First Pitch: Do the Pirates Finally Have the Best 25 Men in Pittsburgh?

Andrew Lambo Pirates
Andrew Lambo’s promotion could finally give the Pirates the best 25 players in Pittsburgh. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

There has been a lot of talk from various Pirates writers about having the “best 25” in Pittsburgh. You could make a strong argument that the Pirates didn’t always have the best 25 players on the active roster this year. In some cases the upgrades were minor, such as upgrading the last two spots on the bench by getting rid of John McDonald and Brandon Inge. In other cases, the upgrades were more substantial. I feel that’s what we’re seeing with the move to call up Andrew Lambo.

I’m not sure yet if Lambo will immediately step in as the starter in right field. I feel that he should. He’s had some impressive numbers in the upper levels of the minors this year. Meanwhile, the right field options in Pittsburgh have not had impressive numbers at all. Travis Snider had a great April, and has struggled ever since. Jose Tabata has decent numbers, but looks better as a strong fourth outfielder off the bench. Alex Presley is more of a fifth outfielder or a depth option, and with a first base platoon, there’s not much room for him with Lambo on the active roster. Of course that’s assuming Starling Marte isn’t hurt bad enough to go on the disabled list, which would be bad for the Pirates.

Assuming Marte is healthy, and based on his tweet after getting hit in the hand it seems like he is, it’s time to revisit the “best 25” concept. Obviously the best 25 aren’t in Pittsburgh right now, because guys like Wandy Rodriguez and Jason Grilli are on the disabled list. But both have a good shot of being back by the playoffs, so in the long-run they’ll be in the mix. As it stands right now, here is the 25-man roster, with thoughts on whether the Pirates could find an internal upgrade.

Catcher (2) – You don’t need to upgrade Russell Martin, and Tony Sanchez is a better backup than the recently signed Kelly Shoppach.

First Base (2) – The Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez platoon has struggled at times, mostly because Jones hasn’t been hitting right-handers consistently. But the Pirates don’t have an everyday option at first, and Jones is pretty much the best platoon option.

Second Base (2) – Neil Walker is the starter. Josh Harrison is the guy off the bench. Both have been performing well in their roles, and I couldn’t argue for anyone better. I could argue for a platoon of these guys, with Harrison hitting lefties.

Shortstop (2) – Jordy Mercer has better offense, and Clint Barmes has better defense. They are the top two shortstops in the upper levels.

Third Base (1) – Pedro Alvarez is the best option, and pretty much the only option in the system.

Left Field (1) – It’s hard to beat Starling Marte. Let’s hope he’s healthy.

Center Field (1) – MVP, Andrew McCutchen.

Right Field (2) – Andrew Lambo and Jose Tabata. I’m guessing Presley will go down. I don’t know if Lambo is going to come up and immediately carry his power over to the majors, but it would be hard to do worse than the right field trio this year. He was also the top option in the minors.

Starting Rotation (5) – Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Jeff Locke, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton. Some might argue that Charlie Morton shouldn’t be in the rotation. I’d say they’re wrong. Other than that, I don’t think the rotation gets any debates.

Bullpen (7) – There’s no debate on Mark Melancon, Justin Wilson, or Tony Watson. I also think that Vin Mazzaro and Jeanmar Gomez have played themselves into “best 25” territory. When it comes to Jared Hughes and Bryan Morris you’ve got two guys who are as good or better than the Triple-A options, so there’s not an obvious upgrade available. However, when Wandy Rodriguez and Jason Grilli return, those are the two guys who look like the odd men out.

At this point I’d say the Pirates finally have the best 25 *healthy* players in Pittsburgh. If everyone remains healthy, and Wandy Rodriguez and Jason Grilli return, the Pirates will have the best 25 in Pittsburgh. The best 25 doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no room for upgrades. In some cases above, you’ve got players who need to upgrade their own performance this year. In other cases you’ve got positions where the Pirates could get a better upgrade externally, if only the opportunity were there. The trade market was weak, and it will be hard for the Pirates to land an upgrade on waivers or in August trades.

So at this point, once Andrew Lambo arrives, we’re going to see the best group of healthy the Pirates can put on the field. And best case scenario, the Pirates will keep everyone healthy, get Rodriguez and Grilli back, and have the best group overall that they can have as the playoffs approach.

What are your thoughts? Do the Pirates have their best 25 in Pittsburgh with the Lambo promotion?

Links and Notes

**Check out the newest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 16: What Would the Pirates’ Playoff Rotation Look Like?

**Pirates Roundtable Live — Episode 5. James Santelli hosts, and this week’s guests include:

**Pirates to Call Up Andrew Lambo.

**Pirates Agree to Terms With Kelly Shoppach.

**Prospect Watch: Stetson Allie’s Strikeouts Are a Concern.

**Minor League Schedule: Kris Johnson Tries to Keep Impressive Streak Alive.

  • Pretty harsh on Kelly Shoppach, ya think? The guy still throws out 37% of baserunners, is a plus pitch framer and yes, even hits better than Tony Sanchez although both are below the Mendoza line.

    Unless Shoppach has been home drinking beer and eating pizza and has become Rod Barajas, he’s my backup catcher in the playoffs, not Sanchez. And unless Tony really shows me something in next two weeks, it’s not even a close argument.

    Shoppach has more playoff experience than pretty much every position player on the Bucs not named Russell Martin. The past two years he’s gotten off to strong starts offensively then fell apart. So with a bit of rest, he might actually be a serviceable bat as well.

  • Given Hurdle’s history with first time call-ups, I’d be willing to bet Lambo is on the bench tonight then starts in RF tomorrow. The fact that Wainwright’s OPS vs LHB is .623 (.636 vs RHB) and Miller’s is .730 (.546 vs RHB) helps too.

    • CalipariFan506
      August 13, 2013 12:59 pm

      I think it’s too early to say how much time he will see.

      Really nothing can be analyzed for pre-judged before we know if Marte is on the DL or not.

    • Good point. I could see Lambo striking out 3 or 4 times against Wainwright. That would have to be tough to forget for your major league debut.

  • I think there is an argument for Ivan De Jesus over Josh Harrison. I think there is even a case to be made for Presley over Tabata though I don’t particularly buy it. I think we could also quibble over Hughes and Morris as compared to some AAA arms like maybe Black, Welker and Johnson but this is all really nitpicking.

  • I don’t see Jones coming back next year unless he goes on a tear to finish off the year.

    • I’m not sure why Jones wouldn’t be back next year even if he does worse the rest of the year. Come opening day next year the Pirates won’t have anyone better than Jones. His trade value won’t be that high, so any decent return can’t be expected. Since this is a bit of a down year for Jones, his arb salary should be managable. I doubt there would be a FA available at a reasonable price either.
      The only players who can replace Jones are Lambo (assuming he can hit at the major league level and handle 1B), Dickerson and potentially even further in the future if Lambo and Dickerson should fail would be Bell. There is also the posibility of Alvarez moving to 1B, but I wouldnt expect that to happen until 2015 (assuming Lambo and Dickerson fail). Lambo and Dickerson probably wouldn’t be able to establish themselves as the regular (or platoon half) first baseman until 2015.
      That means that for the 2014 season, the Pirates will still have Jones and Sanchez at first. Jones may very well not be on the team by the time 2015 season arrives though.

  • Minor quibble, but if I had to choose between Morris and Mazzaro, I would choose Morris.


  • If a 3rd baseman is available this off season that could help this team would the pirates consider moving Alvarez to first? I mean, he’s moving to first eventually right?

    • CalipariFan506
      August 13, 2013 8:54 am

      If the Pirates plan on trying to extend him, then I think they’ll move him to 1B to diminish his value slightly. If they want to eventually trade him prior to the end of his arbitration in 2016, then I think he’ll stay at 3B to keep his value a little higher.

      IMO Walker to 3rd, Alvarez to 1B, Mercer at SS and Hanson at 2B is going to be the infield by 2015 or 2016.

      • 506 : You are dreaming man. If anything,Walker will be gone in 2016.

        • CalipariFan506
          August 13, 2013 9:17 am

          Well I think Walker would have more value at 3rd as he would be a plus defender. He has improved his BB% a lot this season and if he gets hot hitting for a few weeks, his overall offensive numbers will be up even with limited 10HR power. I think he would have about equal value at 3B as he does at 2B.

          • Wouldn’t be a plus defender at 3rd

          • Kevin, what makes you think Walker wouldn’t be a plus defender at 3rd? He seemed to be playing the position pretty well in the minors prior to making the majors. The only reason Walker was moved to 2nd was because Alvarez was at 3rd.

          • Well this is a layup…He played 3rd for 3 years. Put up a .920, .947, .931 Fld% with a total of -14 Rtz (Runs Above Average), and has maybe a slightly above average arm for a 2nd basemen, which would be below average at 3rd.

          • Alvarez’s numbers are about the same or worse.

    • Who said Alvarez is moving to 1st base ?

  • CalipariFan506
    August 13, 2013 7:04 am

    It’s difficult to get excited for this until we are positive Marte is not going on the DL.

  • This is probably the best 25 as of this date. The window is just now opening for this team and the roster spots should get more competetive going forward. Hopefully Lambo gets an extended opportunity to prove he can stick. Now is the time with Polanco and others getting close. A nice follow up to Lambo moving up would be Dickerson moving to AAA. One of these two should be the long term replacement for Jones who probably won’t be back next year if he doesn’t pick up the pace substantially. Roster spots are going to be highly competitive going forward.

  • The #FREELAMBO movement finally reached the offices at PNC. Hallelujah! His bat should play in Pittsburgh immediately! His ability to rise to the occasion will determine if he’s going to stay though.

  • It seems as if Shoppach was signed strictly as insurance incase Sanchez or [God forbide] Martin go down.

    Pirates are in a good position right now with only 6 NL teams above .500 and 5 playoff spots to be had.