Pittsburgh Pirates Mailbag: January 9th, 2019


Welcome to the first Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag of 2019!

What would the lineup look like if Opening Day were today? Will we see Mitch Keller before the All-Star Break? And more in this week’s Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag!

As always, thank you to everyone who submitted questions to the mailbag and participating this week. Now, let’s dive in!

If the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds were playing their season opener today this would be my guess for the starting lineup:

  1. Adam Frazier – 2B
  2. Starling Marte – CF
  3. Corey Dickerson – LF
  4. Josh Bell – 1B
  5. Francisco Cervelli – C
  6. Jung Ho Kang – 3B
  7. Lonnie Chisenhall – RF
  8. Erik Gonzalez – SS
  9. Jameson Taillon – SP

This is assuming Alex Wood starts for the Reds on Opening Day. If they roll with a right-handed starter instead, then replace Kang with Colin Moran. Thankfully, Opening Day is not today because the Pirates still need to upgrade the shortstop position.

Barring injury or Mitch Keller struggling at Triple-A, yes. The Pirates still need a fifth starting pitcher, and Keller is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. Even if the team adds another starting pitcher, we will see Keller before the All-Star Break.

Pitchers are going to get injured and be inefficient, it’s part of baseball. Furthermore, Keller is the type of prospect that you make room for after the Super 2 date passes in early June.

Felipe Vazquez will be the closer and Keone Kela will be his setup man. After this, things will hinge on if the Pirates use a fifth starting pitcher or an opener.

If they use a fifth starting pitcher, right now, it would be Jordan Lyles. This would make Richard Rodriguez and Kyle Crick their primary middle relievers/bridge men to get Kela and Vazquez. Nick Burdi would be in there for middle relief, and Nick Kingham, Steven Brault, and Tyler Lyons would compete for two long relief spots.

Say they sign a starting pitcher and Lyles is bumped to middle/long relief, only one of Kingham, Brault, and Lyons makes the roster while the rest stays the same. Burdi could also be on the outside looking in if this scenario unfolds.

Now, this all changes if the team uses an opener instead of a fifth starting pitcher. If they go the opener route, I’d put money on Rodriguez and Crick being the openers depending on the makeup of the top of the opposing team’s lineup. The team would carry eight relievers in this scenario, meaning three of Brault, Burdi, Kingham, and Lyons would make the team.

On days a starting pitcher is being used instead of an opener, both Rodriguez and Crick would be available for high leverage situations. On opener days, whichever pitcher didn’t open would be. Following the opener, you would see one of Brault, Kingham, or Lyons be asked to pitch 3-4 innings.

Regardless of how it shakes out, the Pirate bullpen should be among the best in the National League. Rodriguez, Crick, Kela, and Vazquez is a lockdown back end. And, as a reliever, Lyles was lights out last season. Burdi has filthy stuff and a high ceiling, too.

Hopefully, the team adds a fifth starting pitcher to maximize their bullpen potential. Because that potential is pretty darn high.

To be honest, Erik Gonzalez is likely ahead of Kevin Newman on the shortstop depth chart right now. Neal Huntington has made comments this offseason about Gonzalez being a player that they believe could be an everyday player but never got the opportunity to prove it in Cleveland. As for Newman, well, all we’ve heard about him this offseason is him working at second base in mini camp.

Additionally, neither Gonzalez nor Newman are strong offensive players. However, Gonzalez is a plus defender at shortstop while Newman struggles defensively at short. Also, offensively, Gonzalez’s small sample size at the MLB level has gone better than Newman’s.

Well, first off, Brandon Crawford is a much better player than Troy Tulowitzki at this point in their careers. Since 2014 Crawford has played in 746 games, he’s won three Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger Award, and owns a 18.5 WAR. During this same stretch Tulowitzki owns just a 11.8 WAR, while a plethora of injuries has limited him to just 416. This includes missing all of 2018.

Reason number two, their contract length. Tulowitzki was never going to sign anything but a one-year deal, and giving him anything more than that would have been silly due to injury concerns, but Crawford comes with team control being under contract through 2021.

Finally, Tulowitzki is a massive gamble. For a team like the Yankees, whom he signed with, that gamble is easier to do because they will have Didi Gregorius returning from injury at some point if Tulowitzki fails to produce or stay on the field. What you’re going to get from Crawford is a known commodity – a strong defensive presence and power from the shortstop position.

Next. News & Notes From Mini Camp. dark

That will do it for this week. As always, if you have a question for the mailbag at any point this offseason look for our Tweet each week asking for question. Or, don’t, and submit the question on Twitter whenever you think of it!