With the signing of Sean Rodriguez, the Pirates shored up some depth across the board. Despite his penchant for punching out Gatorade jugs, Rodriguez is a suitable and serviceable utility option for a team with questions around the infield. Let’s look at a quick breakdown of the first basemen on the depth chart and keep in mind, it is only December. Many changes could be on the horizon.
Michael Morse, Jake Goebbert, Sean Rodriguez, Josh Bell
-One downside to losing Pedro Alvarez was the power potential in the lineup. However, if Morse can get back to his numbers from 2014 where he hit .279 with 16 HR’s, then he could be a quality replacement. That is a big if, though, as Morse hasn’t been very consistent over the past couple of years due to injuries and his struggles with the Marlins. Despite the question marks, Morse looks to be the starting first baseman barring a trade or free agent signing.
-From our observation last year with Rodriguez, it is clear he can field but his bat is never going to be starting lineup material required of an everyday first baseman. Rodriguez’s projected stats for 2016 look promising on paper with increased power, but result in a decreased batting average. Those projections also include Rodriguez receiving over 300 plate appearances, so, barring injury to a starter, that is highly unlikely. It is safe to say Serpico will be Clint Hurdle’s safety net and defensive replacement in later innings not only at first base, but at other positions around the diamond as well.
-We don’t know much about Goebbert besides his AAA pedigree the last two seasons where he batted .295 with a combined 24 HR’s and 122 RBI with El Paso and Sacramento of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He does have brief Major League experience with San Diego in 2014, though he could not replicate his minor league success. One thing going for Goebbert going into Spring Training is the fact he is left-handed; something the coaching staff will consider as a bench/platoon option with Morse.
-Then there is the question about top prospect Josh Bell. Jason Arias will go into more detail about Bell in a future prospect feature but on the surface it appears Bell could be a solid contributor. The question is when, though. Management has a history of waiting to call up prospects until mid-June to avoid Super Two status and retain control over those players for as long as possible. Bell’s upside is his ability to get on base and hit for average. Unfortunately, this has not translated to much power, even at the minor league level. It is possible he may develop power, but it is unlikely he will see the Major League roster before June anyway. Look for Bell to start the season in Indianapolis.
Rumors have been swirling around the Pirates trading or signing another first baseman this offseason. One intriguing item to keep an eye on is Mitch Moreland, who is suddenly somewhat expendable with the Rangers’ acquisition of left-handed bat (and 1B) Andy Wilkins. To get Moreland, the Pirates will likely have to give up a somewhat sizable haul, but the potential is there for a deal.
All hope is not lost for the Pirates at first base. While it may be one of the weaker points in the lineup, there are worse options. According to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Buccos have had 44 players start a game at 1B since 2006 (though Baseball America only lists 43). Here’s hoping for some stability at the position starting this year.