Pittsburgh Pirates Third Basemen Have Huge Day In Victory

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Both the present and future of third base for the Pittsburgh Pirates put on a display on Sunday afternoon

On Sunday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Pirates improved to 2-0 in Grapefruit League action with an exciting 10-6 victory over the Miami Marlins. Sunday’s game featured the spring debut of third baseman Jung Ho Kang, and Kang impacted the game in a big way.

Kang’s first at bat came in the bottom of the second inning. On the second pitch he saw, the Korean slugger drove the ball over the left field wall for a solo home run. In his second at bat, Kang struck again with an even more impressive blast.

When his day ended Kang was 2-for-2 with his two solo home runs. He also made a pair of impressive defensive plays at third base. This was also good to see as defensive rust can be every bit the issue that offensive rust is for a player that has missed as much time as Kang has.

Despite missing all of 2017 and 159 out of 162 games in 2018 due to work visa issues and wrist surgery, Kang’s 129 wRC+ since the start of the 2015 still ranks sixth among all Major League third baseman. If Kang’s performance on Sunday, as well as what he did in the minor leagues before undergoing wrist surgery last season, is any indication of whats to come then the Pirate lineup could be getting a huge boost from the hot corner in 2019.

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The big day for Pirate third basemen did not end when Kang exited the game. Ke’Bryan Hayes, the team’s top hitting prospect, replaced Kang at third base in the top of the 6th inning. In the bottom half of the inning, Hayes hit a line drive over the center field wall for a two-run home run. This blast extended the Pirate lead to 5-2.

After being retired in his next at bat, Hayes stepped to the plate again in the bottom of the 9th inning. With the game tied at 6, two outs, and the bases loaded, Hayes launched a walk-off grand slam to give the Pirates a 10-6 victory. When the day was over, Pirate third basemen were 4-for-5 with four home runs and 8 RBI.

The forgotten man in all of this is Colin Moran. Acquired in the Gerrit Cole trade, Moran was the team’s primary third basemen in 2018. However, in 144 games Moran showed little power slashing .277/.340/.407 with just a .130 ISO.

Despite showing good on-base skills and solid contact, Moran’s lack of power led to him being just a slightly above league average hitter with a 103 wRC+ (100 is league average). Factor in his poor defense and he finished his rookie campaign with a 0.7 fWAR.

If Kang continues to impress at the plate and in the field, then the future for Moran becomes murky. Kang presents much greater potential at third base than Moran does. Kang was a 3.7 fWAR player in 2016, which is greater than All-Star level, and in just 103 games in 2016 he was worth 2.1 wins above replacement. Getting the Kang of 2015 and 2016 gives the Pirate lineup the middle of the lineup thumper it needs to compete for a postseason berth.

While Kang is only under contract through 2019, Hayes continues to look like the future at third base. He has always been a Gold Glove caliber third baseman and his power began to develop at Double-A in 2018. Assuming his offense continues to progress this season at Triple-A, then Hayes will be in a position to take over at the hot corner for the Bucs in 2020.