Welcome back to the weekly Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag here at Rum Bunter
How will things shake out at shortstop? Could the Pittsburgh Pirates still look for a power bat? And more in this week’s Pirate mailbag.
Thank you to everyone who submitted questions this week and participated. Now, let’s dive in!
Who do you think the opening day shortstop will be? Are they in the organization or will it be an outside signing?
— Tyler Hernley (@hernleyt) January 29, 2019
All offseason long I have expected the Opening Day shortstop to be someone not currently in the Pirate organization. However, the start of Spring Training is just two weeks away and it is looking less likely the Pirates will address the position. The team was in on Troy Tulowitzki and Freddy Galvis before they signed elsewhere, and had extensive trade talks with the Arizona Diamondbacks about Nick Ahmed. Despite all of this, no shortstop has been added.
At Pirate Fest this past weekend Neal Huntington expressed confidence in Erik Gonzalez. He spoke highly of the 27-year-old, as did manager Clint Hurdle. Right now, Gonzalez looks like the front runner to begin the season as the starting shortstop.
While Gonzalez’s offense leaves a lot to be desired, he could be one of the better defensive shortstops in the National League. Also, his above league average exit velocity (89.6 miles per hour) and hard contact rate (42.2%) in 2018 are reasons for optimism that his offense could improve with consistent playing time which is something we recently covered.
As for Newman, the former top prospect, according to Huntington, was fatigued and brunt out by the end of the 2018 season. The Pirate GM chalked Newman’s struggles at the MLB level up to these issues. Even if Gonzalez opens as the starting shortstop, Newman should still make the Opening Day roster as a utility infielder.
With the Buccos lacking a power bat, should they have intrest in a Carlos Gonzalea , Lucas Duda, or Marwin Gonzalez? Also , any intrest in bringing Neil Walker back on a prove it contract? We need some depth at 2B.
— Reid Family (@family_reid) January 29, 2019
First and foremost, this question was asked before Neil Walked signed with the Miami Marlins last night. Obviously, he will not be back with the Pirates in 2019. Even before he signed with Miami, there was zero chance he’d ever play for the Pirates again.
Could the Pirate lineup use a boost? Absolutely. But, outside of adding a shortstop, the best chance of this boost occurring would be players already here improving. Corey Dickerson, Francisco Cervelli, and Starling Marte are proven commodities, but, after this, there are plenty of questions. However, there is also plenty of potential.
Josh Bell has flashed traits of being a great hitter at times since debuting in July of 2016. He has yet to find consistency, but if he can do for six months what he did for the final four months in 2018 he’ll be one of the best switch-hitters in the NL.
Gregory Polanco appeared to turn a corner last year. After years of his own inconsistencies, Polanco looked like a hitter putting it all together. In 2019 he will be coming off offseason surgery though, and he’ll need to prove he’s healthy.
If he knocks the rust off, Jung Ho Kang could be one of the best power bats in the NL. That could be a big if, though. His partner at third base, Colin Moran, has also flashed good things during his MLB time but needs to find consistency.
If the Pirates internal options put it all together, they should have a good offense. There are a lot of ifs there, however.
Realistically, what are the odds that the Pirates make a move that makes fans happy? Any chance?
— Joey Balawajder (@joey_balawajder) January 29, 2019
That depends, because a move that makes one fan happy may not appease another. For example, the signing of Lonnie Chisenhall was one that I was a big fan of. He is a quality hitter to have in right field until Polanco returns, and a strong bench bat afterward. Many fans, however, did not like the Chisenhall addition as they viewed it as a cheap move to add an over-the-hill veteran.
What will the new special assistants to the GM, Jeff Banister and David Eckstein be tasked to do? Why couldn’t Tyler Eppler be used as a better asset than sold to the Japanese League?
— Todd McCollum (@mccollumT) January 29, 2019
Bannister and Eckstein will assist with scouting players and have input when it comes to player acquisition. They will also play a role in scouting upcoming opponents and, likely, designing defensive shifts for the Pirates. Eckstein will also bring a very analytical lens to the front office.
As for Tyler Eppler, he just was not very good. At best, his stuff is average. There is a reason that he never reached the MLB level despite all of the times the Pirates needing pitching in a pinch the past few seasons. He was slated to enter the season no higher than fifth in the rotation pecking order at Triple-A.
That will do it for this week. As always, if you ever have a question for the mailbag look for our Tweet each week asking for questions. Also, do not be afraid to ever as a question on Twitter or Facebook.