First Pitch: Who Should the Pirates Target For Center Field?

Following last week’s trade of Starling Marte, there were rumors that the Pirates were searching for a new center fielder. The three names brought up were Billy Hamilton, Cameron Maybin, and Kevin Pillar.

In each case, the Pirates wouldn’t be getting a lot of upside, and they wouldn’t be getting a long-term option. The best case scenario would be that whoever they add performs well enough to generate some trade value at the deadline, and give the team some type of long-term value.

All three players have been worth 1-2 fWAR at times in each of the last few years, so the Pirates should be able to get some kind of value from one of these three in 2020.

Pillar has seen the most consistent value, being worth 1.5 WAR or more in each of the last five years. He has seen a declining trend, going down each year from a 3.7 WAR to 1.5 last year. The question is whether he can maintain his value for one more season. The biggest factor in his decline has been his defense, which has shown negative value in advanced metrics over the last two years.

Maybin has been worth 1.2 WAR or more in each of the last five years, with the exception of 2018, when he had 0.5 WAR. His 1.6 WAR last year came in just 269 plate appearances. That was largely due to an increase in power, which might not stick around outside of the AL East. Maybin has a career .120 ISO, but had a .209 ISO last year, along with a career high 11 home runs. His defense in center field has also been poor at times, rating lower than where Pillar was in the last two years.

Finally, there’s Billy Hamilton, who Pirates fans are well aware of. The obvious benefit to adding Hamilton would be that he wouldn’t get a chance to destroy the Pirates every time he played them. He had an 0.4 WAR last year, but was at 1.2 or higher in each of the previous four years. Hamilton’s value comes from his speed and defense. The defense is elite, making him the best option on that side of the ball. His offense isn’t much, but he’s still one of the fastest players in the game, which means he can be a weapon when he gets on base.

My preference here would be Hamilton, as I think the Pirates could benefit more from his speed and defense than they’d benefit from the extra offense from the other two guys. Pillar would’t be a bad option if you gambled on his defense maintaining value and him being worth at least 1.5 WAR. I think he might have the best chance at a 2+ WAR season. I wouldn’t trust Maybin repeating his power numbers from last year. If there was a sign that this was a legit change that could carry over to 2020, then he wouldn’t be a bad gamble. He’d just be my third pick of this group.





By John Dreker

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.

Dan Plesac, pitcher for the 1995-96 Pirates. He was a lefty reliever with nine years experience when the Pirates signed him as a free agent on November 9, 1994. He went 2-3, 4.61 in 54 games for the Cubs in 1994 and had been a closer with the Brewers for five seasons earlier in his career. Plesac went 4-4, 3.58 in 58 games for the Pirates in 1995, striking out 57 batters in 60.1 innings. In 1996, he led all Pirates pitchers in games pitched with 73 and had a 6-5, 4.09 record with 11 saves. Almost two years to the day they signed him as a free agent, the Pirates traded Plesac to the Blue Jays in a nine-player deal that brought back six players to Pittsburgh. He played another seven seasons in the majors, finishing with 1,064 games pitched and 158 saves.

Doug Slaten, relief pitcher for the 2012 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates on January 11, 2012 after going 0-2, 4.41 in 31 relief appearances during the 2011 season. He had a career record of 7-8, 3.60 in 137.2 innings over 206 appearances going into the 2012 season. For the Pirates, Slaten pitched ten games, going 0-0, 2.71 in 13 innings, with nine hits allowed, eight walks and he recorded six strikeouts. Slaten was let go via free agency following the season and never played pro ball again. He passed away at 36 years old in 2016.

Dennis Konuszewski, relief pitcher who threw his only career game with the 1995 Pirates. He was a seventh round draft pick of the Pirates in 1992 and spent his entire minor league career in their farm system, throwing 207 games from 1992 until 1997. Konuszewski actually played just four games above Double-A ball ever, three games in Triple-A in 1996 and his one Major League game on August 4, 1995. He came into the game to start the seventh inning against the Astros with the Pirates down 3-2. He walked the first batter he faced, gave up a single, then a sacrifice bunt for his lone out, followed by two more singles and two runs before being pulled from the game. That left him with a career 54.00 ERA. Koneszewski didn’t have much success in Triple-A either, allowing 13 hits, 11 runs and five walks in only 3.1 innings.

Steve Brye, outfielder for the 1978 Pirates. He was originally a first round draft pick of the Twins in 1967 and had played eight seasons in the majors already when the Pirates signed him as a free agent on April 4,1978. Brye played his first seven seasons with Minnesota and then one year with the Brewers in 1977, where he hit .249 in 94 games and played errorless ball in 83 games in the outfield. For the Pirates in 1978, he played 66 games, mostly off the bench, splitting his time between all three outfield positions. He hit .235 with nine RBIs in 130 plate appearances. Brye was released shortly after the season ended and would go on to play one more season in Triple-A for the Padres before retiring as a player. He was a career .258 hitter in 697 major league games.

Possum Whitted, utility fielder for the 1919-21 Pirates. Whitted (first name was George) was in his eighth season in the majors when the Pirates traded an outfielder named Casey Stengel of the Phillies for him on August 9,1919. Both players were 29 years old at the time and Stengel was also in his eighth major league season. Possum was hitting .249 in 78 games with Philadelphia prior to the trade, and had never batted higher than .281 in a season, but in the last 35 games of the year for the Pirates he had 51 hits and a .389 batting average. He took over the Pirates third base job in 1920 and hit .261 with 74 RBIs in 134 games and he had as many triples (12) as doubles and homers combined. In 1921 he moved back to the outfield and hit .283 with 63 RBIs in 104 games. Despite the strong stats, the Pirates sold Whitted to Brooklyn prior to the 1922 season. They must have known his Major League career was nearing the end because he lasted one pinch-hit appearance before going back to the minors, where he played until age 41 in 1931.

Lefty Davis, outfielder for the 1901-02 Pirates. He began his minor league career in 1896 and wasn’t signed by a Major League club until 1901, but in a three-month span from late March of that year until the end of June he was a member of three different organizations. Davis signed with the Philadelphia Athletics early in 1901, as they prepared to play their first season in American League history (the league existed prior to 1901 but was not considered a Major League). Before he ever played a game for the Athletics, he jumped to the National League to play for the Brooklyn Superbas. After hitting .209 in 25 games he was released and quickly signed with the Pirates. He started in right field and hit .313 in 87 games with 87 runs scored and 22 stolen bases. The Pirates won their first NL title that season. Davis returned for 1902 and hit .280 with 52 runs scored and 19 stolen bases in 59 games, as the Pirates not only won their second straight NL crown, but they also posted their best record ever by going 103-36. Prior to the start of 1903, Davis jumped to the New York Highlanders of the American League. He lasted just two more season in the majors and ended up playing another eight years in the minors, while also managing for four seasons.

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.

Support Pirates Prospects

Related articles

join the discussion

Share article

Pirates Prospects Daily

Latest articles

Pirates Prospects Weekly

MONDAY: First Pitch

TUESDAY: Article Drop


THURSDAY: Roundtable

FRIDAY: Discussion

SATURDAY: Pirates Winter Report

SUNDAY: Pirates Business

Latest comments