While the Pittsburgh Pirates have a few right field prospects, their long term right fielder may currently be playing shortstop.
Since about 2012, the Pittsburgh Pirates corner outfielders were formerly center fielders coming up through the minors that were moved to a corner because of being blocked in center. Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco were both primary center fielders coming up through the minors, but were moved to left and right field once they got to the MLB level. Bryan Reynolds also played quite a bit of center field in previous minor league seasons before becoming primarily a left fielder in the 2019 season.
Right now, nobody is blocking any prospect from taking over in center on the MLB roster. Currently, Jarrod Dyson is supposed to be the team’s primary CF, but he is only on a one year deal and obviously isn’t a long term answer. Travis Swaggerty and Jared Oliva are the team’s best long term options for center field. Both have good enough fielding to do so. But what is the answer for the Pittsburgh Pirates in right field in the near future?
Well, right now, Polanco is lined up for right field duties for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But his inconsistent performance and health raises major questions. Formerly a top 20 prospect, Polanco hasn’t really had one really good season just yet.
He looked like he was on the upturn after 2018. During the Pirates last .500+ season, Polanco batted for a solid .254/.340/.499 with a career highs in home runs (23), OPS+ (128), and wRC+ (123). He also stole a dozen bases, making him a bit of a speed and power threat. Fielding wise, he wasn’t anything special with -3 DRS, +5 total zone runs, -1.0 UZR, and -2.8 range runs, but had a solid arm. Polanco posted 1.5 arm runs above average.
But a hard slide into second nearing the end of the 2018 season really impacted Polanco’s 2019 season. Not only did this impact Polanco’s health the following season, as he only played 42 games and received 167 plate appearances, but it also affected his performance, coming in with a -0.6 bWAR.
Regardless of the possibility of a 2020 season, it would have been Polanco’s age 28 season, and the 2021 season could be his last season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He has options for the 2022 and 2023 season for $12.5 million and $13.5 million. Considering that from 2014 to 2017, Polanco only had a .717 OPS and 94 OPS+, and averaged less than 140 games a season, the $3 million buyout for 2022 and $1 million buyout for 2023 might be the route the Pirates go. So, if the Pirates let Polanco go, who takes over in right field?
Right now, the Pittsburgh Pirates do not have a ready-to-go option. But by the end of 2021 they might, in a less typical way. First, let’s get into some of the Pirates’ prospects who already see some time in right field.
The closest to being MLB ready is 20-year-old Jack Herman, but he is still a few years away. Herman definitely has some pretty good power potential. Through his first 161 plate appearances of pro ball in 2018, the 30th round selection put up a .340/.435/.489 line, and had 14 extra base hits, including nine doubles, three triples and two home runs.
Last year, Herman didn’t hit as well with a .254/.340/.464 line, but still hit 13 long balls through 300 plate appearances at A-Ball. Herman only has a future hit grade of 40, but has a future game and raw power grade of 55. He grades out as an average fielder, but has a 60 grade arm, making his place in right field seem like a perfect spot for a player of Herman’s type. One that’s gonna provide power, get on base, and can throw some runners out with their strong arm. The slugger is ranked as the Bucs’ 27th best prospect according to FanGraphs.
The Pittsburgh Pirates best right field prospect is Cal Mitchell. FanGraphs ranks him as the team’s 15th best prospect. Mitchell batted .251/.304/.406 at High-A ball. He also hit 15 home runs in 493 plate appearances. Overall, he had a solid 110 wRC+, which isn’t bad, but not great for a bat-heavy position. He also only grades out, at best, as an average fielder with a future 50 fielding grade but 45 arm grade.
Another prospect with right field experience is Matt Gorski. Gorski ranks as the team’s 34th best prospect. At Low-A ball last season, the outfielder only had a .223/.297/.346 line through 202 plate appearances. He only had a 96 wRC+, overall making him a below average bat. Gorski’s future probably isn’t a starting outfielder, but more of a reserve 4th outfielder. He can run, as he has a 55 future and current speed grade, and field with 55 future grades for his arm and fielding. However hit wise, he only has a 45 future grade and 50 future raw power grade to go with a 45 game power future grade.
However, the general consensus is that, eventually, shortstop prospect Oneil Cruz will make the move to right field. This is something that has been brought up many times, as the Pirates have many top shortstop prospects, and could afford to try one at a different position that isn’t up the middle.
Cruz ranks as the 32nd best prospect in all of baseball. Cruz has an outstanding arm that would definitely fit in right field. Originally a third baseman, Cruz has an 80 current and future throw grade, which is the highest in all of baseball. Overall, he is an average to below average shortstop, so moving to right field could potentially help his fielding. He can also run fairly well with a current run grade of 60. His power bat also fits the position as he currently has a 30 game power grade, but a future grade of 60 with his raw power sitting at 70 current/80 future.
Herman is probably one of the more underrated solutions the Pittsburgh Pirates could turn to. But with so many other middle infield prospects, finding a place for Cruz in the infield will be a bit difficult. With is athletic ability and great arm, he would make a perfect fit in right field for the long term. Regardless, the Pirates should have a plan in place for the position.