Pittsburgh Pirates: What to do at First Base Without Colin Moran

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 07: Phillip Evans #24 of the Pittsburgh Pirates at bat during a game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 07, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 07: Phillip Evans #24 of the Pittsburgh Pirates at bat during a game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 07, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /
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With Colin Moran on the injured list who should take over at first base for the Pittsburgh Pirates until he returns?

Saturday afternoon the Pittsburgh Pirates lost an important middle of the lineup bat when Colin Moran injured his groin. Then on Sunday afternoon he was placed on the 10-day injured list as part of a flurry of roster moves.

Losing Moran is a big loss to the Pirate offense. The first base man has gotten off to a good start to 2021, batting .297/.352/.468 with a .356 wOBA and 126 wRC+ through his first 122 plate appearances.

Replacing that kind of production will be very hard, and I doubt they’ll find someone with a wRC+ approaching 130. However, they still need to put someone out at first base every day, so who are some of the options the Bucs can turn to fill the hole left by Moran?

On the Major League roster they could use some combination of Todd Frazier and Phillip Evans. Frazier was signed this past offseason to provide depth at both corner infield spots. So far, things haven’t gone Frazier’s way. He only has three hits in 40 trips to the plate. However, he was still a good hitter against left-handed pitching as late as 2020. Last season Frazier crushed southpaws to the tune of a .294/.359/.483 line, coming to a 132 wRC+. He’s only ever once had a wRC+ below 110 against lefties in a season since his debut in 2011.

Evans has significantly cooled off since his blazing hot start to the season. Evans has seen his wOBA fall to just .306 while his wRC+ has plummeted to 94. Despite this, he’s still ripping the cover off the baseball. He currently has a 91.9 MPH exit velocity and a 53.2% hard-hit rate. In his defense, he has gotten a bit unlucky with a .161 batting average on balls in play, despite his outstanding batted ball rates and line-drive rate well above 30% (32.3%) in his last 52 plate appearances.

Just for reference of how good that is, line drives this year have fallen for a hit 68.6% of the time across the MLB and the league average one drive rate is 21%. He’s bound to find a way out of the rut he’s currently stuck in with the way he’s crushing the baseball and the amount of line drives he is hitting.

The team could recall Rodolfo Castro from Double-A if they want to turn to a young prospect. Castro hasn’t seen any time at first base in his professional league career yet but has plenty of experience at third base, second base, and shortstop. Castro has already made his major league debut, and went 0-3. But he’s been tearing up Double-A pitchers. So far, he’s had 24 plate appearances and has 9 hits including 3 doubles and a home run. However, he has a concerning 1/6 BB/K ratio.

They could also bring back Hunter Owen to the Majors. Owen, like Castro, has already made his MLB debut but is about six years older than Castro (27 to 21). Owen last played a full season in 2019 with the Bucs’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. All told, he put up a solid .261/.345/.485 line, 19 long balls, and a .362 wOBA through 406 plate appearances. However, most of his production came from Altoona where he had a 172 wRC+. When he was promoted to Triple-A, his wRC+ fell to 63.

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There aren’t very many options on the free-agent market (unless they want to sign notorious Pirate killer and the greatest player of last generation Albert Pujols), and the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t about to trade anybody to fill in a temporary spot at first base. Personally, I’d like to see them give Owen a shot at first for now. He isn’t a top prospect or anything super exciting, but he’s done pretty solid at every level of the minors he has been at. Though they’ll likely turn to a tandem of Frazier and Evans to get most of the playing time for the time being.

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