Bottom of the lineup
Catcher Jacob Stallings provides the Pittbsurgh Pirates with a solid professional at-bat game after game. However, without outstanding speed or power, Stallings will most likely find himself batting 6th for the Pirates to start 2021. Stallings put together a second solid season in 2020, slashing for .248/.326/.376, following a breakout 2019 season when he hit for a line of .262/.325/.382. He will now look to build upon his strong 2020 with a strong 2021.
Sadly, Stallings will become a free agent in 2025 and it is unclear what another solid offensive and defensive season would mean for the catcher. There is a strong argument to be made for extending Stallings. However, an equally strong argument could be made for trading him if the catcher market is robust enough come the trade deadline.
Either way, Stallings will enter the season as the Pirates’ everyday catcher and my main hope is that he continues to provide professional at bats, extraordinary leadership, and fantastic defense to support the young pitching staff.
Cole Tucker will enter his third season at the Big League level in 2021 and will most likely slot in at the 7th spot as the team’s shortstop. One of the biggest complaints of the Pirate fanbase recently has been Tucker’s lack of playing time at the shortstop position. With a fresh season ahead of them, I expect Shelton and Cherington will be committed to giving Tucker the reigns at short and at an every day starting role in the lineup. As a former first-round pick that did show promise throughout the minors, it would surprise me if Cherington didn’t make it a priority to see what the young gun can do.
Since Tucker doesn’t hit free agency until 2026, there is a wide range of outcomes for Tucker and his future place in the Pirate organization. In 2021, Tucker doesn’t run a high risk of being traded or losing his spot on the Pirate roster – so I am mainly looking for him to establish a good offensive rhythm and to put up a stellar defensive campaign.
Rounding out the Pirate lineup will most likely be the inhabitant of center field. The two most likely candidates (let’s pray that Tucker is not a third in the conversation) are Anthony Alford and Jared Olivia. Alford was a waiver target by Cherington and was clearly a highly regarded player by the new general manager. Cherington was part of the Blue Jay organization that drafted Alford, so there is a good chance that Cherington knows what he is getting with Alford and has high expectations.
Sadly, Alford had a shortened Pirate debut and only played in five games before fracturing his elbow. It is fully expected that the young player will have his first full Big League season with the Pirates next season and could get an opening day start with a strong Spring Training performance. My hope is that Alford is able to put together a solid season and carve out a role in the Pirate outfield rotation throughout the rebuild.
Olivia is a rather underrated prospect for the Pirates and will play a large part in the Pirate outfield rotation in 2021. In 2020, Olivia had a rough Pirates debut, collecting only three hits over six games. However, in the minors Olivia was a good contact hitter with a career .274 batting average and a solid OBP of .348. Olivia’s X-factor is his speed. If Olivia was to start and hit leadoff for the Pirates, he would be a threat to steal 40 bags in one season.
My expectation for Olivia is that he will bat towards the bottom of the order until he can replicate his minor league OBP at the MLB level. As the season progresses, if things go well for Olivia, he could easily be moved up in the batting order to take better advantage of his speed. It would be a win for both the Pirates and Olivia if the young prospect could manage to stay on the Big League roster for the entire 2021 season.
That officially rounds out my projection and analysis of the potential Pirate Opening Day starting lineup! Obviously, there are still some question marks, but the majority of the lineup will be younger player looking to establish themselves as Big League regulars. While this won’t result in a postseason appearance, it will still be exciting to follow the development of a lot of these young and dynamic players.
Let’s go Bucs!