Analyzing Pittsburgh Pirates Hitters For 2020

The 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates finished dead last in the National League Central with a record of 69-93. The Buccos were riddled with injuries, controversy and poor performance that ultimately led to the firing of manager Clint Hurdle after nine seasons. Despite the club’s issues, several fantasy breakouts surfaced on the offensive side, including Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds, and Kevin Newman. In addition to a few breakout performances, the Pirates finished 2019 tied with the Nationals and Rockies for the best team batting average in the National League. If this fact doesn’t show how we should value batting average going forward, I don’t know what will. The entire team earned just 10.8 FanGraphs WAR (fWAR), which is essentially Mike Trout‘s 162-game average. Offensively, the Pirates were 8 percent below league-average with a 92 wRC+. Lack of power and on-base skills contributed to their poor results.

Looking ahead to 2020, the Pirates plan to build on the successes of their young hitters but will likely continue their free-swinging ways. There are still plenty of questions on the offensive side that should be addressed this offseason. Will Bell remain a star? Can Gregory Polanco finally stay healthy? Will prospects such as Ke’Bryan Hayes come up and provide immediate impact? Among early 2020 drafts, the Pirates have only two fantasy options who will be taken inside the Top 65 overall along with a few upside plays who should be drafted in the mid- to late rounds. That’s about it outside deep-league options. Given the lack of talent on the big league club, we’ve expanded the player pool, covering hitters likely to be drafted after pick No. 400 for all the NL-only and deep-league players out there.

Let’s dive into the Pirates hitters for 2020.

(Last Updated: [10/19/19])

 

Roster Changes

 

  • ADDITIONS: None
  • SUBTRACTIONS: Melky Cabrera (OF), Lonnie Chisenhall (OF), Jung Ho Kang (3B)

 

Hitter Previews

 

Catchers

 

Elias Diaz (C | Batting 7th)

2019: 31 R, 2 HR, 28 RBI, 0 SB, .241/.296/.307 | C #46

2020 ADP: N/A (C #N/A)

 

Once the Pirates lost Francisco Cervelli to injury (then later released him), the catcher position became a fantasy wasteland. Elias Diaz retained the majority of the playing time behind the plate, but the production was pitiful. He was better in a backup role in 2018 when he hit 10 home runs in just 277 plate appearances. In 2019, he took major steps back in terms of hard contact and fly-ball rate. Without a clear-cut No. 1 catcher in the mix, Diaz will likely split time evenly with Jacob Stallings. For fantasy purposes, he should not be rostered outside of deep NL-only formats. The same goes for Stallings, who is already 29 years old with only 282 plate appearances in the majors. The Pirates will likely look to sign another backstop this offseason to improve one of their weakest positions.

 

Strengths: None

Weaknesses: PA/AB, R, HR, RBI, SB, AVG, OBP, Points

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

If Diaz can revert to his 2018 skill level, he may be viable in two-catcher formats. I don’t love extrapolating, but if he were to reach 400 plate appearances in 2020 with similar production to 2018, I could envision 15 home runs with a respectable batting average. That’s useful as a Top 20 catcher, but again, this is a long shot. He’s not an option in 12-team leagues.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

He can’t be much worse than he was in 2019. Regardless of format, Diaz provided negative value in every roto category. Looking at Diaz’s floor, I might expect a slight dip in batting average and less playing time. If he is relegated to a backup role, playing just twice per week, his numbers could somehow worsen in 2020.

 

2020 Projection: 39 R, 6 HR, 38 RBI, 0 SB, .251/.305/.388

 

Infielders

 

Josh Bell (1B | Batting 4th)

2019: 94 R, 37 HR, 116 RBI, 0 SB, .277/.367/.569 | 1B #10

2020 ADP: 65 (1B #5)

 

At age 26, Bell broke out with an impressive 37 home runs and 116 RBI in 2019. Unfortunately for head-to-head owners, Bell faded down the stretch. After an MVP-like first half, slashing .302/.376/.648, he struggled, slashing just .233/.351/.429 in the second half. While skeptics will expect results closer to Bell’s second half, he carried noticeable skills growth throughout the season. Bell’s hard-hit rate, per Baseball Savant, was up nine percentage points in 2019 while he improved his barrel rate by 5.7 points. Much of his first-half success can be attributed to attacking pitches in the zone early in counts. He became a little more passive in the second half, leading to a decrease in hard contact despite an improved walk rate. With a maximum exit velocity of 116.2 mph (16th-hardest-hit ball in 2019), Bell can hit another 30+ home runs in 2020—especially considering his willingness to elevate the ball with more frequency.

For 2020, I’m a believer that Bell’s skill level lands closer to his final line in 2019. It’s amazing that his impressive 2019 only ranked 10th among first basemen. It’s important to remember that he missed the last half of September, which may have hurt his overall value a bit. Even still, fantasy owners will likely need to spend a Top 65 pick to garner Bell’s services in 2020. I think the breakout is real and believe he will finish inside the Top 10 at first base next year.

 

Strengths: PA/AB, BA, OBP, R, HR, RBI, Points

Weaknesses: SB

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

I think we may have seen Bell’s best-case scenario in terms of power and run production thanks to a career-best 23.9% HR/FB rate and an amazing 18.9% RBI/PA (3rd best among rate among qualified hitters). Where he could improve is with his batting average. He provides a great hit tool combined with an increase in the quality of contact which could lead to a batting average closer to .290 and a top 25 overall player.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

We’ve seen seasons of 26, 12, and 37 home runs over the last three years from Bell. Given his growth in 2019, I don’t believe that a home run total across a full season of at-bats falls under 20 ever again. His above-average strikeout rate will provide a batting average floor that’s better than league-average. In a down year, I’d expect a .255-25-90 season which is good enough for a borderline top 150 overall player.

 

2020 Projection: 89 R, 31 HR, 102 RBI, 1 SB, .270/.361/.505

 

Kevin Newman (2B/SS | Batting 1st)

2019: 61 R, 12 HR, 64 RBI, 16 SB, .308/.353/.446 | 2B #13, SS #18

2020 ADP: 243 (2B #22; SS #27)

 

Newman started the 2019 season on the Pirates roster but was sent down to Triple-A on April 9. After occupying the bottom third of the order upon being recalled on May 4, he quickly became the Pirates’ leadoff hitter. With only 31 major league games under his belt coming into the season, he more than proved his worth atop the lineup, slashing .308/.353/.446. Newman provides two important qualities that make a successful leadoff hitter: great contact skills and good speed. He managed a scant 11.4% strikeout rate and a fantastic 94.6% zone-contact rate, which ranks third and fifth, respectively, among qualified hitters in 2019.

His well above-average speed was inside the 84th percentile, per Baseball Savant’s sprint speed metric. One skill you won’t find in Newman’s profile is his patience. The free-swinger finished with just a 5.3% walk rate thanks to a swing rate of over 50% and a chase rate of nearly 38%. Since the Pirates lack a patient speed bat, Newman is a safe choice to once again lead off for Pittsburgh in 2020. 

He lacks power, finishing in the bottom 2 percent in barrel rate, but thanks to the lively baseball, he managed to blast 12 dingers in 2019. Since he had only nine barrels on 432 batted balls in 2019, another double-digit home run output is possible but not likely. Despite some flaws in Newman’s offensive profile, his ability to spray to all fields should allow for an elevated BABIP. Combine his all-fields approach with a heavy dose of line drives and ground balls, Newman could easily hit for a high average and score a bunch of runs if slotted in the leadoff spot in 2020. With stolen bases on the decline, Newman is definitely a late-round option in 10- and 12-team leagues as a potential three-category contributor in the most scarce categories.

 

Strengths: PA/AB, AVG, R, SB

Weaknesses: HR, RBI

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

He’s only 26 years old, so there’s a chance that there is a little more power in his bat, especially if the properties of the ball remain unchanged in 2020. However, based on his minor league track record, I wouldn’t count on it. If the Pirates anoint Newman as the everyday leadoff hitter, he could provide another double-digit home run total with 20 steals to go along with a .300+ batting average.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

After an impressive rookie year, Newman has likely done enough to start the season as the Pirates’ shortstop in 2020. Cole Tucker, Pittsburgh’s first-round selection in 2014, will continue to put pressure on Newman for playing time despite poor performance in his first taste of the big leagues. If Newman loses time at shortstop to Tucker, he could also split time with Frazier at second base to receive quasi-everyday at-bats. With fewer than 500 plate appearances, he won’t provide enough value to be rostered in 10-team leagues and would be a deep roster add in 12-teamers.

 

2020 Projection: 82 R, 11 HR, 57 RBI, 18 SB, .291/.335/.414

 

Adam Frazier (2B | Batting 7th)

2019: 80 R, 10 HR, 50 RBI, 5 SB, .278/.336/.417 | 2B #29

2020 ADP: 433 (2B #42)

 

Adam Frazier is essentially a clone of Newman but without the speed. Sounds pretty boring, right? Well, it kind of is, but since Frazier spent about half the season in the leadoff spot, he was able to compile 80 runs. His above-average aggressiveness combined with high-contact skills yielded a career-low 12.3% strikeout rate. His contact skills will provide a safe batting average floor, but unless Newman falters in the leadoff spot, Frazier is destined for the bottom third of the order. He could see a few at-bats in the leadoff spot in certain matchups against right-handed pitchers, boosting his run potential.

In 2019, his strikeout rate improved, but his power and batted-ball quality declined. Among players with at least 300 balls in play, Frazier ranked 167th in barrels per plate appearance. He managed just nine barrels, so one could argue that reaching double-digit home runs was fortunate for Frazier. If you’re hoping for some steals, I wouldn’t. His sprint speed is nearly league-average, and his success rate on the bases is very poor. He’s not viable in 12-team leagues for 2020. In deep 15-team leagues or NL-only formats, he should provide a solid batting average, which is difficult to find after pick No. 300.

 

Strengths: PA/AB, AVG, R

Weaknesses: HR, RBI, SB, Points

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

I suppose that at age 27, Frazier could see a power spike, but he failed to show signs of a breakout at any point in 2019. Digging deeper into his 33 doubles and seven triples, it’s not impossible to find another five home runs. As I discussed, his batting average floor is high and his BABIP could see some improvements despite being .306, .305, and .306 each of the last three seasons. His .202 BABIP on ground balls was particularly low due to the shift, but his batted-ball distribution is relatively even to all fields. It’s not hard to envision a .290 batting average in 2020. With those types of numbers and spending some time in the leadoff spot, he could be a late-round flier in 12-team leagues.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Frazier likely has second base locked down in 2020. However, if Tucker takes a step forward, either he or Newman could steal playing time from Frazier. Without much power or speed upside, Frazier becomes a complete empty batting average without an everyday role. Under this scenario, he becomes waiver-wire fodder in all but NL-only formats.

 

2020 Projection: 67 R, 11 HR, 52 RBI, 6 SB, .280/.338/.423

 

Colin Moran (3B | Batting 6th)

2019: 45 R, 13 HR, 80 RBI, 0 SB, .277/.322/.429 | 3B #38

2020 ADP: 499 (3B #43)

 

After being part of the strong-side platoon at third base for the first two months of the season, Colin Moran settled in as the everyday third baseman in 2019. However, he got just 78 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers compared to 425 versus righties. The Pirates had sound reasoning behind keeping Moran away from southpaws. He has a career 67 wRC+ against them compared to 103 versus righties. 

Heading into his age-27 season next year, Moran faces make-or-break campaign, as he earned just 0.1 fWAR in 2019. Offensively, he’s slightly below-average with a 97 wRC+ in his career and doesn’t field the hot corner all that well. His plate discipline was a mess in 2019. He chased pitches outside the zone nearly 10% more frequently than in 2018. As a result, his BB/K ratio was nearly cut in half. Even against right-handed pitching, his .764 OPS may not keep top prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes from taking over the hot corner by midseason. I expect Moran to bat sixth or seventh most days early in the season. He’s a cheap source of batting average in NL-only and extremely deep 15-team leagues. 

 

Strengths: AVG, RBI

Weaknesses: PA/AB, R, HR, SB, Points

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

After changing his approach heading into 2017, he began elevating the ball and hitting for more power in the Astros system. He’s been unsuccessful in carrying it to the majors with a total of just 24 home runs over the last two seasons. If Hayes struggles in Triple-A, Moran could see another 500+ plate appearances. Elevating the ball more frequently could net 15 to 18 home runs with a .280 batting average, which would play in deep 12-team formats.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Until Hayes arrives, no one is challenging Moran for playing time. However, Hayes is a far superior athlete and defender. If Hayes excels immediately in Triple-A, Moran could lose his job by June. Two months of statistics from Moran will not be pretty. He’s a waiver-wire option in all formats in the worst-case scenario.

 

2020 Projection: 51 R, 11 HR, 61 RBI, 0 SB, .271/.325/.421

 

Cole Tucker (SS | Batting 8th)

2019: 16 R, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 0 SB, .211/.266/.361 | SS #89

2020 ADP: N/A (SS #N/A)

 

Cole Tucker is included because he’s a 2014 first-round pick and saw major league action in 2019. He’s a superior defender to Newman at shortstop and compares similarly in terms of speed. Where Tucker struggled in 2019 is in the development of his hit tool. It’s not ready yet. He’ll need to improve his bat in the minors before he receives another chance with the big club. That being said, a league-average bat combined with elite defense at shortstop is a valuable piece for a major league team. If either Newman or Frazier struggles early in 2020, Tucker could be called upon to either take over for Newman at short or shift Newman to second, moving Frazier to the bench. He’ll likely bat in the bottom third of the lineup, so his value is limited to steals in 2020. He’s not a viable option in 2020 drafts.

 

Strengths: SB

Weaknesses: PA/AB, R, HR, RBI, Points

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

At age 23, Tucker has a ton of room to grow. He has first-round pedigree, elite defensive skills, and speed. Assuming he’s called up in May or June, he’s a deep 15-team league flier for anyone looking for speed. He stole 47 bases across two levels in 2017, so expecting something close to 20 in four months isn’t out of the question. Just don’t expect any significant contributions elsewhere.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

The Pirates could continue to settle for Frazier and Newman up the middle while they develop the former first-round shortstop. Of course, if he spends the entirety of 2020 at Triple-A, he holds no value. I do expect at least a September call-up, if not earlier, but not an everyday role under this circumstance. In other words, he won’t hold any value in any league size.

 

2020 Projection: 16 R, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 7 SB, .236/.304/.371

 

Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B | Batting 5th)

2019*: 65 R, 10 HR, 55 RBI, 13 SB, .261/.334/.411 | 3B #N/A

2020 ADP: N/A (3B #N/A)

*Minor League Statistics

 

Hayes’ glove is major league-ready, as he earned his third straight MiLB Gold Glove in 2019. For fantasy purposes, we don’t care about a player’s defensive skills unless it impacts playing time. For Hayes, his glove is what makes him a great candidate to man the hot corner for the majority of 2020. Third base is one of many weak spots for the Pirates. In fact, Pittsburgh third basemen combined for -1.4 WAR in 2019, which ranked 30th in MLB. Hayes’ glove could be worth one to two WAR alone in a full season.

Now to the bat. His 92 wRC+ was underwhelming in 2019 in his first taste of Triple-A. In 110 games, he hit 10 home runs and stole 12 bases while batting .265. He does have above-average plate skills with about a 2:1 K:BB ratio, but the underlying power skills are a bit underwhelming. He’s never posted double-digit HR/FB rates and hits a few too many ground balls to expect 20+ homers in the big leagues immediately. However, speed is a rare area where he may provide value. With a high of 27 swipes in 2017, he has the athleticism to steal 20 bases across a full season, especially given high success rates in the minors. He’s an upgrade over Moran, but the question is whether he will be up on Opening Day. Either way, I expect him on the roster by the Super 2 deadline and provide the bulk of the playing time at third base.

 

Strengths: AVG, OBP, SB, Points

Weaknesses: HR 

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Assuming Hayes makes the major league club out of spring training, he should play just about every day except against tough right-handed pitchers. His high-contact, high walk approach makes him a top-of-the-order type option, but Newman and Reynolds will get the first crack at it in 2020. Assuming (I know, a lot of assuming) Hayes hits the ground running, he could provide value in batting average, runs or RBI (depending on batting order), and stolen bases—making him an interesting option as a corner infielder in 12-team and deeper formats.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

By some prospectors’ accounts, Hayes took a step back in 2019. Even with the MLB balls at Triple-A, he struggled to show much power with a .150 ISO. Even though his glove is MLB-ready, his bat may not provide enough pop to make much of an impact for the Pirates in 2020. Worst-case scenario, he takes another step back offensively and stays in Triple-A all season.

 

2020 Projection: 49 R, 10 HR, 52 RBI, 12 SB, .271/.342/.437

 

Oneil Cruz (SS | Batting 7th)

2019*: 35 R, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 11 SB, .298/.356/.475 | SS #N/A

2020 ADP: N/A (SS #N/A)

*Minor League Statistics

 

Oneil Cruz is a long shot to make the major league roster in 2020. He just turned 21 years old and has played 35 games at Double-A. He’s not your prototypical shortstop, standing 6’7″, 175 pounds! He’s a very good athlete with a strong arm; I just have my doubts about his ability to stick at shortstop long term. He projects for elite power but will need to grow into his body first. While his ETA is likely 2021, if both Frazier and Newman struggle early in 2020, Cruz might be forced into action if he impresses early. If you’d like to learn more about Cruz, I’d go check out our prospect experts’ assessment to find out what they think about the lanky shortstop.

 

Strengths: HR, RBI, SB, Points

Weaknesses: AVG, OBP

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

As I mentioned, Cruz will likely spend most of the season between Double- and Triple-A in 2020. But, if he starts hot, he could force the Pirates’ hand. At the earliest, Cruz could be up after the All-Star break. That limits him to about 200 to 250 plate appearances for 2020. He’s not a player I’d be drafting—even in deep formats—but would be ready to grab him off waivers given his power-speed combination. He could contribute in 12-team leagues if he plays every day.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

As with Hayes, Cruz could stay in the minors for all of 2020. Unlike Hayes, it seems like much more of a certainty with Cruz. In 2020, MLB is reducing the September rosters to just 28—only three additional spots than during the five previous months. That means Cruz may not be a September call-up unless the Pirates feel he’s 100% ready for the show. I don’t expect anything from Cruz in 2020, but given his unique skill set, I included him in the hitter profiles in case he takes two leaps forward.

 

2020 Projection: 8 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 1 SB, .240/.305/.400

 

Outfielders

 

Starling Marte (CF | Batting 3rd)

2019: 97 R, 23 HR, 82 RBI, 25 SB, .295/.342/.503 | OF #7

2020 ADP: 30 (OF #10)

 

The veteran outfielder is no longer just a two-category contributor, smashing 20 homers in back-to-back seasons. Not surprisingly, Starling Marte‘s speed is declining as his age is on the wrong side of 30. Stolen bases age poorly, and while he managed to swipe 25 bases in 2019, it was down from 33 in 2018. Even though Marte’s sprint speed was in the top 10 percent of MLB last year, it’s safe to say his days of stealing 40 bases are over. 

That’s just fine because he now has a well-rounded fantasy game without a weakness. His approach is similar Newman’s in that he is ultra-aggressive. This approach has proved successful for Marte as he cut his strikeout rate by two percentage points from 2018. Marte’s aggressive approach combined with speed and a heavy ground-ball profile lends to an elevated BABIP. That allows Marte to maintain a high batting average floor. Although he’s increased his barrel rate each of the last three seasons, his power is generated by volume rather than the quality of contact. Given this development, Marte should produce another 20-homer, 20-steal season while contributing positively in batting average. Despite being on a below-average club offensively, Marte’s No. 3 spot in the order should yield plenty of runs and RBI. The fantasy community should treat him as a Top 10 to 12 outfielder once again in 2020. 

 

Strengths: PA/AB, AVG, R, HR, SB, Points

Weaknesses: None

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

The range of outcomes seems to be limited when it comes to Marte. He’s a career .287 hitter, and over the course of a full season, he has never hit below .275 or above .311. His power is capped by a consistent 50% ground-ball rate, and as I discussed, his speed is declining. Despite the limited fluctuations, a season consisting of 25 home runs and 30 steals with a .300 batting average would provide late-first- or early-second-round value.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Marte has a history of missing 20-30 games per season. Realistically, at age 31 his speed may take a steep downturn, limiting his stolen base total to 15 to 18 over 130 games. Given the state of stolen bases in today’s game, that’s still a positive impact on the category. He should make contributions in power and batting average and provide a nice Top 60-75 overall floor even in a down year.

 

2020 Projection: 86 R, 21 HR, 83 RBI, 24 SB, .287/.330/.481

 

Bryan Reynolds (LF | Batting 2nd)

2019: 83 R, 16 HR, 68 RBI, 3 SB, .314/.377/.503 | OF #33

2020 ADP: 160 (OF #49)

 

Reynolds put together an unpredictable breakout in his rookie season similar to Newman’s. Coming into 2019, Reynolds was the Pirates’ ninth-ranked prospect, per FanGraphs. Known as a high-contact, high-batting average hitter, he elevated his game on the big club in 2019. His .314 batting average was buoyed by a .387 BABIP, which is difficult to sustain. However, Reynolds has a history of posting an extremely high BABIP. In the minors, a BABIP of .362 in 2017 at Double-A was the lowest of his career. There’s nothing all that fluky about his batting average. His batted-ball profile and spray chart is a thing of beauty. Similar to Newman, Reynolds also has an all-fields approach but with a much higher quality of contact.

Looking forward to 2020, Reynolds can take a step forward with his power turning some of the extra-base hits (37 doubles and four triples) into home runs. Unfortunately, he struggled to elevate the ball consistently with a 46.4% ground-ball rate in 2019. Given an approach change to elevate the ball, Reynolds has the potential to reach 30 home runs. He won’t contribute much if at all in the speed department. Stolen bases are not a skill he has shown at any level. He should be drafted in all leagues and has the power potential to push the Top 100 overall.

 

Strengths: PA/AB, AVG, OBP, R, Points

Weaknesses: RBI, SB

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Reynolds is young and can play all three outfield positions. Even when (if) Polanco is healthy, Reynolds should play every day. With his above-average hit tool and walk rates, he has the ability to provide a ton of value in runs to go along with batting average and power potential. His ceiling is a borderline Top 100 player, so he’s a viable late-round pick in all formats.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Reynolds should not run into any playing time issues even if Polanco returns and is healthy, so his plate appearance projection is safe. Where his value could take a hit is his batting average based on league-average plate discipline and strikeout rate. If his power doesn’t play up next year, we are looking at a one-dimensional hitter and a bench bat in 12-team leagues.

 

2020 Projection: 90 R, 19 HR, 70 RBI, 3 SB, .286/.357/.475

 

Gregory Polanco (RF | Batting 5th)

2019: 23 R, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 3 SB, .242/.301/.425 | OF #169

2020 ADP: 347 (OF #89)

 

Polanco missed the majority of 2019 with a shoulder injury that required surgery. At this point, there’s no guarantee he will be ready for the start of 2020. It’s been an unfortunate career thus far for the lanky outfielder who has flashed 25/25 upside but has never put it all together in a single season. He’s still just 28 years old, so he shouldn’t be completely written off. In his last full season in 2018, he had career highs in home runs (23), ISO (.245), walk rate (11.4%), and wOBA (.353). Based on his batted-ball profile over the last two seasons, he seems to be selling out for power given his increase in strikeouts and a 19-degree average launch angle. While that approach may hurt his batting average, the juiced ball could provide 30-homer potential. Health continues to be the major roadblock in Polanco’s effort to earn a Top 75 overall fantasy season.

Fantasy owners should steer clear of Polanco until spring training approaches. In March, we will have more clarity on whether he will be healthy to start the season. If he plays in spring training, he will be worth a final-round selection in 12-team leagues. I have a feeling he’s going to be a forgotten player on draft day, so be sure to double-check his status throughout the offseason.

 

Strengths: R, HR, RBI, SB

Weaknesses: PA/AB, AVG, OBP, Points

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

We can’t realistically project Polanco for over 600 plate appearances, something he’s done just once in his five MLB seasons. If his shoulder is healthy, I’d still expect a slow start to the 2020 season. Assuming 500 to 550 plate appearances, he could hit 20 to 25 homers while stealing 12 to 15 bases. As I mentioned, his launch angle is high and includes too many pop-ups. I wouldn’t expect a batting average over .265 even if the BABIP Gods shine down on him. The moderate power/speed combination is intriguing, but even still, he’s a late-round target in 12-team and deeper formats.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

See 2019 with fewer plate appearances. In all honesty, if he requires a second shoulder surgery, he could miss the entire 2020 season. If he’s able to avoid a second surgery, we are still dealing with a player who has a high injury risk. In limited at-bats in 2019, his strikeout rate was through the roof. His floor, even in a somewhat healthy season, could yield a batting average below .230. That likely keeps him on waivers 12-team leagues and a streamer in 15-team leagues.

 

2020 Projection: 54 R, 16 HR, 52 RBI, 9 SB, .251/.328/.436

 

Jose Osuna (1B/RF | Batting 5th)

2019: 41 R, 10 HR, 36 RBI, 0 SB, .264/.310/.456 | 1B #62, OF #126

2020 ADP: N/A (1B #N/A, OF# N/A)

 

Jose Osuna was a utility man for the Pirates in 2019, playing 31 games at first base, 25 games in the outfield, and 19 games at third base. Most of his games played at first base were after Bell was lost for the season in September. His playing time in 2020 hinges largely on the health of Polanco and the Hayes call-up. He bats from the right side, so he’s a good short-side platoon option at the hot corner until the arrival of Hayes. As a hitter, Osuna provides moderate power and a high-contact approach. He’s aggressive, so while his batting average should provide some value, his walk rate and OBP will be below-average. He won’t provide many stolen bases given his league-average sprint speed and lack of attempts in the past. Osuna could see as many as 500 plate appearances in 2020 or as few as 150. He’s an NL-only option unless Polanco misses the season—in which case, he’s a late-round option in 15-team leagues.

 

Strengths: AVG

Weaknesses: PA/AB, R, Points

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

I hate anticipating injuries that haven’t happened yet, but that’s what Osuna needs to maximize his value in 2020. If Polanco needs another shoulder surgery, Osuna should play plenty in right field and occasionally fill in at third base against tough left-handed pitchers. Playing five to six games a week, Osuna could reach 20 home runs with a .260-.270 batting average, making him a streamer in 12-team leagues.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

If Polanco is healthy in 2020 and Hayes is called up in June, Osuna becomes a bench bat. In this case, he may only see 150-200 plate appearances. Under no circumstance should he be owned in any format if this scenario plays out. There isn’t enough power and very little speed to provide any value.

2020 Projection: 46 R, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 1 SB, .267/.312/.442

 

Playing Time Battles

 

Catcher: The catcher position is extremely weak, and I fully expect the Pirates to sign another backstop this offseason. In the meantime, a timeshare exists between Diaz and Stallings. This battle is far from exciting, and Diaz has a better history of offensive performance but also scored poorly in terms of defensive metrics in 2019. Stallings on the other hand, despite less playing time, outperformed Diaz on both sides of the ball in 2019. Again, Diaz is younger and has a better track record, so this timeshare is shaping up to be a near 50/50 or 60/40 split until the Pirates sign another backstop. For fantasy purposes, this situation is far from valuable.

Second base/Shortstop: The Pirates have three capable defensive middle infielders in Newman, Frazier, and Tucker. Tucker is the best defensively but still needs to develop his bat. Newman broke out in 2019 and seems to have the highest ceiling for fantasy purposes in 2020. Frazier is an empty batting average option but also plays a solid defensive second base. If Tucker shows significant improvements with the bat in Triple-A, there could be a three-man rotation at these two positions. I would expect Newman to end up with the most playing time followed by Tucker, and then Frazier. However, in April, I don’t expect any playing time battles. It’ll be Newman at short and Frazier at second.

Third base: I’ll be interested to see how Hayes performs during spring training. Moran took a step back offensively from a 102 wRC+ in 2018 to just 94 in 2019. Moran has more power in his bat, but he needs to increase his launch angle. He’s also a below-average defender, which is where Hayes excels. Hayes should be the starting third baseman for the majority of 2020, but I don’t think Moran completely goes away, especially through the first couple months of the season. Ultimately, Hayes should receive more playing time at the hot corner, but he still needs to show improvements with his bat before he’s given the everyday role.

 

Projected Lineup

 

PROJECTED LINEUP VS RHP
Order Position Player Bats 
1 SS Kevin Newman R
2 LF Bryan Reynolds S
3 CF Starling Marte R
4 1B Josh Bell S
5 RF Gregory Polanco L
6 3B Colin Moran L
7 C Elias Diaz R
8 2B Adam Frazier L
9 SP Pitcher L/R

 

PROJECTED LINEUP VS. LHP
Order Position Player Bats 
1 SS Kevin Newman R
2 LF Bryan Reynolds S
3 CF Starling Marte R
4 1B Josh Bell S
5 RF Gregory Polanco L
6 C Jacob Stallings R
7 3B Colin Moran/Osuna L/R
8 2B Adam Frazier L
9 SP Pitcher L/R

 

Conclusion

 

Overall, the Pirates lack a cornucopia of fantasy talent outside Marte and Bell. Marte appears to be a value once again in 2020, as he continues to be left out of the discussion of the elite five-category contributors. Bell’s breakout was backed by elite Statcast metrics, but a poor second half will lower his price at the 2020 draft table. There is value in the mid- to late rounds with Newman and Reynolds. Both players provide value in the underrated category of batting average. While not sexy, batting average is difficult to obtain beyond pick 150, so those who draft Joey Gallo, Rhys Hoskins, or Khris Davis should target Reynolds and Newman in drafts. I expect Newman’s ADP to rise as March rolls around if he’s anointed the everyday leadoff man. Polanco’s games played will once again be extremely difficult to project, but he could be a steal given his early ADP north of 300. The prospect group lacks elite five-category upside outside Cruz, so Hayes is only viable in deep leagues, while Cruz is a grab-and-hold in NL-only formats.

Offensively, the Pirates have weaknesses at catcher, second base, and third base. I expect signings this offseason to address the catcher position and possibly second base. If the Pirates sign a third baseman, it will be telling as to how they feel about whether Hayes is ready for the big leagues. Frazier was a two-win player largely due to his defensive skills but lacks offensive production. The catcher position is a wasteland. Let’s hope the Pirates don’t go into Opening Day with Diaz and Stallings manning the position in 2020. The offseason breeds optimism, but the 2020 Pirates lack star power to compete in a deep National League Central.

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)

Max Freeze http://www.freezestats.com

Max is the founder of the FreezeStats Blog and currently writes for PitcherList and FantasyPros. Max is a lifelong Cubs fan who used to pretend he was Andre Dawson while hitting rocks in his backyard as a kid.

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