Weakest Position Group – The Middle Infield
Entering the offseason the Pirates had one major need – shortstop. Outside of a November trade to acquire Erik Gonzalez from the Cleveland Indians, the team failed to address this need. Largely due to this, the middle infield is shaping up to be the team’s weakest position group to begin the season.
Gonzalez will begin the season as the team’s starting shortstop. Defensively, Gonzalez could be one of the best fielding shortstops in the NL. However, his offense leaves a lot to be desired and then some.
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In 275 MLB plate appearances Gonzalez owns a .263/.292/.389 slash line with a wRC+ of 78. His 28.7% strikeout rate and 57.1% groundball rate are both, well, bad. His lifetime 36.2% hard contact rate is above league average, the problem is he doesn’t make enough contact.
Gonzalez offensive struggles were nothing new when he arrived at the MLB level. In 2,930 career minor league plate appearances Gonzalez owns a .273/.314/.397 slash line and a 102 wRC+. These numbers are average at best.
If Gonzalez fails at shortstop, the job will go to Kevin Newman. The former first round draft pick is an average best defender at shortstop, has never hit for power during his professional career, and slashed just .209/.247/.231 in his first 97 MLB plate appearances last season. The outlook at shortstop is bleak as the regular season begins.
While shortstop is the far bigger issue of the two, second base is no slam dunk for 2019 either. Adam Frazier is set to become the team’s starting second baseman. However, his defense at second base has always been a major question mark and it remains to be seen if he can be a good hitter when playing every day.
Second base should be in good hands, at least offensively, with Frazier, but he needs to prove it. Even if he hits well, the team’s middle infield defense will likely be a mess in 2019.