Opening day for the Pittsburgh Pirates is only 40 days away, and the team will be quickly taking shape over the next few weeks. So, before we get into spring training games, I wanted to provide my take on where the roster is now and what we should expect as we approach opening day.
I'm going to take you position-by-position and highlight the projected opening day starter as well as who I believe will hold that position after the August 9 trade deadline.
Unless he is traded at some point before the August 9 trade deadline, Josh Bell has first base on lock-down. Being as that he is a switch hitter, there's very little room for anyone to come in and steal some innings at first outside of just giving Bell a rest.
Some have speculated that Bell should move back to the outfield to make room for others who have less position flexibility, but I don't see that as a realistic solution.
If Bell is traded at some point this season, I would expect Will Craig to be the next every day starter at first for the Pirates. I'm pretty split on if that will happen, but Bell is still under team control through 2022. They could try to maximize the value afforded by his years of control, but I'm leaning towards him staying in Pittsburgh through this season.
Opening day starter: Josh Bell
Starter on August 10: Josh Bell
The middle infield positions are the deepest in the Pirates' organization and that puts Adam Frazier's hold on second base in a pretty tenuous position. There is no threat to him coming out of spring training, but, of all the veteran Pirates, I see him as the most likely to be traded this season.
Assuming that happens, the question becomes which short stop slides over to second? Both Kevin Newman, and Cole Tucker have primarily played short throughout their minor league careers. I'd lean towards Tucker sticking at short due to his athleticism.
Opening day starter: Adam Frazier
Starter on August 10: Kevin Newman
With a .308 average, 12 home runs, and 64 RBIs, Kevin Newman showed he can hit at the major league level. His defensive numbers (-8 outs above average) weren't nearly as good. Those will improve with time. Newman isn't a bad fielder, but I wonder how high his defensive ceiling is at short.
Newman will be a Pirates' middle infielder for the foreseeable, but I would be surprised if he sticks at short stop.
Opening day starter: Kevin Newman
Starter on August 10: Cole Tucker
Colin Moran has been a much maligned player in Pittsburgh since being acquired from the Astros in the Gerrit Cole trade. Part of that is because of his connection to that trade, but it's also because his bat hasn't reached the potential that caused him to be a key piece of that trade.
Moran knows that, at the very least, his defense needs a noticeable improvement for him to stick. The Pirates' top prospect, Ke'Bryan Hayes, could show a similar bat to Moran, but it will come with Gold Glove-caliber defense.
It's hard to imagine Moran keeping Hayes from Pittsburgh for the entire season. I'd expect a move to made with Moran to make way for Hayes at some point this year.
Opening day starter: Colin Moran
Starter on August 10: Ke'Bryan Hayes
Catcher is the consensus weakest position in the Pirates' organization. No matter how you feel about Jacob Stallings, the depth behind him is non-existent. Due to that, for the first time in his career, Stallings will enter a season as a starter.
Unless he struggles and a mid-season trade brings in his replacement, he will remain, uncontested, the starter for the entirety of the season.
Opening day starter: Jacob Stallings
Starter on August 10: Jacob Stallings
One of the major story lines from the off-season that didn't involve a firing or hiring was the health of Gregory Polanco. Polanco has the green light from doctors and will resume his position under the Clemente Wall at PNC Park.
The biggest threat to Polanco's hold on on right field is his own health. The Pirates do have some young outfielders in the system that would be intriguing call ups, but no one that would threaten to push out the Pirates' second highest paid player.
Opening day starter: Gregory Polanco
Starter on August 10: Gregory Polanco
For the first time in over a decade, the Pirates will have someone other than Andrew McCutchen or Starling Marte in center field. Jarrod Dyson, a speedy veteran with a good glove, was tabbed to be that guy. Dyson's age, 35, and one-year contract suggest he is a stop gap.
The center fielder of the future isn't clear. There are a few players in the system who could fill that role. Jared Oliva is the closest, and, if he has another year like his last, he could be very close. Lolo Sanchez is another. Then there's always the possibility that the Pirates' future CF is not in the organization yet. I think someone like Oliva is going to get a chance. I don't know that this is the year though.
Opening day starter: Jarrod Dyson
Starter on August 10: Jarrod Dyson
There were seasons where Bryan Reynolds' .316 avg/16 HRs/68 RBIs would have won him the NL Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately for Reynolds, 2019 was a rather extraordinary year for rookies in the NL.
There is no other player on the roster whose spot is more secure than Bryan Reynolds. The only possible move that we could see here would be a move to center field. General manager, Ben Cherington, is on record saying he believes Reynolds can play there. The addition of Dyson diminishes that as a possibility outside of a few spot starts, and that's a good thing. The strength of Reynolds' game is his bat. So, it's not ideal if the Pirates need to rely on his glove in center.
This is about as much of a lock as any position on the team.
Opening day starter: Bryan Reynolds
Starter on August 10: Bryan Reynolds
I don't think there is a whole lot of intrigue here. One player has emerged this off-season as a potential clubhouse leader, and he happens to have been the Pirates' most consistent pitcher from last season, and that is Joe Musgrove.
Musgrove doesn't have the raw ability of some of the others, but he's consistent and can eat up innings. With that said, I believe Mitch Keller will overtake Musgrove as the team's top starter at some point during the season. It'll be unceremonious as there isn't a mechanism, outside of naming someone the game one starter in a playoff series, for declaring that change. Since we shouldn't expect a 2020 playoff berth, we will need to rely on the eye test, and I think Keller will make it clear that he is the team's best pitcher by the season's end.
Opening day starter: Joe Musgrove
Ace to end the season: Mitch Keller
There's really no mystery to who will start the season this year for the Pirates, but I think we will see a few changes by August that will shake up this team.
The important part of all of this is that baseball is back, and, instead of speculating about who will be on the team and where they will play, we will soon be able to see them do it There's nothing like opening day in baseball
Follow Jared on Twitter: @a_piratelife