Pittsburgh Pirates Mailbag: April 10th, 2019


Welcome back to the weekly Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag here at Rum Bunter

Who will be the odd men out when players begin to get healthy? What will the Pittsburgh Pirates do if the shortstop woes continue? And more in this week’s Pirate mailbag.

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

Sooner rather than later, the Pirates are going to have multiple decisions to make in terms of roster moves and that is a good thing.

Both Elias Diaz and Gregory Polanco have already begun their rehab assignments. Polanco remains with Class A Bradenton, while Diaz is now with Triple-A Indianapolis. It appears that these two players will be the first two to return from the injured list, and there is a good chance that both are back by next week.

When Diaz returns, it will be tricky for the Pirates. Jacob Stallings is out of minor league options, the organization thinks highly, the catcher depth behind him at Triple-A is poor, and he has looked impressive in his two games this season. That said, odds are, Stallings will get designated for assignment to make room for Diaz and the Bucs will hope and pray he clears waivers, but that is unlikely.

As for Polanco, it would not be a surprise to see him return to DH in Detroit next week. When he is back, JB Shuck seems like a safe bet to be the odd man out. After all, he only made the Opening Day roster due to Lonnie Chisenhall breaking his hand 72 hours before the start of the season. Shuck has done some nice things for the Pirates this year, but he remains a career journeyman who is a poor hitter.

Things start to get a little more interesting after this. Jason Martin turned heads in Florida, and has continued to do so since making his MLB debut this past weekend. Meanwhile, Pablo Reyes has struggled both offensively and in the field through the season’s first two weeks.

Both men are likely to be optioned to Triple-A, one when Corey Dickerson returns and the other for Chisenhall. The debate will be which one the two goes first. Personally, I’d keep Martin over Reyes. But I expect the Pirates to keep Reyes, manager Clint Hurdle loves his positional flexibility and the spark plug style he plays with.

The easiest decision will come when reliever Kyle Crick gets healthy. When he returns from the injured list, Steven Brault will be optioned back to Triple-A.

So, to recap, my predictions are:

  • Diaz activated, Stallings DFA’d
  • Polanco activated, Shuck optioned to Triple-A
  • Dickerson/Chisenhall activated, Martin optioned to Triple-A
  • Dickerson/Chisenhall activated, Reyes optioned to Triple-A
  • Crick activated, Brault optioned to Triple-A

All of that said, there could be injuries or unexpected ineffectiveness between now and the time these moves need to be made. These things tend to work themselves out.

We’ll tackle these two together.

Monday afternoon’s loss was one to forget for Kevin Newman. In his first start of the season at shortstop Newman became the first Pirate since Abraham Nunez in 1998 to commit three errors in one inning. These errors led to the Cubs scoring six unearned runs in the 2nd inning to take a 6-0 lead and bury the Pirates early. Despite this performance, do not expect Newman to go anywhere.

He is off to an ok start offensively with a .273/.333/.364 slash line in 12 plate appearances and he remains the team’s backup shortstop. When looking at Triple-A, Kevin Kramer could replace Newman as the team’s backup shortstop. However, with just a hair over 140 professional innings at shortstop second base remains his primary position.

As for Cole Tucker and Ke’Bryan Hayes, do not expect to see either of them before the All-Star Break. While both are MLB ready defensively, both need at bats at Triple-A, especially Tucker, as neither had played at the level before this season. Promoting them that early could potentially derail their long term developments. See one Pedro Alvarez. Tucker and Hayes remain the shortstop and third baseman of the future, but the future is 2020.

Right now the Pirates are committed to Erik Gonzalez as their everyday shortstop. Outside of the home opener, he has been excellent defensively. Offensively, however, he has struggled. While his walk rate and strikeout rate (both 12.9%) are better than league average, he is still putting too many balls on the ground.

Right or wrong, the team is committed to Gonzalez as the starting shortstop. At least for now.

First and foremost, there is about a 0% chance of Jose Abreu being a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019. Secondly, this team is not going to move on from Josh Bell any time soon.

As you pointed out, Bell is off to a hot start this season. In 38 plate appearances he owns a .273/.342/.545 slash line with a .280 ISO and a 120 wRC+. The early returns on Bell’s work with new hitting coaches Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz are very promising.

Bell’s hot start should come as no surprise, either. On top of getting to work with the new hitting coaches, Bell has been hitting the ball well for some time now. After starting slow in 2018, Bell turned it on after June 1st.

Dating back to June 1st 2018 Bell owns a .267/.374/.435 slash line. His ISO is .167, to go along with a 121 wRC+ and an extra base hit rate of 10.3%. Quietly, it appears Bell is turning into the hitter he was hyped to be in the minor leagues.

This team has heart, there is no doubt about that. They’re multiple come from behind victories over the Cincinnati Reds, as well as the way everyone stuck up for each other during and after Sunday’s scuffle demonstrated this.

They also have more talent than a lot of people want to give them credit for. As they have proven through their first nine games, this starting rotation is one of the best in the National League. Even with a few hiccups against the Cardinals, the bullpen remains one of the league’s best as well. And it will only get better when Crick returns from the IL.

Treading water until they get healthy is vital, and, so far, they have done that. It also helps that the April schedule is not overly difficult. If this team is floating around .500 when Polanco, Crick, and Dickerson return from injury, they should be a team that other NL squads fear playing.

This may not be a postseason team, but that does not mean it can’t be a fun season. The Pirates have the talent needed to put together a winning record and compete for a postseason berth.

Next. Crick, Burdi Developing Plus Sliders. dark

That will do it for this week. If you ever have a question for the mailbag look for our Tweet asking for questions each week. Also, do not be afraid to ever ask a question on Twitter or Facebook.