Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training Battle: Center Field

Sep 2, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Anthony Alford (6) hits a solo home run against the Chicago Cubs during the seventh inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 2, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Anthony Alford (6) hits a solo home run against the Chicago Cubs during the seventh inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Every year in Spring Training MLB teams have position battles. This spring, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have a few of these battles in camp. We have already discussed the battle that will unfold at shortstop. Today, we will take a look at the battle that will take place in center field.

Entering Spring Training the battle for the center field job will be between Anthony Alford and Jared Oliva. That said, Pittsburgh Pirates are still in the market for outfield help before the season begins so that battle could have a third competitor at some point.

The 26-year-old Alford was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 27th of last year. A former Toronto Blue Jay prospect, Alford was once a top-60 prospect in all of baseball. However, to this point, he has never been given an extended look in the Majors.

Last season the Pittsburgh Pirates appeared committed to giving Alford that extended look. After 13 plate appearances in five games with the Pirates last season, Alford dislocated his elbow. This brought his 2020 season to an end.

Prior to suffering the injury Alford had started four games in a row with the Pirates. In his 13 PAs he 3-for-12 with a walk, a home run, a triple, and he stole home. Prior to the injury Alford was flashing why he was one a top prospect and appeared ready to potentially seize the center field job with the Pirates.

As for Oliva, he is one of the organization’s top outfield prospects and made his MLB debut late last season. In the final six games of the season Oliva recorded 16 plate appearances, going 3-for-16 with six strikeouts and a stolen base.

Oliva ranks as the 9th best prospect in the Pirate farm system by FanGraphs. His best assets are his speed and defense. FanGraphs gives his speed a future value of 60 and his fielding 50. His overall FV according to FanGraphs is 45+.

In the minors Oliva has always hit the ball well. With the Double-A Altoona Curve in 2019 he hit for a .277/.352/.398 slash line and a 123 wRC+ in 507 PAs. Across 454 PAs with High-A Bradenton in 2018 he hit for a .275/.354/.424 slash line to go with a 124 wRC+.

Long-term, Oliva could play a big role for the Pirates. That said, he may start the 2021 season in the minors. If Alford wins the center field job, the Pirates may want Oliva playing every day at the Triple-A level instead of being a bench/part-time player for the Pirates. However, if Oliva wins the center field job Alford will still likely make the roster as a fourth outfielder/bench player.

The Pirates may also want to give Alford a look in center field to start the season to see if he can find the potential that once made him a top prospect for the Blue Jays. They may also want Oliva to get a little more seasoning in the minors, especially since he has never played at the Triple-A level and only recorded 16 PAs in the Majors last season.

Next. 2021 PECOTA Projections. dark

At this point Alford appears to be the front runner to win the center field job. However, that is far from set in stone. If Oliva outperforms Alford this spring, then he very well could find himself in center field on Opening Day.

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