Monday, October 21, 2013

Pittsburgh - Outfield 2014

The storyline of the Buc outfield will be who gets to play beside stalwarts Andrew McCutchen, 27, and Starling Marte, 25. Cutch is a three-time All-Star and undoubtedly the man in Pittsburgh, while Marte put together a pretty solid season after getting his feet wet in 2013 with a .280/.343/.441 line and a .784 OPS with 12 homers, 86 runs and 41 stolen bases to go with dazzling defense and elite speed.

According to Fangraphs, Cutch had an 8.2 WAR and Marte put up a 4.6 rating, and that's about as solid a pair you can put in the pasture. But who will settle in at right field to fill out the dance card?

The spot was pretty much a mess until Marlon Byrd came over, but his stay is likely to be done. After restablishing his brand in New York and Pittsburgh, The Byrd will be looking for a little security and a bit of a payday, and the Pirates aren't likely to commit to anything but a short term deal, maybe a year with an option, for the 36 year old, even if he does fill an immediate need.

Jose Tabata, 25, had a nice bounce back, and his September line (.282/.341/.427 with 2 HR, 10 RBI) is quite similar to Byrd's (.309/.345/.414, 2 HR, 10 RBI). Tabby's OPS didn't show much of a split at .778 v RHP and .742 v southpaws, a split that's held up over his career although it may be a small sample size anomaly, as he's only had 336 PA against LHPs. He's a steady defensive player though he's lost a step or three from his rookie days.

Of course, JT has had bursts before when he's looked like an everyday player, but inconsistency, erratic power and injury (he hasn't reached 400 at-bats since his rookie year because of those factors) have derailed that train of thought in the past; he's the original yo-yo kid. So the Pirate question is whether Tabata has matured or again being a tease, so they're reluctant to cede the RF spot to him. But there is little question that he'll be in the mix, as at least the fourth OF if not a regular.

The Pirates don't have much in the way of returning guys to challenge for a position. Travis Snider, 25, is in his first arb year, and his return is iffy. In his favor are age, being lefty and relatively inexpensive cost; against him is his .226 BA and .627 OPS as a Pirate. But he could remain a bench option.

Alex Presley is gone to greener pastures at Minnesota, and Felix Pie isn't expected to get a repeat invitation. Garrett Jones has been a fallback in right - and that may be a better position for him defensively than first - but he's also treading on thin ice.

Unlike the infield, the outfield is one Pirate pipeline that's flowing. Andrew Lambo, 25, is an immediate candidate to at least get a look in RF in camp; he had a breakout year in the minors and during his cup of coffee stay in Pittsburgh - remember when September used to be audition instead of crunch time? - looked comfortable at the plate. He has some pop to his stick, and looks like a newer model of Jones; he may, depending how the off season goes, get a look at first as well as right.

Which would probably be a good move for the Bucs in solidifying the future, as Gregory Polanco, 22, is rising with a bullet. He'll start the year in Indy, and if he doesn't arrive in Pittsburgh by mid-summer, he'll be expected in 2015 to claim the RF spot, and with the ability to fit into the middle of the lineup.   

The list of OF'ers in the organization is long and strong. Guys with the potential to be special players, beside Polanco, are Josh Bell, Barrett Barnes and Austin Meadows, while Mel Rojas Jr., JaCoby Jones and Harold Ramirez have shown big league potential.

The Pirates are set with Cutch and Starling starting and JT back in one role or another. Short term depth is an issue, and the FO may look at a stop-gap guy to fill in the roster. But they're not going to commit to anyone long term, and may well decide to cover right field in-house. It's a position that they've managed to stock well; Cutch at 27 is the old man of the group (unless Byrd returns), with the rest being 25 or younger.

In 2015, barring the unforeseen, Marte-McCutchen-Polanco will man the OF, with JT as the fourth man and some of the young guys starting to arrive at the upper levels. Aside from pitching, this is one area the Bucs have that's sustainable.

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