With pitchers and catchers already in Bradenton and workouts already started, one of the biggest storylines of spring training, once the whole squad reports, is who will be the third outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
General manager Neal Huntington hinted that the club could still sign someone.
“There are still players of interest to us. If we’re able to find that common ground, then we’d be open to adding,” Huntington told MLB.com’s Adam Berry. “If not, we are intrigued as to what those three players can do in a regular to semi-regular role, given what they’ve done in the past.”
It would be nice to take a shot on a potential bounce back year from Gonzalez, but that’s not going to happen.
As it is structured now, it’s going to be a platoon, but how that platoon shakes out is very well dependent on whether or not Josh Harrison is with the team come Opening Day.
If I had to guess, he will be, which leave Frazier likely to get most of his at bats as an outfielder.
Many will call for Jose Osuna to get the other outfield job, but he isn’t a very good outfielder, despite the cannon of a throwing arm, and he his bat needs some time at Triple-A. So baring another monster spring, he really isn’t in the mix for playing time in the outfield at the moment.
Luplow also likely could use more time at Triple-A, but he could benefit from a platoon in the outfield, given the Pirates real lack of options at the moment.
I don’t think it matters whether Polanco plays left or right field in determining who is best suited for the Pirates lineup. It’s a matter of who can do the most with the bad as the Pirates offense does not project to be very good.
What platoon works best for the Pirates?
This would be ideal in terms of Luplow making the team.
He’s the only true outfielder of the group and we saw last season the problem of not having enough true outfielders led to.
The Pirates want to get Frazier’s bat in the lineup. He also isn’t that bad of an outfielder defensively.
He finished the season hitting .276/.344/.399. A mid-season slump brought his overall numbers down, but Frazier rebounded nicely by slashing 304/.360/.462 during the second half of the season.
Frazier did well against RHP last season with a .271/.343/.411 line, but also hit LHP well to the tune of .304/.355/.321.
Assuming Frazier gets the bulk of the AB’s vs. RHP, Luplow hit southpaws very well in the minors.
In addition he brings some extra pop to a lineup that doesn’t have much.
This combo doesn’t really work for me.
While Frazier can handle is own vs. lefties, Nava can only play against right-handed pitching.
He owns a career .281/.374/.404 line vs. RHP, compared to a .211/.296/.293 line vs southpaws. In addition 23 of Nava’s 29 career homers have come against righties.
While Nava may be able to hold his own against righties, I want Frazier playing more than against lefties, meaning that if Harrison is still on the team, it will be difficult to find Frazier enough at bats.
This would work better if Harrison is dealt and Frazier is getting almost every day reps at second base.
If Harrison is still on the team, a Nava/Luplow platoon probably isn’t the ideal situation to maximize production.
I haven’t include Rodriguez in much of this because I still feel he will get the majority of his at bats as a backup infielder, but he could form a decent partnership with Frazier in left field as well.
Throughout his career, Rodriguez has done much better vs. LHP, posting a .756 OPS compared to a .638 mark vs. RHP.
In his career year of 2016, Rodrigues did well against both RHP and LHP, posting a .934 OPS vs. southpaws and a .831 OPS vs. righties. Last year was back to a more dramatic split, posting a .724 OPS vs. lefties and a .431 OPS vs. right-handed pitching.
Of course he was injure for most of the season, so take away from that what you will.
Huntington stated in the past that he is very comfortable with the three guys he has out there, meaning Luplow, Frazier and Rodriguez. Throw Nava into the mix and you have four guys vying for two spots, none of which are ideal situations.
But given the situation the Bucs are in, the best situation on paper is to have a Frazier/Luplow platoon, though as I stated before, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for Luplow to get Triple-A at bats.
One thing is for sure though and that spring training will determine a how this competition will play out.
As workouts begin, the outfield situation is just one of many story lines worth keeping an eye on in Bradenton.