Is there any hope for the Pirates' slumping outfield?

San Francisco Giants v Pittsburgh Pirates
San Francisco Giants v Pittsburgh Pirates / Joe Sargent/GettyImages
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Trotting out to play outfield in a Pirates uniform comes with extraordinarily high expectations. Nine of the franchise’s top 10 position players have manned the outfield grass, according to Baseball-Reference’s WAR model. While no one is expecting Michael A. Taylor to suddenly become Roberto Clemente, the current roster leaves much to be desired. Just how long will the outfield lay fallow at PNC Park?

For the purposes of this article, I will consider the Pirates’ outfield as Taylor, Edward Olivares, Bryan Reynolds, Jack Suwinski, and Connor Joe. While Joe also plays first base, roughly a third of his appearances have come in right field this season. As of May 31, this quintet has produced a measly .236/.307/.377 slash line. While not jaw-dropping numbers, this is better than Manny Machado’s current line of .237/.291/.360. But this line makes up a solid chunk of the Pirates’ lineup on any given day rather than solely occupying a single roster spot. Who’s most likely to break out, and where can the Bucs turn for help?

Most Likely to Carry the OF: Reynolds

The stats listed above would be much, much worse if not for Reynolds. A former All-Star, the left fielder has long been one of the few bright spots in Pittsburgh’s lineup, and Statcast indicates that he could be even better than his stats suggest. Reynolds’s actual batting average is 22 points below expected, and his slugging percentage is 57 points shy of the expected value. The expected numbers are more in line with Reynolds’s career marks.

Some of Reynolds’s numbers are a bit troubling, though. He isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he has in previous years. His barrel rate is down to 9.1 percent, and he is hitting just .162 on breaking and offspeed pitches.

Is Any Help on the Way?

Suwinski, who was demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis this week, Ji Hwan Bae, and Joshua Palacios are the only other outfielders on the 40-man roster. Palacios is currently on the seven-day injured list and has not appeared in a game since May 11 with Bradenton. Bae earned a promotion this week on the strength of an outstanding start with Indianapolis. In 27 games, he hit .367 with 15 RBIs. Time will tell if he can translate some of that success to the big-league level.

Matt Gorski has been tearing it up in Triple-A, slugging .810 over his past 16 games. The 26-year-old slugger could be an attractive internal option for the Pirates. Not only has Gorski manned left and center field for Indianapolis, but he has also played first base, a notable weak point for Pittsburgh. Gorski strikes out frequently, though; 35 percent of his at-bats end in a strikeout.

Beyond those options, the Pirates will have few outfield contenders for the next few seasons. Jase Bowen, Pittsburgh’s No. 19 prospect according to MLB.com, seems like the closest high-profile prospect to the Majors, and he likely won’t land in Pittsburgh until at least next season.

Take a Look Outside

In the next two months, the Pirates will have two golden opportunities to bolster the outfield ranks: the Draft and the Trade Deadline. Pittsburgh holds the ninth pick in the Draft, which now takes place over All-Star Weekend. While early mock drafts linked the Bucs to infield options such as JJ Wetherholt and Bryce Rainer, both Baseball America and Bleacher Report tie the Pirates to Texas A&M’s Braden Montgomery. It is unlikely that Georgia’s Charlie Condon or Mississippi prep star Konnor Griffin will fall to Pittsburgh, but the 2024 Draft holds significant outfield talent.

While I don’t expect the Pirates to be major buyers at the Trade Deadline, they could certainly pick up a depth piece. Noah Wright broke down the potential targets that could be available in late July. Many of the outfielders that will be on the free-agent market in the offseason will be too pricey for Pittsburgh, so now’s the time to make a run for a young, controllable piece, such as the A’s JJ Bleday.

No matter what route the Pirates take, they need to shore up the outfield both in the present and for the future.

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