Pittsburgh Pirates: Shortstop Battle Heating Up

Sep 18, 2020; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Kevin Newman (27) throws to first base to complete a double play against the St. Louis Cardinals during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2020; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Kevin Newman (27) throws to first base to complete a double play against the St. Louis Cardinals during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Following the first week of Grapefruit Leauge play the shortstop battle is starting to heat up for the Pittsburgh Pirates

Prior to the start of Grapefruit League action we identified multiple position battles the Pittsburgh Pirates would have this spring. One of these battles we identified was at the shortstop position. With the first week of Grapefruit League games in the rearview mirror the shortstop battle is starting to heat up.

Entering Spring Training the shortstop battle was going to hinge largely on what happened with Adam Frazier. If Frazier were traded, this would slide Kevin Newman to second base making the shortstop battle and two man battle between Cole Tucker and Erik González. Well, as of this writing, Frazier, while battling the injury bug, is still with the Pittsburgh Pirates, making the shortstop battle a three-way fight.

Of these three candidates for the shortstop job, González and Tucker are the far superior defenisve options to Newman. However, Newman’s 2019 season was by far the best offensive season any of the three have ever had in the Majors. Overall, Newman has the highest ceiling as a hitter, even though he certainly has his faults as a hitter.

Through the first week of Grapefruit League action, both González and Newman have hit well for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Tucker, however, has found himself battling a thumb issue. While the Pirates believe the thumb issue to be minor, it limited Tucker to just one game this week.

In a position battle like this even the smallest of injury can prove to be detrimental. Another factor working against Tucker is the fact he still has minor league options remaining while González is out of options. This alone was always going to put Tucker behind a bit more of an eight ball this spring compared to González.

Through the first week of spring action, both González and Newman have been red hot at the plate. González is 3-for-6 with a walk and a home run, while Newman is 4-for-6 with three walks. As for Tucker, in his lone appearance he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout.

Seeing Newman’s success with drawing walks and getting on base is as good to see as anything. With Newman’s past history as a leadoff hitter, if he does win the shortstop job, there is a high chance he would bat leadoff for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. If Frazier is traded, Newman is all but a slam dunk to bat leadoff.

Through the first week of spring action González has played his typical strong defense. As for Newman, who has been a well below average defenive shortstop in his MLB career, while he has made an error, he has also made multiple strong plays while battling the Florida winds. So, overall, both have been strong defensively.

There is obviously still a long way to go. Also, it still would not be a surprise to see Frazier traded before the regular season begins. That said, barring something unforseen it seems like a safe bet that both González and Newman will crack the Opening Day roster for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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The question then becomes, who starts at shortstop?

If both González and Newman continue to perform well and Frazier remains a Pirate, fans could see Derek Shelton play the hot hand at shortstop. The Pittsburgh Pirates may also give Newman an extended look if he continues to hit well to see if he can recapture his 2019 success. Regardless, this will be a competitive battle for fans to continue to watch throughout the rest of the spring.

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