Saturday, February 6, 2010

Buc Battles: First Base

OK, the choices are dig through a couple feet of snow to get to a street that won't see a plow until Monday, or sit down at the ol' PC and blog Bucco. Hmmmmmm...

Opting for dreams of a sunshine-filled Bradenton, we're looking at perhaps the Pirates most unsettled position, first base. There is no returning incumbent; Garrett Jones and Steve Pearce split the sack after Adam LaRoche was shopped to the Red Sox. And as far as the depth chart goes today, Jones is in right field and Pearce isn't even listed.

The heir-apparent is Jeff Clement, a catcher/DH who was a prime return of the Jack Wilson deal. Unfortunately, he also comes with two chip-chopped knees and no pedigree at first base. Clement's got a grand total of 28 games played at the position in his five minor-league seasons.

The Pirates envision a big, left-handed bat at a power position, much like LaRoche provided from June onward. We'll see. In the past two years at Triple A, he's hit 20 and 21 homers, nice numbers but certainly not Ruthian - or even Alvarezian. Still, a fair indicator that he has some muscle, and that short PNC porch in right should be worth a few extra dingers.

The question is whether or not he has the leather to handle the new position. The early indicators are that he's not making an exactly smooth transition; we can't help but recall the struggles that Delwyn Young had trying to master second base.

The good news comes in two forms. First, if the Bucs decide to polish his game at Indy, he does have a remaining option year. And second, Plan B entails returning Jones to his original position full-time.

Jones comes with his set of questions. One of 2009's feel-good stories, the long time bush leaguer got the call and pounded out 21 bombs while compiling a line of .293/.372/.567 in 82 games.

But a .208 average against lefties and a RISP of .152 show he has holes in his swing; he'd be a platoon player on a team less power-challenged than Pittsburgh.

But the Bucs are well aware that Jones is the odds-on favorite. That's why they brought Ryan Church into the fold, to be the placeholder in right field until one of the pups, like Jose Tabata, is ready for prime time.

After that? Well, nada, actually, unless there's a position switch. And with Alvarez on the radar to land at PNC sooner rather than later, that could well be in the cards.

Don't be entirely surprised if another LaRoche moves across the infield when Alvarez finally lays claim on the hot corner. Second base would be a tough transition, but he'd be a plus first baseman - with the glove. It makes sense if he brings September's bat with him into 2010; not so much otherwise.

Still, first base is a position that has more questions than answers right now. We're a little surprised they didn't trawl the market to seek a little competition; someone like Xavier Nady would have been the ticket.

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