The Perplexing Case Of Right Field For The Pittsburgh Pirates
By Marty Leap
Piecing together right field in the early going of the 2019 season will be a perplexing case for the Pittsburgh Pirates
The 2018 season was the best season fo the now five-year MLB career of Gregory Polanco. In his age 27 season Polanco looked like a player entering his prime posting career highs in on-base percentage (.340), slugging percentage (.499), wOBA (.353), wRC+ (123), ISO (.245), and fWAR (2.5).
Unfortunately for Polanco and the Pirates, his season was cut short due to a shoulder injury suffered in early September. Worst of all, this injury required surgery that will cause Polanco to miss the start of the 2019 season. This puts the Pirates in a perplexing position when it comes to what to do with right field to start 2019.
Attracting free agents will be difficult for the Pirates. The shoulder surgery Polanco underwent last month is set to cost him six-to-eight months. This puts Polanco in line to return sometime in May. No free agent that has the ability to be a starting outfielder is going to want to sign with a team that they will be the fourth outfielder for six or seven weeks into the season.
The trade market will not be easier, either. Since the Bucs would only need help in right field for six or seven weeks, it is difficult for Neal Huntington to justify trading anything of value to add outfield help.
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So, what about internal options?
Internally, the first option would appear to be Jordan Luplow. In 190 MLB plate appearances the past two seasons Luplow owns a .194/.274/.371 slash line, a .280 wOBA, and a 72 wRC+.
Luplow did, however, flash his power at times owing a .176 ISO. He has also been victimized by a BAbip of just .216, which indicates he has been the victim of bad luck and/or good defense. That said, his 25.2% hard contact rate leaves a lot to be desired.
There is also super utility man Pablo Reyes.
Reyes made his MLB debut as a September call-up and he slashed .293/.349/.483 with a .359 wOBA and a wRC+ of 127 in 63 plate appearances. This combined with his ability to play the corner outfield spots, third base, shortstop, and second base has him in the driver’s seat to be the team’s super utility man when the 2019 regular season begins.
Could Reyes man right field until Polanco returns? It is unlikely.
Reyes’ September performance trumped what he did as a hitter in the minor leagues. Odds are, what he did in September is not indicative of the hitter he will be moving forward. He also appears to be a hitter that is best suited for a bench role, and one that could get exposed by playing on a daily basis.
The team could also add a second baseman this offseason and start the season with Adam Frazier in right field. But, when Polanco is healthy, odds are, Frazier would return to second base. So, just like with adding a right fielder, it will be difficult to find a player interested in signing with a team to be a start for just six or seven weeks.
If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2019 Opening Day right fielder being someone that is not currently on their roster. It would be surprising to see Huntington not address right field in some capacity. But how he will go about it will be intriguing and something worth watching this offseason.