Every year at the start of Spring Training I outline the position battles for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I do this by breaking up the team into four main groups: the lineup, the rotation, the bench, and the bullpen. Usually there are a few battles per section, and by breaking it up, you can focus an article on each main battle.
This year there are very few position battles for the Pirates heading into Spring. And when you break it up into these groups, you get a group of positions that is set, with no battle at all. That’s the case with the starting lineup.
The Pirates are set at each of their eight starting positions, whether you like it or not (and I’m guessing there are some who won’t like the first base position). As a result, there’s not much to write about here, heading into Spring Training. The only thing to focus on will be keeping all of these guys healthy. If an injury does come up, that is where a starting spot could come in question. So I decided to look at exactly that. The starters are known, but I wanted to give a breakdown of who else could be getting playing time this year, and who would be the top starting option to take over if there was an injury in Spring Training.
Projected Starter – Francisco Cervelli
Playing Time Situations – Chris Stewart could split time with Cervelli, as I don’t see Cervelli getting a full workload. Cervelli projects to be the primary catcher, and the big question is how much will the playing time split be between him and Stewart?
If An Injury Occurs in Camp – Tony Sanchez would be the top option to take over, and I think he would be the favorite to start over Stewart if Cervelli went down.
Projected Starter – Pedro Alvarez
Playing Time Situations – Corey Hart should get some time at first base against left-handers. At his best, he didn’t really have a big platoon weakness, so he could emerge as a full-time option later in the year.
If An Injury Occurs in Camp – Hart needs to show that he’s healthy and productive, and Spring Training might not provide enough time for him to prove this. Andrew Lambo needs to prove he can hit in the majors. One of these two would start, although the Pirates would have to choose between two different types of unknowns.
Projected Starter – Neil Walker
Playing Time Situations – Walker should get most of the playing time, although the Pirates could spell him with one of the many other options to keep him fresh.
If An Injury Occurs in Camp – The Pirates have several options here, from starting Jung-ho Kang, to Sean Rodriguez, to moving Josh Harrison over from third base.
Projected Starter – Jordy Mercer
Playing Time Situations – This is another situation where the starter will get the bulk of the workload, but might get subbed a little more often to stay fresh.
If An Injury Occurs in Camp – Jung-ho Kang would be the ideal choice if he proves he can hit and play shortstop in the majors. Otherwise, the Pirates could go with a defensive specialist like Pedro Florimon.
Projected Starter – Josh Harrison
Playing Time Situations – Harrison is an option to move all around the field, but he’s kind of locked in at third base due to a lack of options. A productive Kang could make it possible for Harrison to move around.
If An Injury Occurs in Camp – Kang is the top option at the other infield spots (excluding first base), and he’s pretty much the only good option here, unless Deibinson Romero shows something.
Projected Starter – Starling Marte
Playing Time Situations – He should get more playing time than most, although that could be cut down by injuries, especially with his tendency to get hit at the plate.
If An Injury Occurs in Camp – The Pirates have a lot of options here. They could move Gregory Polanco over to left field and start Corey Hart or Andrew Lambo in right. They could move Josh Harrison to the outfield if Kang can cover third base. Jose Tabata, Jaff Decker, Mel Rojas, Keon Broxton, and Gorkys Hernandez are options in Triple-A.
Projected Starter – Andrew McCutchen
Playing Time Situations – No one gets more playing time on the Pirates than McCutchen, so don’t expect someone to cut into his playing time.
If An Injury Occurs in Camp – The best options would be to move Marte or Polanco over to center field and replace them in the corners.
Projected Starter – Gregory Polanco
Playing Time Situations – He’s the starter, but if he struggles again this year early in the season, he could see someone cutting into his playing time.
If An Injury Occurs in Camp – Corey Hart and Andrew Lambo are the top options, although there are risks with either player, as highlighted in the first base section.