The Pittsburgh Pirates enter the spring with one of the strongest outfields in the major leagues, both offensively as well as in the field. In addition, the team is planning to promote top prospect Gregory Polanco to the big leagues at some point during the 2014 season. However, when that promotion happens will be based on the performance, or lack thereof, from current right fielders Jose Tabata and Travis Snider.
Where else can one start with the Pirates outfield other than last year's National League MVP, Andrew McCutchen. The All-Star outfielder is entering his age-27 season, which is known around the game as the traditional peak for a player's performance. However, McCutchen is actually coming off of a statistically worse season than he had in 2012, although his production was more consistent than the year prior. McCutchen saw his home run and RBI totals drop, which coincided with drops in his batting average and OPS. Yet, McCutchen ended up being worth a full win above replacement more than he was in 2012.
Another player who had similar career numbers to McCutchen between his age-22 and 26 seasons was Carlos Beltran, and he went on to hit 38 home runs while driving in 104 while maintaining a .915 OPS for the Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros in his age-27 season. While McCutchen is unlikely to amass power numbers that high, 100 RBI should be a target for the team's three-hole hitter,
Marte blossomed in his first full-season of major league action with the Pirates last year and is looking to improve on his plate discipline for 2014. He walked just 25 times in comparison to 138 strikeouts, far too many for a lead off hitter. Marte's OBP didn't take much of a hit, however, because he was prone to being hit by pitches. Many, many pitches.The Dominican-born outfielder provided superior defense in left as well, and posted a 5.4 wins above replacement in the process. Look for Marte to continue his progression in 2014.
Tabata has always been one of the more controversial players on the club, and his performance has always left something to be desired. However, his stretch run for the team at the end of last year proved why Tabata was so highly regarded when he was acquired from the New York Yankees and later given a lengthy contract extension by the Bucs. Tabata will likely get the lions share of at bats early in the season, and if he can perform at or above the level he finished last season at, the team may have to delay Polanco's inevitable arrival.
The former Toronto Blue Jay has yet to be fully healthy with the Pirates, and has not produced terribly much while he has been on the field, even though he rated as one of the most clutch players in baseball last year. Snider, after signing a deal in excess of $1 million with the Bucs, will be given another look in right and off the bench, where he could provide a quality left-handed bat, something the Pirates lack otherwise. If Snider performs well in Spring Training and at the start of the regular season, he could surpass Tabata on the depth chart.
Polanco has all Pirates followers drooling, waiting for his arrival in Pittsburgh. Reports state Polanco has put on a lot of muscle mass onto his frame, and his superb numbers in winter ball back the fact up. The Pirates outfield will truly become a three-headed monster when the team's top prospect arrives, and the lineup could become one of the most potent in the game, something the Pirates have not had in quite some time.
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