Sunday, March 17, 2013

Right Field - Who Wants It?

Going into camp, there was very little debate regarding the starting lineup. The only question mark was right field, and reading between the lines, it seemed that it was Travis Snider's job to lose. Jose Tabata had the edge for the fourth spot, thanks to his age - for all the stories he's generated, JT is only 24 - experience, affordable contract and perhaps most importantly, his lack of minor league options (Snider is out of options, too).

Alex Presley was in the mix, too, while Jerry Sands and Felix Pie were insurance policies unless they had a breakout spring.

Well, the hoped-for scenario for the Pirates hasn't fallen into place, at least not yet. Going into today's game, Snider was hitting .241 with a .294 OBP. JT is having an even tougher-luck spring, batting .212 with a .229 OBP after a torrid start; he has yet to draw a walk in a dozen games. Hey, we know it's both the spring and that the numbers are based on a miniscule sample size.

But for a position that was expected to provide the #2 hitter in the lineup, the averages and more glaringly the OBP don't bode well. Russell Martin has been seeing time in the two hole, and it's a fairly safe bet that Clint Hurdle doesn't want to enter the season with him, Clint Barmes or Neil Walker swinging behind Starling Marte in the order.

To add to the fire, Sands went quietly during the first wave of cuts, but Alex Presley and Felix Pie are having the workmanlike camp that the FO hoped Snider and JT would enjoy. Journeyman Pie has been a pleasant surprise, compiling a .276/.364/.621 line. Presley has been equally as solid with a .294 BA and .359 OBP.

Both can run and fit into the LF/CF profile the Bucs like their outfielders to match, and can fill the two spot; Pie even brings a little pop to the table. But the rub is both can start the year safely stashed away at Indy - Pie is here on a minor league deal and isn't on the 40-man roster, while The King has an option remaining.

So that pretty much seals their fate. But right now, right field is as big a question mark three weeks into camp as it was last season. Both Snider and JT have a couple of weeks left in spring training to produce, and given the number of at bats (all four candidates have between 29-34 appearances), a hot finish can jump their current pedestrian numbers into the realm of respectability.

But it's a big position to fill. If neither of those guys can handle the two hole adequately, the Pirate attack, which hasn't been exactly a thing of beauty this spring, will suffer as Hurdle scuffles to put together a lineup from a Chinese menu.

It's possible that the FO could move one of the four; traditionally, the market heats up the week before the season begins as teams look to fill their benches with late cuts and minor deals, and the Pirates are rumored to be in the market for a reserve catcher. Losing one player shouldn't hurt their OF depth much; all the guys in the mix are young.

So the last couple of weeks will be interesting; the Pirates have openings in the rotation, bullpen and bench to address. But the starting right fielder could be the key decision of the spring.

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