Sunday, January 18, 2015

2015 Pittsburgh Pirate Outfield Preview...More Than a Cup of Coffee

Hey gang!

The last few articles have covered the Pirate infield and behind the dish. Today, we take a look at a pretty solid slate of positions in the outfield.

We begin with the 2013 National League Most Valuable Player in center, Andrew McCutchen. Things won't change in 2015 as he will be manning center field. In 2012 and 2013, he led the league in games played in center and would've again last season if not for the Arizona Diamondbacks and their need to have revenge for Ernesto Frieri's fastball across the hands of Paul Goldschmidt.

Offensively, Cutch has been awesome over the last three seasons. I don't understand critics that want him to hit more homers. Yes, his homers have fallen from the 31 in 2012, but remember the rest of the game that Cutch brings to the table. The guy steals 20 bases, hits .314 or better, drives in 80+ runs and leads the National League in on base percentage (.410 in 2014). What more can you ask from a guy that has finished top three in the NL MVP voting three straight seasons.

Left field is nearly as solid. Starling Marte has been almost as good since coming up in July 2012. Last season, most of the numbers continued to improve (29 doubles, 13 homers, 56 RBI), including his batting average getting up to .291. Marte might have been the hottest hitting Pirate not named Russell Martin after he returned from injury in August. His 30 stolen bases were down from 41 in 2013, but he also was caught less often. Defensively, he was in left field more often (124 games) than everyone except Dom Brown in Philly (132) and Matt Holiday in St. Louis (136). Had he not been in center during McCutchen's 15-day DL stint, he would have led the league in left. His five errors were tied for the most in the league with a handful of guys, including Brown.

Rounding out the outfield in right is "El Coffee", Gregory Polanco. His cup of coffee was 89 games in 2014 and there were flashes of what Pirate fans have seen at every level of the minors in him. However, teams began figuring out that he struggled with the breaking balls. Even though Polanco hit seven homers and stole 14 bases, he also struck out 59 times. Most of those were after that extremely hot first month up. He ended the season hitting .235, but that will improve. On defense, he finished 2014 with five outfield assists, including two double plays, which tied him for third in the National League among right fielders.

That sounds pretty good for an outfield expected to be in the Steel City through 2018. Just thinking about the potential of 70-80 stolen bases, 60-70 homers, a cumulative batting average around .300, along with solid defense that will get you 15-25 outfield assists in a season makes most Pirate fans drool. Admittedly though, there are doubters after the tough late August and September run that Polanco had. Can he get back to the form that made him draw comparisons to the late, great Roberto Clemente? While I think that he'll bounce back, the Pirates are not short on guys that can fill time in right (or anywhere else) if the need arises.

When I talked about the first basemen, we already talked about Corey Hart and Andrew Lambo, along with their potential to back up Pedro Alvarez. Those words hold true in right field as well. While Hart would probably be better suited to back up Pedro, Lambo has been in right more often and could serve better here, if needed.

However, our super sub, bat off the bench, is nothing short of a Lunch Box Hero. Travis Snider came up in the Blue Jays' organization back in 2008-09 and showed flashes of greatness in Toronto. The problem with Snider was his streakiness. After coming here in the Brad Lincoln trade at the 2012 trade deadline, Snider struggled with injuries hampering him through the 2013 season. In 2014, a healthy Snider became our best bat off the bench, leading the league in pinch hits, and was clutch in the field in both right and left field, only committing one error.

Beyond Snider, the Pirates have to be looking to rid themselves of an awful contract of Jose Tabata. Even though Tabata is not on the 40-man roster, the Pirates are guaranteed to be out $8.5 million over the next two years. The team also has options that end up totaling $22.5 million from 2017-19. At this point, I can't see any way that the Pirates would even take the first team option in 2017 at $6.5 million. Tabata has lost all power and most of the speed that came with him from the Yankees years ago. I'd like to say he's become a doubles hitter, but I think even that might be complementary of how bad his skills have eroded.

The outfield is pretty much set for a long time and that is a good thing as most of the Pirate prospects for the outfield are only in High A, maybe AA Altoona for 2015. Next up, we'll look at the pitching staff and bullpen for 2015.

Remember, I am looking at you guys to tell me who you'd like to see covered next after the Buccos. Click here to go to the one question survey. If you can't get there, you can always leave your suggestion in the comments.

Thanks for reading,

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