Welcome back to the Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag – the Spring Training edition 1.0!
Can Ke’Bryan Hayes break Spring Training with the MLB club? Should the team look to add more depth players? Does the team need more left-handed pitching? And more in this week’s Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag.
As always, thank you to everyone who submitted questions to this week’s mailbag and participated. Now, let’s dive in!
Pirate fans, and rightfully so, are excited to see Ke’Bryan Hayes reach the MLB level. He is one of the top position player prospects in baseball, and arguably the best defensive third baseman in all of minor league baseball after all. That said, do not count on seeing Hayes break camp with the Pirates.
First off, he needs more time at the Triple-A level. In 110 games with the Indianapolis Indians last season Hayes slashed .265/.336/.415 with a .150 ISO and a 92 wRC+. His 9.0% walk rate was lower than you would like to see, but his 18.8% strikeout rate remained strong.
Before Hayes is ready to face MLB pitching, you want to see him hit for more power at the minor league level. Due to this, he will start the season at Indy to get at bats and work on developing his power further.
Secondly, there is the issues of Super 2 status. Hayes needs to be in the minors until some time in June, usually around June 10th, to avoid Super 2 status. By avoiding Super 2 status the Pirates will save millions of dollars down the road. With the team not expected to compete, it only makes sense to keep Hayes in the minor leagues until this time comes.
And, again, Hayes is not yet MLB ready offensively anyway.
To start the season Colin Moran will likely get the lion’s share of the at bats at third base, at least against right-handed pitchers, with some Jose Osuna and Erik Gonzalez mixed in. Unless one of these three players makes some quantum leap, look for Hayes to be at third base at some time this summer. Hayes’ time is coming, it’s getting close, but it is not here quite yet.
Ex-Pirate utility man Brock Holt is a popular player, eh?
Both Holt and Tim Beckham would make sense for the Pirates. Holt can play all over the infield, as well as the outfield, and is a plus hitter with a wRC+ higher than the league average of 100 each of the past two seasons. He would also be an upgrade over current utility men Erik Gonzalez and JT Riddle, as well as giving the Bucs a needed left-handed bat off the bench.
UPDATE: after this was written on Monday evening Holt since signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.
As for former number one overall draft pick Beckham, who was taken one spot ahead of Pedro Alvarez, he is not the offensive threat that Holt is. That said, he is also an upgrade over Gonzalez and Riddle.
As for Addison Russell, he is a piece of garbage human being. The Pirates need to stay away from guys who like to beat women to a pulp in their spare time. There’s a reason Russell, who is one of the best defensive infielders in the game, is still a free agent in late February.
It would make sense for the Pirates to continue to seek depth/bench options like these, but the odds of that happening seem low at this point. Especially with Adam Frazier still around and Cole Tucker already blocked at the MLB level.
If the Pirates were in a position to compete in 2020 there would be reason for concern. That said, it’s a rebuilding year and the need to load up the bullpen with quality left-handed pitching is not as high.
Right now, Steven Brault and Sam Howard are left-handed pitchers on the 40-man roster. Also, minor league free agent signings and non-roster invitees Robbie Erlin and Derek Holland will also compete for a roster spot. Miguel Del Pozo, Williams Jerez, Nik Turley, and Blake Weiman are also left-handed pitchers at are non-roster invitees.
Barring disaster this spring, odds are, Erlin will be a member of the team’s bullpen. Honestly, it is a surprise that the Pirates were able to sign him as a minor league free agent due to what he has accomplished in his career as a reliever.
Holland is in a similar boat as Erlin. However, the veteran will also have an opportunity to earn a spot in the team’s starting rotation. If Holland is not the team’s fifth starter to begin the season, look for him to be in the bullpen.
Brault will also compete for the fifth stating spot. Like Holland, if he does not earn it, he will have a great shot at earning a spot in the bullpen. With the ability to now carry 26 players on the active roster, it would be a surprise if the Bucs do not have at least two lefties in their Opening Day bullpen.
How the middle infield shakes out for the Pirates will be something worth watching this season. Kevin Newman burst onto the scene as one of the team’s best players in 2019, but fellow former first round pick Cole Tucker continues to knock on the door of the MLB level. This is a big reason why the team shopped second baseman Adam Frazier throughout the off-season, in an effort to open up a spot for Tucker.
As for Oneil Cruz, he continues to insistent he wants to play shortstop. While Cruz is listed at 6-foot-6, he is probably closer to 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8. That is quite large for a shortstop. It is tough to envision Cruz’s long term home being at shortstop. Especially with the National League being all but guaranteed to adopt the designated hitter in 2021.
Now, if Cruz flashes as a plus shortstop at the minor league level, the team could leave him there and slide Newman to second base. While Newman is not a poor defensive shortstop, he is just about average at best. He would likely be a plus defender at second base, so sliding him to second to make room for Cruz would make sense. That said, odds are, Cruz is the team’s DH of the future.
That will do it for this week. If you ever have a question for the mailbag look for our Tweet each week asking for questions. Also, do not be afraid to ask a question on Twitter or Facebook whenever you think of one.