Center field has been a blackhole so far for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but prospect Jared Oliva could get a shot this season
The center field situation for the Pittsburgh Pirates has not been pretty so far in 2021. Anthony Alford and Dustin Fowler started the year as the team’s primary answers in center. Eventually, they were both DFA’d after they failed to do much in their chance.
Overall, Pirate center fielders have hit just .167/.248/.256 with a .230 wOBA and 45 wRC+ through 101 plate appearances. They have a collective fWAR of -0.5, the third-lowest mark among all team’s center fielders.
Travis Swaggerty still needs more seasoning in the upper minors. He’s one of their top prospects and there’s no need to rush him to the Majors. Hudson Head is still very young and 2-3 more years away from making the majors. Right now, the team’s most ready center field prospect is Jared Oliva, who should get a shot sometime this year. So, when can we expect Oliva to get this shot?
The last time Oliva played was in the Major Leagues in 2020. He only got 16 trips to the plate where he struck out 6 times with just 3 hits. Though he didn’t do much in his first taste of Big-League action, he put up solid numbers at Double-A.
Oliva hit .277/.352/.398 with a .343 wOBA and 123 wRC+ through 507 plate appearances. Oliva walked at an 8.3% rate while striking out 20.5% of the time, but did not show much power. The center fielder had just 6 home runs, had 24 doubles, and finished the season with a .121 isolated slugging percentage.
Oliva’s solid hitting numbers in 2019 are helped by his 88 MPH exit velocity and 41% hard-hit rate. This is very similar to San Diego Padre center fielder Trent Grisham, and outfielders Adam Duvall and Mike Yazstremzski. Overall, his exit velocity is right around the MLB league average while his hard-hit rate is above average.
The right-handed batter has just a 40-grade hit tool, 45-future game power tool, but raw power tool of 55, mainly because of his solid batted ball results. He is also a fast runner with a 60-speed grade. After all, his sprint speed of 29 feet/second-ranked 24th in all of baseball during his short stint in the MLB. Oliva showed off this speed throughout the minors with over 30 stolen bases in 2018 and 2019. He’s also considered an average defensive center fielder, albeit with a weak arm.
Oliva could get a shot soon. It’s unknown when Ke’Bryan Hayes returns from his injured list stint, which could mean that we could be seeing Phillip Evans at third base longer than expected. This means that the Bucs will have an open outfield spot. While recent waiver claim Ka’ai Tom will likely get a shot, it still leaves the team a bit short-handed on outfield depth.
Although Oliva may not be considered a key piece of the long-term future of the Pittsburgh Pirates he deserves to at least prove whether or not he can be a quality major league player. With no real answer in center, Oliva should get a shot to start in center within the next month.