New month, same Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag
As always, thank you to everyone who submitted questions and participated in this week’s mailbag. Now, let’s dive in!
One of the stories from the first week of Spring Training has been third baseman Jung Ho Kang. In his first full spring since 2015, Kang is 3-for-7 with a walk and 3 home runs through his first three games played. While it’s just three Spring Training games, it looks like the Kang of 2015/2016 may be back for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
If the Pirates get this version of Kang or close to it, and that remains a big if right now, that would be a massive boost to the Pirate lineup. When he is healthy, in the lineup, and hitting to his capability Kang is a 3 – 4 WAR player and one of the best offensive third basemen in the National League.
That said, the Pirates are still going to give Colin Moran an opportunity at third base. After all, he and Joe Musgrove were the key pieces of last January’s Gerrit Cole trade. Moran had good contact and walk rates as a rookie in 2018, but his lack of power (.407 slugging percentage, .130 ISO) was concerning.
Now, let’s say Moran’s power begins to develop this year and Kang is hitting well. Will we see Kang at shortstop? Probably not.
Pirate GM Neal Huntington has said that Kang is no longer a shortstop at this point in his career. Thanks a lot, Chris Coghlan. So, if Kang and Moran are hitting well then the team will have a good problem on their hands at third base. It will also be another reason to #FreeTheDH.
Mitch Keller made his spring debut on Tuesday and struggled allowing two runs in an inning of work. Despite his struggles, it was still fun to see Keller pitching for the Bucs in Big League Camp as he is knocking on the door of the Major Leagues.
There is zero chance Keller will be on the Opening Day roster. Super Two and years of control aside, he simply needs more seasoning at Triple-A. Keller has just 10 Triple-A starts under his belt, and the first two were complete disasters.
If Keller were to struggle this spring could be a blessing in disguise for the Pirates. This would give the team something other than him needing more work at the Triple-A level to cite when he does not make the 25-man roster out of spring.
When Keller arrives in Pittsburgh could be tough to determine. If he is pitching well at Triple-A then early June becomes an option once the Super Two date passes. However, if everyone in the rotation is healthy and pitching well then there may not be an immediate spot for Keller. That said, it’s baseball and by the second week of June at least one starting pitcher will likely be struggling and/or injured.
After being the start of Spring Training in 2018 and 2019 Jose Osuna certainly appears to have become a forgotten man. The problem for Osuna is that he plays three positions (left field, right field, and first base) where the Pirates have no openings on the roster. And while he has been working at third base as well, Kang and Moran appear to have things locked down there.
His lifetime .231/.263/.417 slash line and 77 wRC+ at the MLB level does not help his cause, either. Neither does his poor pinch hitting, which is something we dove into earlier in the offseason. With the additions of Lonnie Chisenhall and Melky Cabrera, as well as the emergence of prospects such as Jason Martin, Bryan Reynolds, and Will Craig it is hard to envision Osuna making an impact for the Pirates.
The Pirates have played just six games this spring. Early on in Spring Training starting players do not see much playing time. Not only do teams want to take it easy on their proven guys early in the spring, they also want to see what they have in guys battling for roster spots and prospects. We should start to see starting players get more game action next week.
That will do it for this week. If you ever have a question for the mailbag look for our Tweet each week asking for mailbag question. Also, feel free to ask a question any time on Twitter or Facebook. So make sure you are following us on both social media platforms!