Pittsburgh Pirates Mailbag: March 19th, 2019

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 22: Colin Moran #19 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits an RBI single to right field in the fifth inning during the game against the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park on August 22, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 22: Colin Moran #19 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits an RBI single to right field in the fifth inning during the game against the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park on August 22, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

Welcome back to Rum Bunter’s weekly Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag

What role will Colin Moran play in 2019? Could we see Cole Tucker in Pittsburgh sooner than expected? And more in this week’s Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag.

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

After spending the 2018 season as the primary third baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Colin Moran’s role will change in 2019. In 2018 Moran was a bit of a disappointment for the Pirates. He was viewed as the key piece of the Gerrit Cole trade, but was only slightly above average offensively.

2018, however, was Moran’s first full MLB season. His .277/.340/.407 slash line, 103 wRC+, and 8.4% walk rate were not poor, but the team wanted to see more power. Combine his lack of power with poor defense at third base, and the opportunity was there for Jung Ho Kang to take back the job at third base and he did just that this spring.

Moving forward, Moran will still be a key bench piece for the Pirates. Last season, Moran was one of the best pinch hitters in the National League. Moran was 11-for-26 with three walks, a home run, and two doubles as a pinch hitter during his rookie campaign. If Moran can be a strong pinch hitter again for the Bucs in 2019, he will still have value for the team.

Additionally, he is now working to learn first base as well. In 2017 he played seven games at first base with the Houston Astros and he has 17 games at first base on his resume in the minor leagues. Yesterday, he played first base for the team in their Grapefruit League game.

Cole Tucker had a strong spring before being reassigned to minor league camp. He is also the shortstop of the future for the Pirates. That future is getting closer, but it is still a ways away.

Tucker’s defense is not a question. To be honest, he is a good enough fielder to win a Gold Glove this year. However, his offense is still a work in progress.

He finished the 2018 season strong at Double-A and followed that up with a strong offensive showing in the Arizona Fall League. Tucker then went on to post an OPS over 1.200 in Grapefruit League play this spring.

Next up for Tucker is Triple-A. He still has zero career Triple-A at bats, but that is set to change in two weeks when the Indianapolis Indians begin their season. Tucker needs to have a strong offensive showing at Triple-A to prove that he has turned a corner offensively.

If he does that and Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman both struggle, then we may see Tucker at some point in 2019. Due to the amount of work he still needs to do offensively though, expecting to see Tucker sooner than as a September call up may be unrealistic.

While Josh Bell‘s power was down in 2018, it’s not totally fair to say that he struggled. Bell finished 2018 with a .357 on-base percentage, a 112 wRC+, 13.2% walk rate, and a 17.8% strikeout rate. All of these numbers were improvements over his 2017 season, with his wRC+ tying his mark from 2016 as a career best. Bell also hit a career high 31 doubles in 2018, while his groundball rate dropped from 52% in 2017 to 48% in 2018.

He also finished the season as one of the team’s hottest hitters. From June 1st through the end of the season Bell posted a .267/.378/.422 slash line, 15.3% walk rate, a .155 ISO, and a wRC+ of 122. This was, by far, the best four month stretch of his young MLB career.

Yes, Bell’s power was down in 2018, however, everything else improved. He walked more, struck out less, hit more doubles, and put the ball on the ground less. If Bell can take his final four months of 2018 and turn that into six months in 2019, the Pirate lineup will benefit greatly.

You put it perfectly, very quietly, JB Shuck has had an awesome spring for the Pirates. Shuck signed a minor league contract with the Pirates this offseason and looked like a long shot to crack the Opening Day roster. His odds of heading north with the team to Cincinnati remain low, but he certainly turned heads this spring.

Shuck has played in the Majors with the Angels, Astros, White Sox, and Marlins. In 1,232 career plate appearances he has slashed just .244/.294/.316 with a wRC+ of 70. This spring, however, the left-handed hitting Shuck has been killing the ball.

In 37 plate appearances during Grapefruit League play Shuck has slashed .371/.405/.571 with two home runs. Despite this, he will still likely begin the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. With Jason Martin set to man center field and Bryan Reynolds right field, Shuck should rotate between left field and designated hitter with Jose Osuna and Patrick Kivlehan.

While his performance this spring is not likely to land him an Opening Day roster spot, it has put Shuck on the map for the Pirates and could play a role in a call up later in the season.

Next. Decision Looming For Liriano. dark

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 questions. Also, do not be afraid to ever ask mailbag questions on Facebook.