With the Pirates sitting a few games over .500, fans should be happy with what they are seeing on the field so far in 2015. The starting pitching has, for the most part, been as good as advertised. After a few scares with Mark Melancon, the bullpen has been shutting down the opposition. If we as a fan base are going to point to one aspect of the team that needs to get going, it would be the offense.
The offense as a whole has had a tough time so far this season. Given the track record of the established players, it’s too early to worry about most of the starting eight. Again, with the Pirates winning ball games it’s easy to brush this aside.
My main concern lies with one player in particular on the bench. After seeing the Pirates trot out the likes of Brent Morel and Michael Martinez last season, I was happy to see management make upgrading the bench during the offseason a priority. And I do believe they accomplished their goal of doing so. However, This leads me to my point.
Perhaps it’s time to explore a replacement for Andrew Lambo.
In multiple appearances over the last three years with the big club, Lambo has failed to translate the power he has in the minors to the majors. With Polanco nursing an injury, it’s important that the Pirates get something close to replacement level output from that position.
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Management has made it clear that Chris Stewart will be the backup catcher as long as he is healthy. Since he is considered a defense first catcher and will only be expected to catch one or two games a week, his shortcomings with the bat can be overlooked for the most part. Tony Sanchez may have more potential, but the fact that he has remaining options works to his disadvantage. I’m sure that we’ll see Sanchez up again at some point during the season either because of an injury or because he forces management to reconsider his role within the organization.
Sean Rodriguez, who has seen most of his action as a defensive replacement late in games, has performed well in his limited time on the field and at the plate. He is able to play multiple positions in the outfield and around the diamond, which is the main reason the Pirates traded for him over the winter.
Corey Hart was brought in to platoon with Pedro Alvarez a first base. Hart started off hot, getting hits in his first few at bats late in the game as a pinch hitter. His .200/.250/.400 slash line will most likely rise as the season goes on, especially his on base percentage. Granted he missed all of 2013 and a decent amount of 2014, but if the Pirates use him sparingly in the field and limit the majority of his at bats to left handed pitchers, he may be able to not necessarily duplicate his success during his years in Milwaukee, but at least be a serviceable part time first baseman.
Huntington and company have said that Jung Ho Kang will be part of the major league roster and that they are not considering a demotion to the minors. Kang started out slow but had his “Welcome to Pittsburgh” moment with his bases clearing double against the Cubs last week. As Kang gets used to his new surroundings and perhaps sees more time in the field, he may start to show some of the talent he showcased in Korea.
Lambo filled in for Polanco on Monday when the latter was a late scratch. Lambo did not register a hit and is slashing .045/.125/.091 through the first 20 games of the season. His two walks and one double are the reason that his slash line looks odd at first glance.
Luckily for the Pirates, Gregory Polanco has been performing well as of late (before his injury). When the Pirates traded Travis Snider to the Orioles for a couple of left handed prospects during the offseason, the Pirates sent a message to Polanco that he was their right fielder for years to come. This is all well and good, but in the event Polanco may struggle, Snider was going to be a good fallback plan. Instead the team essentially swapped Snider with the already in house Lambo.
However if Lambo continues to struggle, what are the options for the Pirates? Let’s take a quick look down on the farm, particularly the farm in Indianapolis
The obvious choices from the players in Indianapolis are Jaff Decker, Jose Tabata, Mel Rojas, Jr. and Gorkys Hernandez. The Pirates would probably want to replace Lambo with another left handed hitter, so that would eliminate Tabata and Hernandez from the discussion. Rojas Jr. is a switch hitter, but has not played above AAA in his career. Given the conservative approach the Pirates take to players and their service time, it’s hard to see them bringing him up now.
If the Pirates decide that Lambo should be replaced, the most likely in house option is Jaff Decker. Decker certainly had a shot at the last bench spot until an injury took him out of the running. Decker may not have the power potential that Lambo has, but he has always shown the ability to get on base during his minor league career. At this point of the season it is easy to overlook the struggles of some since the Pirates have more wins than losses. However, if Polanco is going to need to rest due to his injury, it may be time to try out others besides Lambo in right field.