Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Looking at the Pirates’ potential lineup over a 60-game season

Baseball is back, so the Pittsburgh Pirates are returning to PNC Park.

That’s the good news for sports fans.

The bad news is that MLB and its Players Association wasted weeks of preparation having a labor dispute amid a pandemic. In the time the two sides spent negotiating on prorated wage percentages, number of games, and other details, a training camp could have been held and the season could be on the brink of beginning.

The league and union finally settled on a 60-game regular season that will begin on July 23 or 24 and end on September 27, followed by a 10-team playoff. The shortened season involves some radical rule changes, including the use of a universal designated hitter, the implementation of minor league extra inning rules (starting with a runner at second base), and expanded rosters to be shortened.

Let’s take a look at how this affects hackers.


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Pirates manager Derek Shelton gives instructions during spring training on February 13, 2020, at Pirate City in Bradenton.

1. Short hours: The Pirates will play 10 games against each of their NL Central opponents. The games are expected to be played in series of two or three games.

The other 20 games will be against the American League Central: the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Indians, the Detroit Tigers, the Kansas City Royals and the Minnesota Twins. Athletic replied that six of those games will be against a “rival” interleague. The rest of the games will involve playing two AL Central teams four times and two teams three times.

Since travel considerations play a big role in this setup, it makes perfect sense for MLB to designate Cleveland as their rival and to play against the Tigers and White Sox, given that the Pirates already play Chicago against the Cubs, rather than Kansas City and Minnesota.

At the 60-game mark last season, the Pirates were 29-31, five games out of first place in National League Central but only half a game behind St. Louis.

Consider this: Only one team in its division won at least 90 games, the Cardinals were 91-71, but AL Central boasted two: the Twins (101-61) and the Indians (93-69).

The good news is that freshman Pirates manager Derek Shelton was the Twins ‘head coach, making him familiar with the Pirates’ interleague opponents.


Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Pirates shortstop Cole Tucker speaks to fans after the team’s first full workout on Monday, February 17, 2020 at Pirate City in Bradenton.

2. Extended lists: The Pirates must submit to MLB by 3 pm on Sunday the list of the 60 players who will be invited to PNC Park for training camp, which begins July 1.

Teams must reduce the active roster in Major League Baseball to 30 at the beginning of the season. The other 30 players will serve as a taxi squad, and The Athletic reported that the Pirates plan to use the Double-A Altoona Towns Natural Gas Field as their training base. That could keep players like first baseman Will Craig, shortstop Oneil Cruz and Cole Tucker, third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, outfielder Jason Martin and pitchers JT Brubaker, Blake Cederlind and Cody Ponce ready for a call.

During the first two weeks of the season, the active roster will consist of 30 players. Two weeks after the season, the rosters will drop to 28. After four weeks, it drops to a 26-man roster for the remainder of the season.

Look for the Pirates to use those extra points on pitchers, allowing them to develop their arm strength.


Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Pirates pitcher Joe Musgrove delivers at Pirate City in Bradenton.

3. Looking at the lineup: Despite shortened spring training, the Pirates’ Opening Day lineup was shaping up like this: SS Kevin Newman; LF Bryan Reynolds; 2B Adam Frazier; 1B Josh Bell; RF Gregory Polanco; 3B Colin Moran; C Jacob Stallings; CF Jarrod Dyson; SP Chris Archer.

After losing Jameson Taillon to Tommy John’s surgery last summer, the Pirates hoped Archer could anchor the initial rotation. Instead, he underwent neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome surgery and will miss the season, making Joe Musgrove the likely candidate to start opening day.

The designated hitter will be used in the National League for the first time in 2020 to help pitchers stay healthy, which should mean some adjustments to the starting lineup.


Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco works at Pirate City in Bradenton.

4. Who will DH? Shelton said earlier this spring that he did not plan to use a player exclusively as the designated hitter, but was confident of a rotation.

Josh Bell seems the most likely candidate, given his power output and defensive drawbacks at first base. Bell had an MVP pace for 60 games last season, slashing .338 / .398 / .692, with 25 doubles, 18 home runs and 56 RBIs.

But the Pirates might also be tempted to use Gregory Polanco there if his (throwing) left shoulder hasn’t fully recovered from surgery.

Here’s the problem: The Pirates could use Colin Moran or Jose Osuna at first base if Bell is the DH, but they don’t have that many replacements ready for Polanco in right field.

If Moran plays first or is the DH, it would allow Erik González to play third. If Polanco is the DH, the best correct bet might be newcomer free agent Guillermo Heredia.

The MLB staff freeze ends on Friday, so the Pirates could add a power bat to their lineup if they’re willing to spend.


Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes plays against the Twins on Saturday, February 22, 2020 at LECOM Park in Bradenton.

5. Projecting the list: Based on the moves the Pirates made this spring, the roster projected having Stallings and Luke Maile on catcher, Bell and Osuna at first base, Frazier and JT Riddle at second, Newman and Gonzalez at shortstop, and Moran at third, with Gonzalez and Osuna as possible backups, with Reynolds, Dyson and Polanco as the initial outfielders and Heredia as the best backup.

The pitching staff should have an initial rotation with Musgrove, Trevor Williams, Mitch Keller and left-hander Derek Holland, a guest who is not a non-player player for spring training. Steven Brault comes from a shoulder injury, Chad Kuhl returns from Tommy John surgery, and Clay Holmes recovers from a broken foot. The Pirates could use a first game, allowing any of those three to start games, as well as reliever Chris Stratton.

Keone Kela has been named closer, with Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez as established men. Stratton, Michael Feliz and Nick Burdi, who was impressive on his return from TOS surgery, are likely candidates in the bullpen.

Although they were sent to minors this spring, Brubaker, Cederlind, Ponce and Edgar Santana are also candidates because of the expanded rosters.

The player to watch is Hayes. Since he’s on the 40-man list, Hayes is expected to be at least in the taxi squad. That would start his serve time, so the Pirates should take a look at his first-position prospect and a projected third baseman to be a future Gold Glove winner.

Kevin Gorman is a writer for the Tribune-Review. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or by Twitter.

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