With Todd Frazier opting out of his contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and becoming a free agent, one utility player is set to benefit
Friday evening the Pittsburgh Pirates received surprising news. This came when veteran corner infielder Todd Frazier opted out of the minor league contract he signed with the Pirates, becoming a free agent.
Prior to this Frazier appeared to be a slam dunk to crack the team’s Opening Day roster. All signs pointed toward Frazier platooning with Colin Moran at first base and being a go to pinch hitter for manager Derek Shelton.
With Frazier out of the picture that opens up a bench spot for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team is still likely to start the season with nine relievers and four bench players and three of the four bench spots appear to be locked up.
One of Tony Wolters or Michael Perez will make the team as the backup catcher. Two of the three between outfielders Anthony Alford, Brian Goodwin and Dustin Fowler will crack the Opening Day roster, with one starting in center field and the other being the team’s fourth outfielder. A third bench spot will belong to whoever is not starting at shortstop between Erik Gonzales and Kevin Newman.
With a fourth bench spot up for grabs again there are two primary contenders to earn that spot. Utility man Wilmer Difo has made his case this spring, but still appears unlikely to crack the Opening Day roster. Infielder/outfielder Phillip Evans now appears to be the frontrunner for the fourth bench spot.
Last season Evans had 45 plate appearances with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In these 45 PAs he hit for a .359/.444/.487 slash line to go with a 158 wRC+, an 11.1% walk rate and just a 15.6% strikeout rate.
Evans appeared to be on his way to having a breakout season with the Pirates. This all changed, however, in early August when a collision with Gregory Polanco in shallow right field brought his season to an end.
Entering this spring Evans appeared to be a safe bet to make the Opening Day roster. When the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Frazier this appeared to change. However, with Frazier out of the picture Evans now appears to be the beneficiary with a roster spot in hand.
With his play in the Grapefruit League this spring Evans has earned an Opening Day roster spot. He has played 12 games this spring, hitting for a .393/.486/.429 slash line in 35 plate appearances. He has walked five times, struck out just four times and driven in a team leading seven runs. Evans has also made some spectacular defensive plays in the outfield this spring.
Evans will likely now be Moran’s platoon partner at first base, although the Pirates may want to give Moran more opportunities against left-handed pitchers which could lead to Evans getting starts in right field over Polanco against lefties. Evans can play third base, second base, first base and the corner outfield spots. This positional flexibility also adds to the value he can bring to a MLB roster.