With at-bats available in left field and a potential glut of outfielders at Triple-A, the Pittsburgh Pirates should turn to a young outfielder to start the season
One area the Pittsburgh Pirates appeared to be in need of addressing the offseason was the outfield. However, other than claiming Greg Allen off waivers the Pirates did not address the outfield at all.
With Grapefruit League games underway the outfield remains a bit of a mystery. Bryan Reynolds will start in center field and Ben Gamel will likely be in right field on a regular basis, if not daily. That still leaves left field up in the air.
While Anthony Alford is in camp with the Pittsburgh Pirates and will likely compete for reps in the outfield the Pirates should look to go a different direction. At this point Alford is what he is. In his MLB career he has struck out in 37.7% of his trips to the plate. Strikeouts also plagued him in the minors having struck out in 34.5% of his plate appearances at Triple-A last season and 29.7% of Triple-A PAs in 2019. It appears that Alford will never make enough contact to garner a MLB roster spot.
The Pirates should be looking to give younger players reps in the outfield and this could include the aforementioned Allen. Even though it was in a very small sample size Allen had a career year with the New York Yankees last season. He turned heads in his Grapefruit League debut by blasting a two-run home run in Friday afternoon’s victory and could prove to be a valuable outfielder for the Pirates. If nothing else, the switch hitting Allen should provide quality defense with the ability to get on base. Even if it is not in a starting role, odds are, Allen will be on the Opening Day roster.
Another young player who could compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster is former first-round pick Travis Swaggerty. Had Swaggerty not suffered a season ending shoulder surgery early last season then he would have made his MLB debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates at some point in 2021.
Swaggerty turns 25 in August and was arguably the best and most advanced college hitter in the 2018 draft. Even though Swaggerty has played just 12 games at the Triple-A level at this point more time at Triple-A may not be very beneficial for him. Swaggerty was added to the 40-man roster this past offseason and may have an opportunity to crack the Opening Day roster.
Jack Suwinski and Canaan Smith-Njigba are two other outfield prospects who were added to the 40-man roster this offseason. Both are left-handed hitters with different profiles. Suwinski brings big time power potential while Smith-Njigba has the ability to be an on-base machine. Both skill sets are differing but both would be valuable to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Cal Mitchell and Matt Fraizer are two outfielders who are not on the 40-man roster but are likely in line for their MLB debut this season. While neither are likely to make the Opening Day roster, and both likely could use a bit more seasoning at Triple-A, there could be an argument to be made for them to crack the roster with a strong enough showing this spring.
Another factor needs to be the potential outfield logjam at Triple-A. If Alford claims the final outfield spot on the Opening Day roster then that leaves Swaggerty, Suwinski, Smith-Njigba, Mitchell, and Fraizer battling for three spots in Indy’s outfield. Even if one of them serves as the designated hitter someone still sits on the bench every night.
For each of these five prospects the worst thing they can do is to be on the bench. They need to be playing and getting at-bats. If that means someone needs to be getting ABs against MLB pitching then so be it.
Assuming Allen claims a roster spot that would leave one more spot on the Opening Day roster for an outfielder. This spot should go to one of the organization’s young outfielders. The Pittsburgh Pirates need to roll with their youth and see what they can do. Especially if it is Swaggerty who could very easily prove to be a key building block for the Pirates moving forward.