Between Pedro Alvarez, who is just two years removed from an MVP-caliber season, and 2014 breakout utilityman Josh Harrison, the Pittsburgh Pirates appear set at the corner infield spots. However, a former thorn in the Bucs’ side – Corey Hart – is looking to leave his mark on the team in 2015.
The former Milwaukee Brewers slugger joined Pittsburgh earlier this winter on a one-year, $2.5 million deal – a buy-low depth signing for Pirates GM Neal Huntington that could ultimately pay huge dividends.
Hart, who is heading into his age 33 season, is coming off a pair of injury-riddled seasons in which his lower body seemingly collapsed, with injuries to both knees and a hamstring. However, from 2010 to 2012, he slugged 87 homers for Milwaukee – while proving to be a major problem for his new club.
In 91 games against Pittsburgh in his career, Hart is a .303/.352/.544 hitter with 15 home runs and 47 runs batted in – to go along with 31 doubles. Suffice to say that Pirates pitchers probably weren’t chomping at the bit to face the former 11th-round pick.
So, sure. He hit the Pirates’ staff well. That has no correlation to him actually playing with Pittsburgh. Well, not exactly. While facing the Pirates at PNC Park in his career, Hart was even better – he boasts a .329/.376/.578 slash line across 42 contests in the Steel City – a nice set of numbers to take with you to a new home ballpark.
The overwhelming majority of his games (801 out of 908) have been spent patrolling the outfield – largely right field. However, as his health and the strength of his legs declined, Hart shifted to first base, where he saw plenty of action in recent years, including 103 games with the Brewers back in 2012.
Last season with the Seattle Mariners, Hart struggled to find any sort of rhythm at the plate, limping (literally and figuratively) to a dismal .590 OPS and -0.5 WAR in 68 contests – spending most of the season at the designated hitter position to try and keep him in the lineup on at least a semi-regular basis.
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It would be easy to think that the $2.5 million given to Hart by the Pirates is a complete waste of resources that could have been better utilized. And looking at just 2014, one would be right to think such things. But when you look at the bigger picture, including the numbers at PNC Park mentioned above, Pittsburgh may have a dark horse candidate for Comeback Player of the Year in 2015.
The two-time All-Star has clubbed at least 20 home runs in five of his 10 big league seasons, including at least 25 on three separate occasions. He’s only eclipsed the century mark in runs batted in one time – during a stellar 2012 campaign with the Brewers – but has averaged 85 RBI per 162 games over the past decade.
If Pedro Alvarez, who, according to MLB.com, hit just six home runs after July 11 last season, cannot find his power stroke that made him a legitimate MVP candidate in 2013, Hart could find himself earning more and more time at first base this season.
That, coupled with the appearances he’ll get when the team’s corner outfielders need a day off, could give him enough opportunity to put his injuries behind him and show he’s got plenty left in the tank.
One thing is for sure: Corey Hart is a very Neal Huntington-esque signing: it’s a low-risk, high-upside move that could propel this team back to the postseason while the attention of fans remains locked on the likes of Alvarez, Harrison and the usual names.