Ben Gamel represents so many of the problems that face the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He looks like a guy who can be an average or better starter, but hasn’t put up those results yet. He’s been around a 1 WAR player most of his time since a great 1.7 WAR rookie season in 2017. He had a 1.4 WAR with the Pirates this year, though if you look closely, most of that production came in July.
Good tools on the field, poor MLB results, flashes a signs of hope, but lacks consistency. The Pirates need him to gain consistency and become an average or better starter. He’s definitely not a Pirates prospect, but he’s facing the same issues that previous Pirates prospects have faced too often.
The Pirates need Gamel to be a starter, because they have a need for two corner outfielders. However, Gamel represents a bigger issue for the Pirates: No immediate options from the farm system, and no great options in the majors.
Gamel represents, to me, the best internal option for an average or better outfielder next year, aside from the obvious in Bryan Reynolds. I don’t feel that’s a bold statement. Gamel had the same value as Andrew McCutchen in 2021, who Pirates fans would love to see return for nostalgic purposes.
In either case, you’re likely only getting help for one year. Gamel is a free agent following the 2022 season, meaning his biggest value to the team would be a hot start, another great month of July, and a trade return at the deadline.
That wouldn’t be a bad result from someone the Pirates picked up off of waivers this season.
Alternatives to Gamel
Anthony Alford is the best alternative to Gamel if the Pirates are looking for a potential starter. Alford had a strong finish to the season, with an .853 OPS in the month of September. He strikes out way too much, but does draw a good amount of walks and hits for power, leaving room for a productive three-outcomes type player, with similar defensive value to Gamel.
The upside here is that if Alford were to break out in 2022 as an average-or-better starter, then the Pirates would have him for at least three more seasons.
Gamel might be the safer pick for the 2022 season, but Alford represents the highest upside pick due to his chance to help the team long-term. There’s an argument to be made that Alford should get the starting job in 2022 for that reason, and since the Pirates don’t project to contend. The Pirates do need two outfielders beyond Reynolds, so they don’t need to choose here.
Jared Oliva is the most interesting of the prospects in the upper levels. He’s already seen MLB time, and has strong defensive value. He’s yet to hit, and doesn’t have much power, making him a bigger risk than Alford, possibly with a lower upside.
The long-term of the left field position will likely be filled by prospects who are making their way up from Altoona. I recapped those guys today over at Pirates Prospects. It could be argued that bringing up the prospects early would be a better alternative to any of the current MLB options.