There have been plenty of needs this season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but none have overshadowed the need for a leadoff hitter that can do what a leadoff guy is supposed to do: get on base consistently.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has tried the likes of Alex Presley and Jose Tabata at the top of the lineup, only to watch both young guys struggle mightily. Rookie Starling Marte got a brief look at the top of the lineup before injury and had better results, but Marte is more of a run producer than a solution at the top of the lineup.
However Hurdle may have found an answer to the Pirates’ woes in the form of rookie Brock Holt.
The book on Holt is a good one to read: he’s a hitter with a command of the strike zone and has the ability to get on base. That’s all the Bucs need, someone to get on base.
Holt put together a solid minor league season (split between Altoona and Indianapolis), hitting a combined .344 with a .406 OBP; including a .476 OBP in a 24 game stint at Triple-A. The youngster has shown he can work the count and more importantly get on base consistently. It’s an extremely small sample size, but in 14 plate appearances Holt has reached base seven times.
The Pirates need that badly from the top of the order.
You could have made the case that Holt should have been called up much sooner, but now that he’s here Hurdle has to use the kid at the top of the order.
Just looking at Hurdle’s other options and how poorly they have performed this season: Presley is hitting only .234 with a poor .278 OBP; Tabata isn’t much better, hitting only .233 with a .303 OBP. Marte has produced a bit more, hitting .253 but only a .287 OBP.
Combined, the Bucs leadoff hitters have had 563 at bats and just 129 hits, drawing only 34 walks while striking out118 times. In addition, Pirates leadoff hitters have a putrid .229 batting average with a .279 on base percentage and a .355 slugging percentage.
The Pirates lineup needs a guy at the top of the order to get on base in front of their big bats and Holt is the only guy capable of doing that.
However when Neil Walker returns in a couple of days he will return to second base. Does Hurdle dare send this kid to the bench and give him the Pedro Ciriaco treatment?
Let’s hope not. Holt needs to move to shortstop for the time being.
He’s played shortstop at times in the minors and Hurdle needs to trust the kid to do so at the major league level. When you have someone with talent and more importantly can hit the baseball, then you find a place for him to play. Right now on this team that happens to be shortstop.
Look, I love what Clint Barmes has brought this team on the defensive end, but sometimes going with your best lineup has to be a priority; especially being in a playoff chase with 27 games left to be played. By playing Barmes over Holt, Hurdle creates holes at both the top and the bottom of the lineup. That can’t happen if this team is serious about winning.
Before this year, Holt made more appearances at short (125) than at second (116). He doesn’t have the range or the glove Barmes has but Holt still never had more than 14 errors in a season. He may not be great there but he simply has to play right now.
A top of the Pirates lineup that features Holt, Walker (yes, he must bat second) and Andrew McCutchen gives this team the best chance at scoring runs the rest of the season. Follow that up with the likes of Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez and Marte and the Bucs will have a solid six hitters that can produce.
Holt won’t stay this hot for the final 27 games of the season, but he’s hot right now and doing what Pirates leadoff hitters have failed to do for over 130 games.
Hurdle simply has to play the kid at short the rest of the season. We will find out shortly if that’s the case. The answer to where Holt plays will go a long way to determine if this team is serious about winning.