Pittsburgh Pirates Position Grades - Middle Infielders

Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review


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It won't be an easy road for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season.  While I do believe success is within the realm of possibility within the next 2-4 seasons, I do not believe we are there just yet.  There is simply too much youth on this team as of now, but that’s okay, because it looks like very talented youth. 

However, instead of just assuming this particular 2022 roster isn’t talented enough for success yet, let’s work through the position groups together over the next week or two.

You can find all of Antonio's position group gradings as they roll out over time here: 

Pittsburgh Pirate Grades

Middle Infielders – C, pending B

The way in which the middle infield is set up for the Pirates right now, it would appear that Cole Tucker will play second base along with Diego Castillo, Hoy Park, and Michael Chavis, with Kevin Newman at shortstop.  However, Tucker could also get some time in the outfield.  Also, I think Chavis will play mostly 1B, DH, and potentially give Ke'Bryan Hayes a rest at third.  

Furthermore, it is still unknown if top prospects, Oneil Cruz and Diego Castillo, will debut in the major leagues to start the season, and if Cruz will be at shortstop or in the outfield.  The Pirates have also played Castillo at third base this spring, but Hayes will get the lion’s share of the time at that position.  If the Pirates continue the outfield experiments of both Tucker and Cruz, Castillo should find himself at second base more often than third.

With all of these unknowns and personnel bouncing around, it is difficult to grade this position group out of the gate.  So for the sake of this article, we are going to assume Cruz will not start the season in the big leagues, Cole Tucker is primarily playing second base, and Kevin Newman is primarily playing shortstop.  I will touch on Park, Cruz and, Castillo here at the end of this section, and I'm bumping Chavis to the corner infield article coming out later this week.

Kevin Newman

I am out on Kevin Newman.  I don’t know when Pittsburgh Pirate fans became so enamored with Gold Glove Awards, but every time I speak negatively on Newman I hear how he was a finalist for a Gold Glove.  The guy didn’t even win one.

Long gone are the days where fans thought the Seinfeld middle infielder would grace PNC Park with prospects Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer up the middle at the same time.  Kramer never made an impact in the majors and Newman’s impact has been minimal at best. 

Take away his glove and Newman is a career .257 hitter, who hasn’t batted above .230 since 2019.  His career high in homeruns is 12, and his career high in stolen bases is 16, so he also does not bring power nor speed to the position.  Newman is a singles hitter and the shift has greatly taken that ability away from him.  If they were banning the shift this season, admittedly I’d be higher on him.  But they’re not. 

Newman also had just 39 RBI in 554 plate appearances last season.  Insert vomiting emoji here.  Newman brings nothing to the table aside from a cheap contract that can make some plays in the field.  Oneil Cruz should be starting over Newman immediately, if not for this new outfield experiment and the Pirates not wanting to start Cruz's clock too early. 

Cole Tucker

Cole Tucker, and the eventual debut of Oneil Cruz, is why I am giving this position group a passing grade.  While Newman is 28 years old, and has 1200+ big league at-bats, Tucker is still just 25, and has just a little over 400 plate appearances.  That is still a small sample size, especially with over a hundred of those coming during the fake 2020 season.    

Tucker is having a very good Spring Training, and has most certainly earned a spot on the Pirates roster.  He still has plenty of time to grow his game and, I feel, is already better than Newman at a younger age and spot in his player development.  

Even though Tucker was drafted a year earlier than Newman, Tucker was drafted right out of high school while Newman was drafted out of college.  I have no problem applying much more optimism to Tucker’s development than Newman’s with both their age and experience discrepancy.  If I were buying stock, I’d buy low on Tucker and sell everything I had in Kevin Newman, for what it’s even still worth.

Hoy Park

Another option at second base, if the Pirates still want to give Tucker time in the outfield, is Hoy Park.  Hoy Park came over with Diego Castillo in a trade with the New York Yankees for Clay Holmes.  Quick side note, I think this was a great trade by GM Ben Cherington, especially with how good Castillo has looked this Spring. 

Hoy Park’s time in the big leagues so far has been very underwhelming.  He batted just .197 in 100+ at-bats last season for the Pirates after coming over in the trade.  He doesn’t appear to provide too much right now, but maybe I’m being unfair.  He is just 25 years old, like Tucker, and still has plenty of time to develop into a solid major leaguer.  However, at this point, I am underwhelmed with Park.

Cruz and Castillo

I did want to touch on Oneil Cruz and Diego Castillo here at the end because there is a chance they make the team out of Spring Training.  With how much everyone in the organization talks up Cruz, I don’t know how they will explain him not starting in the big leagues on April 7th.  However, it is my firm belief that Cruz will start the season in the minor leagues.

I do, fortunately, think Diego Castillo has a real shot at making the major league roster out of Spring Training.  So far this spring, Castillo is batting .333 with a homerun and an RBI.  

Castillo is listed as the broad term "Infielder" on the Pirates' top prospects list where he currently ranks 21st.  Now, he has been playing some third base in Bradenton, but if both Castillo and Tucker made the club out of Spring Training, I’d think Castillo would get more innings at second base than at third, bumping Tucker to right field.  That’s assuming Hayes stays healthy and is playing at the level we hope he does.  But talk of Hayes is for my next article.

Conclusion

So, ultimately, there are a lot of moving pieces with the Pirates infield.  Will Cruz and Tucker remain middle infielders or move to the outfield?  Will Chavis get time at second base, or will he just bounce around everywhere?  Will Cruz and Castillo even make the team out of Spring Training?  All of these factors make it difficult to grade out of the gate.

However, if Tucker becomes a solid everyday second baseman, this is a much better group.  If Cruz and Castillo either start the season in the majors or eventually both come up and get regular playing time, this is a much better group.  So with the expected Newman/Tucker combination out of the gate, I give this group a C.  However, it certainly has the capability of a B, with a ceiling of an A- if certain ifs work out in a positive way for the Pirates.


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