The Pittsburgh Pirates Talent Surplus, Outfield Edition
By Tom Smith
Feb 27, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco (62) prior to the game on deck against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a surplus of good players. You never thought the time would come did you? A team that struggled to fill a 25-man roster without dumpster diving as recently as 2013, is now left with difficult decisions as Opening Day approaches. Not really a lot of hard decisions, but enough to make fans pay attention. The hardest decisions will actually come next season.
The Pirates have two rookie of the year candidates who look better than what will be on the Opening Day 25-man roster. Also, the team has more arms in their bullpen than they are able to keep on the roster.
Let’s start with the outfield, the Pirates are loaded with talented outfielders from the big leagues to the low minors. But today we are going to target right field. The Bucs have numerous options including Chris Dickerson who has been impressive this spring, but with Gregory Polanco being sent to Triple-A, the job is down to three players. Much more was expected from each of them, but as Jim Leyland once muttered, a prospect is a player that hasn’t done anything yet.
Gregory Polanco, an elite level talent, had a monster season this winter. He followed it up with an .804 OPS this spring against some elite level big league pitching. But all Pirates fans are told about is what he hasn’t done above A-ball rather than what he could do for the big league club.
Feb 27, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco (62) hits a solo home run during the first inning against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
We think there’s more to it. It’s about money. It’s always about money, but it’s about trying to spike the value of the outfielders that will make the roster not named Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen. Should Jaff Decker, Travis Snider or Jose Tabata decide to finally perform to their abilities, the Pirates will benefit a great deal.
It’s a roll of the dice and should one of them actually do it, the Pirates win twice. Once the hot outfielder named Tabata/Snider/Decker is traded at midseason, and then again when the homegrown Polanco takes over. The dollars spent scouting and developing TSandD might never be recouped if an out of nowhere production level ensues.
Jaff Decker reminds us of Alex Presley. Decker has the mullet which one would certainly think would be a source of power, but we haven’t seen it yet. Decker is a player that has shown some flashes of what he could do, but we see no reason he should make the Opening Day roster. But the ball is firmly in Decker’s court to make an impression with Polanco out of the picture momentarily.
Mar 5, 2014; Dunedin, FL, USA; Pittsburg Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata (31) prepares to hit in the batting cage before the spring training exhibition game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Jose Tabata is under contract. At the time of the deal, some media members were shocked, they felt sorry for Tabata for signing such a team friendly deal. Now it looks like a steal….for Tabata. Hollow batting average aside, there isn’t a whole lot to really get excited about. It’s all projection.
The power that Neal Huntington once thought would come as he matured, is nowhere to be found. Tabata has April, May and a few days in June to change the past or a change of scenery might do him some good which is sad to say for the once promising prospect.
Sep 3, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Travis Snider (right) hits a solo home run in the 9th inning as Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy watches at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Travis Snider is finally healthy. Well, at least at the time we wrote this he was. We would like nothing more than Snider to take the coveted right field gig. We just have no reason to believe he can stay healthy enough to make it happen.
Look we get it. Polanco had zero chance of making the Opening Day roster. But what’s being left out is the fact that the Pirates don’t make bold moves when it comes to their youth any longer.
Mar 3, 2014; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez (24) hits a 2-run home run during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
It’s about avoiding the Pedro Alvarez approach with Polanco. It’s about following the Marte approach.
All of us know about how Alvarez was pushed to the bigs. Many in the organization were divided on the decision we are told, but it happened. El Toro sold tickets. The Big Bull has turned out to be the power hitting monster most thought he would be, but getting there was really scary for many in the organization.
An Alvarez failure would have certainly doomed a few gentlemen getting their checks signed by the majority owner of the Pirates. It worked, but not as planned. It created the template to be avoided, the line that Neal Huntington uses so frequently now when he speaks about Alvarez.
No, not the line that Huntington said about Alvarez will never look good modeling a Speedo, but about the fact that Alvarez was brought to the majors before he had enough seasoning in the high minors.
All of us remember a couple years ago, how well Starling Marte performed in winter ball. Almost as good as Polanco and then Marte followed it up with a big spring, but was sent to Triple-A.
Marte Party has turned out to be a well above average player thus far. It created the template to be replicated, and one the organization trusts that can be duplicated by Polanco. Maybe even right down to that first homerun Marte crushed into the Crawford Boxes in his first big league at-bat.
Read the surplus of surplus columns on the Bucs below:
Pirates Talent Surplus: Outfield Edition is here
Pirates Talent Surplus: Starting Pitching
If for some really stupid reason you care not to read the other posts in this series, here is our condensed bottom line. The Pirates are putting together a powerful lineup backed by solid pitching and defense. A calvary of young talent is also still growing and maturing in the minors, some of them just a phone call away from improving the 25-man roster. It’s also a rather explosive, but cost controlled roster with numerous questions, but a lot more answers than Pirates fans have been accustomed to over the years.