Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Could Bucs Carry Five OF's?

The battle for the Bucco bench is getting interesting. The sure shots are the extra first base man (Gaby Sanchez/Garrett Jones), the fourth outfielder (Jose Tabata), and the reserve catcher (Mike McKenry), with two spots open. It's assumed those would go to a corner and middle infielder.

But Alex Presley is making it a tough decision. He's pleading his case by batting .297 with a .357 OBP. The King is, of course, the perfect fourth outfielder for the Pirates with the ability to play left and center along with being a top-of-the order type hitter, which Pittsburgh is not very deep in at the MLB level.

Presley has scored seven runs this spring, tied with Starling Marte for the club lead. And he's worked hard on the big hole in his game, his eye, historically taking too many whiffs and too few walks. The 27 year-old has an strong 11% K rate, and while not outstanding, his walk rate is a more acceptable 7% so far during camp.

He does have a couple of strikes against him. The Bucs do have an extra OF'er in Garrett Jones, and the team likes to have a bopper in right field. Presley also has an option remaining, which Travis Snider and Jose Tabata don't. And the guys vying for infield spots aren't exactly conceding their seats on the bench.

Last year's holdovers, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer, have put up nice offensive numbers. Harrison is on a six-game hitting streak, and is hitting .286/.364, while Mercer's line is .368/.552. Josh is an Energizer bunny who can play a variety of spots with a lifetime .250 BA off the Bucco bench, while Mercer provides a strong glove up the middle.

The Bucs also brought in a pair of non-roster guys to challenge them in Ivan DeJesus and Brandon Inge. The once-hot but oft injured prospect DeJesus has grabbed his opportunity with both hands, batting .400 with a .553 slugging % while playing three infield positions. Inge hasn't been showing much with the stick - he hasn't for a couple of years - and is way under the Mendoza line with a .111 BA. Clint Hurdle longs for a veteran presence on the bench, but despite that, Inge should be a longshot to cash in on his chance with Pittsburgh.

Of course, there's a reason they're bench players. Harrison can play all over the field, but is more a jack of all trades and master of none type with the mitt. Mercer is the internal heir-apparent to Clint Barmes, at least until lower-level guys like Alen Hanson and Max Moroff percolate through the system. He has an option remaining, so he may be better off playing every day at Indy in 2013 if he is indeed the shortstop of the near future (Barmes is in his walk year). DeJesus has been a cup-of-coffee guy for the Dodgers and Red Sox, with just a .205 MLB average to show for his 80 PA. Inge hasn't hit north of .250 since 2006.

Our guess is that while Presley has done everything he was supposed to do in camp, he's the odd man out, at least early in the year. Jones can fill in as an extra OF'er if needed, eliminating the need for a fifth guy. And the Pirates roster is such that there are no infield options among the position players (they are trying to get Sanchez some 3B time) that would allow them to run the risk of carrying just one bench IF. Hurdle loves his two-fer changes late in the game, and that only works with some versatility on the pine.

That, of course, doesn't mean things are cut-and-dried right now. Snider and JT are both in show me years, and Presley could easily be called up if they don't fill the bill by the summer. Also, the Pirates are still said to be looking for at least a reserve catcher. If they have to deal for one, their obvious surplus is among fringe outfielders. And Pittsburgh has been lucky with camp injuries, and we'll see if that holds up for the next week or so.

The camp was supposed to be deep this year and feature some competition, even if the starting lineup was pretty much set in stone. That it's been, and it's about time that the Bucs have to make some hard lineup decisions. Hopefully they'll be able to manage that situation without diluting their talent base/MLB depth too badly.

  • Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review reported that Jeff Karstens surprised the staff by changing his windup yesterday to a full, over-the-head motion. After throwing 50 pitches in the minor league game, he's scheduled to work against the Orioles on Sunday.
  • Mike Axisa of Fangraphs rates the Bucco CF position as the tops in baseball. In the same series of Power rankings, Enos Saris ranks the Pirates right field spot at #19 among MLB clubs heading into the season. Jeff Sullivan doesn't have as much love for SS; he lists Pittsburgh 23rd in that position.
  • Jason Linden of The Hardball Times has this year's list of Five Questions For The Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • Rumbunter tweeted: The Pirates 39th win of the 2013 season will be their 10,000th all-time victory. Only five teams have hit the 10,000 win mark - the Cards, Braves, Reds, Dodgers and Giants, who have the most at 10,616 victories.
  • Some former Buccos were recently released: C Chris Snyder (who signed quickly with the Angels), RHP Matt Capps, OF Matt Diaz, 1B Nick Evans and IF Bobby Crosby.
  • The Player's Association and League are talking about implementing a world-wide draft, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors.

No comments: