The Pirates are going to have a lot of question marks and decisions to make this offseason. They could probably use another reliable starting pitcher. Their bullpen could use a late inning arm. They have decisions to make at catcher, second base, third base, and other spots when it comes to playing a veteran player, or trading that player for salary relief and going with a prospect.
The bench is one area where they might not have any questions, at least if the month of September is any indication. Last year we saw Adam Frazier getting priority playing time in September, including getting starts when people went down with injuries. He followed that up by being a lock for the bench this year, and holding a spot on the team the entire season.
This year we are seeing the same thing from a few potential bench pieces in 2018. Jordan Luplow has been getting priority playing time, and it would be hard to imagine him starting off in Triple-A next year, after getting starts in the majors in September this year, even when everyone has been healthy. With the way he is playing right now, Luplow would be a good option as the fourth outfielder in Pittsburgh next year, taking up one of the bench spots.
Elias Diaz has also been getting priority playing time with Francisco Cervelli out for the remainder of the season. I think something has to give at the catcher position. If the Pirates keep Cervelli, I think it would be difficult to send Diaz down and pay Chris Stewart $1.5 M to be the backup. I think Diaz will be on the team next year, whether the Pirates use him to replace Cervelli as the starter, or Stewart as the backup. So the backup catcher spot would come down to Diaz or Stewart.
Adam Frazier would be a lock again. So would Sean Rodriguez. That would normally leave one bench spot remaining. However, there are other variables at play here.
The only way I see Rodriguez as a bench guy is if the Pirates keep Josh Harrison as their starting second baseman. If they parted ways with Harrison, then Rodriguez could take over at second, opening a spot on the bench for Max Moroff — another young player who is getting some priority time in September, and showing decent results.
The problem with choosing between Rodriguez and Harrison at second is that you ignore the situation at third base. David Freese is not an everyday third baseman. You need another option there, whether it’s an outside addition, or just one of Rodriguez or Harrison helping out. If you keep all three, you could still have Moroff on the bench as the final piece.
But even if you trade one of those three guys, you will still need another third base option, since you can’t go alone with Freese, and trading one of the three locks the other two into starting roles. A solution here would be to have Moroff starting at second on occasion, with one of Harrison or Rodriguez moving to third to spell Freese. But I don’t think the Pirates should be relying on Moroff to play that big of a role just yet.
The other younger player who has gotten a push this year is Jose Osuna. I have a hard time seeing him making the team on Opening Day next year, outside of an injury or a lot of unforeseen transactions. The Pirates won’t need a backup first baseman, and they will have plenty of outfield options. Luplow has moved ahead of Osuna, which could push Osuna back down to being depth out of Indianapolis.
At the moment, I see the bench being Diaz, Frazier, Rodriguez, Luplow, and Moroff. That’s not a bad group, as I think all five of them would have the upside of an average starter in different circumstances. If the Pirates can find a way to upgrade their lineup (second or third base would be the likely places), then you could see a different group, and possibly a stronger group with some trickle down effect. Either way, the bench should largely be composed with some younger players next year.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.