Pittsburgh Pirates: Breaking Down The Bucs’ Right Field Battle

Many Pittsburgh Pirates fans are upset over the fact that the Bucs did not go on a spending spree this offseason, a feeling that I don’t agree with.

Sure, general manager Neal Huntington could have looked to upgrade right field this offseason.

It would have been nice to see Marlon Byrd come back for one more year off, but it didn’t make any sense at all for Huntington to offer a 36-year-old coming off a career-best season a two-year deal that would pay him around $8 million per. That would have been foolish on Huntington’s part.

Sep 13, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pinch hitter Travis Snider (23) reacts to swinging and missing a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the sixth inning at PNC Park. The Chicago Cubs won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

So would the Pirates’ signing a marginal player to a multi-year deal that could block Gregory Polanco from reaching the big-league level, potentially this season.

The Polanco situation is one that should excite Pirates fans more than going out and wasting money at this point, especially when one National League GM tells Peter Gammons that the prospective Pittsburgh outfield of Polanco, Andrew McCutchen, and Starling Marte “will be the best outfield in the game.”

Huntington should get praise for not only building the Pirates in contenders last season, but doing so for the long run as well.

That being said, the right field battle in spring training should be pretty competitive and likely the most interesting thing to watch all spring.

Here’s a quick look at how things could break down.

The Favorite: Jose Tabata

When he wasn’t injured last season, which seems to be an ongoing problem, Tabata had a solid 2013, posting a .771 OPS in 106 games. He did enough good things with the bat that should give him a long look to at least start the season as the Pirates everyday right fielder, or at the minimum as part as a platoon.

The downside to Tabata is that he doesn’t offer enough speed or power to be considered the long-term answer in right field.

However, if we are going by the assumption that we could see Polanco in June or July, the Bucs could do much worse than Tabata for a few months. Even when and if Polanco arrives, Tabata should remain a valuable part of the Pirates bench.

Could Emerge: Travis Snider

The Pirates tendered Snider a contract this offseason, which may have come as a surprise to some, but I didn’t mind the move as I think Snider deserves another look. Snider has disappointed since being acquired from Toronto during the 2012 season and we are still waiting for that power to show up, but he is a good defensive right fielder.

Snider posted a .614 OPS in 2013, and that was only slightly higher (.644) against right-handed pitching . A left-handed bat is going to play a big role in the right-field plans early in the year and Snider will get first crack. However, he will have to hold off two talented young players.

Waiting For An Opportunity: Andrew Lambo

I see Lambo playing a role early in the Pirates season. The only question is whether he will get the opportunity to do so in right field or first base. Lambo has the power the Pirates seek as he hit 32 homers between Triple-A and Double-A last season and earned a call-up. Unfortunately, he got just 33 plate appearances at the big league level so we still don’t know about him.

Given the situation at first base, I would expect Lambo to get more of a look there, but don’t discount him in right field as he will be given an opportunity to earn that job in spring training as well.

The Sleeper: Jaff Decker

Don’t discount the young Decker in this competition. He’s a highly thought-of young player who will be given an opportunity to make the Pirates Opening Day roster. He can handle the bat, evident by his .824 OPS with the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A team last season.

It’s likely that he will have to have a big spring to supplant Tabata and Snider in right field, but he certainly will be given a chance to do so.

Prediction:

I think it is almost a forgone conclusion that Tabata and Snider will open the season as a right field platoon. I look for Lambo to make the team as a first baseman, since the Pirates could carry only four outfielders and handle Lambo in a similar fashion that they handled Garrett Jones in the past. That leaves Decker as the odd-man out, but I could see him still making the team as a left-handed bat off the bench.

If he has a good spring and Snider falters early on, I could eventually see Decker working his way into a platoon with Tabata before long.

Topics: Jose Tabata, Pittsburgh Pirates, Travis Snider

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