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Potanko: Outfield Conundrum Pirates’ Most Interesting Spring Training Storyline

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Pittsburgh Pirates

This is the third in a series where PittsburghBaseballNow.com writers pick what they feel will be the Pittsburgh Pirates’ most interesting storyline of spring training.

During this most recent off-season, the Pirates continued to add outfield depth in an already crowded area. With the acquisition of Connor Joe, Andrew McCutchen, and Ryan Vilade, the Pirates now have ten outfielders on the 40-man roster.

Granted, some of the listed outfielders are Tucupita Marcano and Ji-Hwan Bae, who are athletic enough to move around the field and make it work.

Let’s start with the most obvious starting outfielder on the 40-man, Bryan Reynolds.

The Pirates have clarified that Reynolds will not be moved unless a team is willing to pay an extremely high price for him. With no teams biting, the logical explanation is Reynolds will remain a Pirate for the foreseeable future.

Reynolds put up nearly a three WAR season at 2.9 and slashed .262/.345/.461, a wRC+ of 125, with 27 homers and 62 RBIs.

The next logical choice would be Jack Suwinski in either corner outfield spot. In one of the most interesting splits in my lifetime, Suwinski offers some intrigue heading into what could be his first full season in the majors.

At home, Suwinski slashed .282/.373/.609 with an OPS of .982. On the road, the lefty slashed a dismal .112/.211/.184 with an OPS of .395. Suwinski smacked 16 out of his 19 home runs at PNC Park.

One can assume that he works his road woes out, but a few concerning statistics stick out to me more than anything.

In 372 plate appearances, Suwinski struck out 30.6%. Against southpaws, the Chicago native was virtually an easy out with a slash line of .122/.225/.286 with an OPS of .511.

Surprisingly, according to FanGraphs, Suwinski managed an average wRC+ at 100 and even put forth a WAR of 1.8.

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The next corner outfield spot is an assortment of mysteries.

Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Njigba, McCutchen, Marcano, Travis Swaggerty, Vilade, and Bae are all jockeying for a starter role on this ball club.

Barring an outstanding spring training, Smith-Njigba should be ruled out since he’s coming off of a fairly serious injury.

Marcano’s bat hasn’t been much, with a 57 wRC+ and a slash line of .206/.256/.306, so it’s hard to justify him.

Swaggerty came on strong down the stretch of the Triple-A season and finished with .254/.348/.399 slash line and offers speed and defense.

From talking with the Pirates outfield and baserunning instructor, Kieran Mattison, Bae will most likely split time between the second base and the outfield.

Bae splitting time would offer an interesting wrinkle if Reynolds were to move to his natural corner outfield spot since Bae’s build and plan seem to be center field.

Joe will likely platoon with Suwinski against lefties since his career slash line is .258/.347/.412 with an OPS of .759 against southpaws.

McCutchen is an interesting case since he recently moved to a DH role.

Even in his press conference, McCutchen verbalized that it was made clear to him he would spend most of the time in the DH role with some outfield work sprinkled in. It would make one wonder about Carlos Santana and Ji-Man Choi’s roles moving into the spring.

For argument’s sake, it would seem likely that Mitchell gets the nod as the final corner outfield starter, but I don’t think his job is safe at all.

Mitchell didn’t wow anyone, but he finished strong in Sept. and Oct. Down the stretch, Mitchell hit .267/.361/.373 with an OPS of .734 in 86 plate appearances.

Mitchell’s weak arm offers plenty of concern, and I would say he’s a DH, but as we can see, that spot is a little filled up at the moment.

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