Oh, it’s time, it’s time…..it’s…..mailbag time!
Who will be the Opening Day right fielder? What will the Opening Day lineup look like for the Pittsburgh Pirates? And more in this week’s mailbag.
As always, thank you to everyone who submitted questions and participated in this week’s mailbag. Now, let’s dive in!
After four years of inconsistent play and a slow start to the 2018 season, Gregory Polanco seemed to turn a corner in late May. After backing off the plate, Polanco became arguably the Pirates best hitter and all signs pointed toward him turning into the player fans expected when he was a top-10 overall prospect.
Polanco finished the 2018 season with a .254/.340/.499 slash line, a .245 ISO, .353 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 123, all of which, minus batting average, were career highs. He also began to turn the corner defensively and posted a career-high 2.5 fWAR.
I feel confident saying Polanco spent 2018 turning into the player many hoped he would be. It is now up to him to back it up in 2019, after he returns from shoulder surgery, to prove that 2018 was not a fluke.
Put your money on someone not currently on the roster. With Polanco set to miss Opening Day, the best in house options are Jordan Luplow and Pablo Reyes, neither of which have proven they deserve to be every day players at the MLB level. Although, Reyes does appear to be the frontrunner to break camp as the team’s utility player.
The team always look to add a second baseman as well and move Adam Frazier to right field to start the season. This, however, seems less likely.
Rather it’s via free agency or in a trade, I fully expect Neal Huntington to add outfield help this offseason.
To build off the previous question, this hinges on what happens with right field. Assuming the team brings in another outfielder leaving Frazier at second base, this would be my current guess for the Opening Day starting nine:
No. Jung Ho Kang will never play right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
When looking at who finished the season with the Double-A Altoona Curve the three main names to know are third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, shortstop Cole Tucker, and outfielder Bryan Reynolds. All three have the potential to be every day players at the MLB level, and all three could start 2019 with Triple-A Indianapolis or at least get there early in the season.
Hayes is the best of the bunch, as he projects as both an above average hitter and defender at the hot corner. Tucker is a plus defender, but his offense still leaves a lot to be desired. Reynolds is a very average defensive outfielder, but the switch-hitter could develop into a plus hitter. At worst, he should be a strong fourth outfielder down the road.
When it comes to MLB arrival time, the most likely of the group to reach the MLB level in 2019 might be Reynolds. Tucker still needs a lot of work offensively, and Hayes is just 21-years-old. Despite being a plus hitter, odds are, Hayes is still at least another year away from the Majors.
But if the Pirates need outfield help in 2019, it would not be a surprise to see Reynolds get the call. The difference in long-term expectations for Reynolds and Hayes is a factor, too.
It very well could be. This team has more hitting talent than their 2018 results showed. Branson and Livesey were definitely an issue.
Out of those three shortstops, I’d100% take Asdrubal Cabrera. He’s the worst defender of the group but by far the best offensive option.
That will do it for this week. As always, if you ever have a question for the mailbag at any point throughout the offseason look for our Tweet each week asking for questions.