The Pittsburgh Pirates have a lot corner infield players at the Major League level. In fact, they have had to make a few roster moves already to help with the glut.
Since the beginning of the offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates have taken two potential first baseman off their 40-man roster. The first came in the way of corner utility player Jose Osuna. The second corner player taken off the roster was 2016 first round pick Will Craig.
Both made sense, with Osuna being the more obvious release of the two. The corner bat had spent his whole big keague career with the Pittsburgh Pirates but was never able to capture a consistent spot on the team. With him entering his first year of arbitration and never proving to be more than a depth piece, it was time for both sides to move on. Osuna has since signed to play in the NPB in Japan.
Will Craig being designated for assignment came more as a surprised. The former first round pick has developed into a plus defender at first and has always had projectable power. However, things just never seemed to get going for Craig with the bat, even with his move to first from third. His career slash line in the minors was .259/.350/.412. While these numbers are not bad, they are not what one would expect from a former first round pick at an offensive-minded position. Also, his numbers are carried from success in the lower minors.
In 2019, Craig struck out more than once a game for the first time in his career. He also saw his OBP be at a career low .326 and his wRC+ drop under league average at Triple-A. This suggests that he was not driving runners in, but also was not having productive at-bats that would lead to scoring. In addition to his mediocre numbers, Craig is already 26 years of age, limiting how much productive time he can really spend at Triple-A at this point in his career.
An even more crucial point to show just how much team’s think of Craig’s potential is that not one team claimed Craig. After the Bucs DFA’d him, he had a chance to be picked up for nothing other than a roster spot by the 29 other teams. Instead, he was outrighted to the minors in the Bucs organization, meaning as of now he still could be a depth piece for 2021.
However, that is all he should be: depth. While Will Craig will head to Triple-A, he should not be the starting first baseman there. Obviously the team does not see Craig as a long term starter, so he should not continue to take those reps at the Triple-A level. Instead, the Bucs should give the job to one of their top up and coming prospects.
Mason Martin was never considered a top prospect. He was a 17th round pick back in 2017, and while many thought the team was getting an interesting prospect at that point in the draft, it was still the 17th round. That did not stop Martin from developing into a prospect of note.
Martin is now a consensus top 20 prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. He also might be the teams most tantalizing power prospect outside of Oneil Cruz. Martin, who ranks 17th on FanGraphs Pittsburgh Pirates rankings, has a power grade of 60 and raw power grade of 70, both which are above average in terms of tools.
Martin is easily the Pittsburgh Pirates best first base prospect in the minors. He spent 2019 between High-A and Double-A, which likely would have put him on track for his Triple-A debut at some point in 2020. With that being said, Martin should start the year in Triple-A in 2020, and by no means should he be sharing at-bats with Will Craig. Martin needs to get as many at-bats as possible so the Pittsburgh Pirates can see if he has a place on this team down the road.