Thankfully, it appears that there will be a 2020 MLB season. In this shortened season, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to be focusing on the future.
While the MLBPA and MLB owners could not reach an agreement on the 2020 season, it does appear that, despite the coronavirus pandemic, there will be a season. On Monday evening, MLB released a statement announce their intentions to mandate a 60-game season. So, it appears there will be Pittsburgh Pirates baseball in 2020.
Now, the player’s union could still nix the season if they deem the health and safety protocols laid out by the owners is not safe for the players. They could also nix the deal if they do not believe ‘spring training 2.0’ could start by July 1. But, all signs point toward the players being ready to play.
Assuming the 2020 season is played, as all signs now pointed toward, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to be playing for the future. Prior to the coronavirus shutdown, the Pirates were not looking to contend in 2020. While contending just became much easier due to the shortened season, the Pirates should still be playing for a future.
The first step toward playing for the future is having position player prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes becoming the team’s starting third baseman. Defensively, Hayes is MLB ready. He would already be one of the two or three best defensive third basemen in the game. He has won back-to-back minor league gold gloves at third base after all.
Incumbent Colin Moran is arguably the worst defensive third baseman in baseball. So, Hayes would already be a huge upgrade there. Furthermore, Hayes, not Moran, is the long term future at third base for the Bucs. While Hayes still has steps to take offensively, he had above average exit velocity and hard hit rates at Triple-A in 2019. His problem was hitting too many ground balls, an issue he worked toward fixing this offseason, work that had strong early returns in spring training.
In addition to starting Hayes at third base, Chad Kuhl should be in the team’s starting rotation. With Chris Archer set to miss the season, the team has an open spot in its starting rotation. This spot will likely come down to Kuhl and Steven Brault, but it should go to Kuhl.
Kuhl has a slider with plus potential and fastball that can hit 100 MPH. He has the tools needed to be a good starting pitcher at the MLB level. As he returns from Tommy John Surgery, the Pirates should give those starts to Kuhl as he is the more likely pitcher of the two to lock down a long term spot in the starting rotation for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Sticking with the pitching staff, the Pittsburgh Pirates should also give an expanded role to Nick Burdi this season. Burdi has a 100+ MPH fastball and a filthy wipe out slide. While he needs to stay healthy, Burdi looks like a future dominant close. Now this is not to say he should close over Keone Kela, a quick friendly reminder that closer is not a position but MLB managers can be really dumb some times, but the team should look to use Burdi in high leverage situations as often as possible.
By doing this, the team can start to groom Burdi for a potential future closer role. Kela is slated ot be a free agent after the season. Due to this, Pirates will need a new closer in 2021, if not sooner. Burdi is their best option to replace Kela when the time comes.
Circling back to position players, the Pirates should also make room for Cole Tucker this season. Many in the new front office that Ben Cherington has assembled view Tucker as a potential future star at the shortstop position. Now, it is time for him to play.
After originally looking over matched, Tucker hit for a .327/.400/.571 slash line in his final 55 plate appearances last season. This included a 151 wRC+, 9.1% walk rate, 18.2% strikeout rate, and a 16.4% extra base hit rate. Combine this with Tucker being a potential future Gold Glove shortstop, and he needs to be playing every day.
Making room for Tucker could be easier than it seems. After his terrific rookie season, Kevin Newman will have a spot in 2020 and he should. However, the Pirates could move him to second base. Newman is a below average defender at shortstop and an above average defender at second base.
Moving Newman to second base would leave Adam Frazier without a position. However, with MLB set to introduce an universal DH in 2020, Frazier could serve as the team’s DH. They could also move Newman to DH and leave Frazier at second base. Regardless, they have multiple options for getting Tucker into the every day lineup.
Thankfully, it appears there will be a 2020 MLB season. The 2020 season is one the Pittsburgh Pirates need to devout toward the future. Hopefully, Cherington, manager Derek Shelton, and everyone else important in the organization will have the same view on the season.