Pittsburgh Pirates: Looking at Center Field Entering 2021

It wasn’t long ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates had one of the best outfields in Major League Baseball with Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco. In 2021, however, there are some concerns

If it wasn’t already known that the Pittsburgh Pirates would be sellers this offseason, the recent Josh Bell trade put that to rest. It is clear the Pirates are looking to the future as general manager Ben Cherington and the rest of the front office have also had further discussions regarding Adam Frazier, Joe Musgrove and potentially Steven Brault, among others.

With that being said, there is currently a lot of youth on the 40-man roster ofr the Pittsburgh Pirates and that trend will likely continue through this year and beyond, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Cherington entered an organization going every which way but up seemingly in terms of acquiring talent and ultimately becoming a World Series threat. With Bell on his way to Washington, this is the time to see whether these young talents can and will develop into quality major league players or if further moves need to be made elsewhere.

In terms of young talent, outfielder Anthony Alford is flying under the radar a bit. Currently the Pittsburgh Pirates have four outfielders on the 40-man roster and based on that, Alford currently seems most likely to be in center field on Opening Day.

Bryan Reynolds will look to rebound from a down year in 2020 and he’ll likely be in left field to start the year, as expected. Reynolds produced a batting average of .189 in the shortened 2020 season after bursting his way onto the scene with a batting average of .314 in 2019 so the Bucs will look to Reynolds to hopefully get back on track.

Despite recently breaking a bone in his wrist playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Gregory Polanco will likely be in right field to begin the season. Any potential Polanco trade talk was likely put to rest as Polanco was diagnosed with a small non-displaced fracture of the triquetrum bone in his right hand. Although his wrist will be immobilized for the near future, Polanco is expected to be 100% by the start of Spring Training. The Pirate right fielder also had a poor 2020 season and things weren’t looking much better this offseason in the Dominican Republic either as the right fielder was hitting a mere .197 with two home runs through 21 games.

This leaves center field wide open for the remaining two outfielders on the current roster, Alford and Jared Oliva. Of the two, Alford has a bit more experience playing at the major league level as he began his professional career with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017. Frankly, Alford did not produce much with the Blue Jays as most of his time was spent in the minor leagues until he was needed due to injury or once rosters expanded.

Alford’s biggest weapon is his speed. Throughout his time spent in the minor leagues Alford was a threat on the base paths collecting at least 17 stolen bases each season. In the shortened and strange 2020 season, Alford produced a batting average of just .214 over this 28 plate appearances. The outfielder did steal three bases, however, and the Pittsburgh Pirates could look to utilize his speed in the upcoming 2021 season.

Oliva made his MLB debut in 2020 after spending the previous three years within the Pirates’ minor league system. Throughout his time at the Low-A, High-A, and Double-A levels, Oliva maintained a solid batting average while also producing a solid on-base percentage. Following his 123 games played in Altoona in 2019, Oliva began in the Arizona Fall League where he found success playing with the Peoria Javelinas. The outfielder produced a batting average of .312 through his 109 plate appearances.

Like Alford, Oliva presents a threat to opposing catchers. In 26 games in the Arizona Fall League, Oliva swiped 11 bags as he really put his speed on display. The previous year in Altoona he stole 36 bases through his 123-game season. Either way, the Pirates will have some speed in the outfield in 2021.

Between Alford and Oliva, there will be a decision to be made during Spring Training. Of course, last season, the Pirates used Cole Tucker as a bit of a utility man so he may be in the outfield conversation once again along with Oneil Cruz who is also being talked about as a potential outfielder, at least to start his professional career.

How the rest of the 2020 offseason will play out is anyone’s guess but 2021 will be a year of experimentation for the Pittsburgh Pirates and it will be interesting to see how the young talent develops.