As is widely known, the Pirates recent history is not good. The team has a streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons. Worse, it is coming off two successive monumental collapses. This might figure to have management up in arms and fighting mad over such a lack of success.
Alas, this is the 21st century and jobs are far more secure than they were in the past. The Pirates, in fact, almost are standing pat.
Seven of the eight positions in the field are set: The catcher, indisputably, is Russell Martin; the infield is equally set with Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez platooning at first, Neil Walker at second, Clint Barmes at shortstop and Pedro Alvarez at third; Andrew McCutchen is set in center and Starling Marte in left.
Only right field is open. So if you’re one of those who delights in spring training competition for jobs, short of a couple of compelling issues with the pitching staff, right field is for you.
There are four candidates: Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata. With the exception of Snider, the winter-book favorite, the other three are not only competing for right field, they’re competing for a spot on the team.
Snider: It was unfortunately noted when the Pirates acquired him from Toronto in July that Snider was ``dripping with power.’’ He then proceeded to hit one home run in 129 at bats. Snider might be the quintessential ‘rushed’ to the majors player. He was with Toronto at 20 and produced an .804 OPS, which, in turn, gave him three more years to prove himself. That he was traded to the Pirates last year indicates he never did with the Blue Jays. Still, although the job might not quite be his to lose, his left-handed bat and his history gives him the edge.
Tabata: Another player who has failed to live up to his potential. He was supposed to be a speed guy who could bat at the top of the lineup. But a disappearance of much of that speed, combined with an `I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude' sent him back to the minors last year. It might have been the best thing to happen to him. He hit .343 in September with an on-base percentage almost 100 points higher. His ticket to the lineup is an ability to leadoff, a desperate need of the Pirates.
Sands: His minor-league numbers are terrific. He hit 90 home runs from 2010-12, although most of them came in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. It will take a special spring training for him to make the team, but it’s not impossible. The Pirates probably would prefer to see what he can do in the International League, where homers are harder to come by. He also has an option remaining, which hurts his chances of making the 25-man roster.
Presley: At 27 and coming off a disappointing year, he’s fighting for his MLB life. He doesn’t have nearly the minor-league pedigree of the other three and is more of a late bloomer who stopped blooming last season. That’s not good.
Prediction: Snider and Tabata, a right-handed hitter open as a starting platoon. Sands starts in the minors. Presley, depending on roster composition, has a chance to make the team.