With a little over a month and a half remaining in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2021 season, I wanted to do a rundown of the starting position players.
The Pirates have very few players who have a spot locked down in 2022, which has them in the race for the first overall pick in 2022. This final stretch will give some players a chance to win a starting role, or to secure a spot where the Pirates might be harder-pressed to find an upgrade.
Here’s a look at the lineup, along with the top prospect who could replace these guys, and when that prospect could arrive.
C – Jacob Stallings
The Pirates have added their long-term upgrade in Henry Davis, with a few other backup candidates in Carter Bins, Abrahan Gutierrez, Endy Rodriguez, and Eli Wilson. They would be hard-pressed to upgrade over Stallings until then, likely waiting until 2023 for Davis to arrive.
1B – Colin Moran
He currently ranks 29th of 48 first basemen in WAR with 190+ plate appearances. He ranks higher in wOBA (21st) and wRC+(24th) among that same group. The Pirates can upgrade over Moran, but he’s just good enough at the plate that they might be better rolling the dice with him and seeing if there’s a higher level than the last two seasons. Mason Martin is the closest prospect who could replace Moran, though I wouldn’t expect him up until mid-2022.
2B – Rodolfo Castro
This position is open, and Castro is getting the first real look. The Pirates have additional options, including Hoy Park, who is currently in the majors in more of a utility role. The biggest upgrade prospect is Nick Gonzales, who could arrive at some point in 2022, though 2023 is a more conservative guess.
SS – Kevin Newman
Based on his season numbers, Newman shouldn’t be considered a lock for the starting role in 2022. Based on his numbers since the All-Star break, he should be in consideration for a spot if he finishes the year strong. I’m not sure how else to describe what he’s doing lately. This spot is still Newman’s to lose, and hopefully we’re seeing a sign from his latest spur of doubles that he’s not planning on losing it any time soon. I do wonder if the organization will give Cole Tucker some kind of a chance in the majors. The top prospect who can replace Newman is Oneil Cruz, if he remains at shortstop. Otherwise, the top option would be Liover Peguero, likely with a 2023 ETA.
3B – Ke’Bryan Hayes
Hayes is the best option in the Pirates’ system, short-term and long-term. At the least, he can be an elite defender with an OPS above .700. At best, he can be one of the best third basemen in the game.
LF – Ben Gamel
This is another spot that is open, and Ben Gamel semingly has a short-term inside track on the position. He’s kind of in Colin Moran territory, where you could upgrade over him, but it might be better to see what the internal option can do. The Pirates have some potential starting outfielders in Altoona: Cal Mitchell, Canaan-Smith Njigba, Matthew Fraizer, and Jack Suwinski. There’s also the possibility that one of the infielders could move to the outfield, with the biggest impact potential coming from Oneil Cruz. Most of that group will join Travis Swaggerty as options who could arrive by the end of 2022.
CF – Bryan Reynolds
This is the one position where the Pirates can take comfort that no upgrade is needed.
RF – Gregory Polanco
Polanco is locked in for the remainder of the year with his contract, so you hope for the best. The Pirates should consider a platoon situation, since Polanco has been horrible against lefties. All of the outfield prospects mentioned in the LF section apply here in the future.