  In 2019, Castro finished well after a rough first month in high A.  Now on the 40-man roster, AA will be a good test for him.  It’ll be interesting to see how the Pirates parcel the assignments, both level- and position-wise, among Castro, Oneil Cruz and Nick Gonzales.  Since the Pirates aren’t dragging in the usual horde of veterans on minor league deals, all three should get some opportunities with the big club.  They’ll be among the most intriguing guys to follow this spring.

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

Kevin Kramer:  Like Will Craig, a couple years ago Kramer appeared to be one of the Pirates’ better prospects.  He had a big year in AAA, but the Pirates were too busy pointlessly clinging to Josh Harrison and Sean Rodriguez.  Then Kramer looked overmatched in September and the team obviously soured on him.  He followed up with below-average hitting in AAA in 2019 and again looked out of his depth in the majors in September.  The Pirates also reduced Kramer’s value by playing him mostly in the outfield.  And to top it off, he missed the plague season due to hip surgery.  So now he’s off the roster and attending spring training as an NRI.  He’s going to need a lot of luck to get a chance in Pittsburgh in 2021.

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

Nick Gonzales:  As an NRI, Gonzales is probably going to be in the unusual position of playing in a major spring training game before he plays his first minor league game.  That’s partly because of the pandemic and partly because the Pirates are very eager to see their best prospects in camp.  They’re likely to give him some time at short, but he projects best as their long-term solution at second.

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