With Spring Training just a little over a week away, it’s easy to begin to speculate what the Pittsburgh lineup could look like once the regular season gets underway. I thought that I would dive into this specific topic and give my take on what the Pirates projected lineup could consist of. However, before I begin, may I please add that this is a projected list and this, of course, is purely based on my opinion.
1.) Gregory Polanco, RF
The lead-off spot is arguably one of the most important positions within a starting lineup. This particular player is trusted with the job of getting on base consistently and making things happen to score runs early on in the ball game and late in close games. With all that the Pirates have available, I believe that Gregory Polanco is the best lead-off option. The 24-year-old has led off in 135 of his 242 career major league games and is exactly what you want from a lead-off hitter, a guy with speed who can get on base and score runs. Last season, Polanco hit .256 with nine home runs and 52 RBI in his first full season in the big leagues. The young right-fielder also finished second on the team with 27 stolen bases and finished third on the team with 83 runs scored. Polanco is only entering his second full season, and I believe that the best has yet to be seen from him. He has made adjustment over the last few years and has continued to make progress. Don’t be surprised to also see some other names leading off for the Pirates including the man I have in the second spot, Josh Harrison.
2.) Josh Harrison, 2B
With the concerns surrounding the recovery of Jung Ho Kang, Harrison may be needed to take his spot at the hot corner early on in the season, however, in this case I will keep him at the second base position. Harrison also has the ability to be a solid lead-off hitter, but I have him here in the second spot in the lineup. Throughout the last few years, Harrison has proven to be capable of being an everyday starter. In 2014, he had a career year posting career highs, hitting .315 with 13 home runs and 52 RBI in 143 games. Harrison had an injury-shortened year in 2015, but it will be interesting to see if he can repeat the success he had two years ago. Harrison should spend time throughout the season at various places within the lineup and I would not be surprised to see him in the leadoff spot on many occasions as well.
3.) Andrew McCutchen, CF
The third spot in the lineup is one without much question. This spot is solidified by McCutchen. Usually the player considered as the “Face of the Franchise” would consistently be placed in the cleanup spot. McCutchen is the exception. The 29-year-old played 153 games last season while hitting in the third spot in the lineup and playing one game each in the fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth spots in the lineup. He is coming off of another solid year in 2015 in which he compiled a .292/.401/.488 slash line with 23 home runs and 96 RBI.
4.) Starling Marte, LF
In his four major league seasons, Marte has established himself as a huge threat on both defense and on the base paths. He’s coming off of a season in which he won his first career gold glove award and swiped at least 30 bases for the third time in his career. However, Marte has also established himself as a player who is committed to developing offensively and improving various aspects of his game. Marte fits the bill as a solid cleanup hitter to follow McCutchen in the Pirates lineup. The 27-year-old, who played in 49 games out of the cleanup spot last season, hit .327 while hitting fourth in the lineup and compiled an overall .287 batting average on the season with 19 home runs and 81 RBI.
5.) Jung Ho Kang, 3B
Now, I know that Kang will likely miss the beginning of the season, but when he does return, he will likely be the starting third baseman and may see time hitting in the fifth spot. Though I also like Kang hitting cleanup, I think it would better suit him to follow McCutchen and Marte. Kang, who finished in the top five in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, is currently rehabbing from knee surgery he underwent in September. The 28-year-old was offensively stellar last season, especially out of the fifth spot in the lineup, hitting .309 in 58 games. He will likely make a huge impact on the club when healthy and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him bounce around the lineup as well.
6.) John Jaso, 1B
I originally had Jaso, one of the Pirates few offseason acquisitions, in the second spot in the Pirates lineup. Though many fans may not know much about the new Pirates first baseman, most of his games last season came while hitting lead-off in the Tampa Bay Rays lineup. In only 70 games last season, Jaso hit .286 with five home runs and 22 RBI. I don’t think he’ll see much time in the lead-off spot, but he may be higher in the order than I have him here. The Pirates have a lot of depth in their lineup and I believe that, no matter where he is in the lineup, Jaso may have a bigger impact than people may think.
7.) Francisco Cervelli
Cervelli was one of the Pirates most pleasant surprises in 2015. He played in 54 of his 130 games last season while hitting in the seventh spot in the lineup, and I feel as if this is a good spot for the 29-year-old catcher. In what was really his first year as a solidified everyday starter, Cervelli hit .295 with seven home runs and 43 RBI. Cervelli is capable of hitting higher in the Pirates lineup, however, he will likely serve as a legitimate threat at the bottom part of the lineup.
8.) Jordy Mercer, SS
When it comes to other teams around the league, shortstops hitting at the bottom of the lineup are very common. The Pirates are no exception. After a stellar 2014 season in which he hit 12 home runs and drove in 55 runs, Mercer had an up and down year in 2015, battling injuries and struggling offensively. He played in 73 games in the eighth spot in the lineup last season and I don’t think that will change. However, it will be interesting to see if Mercer can regain his form and have a statistically better offensive season in 2016 now that he is fully healthy once again.
The Pirates do have a lot of depth within their lineup going into 2016. They may not have much power with the departures of Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, but they still have enough talent to score an abundance of runs. The group of players that have been assembled here proves that. May I also reiterate the fact that this is just a projected lineup. Hopefully this may spark some conversation among readers and get everyone excited for the beginning of the baseball season. With a stellar lineup, a solid rotation and a bench and bullpen filled with depth, the Pirates could be looking at another superb season in 2016.