Demilio: Pirates Facing Interesting Decision in Center Field
There is one question that continues to get more and more interesting for the Pittsburgh Pirates as spring training marches on. Who is going to be manning center field?
Last season, Bryan Reynolds was essentially the Pirates’ everyday man in center. Reynolds played 127 games at the position. So it should be Reynolds, right?
Well, not exactly. While Reynolds has been the Bucs’ primary centerfielder the last two seasons, his defense took a major step back in 2022. After being named a Gold Glove finalist in 2021, Reynolds was responsible for -14 defensive runs saved as a centerfielder last year — the worst mark in the league.
Late in the year, manager Derek Shelton opted to move Reynolds to left field for a game. Most of Reynolds’ time in the big leagues his first two years in the major leagues came as a leftfielder.
Perhaps the move was a little bit of foreshadowing.
This spring, Reynolds has seen more and more time in left field for the Pirates. Taking his place in center on multiple occasions is Jack Suwinski, who was used as a corner outfielder with the Pirates for most of last season.
In terms of on-base and power, Suwinski is having a strong spring. He currently carries a .379 on-base percentage and an .834 OPS. This aligns with what Suwinski did in his rookie campaign at the plate in 2022. The 24-year-old drew 41 walks in 372 plate appearances and hit 19 home runs, which was tied for the National League lead among rookies.
Ok, so Suwinski will be manning center for the Pirates this year? Got it.
There’s a problem here too. Wind conditions and sunshine make it very difficult on outfielders in the Grapefruit League. This is especially true at LECOM Park in Bradenton.
Even so, Suwinski has not looked comfortable in center this spring. Sure he has lost some balls in the sun, as have others. But, he’s also misplayed a few that he should have had regardless.
Suwinski was a relatively strong defender at both corner outfield spots last season. Then again, he was pretty good when playing center field too. So maybe he will get a shot in center despite the poor defensive performance this spring.
However, there is yet another interesting dilemma.
2018 first-round draft pick Travis Swaggerty has looked good this spring. Really good in fact.
Swaggerty has always been known for his speed and defense. He has shown the ability to be more than capable of manning center field throughout his minor league career.
This spring, however, Swaggerty has been imposing at the plate. Through his first 14 games, Swaggerty is hitting .391 (9 for 21) with a 1.069 OPS, two home runs and is tied for the team-high with eight RBIs.
The 25-year-old didn’t receive much of a chance with the big league club in 2022, appearing in only five games in the middle of the season.
Thanks to his spring performance, however, the former first-rounder is putting the pressure on the Pirates’ front office to see more time in the big leagues, and that time could come as soon as Opening Day at the end of the month.
With just under two weeks to go until the start of the regular season, it will be interesting to see how the center field situation develops.
Will it be Reynolds, Suwinski, Swaggerty, or a combination of all three?
Center field may not have seemed like a storyline to follow as closely when the spring slate begin, but we have reached that point.
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Wow. Really great article. Great insights.
Thanks for reading, Jim!