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Around the Horn: Frazier takes the reins at 2B

January 21, 2019

With Spring Training approaching, it's time for an in-depth look at the Pirates' roster. This is the fifth part of a series checking in on their current and future options at each position. Next up: second base.Big question: Is Adam Frazier ready for the everyday role? The last three years,

With Spring Training approaching, it's time for an in-depth look at the Pirates' roster. This is the fifth part of a series checking in on their current and future options at each position. Next up: second base.
Big question: Is Adam Frazier ready for the everyday role?
The last three years, Josh Harrison was the Pirates' Opening Day starter at second base. For five years before that, it was Neil Walker. Now, it looks like Frazier will get a chance to take the job and run with it.
Around the Horn:1B |C |Bullpen| Rotation
This should be Frazier's third straight Opening Day start at a third different position. Frazier started in left field in 2017 with Gregory Polanco nursing an injury, and he was the Opening Day designated hitter in Detroit last year. Barring an injury, a late acquisition or something else unforeseen, Frazier should be lining up at second in Cincinnati on March 28.
Frazier showed his upside as a hitter as he rode a second-half surge to a .277/.342/.456 slash line last season. But there will be questions about his defense. Frazier looked shaky in the infield during his first two years in the Majors, and he struggled as he moved around the field early last season. He looked better, for the most part, as he played on a more regular basis over the final two months of the season.
Will more consistent work at second base make Frazier a more dependable defender this year?

The starter: Frazier
There was a pretty clear dividing line in Frazier's 2018 season. In the first half, he struggled to a .678 OPS and got optioned twice. When he came back in the second half, he had fixed a flaw in his approach at the plate -- his hands were too high -- and worked on his defense in Triple-A. He hit .306/.357/.533 the rest of the way, and he got more consistent playing time at second base while Harrison nursed an injury down the stretch.
As they hope to contend this year, the Pirates are betting on a lot of internal improvement. They could get it from Frazier. Harrison was an All-Star worth 3.3 Wins Above Replacement in 2017, but that total dipped to 0.3 bWAR in 374 plate appearances over 97 games last year. Frazier, meanwhile, totaled 2.7 bWAR in 352 plate appearances over 113 games in 2018. If he can maintain that level of production over a full season, he'll be a valuable upgrade for Pittsburgh.
Only time will tell if Frazier can hold his own all year defensively, but we should get a feel early on where he will fit in the lineup. He was manager Clint Hurdle's most frequently used leadoff man (47 times) last season, and 126 of his 187 career starts have been in the leadoff spot. Left fielder Corey Dickerson could be a fit there as well, as he was during one hot streak last season, but he might be better suited for the middle of the order while Polanco is rehabbing to start the season.
Depth: Kevin Kramer, Pablo Reyes, Erik Gonzalez / Kevin Newman
Kramer and Reyes had very different introductions to the Majors last September. Kramer, a more touted prospect, hit just .135 and struck out 20 times in 40 plate appearances; he only started seven games. Reyes, a relative unknown, burst onto the scene with a .293/.349/.483 slash line and three homers in 63 plate appearances; he wound up starting 13 games, including nine of Pittsburgh's last 12 contests.

Both should be competing for a spot on the Opening Day bench this season, with Kramer hoping for better results and Reyes looking to prove he was more than a small-sample-size success. Reyes offers a little more versatility as an infielder/outfielder, but Kramer is a solid defender at second, third and shortstop.
Newman has played and worked out at second base, and Gonzalez worked at second -- among many other positions -- during his time with the Indians. At this point, however, those two are set to compete for the starting shortstop job. Perhaps they would become utility infielders if the Pirates acquire a veteran shortstop, which would allow them to spend some time at short and back up Frazier at second.
In the pipeline: Stephen Alemais
All of the above candidates are young and under club control for many years to come, so the Pirates should be able to fill the position with some combination of Frazier, Kramer, Reyes, Newman and Gonzalez for a couple more seasons. But Alemais is worth watching if only for his defense.
Alemais, Pittsburgh's No. 18 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, is a natural shortstop who moved to second base last year while Cole Tucker was the everyday shortstop for Double-A Altoona. Alemais hasn't been invited to big league camp, but he should move up to Triple-A Indianapolis this season.
Alemais hit .279 with a .346 on-base percentage last season, striking out only 69 times in 461 plate appearances, but he slugged just .346 with one homer and 16 doubles. The right-handed-hitting 23-year-old put up a .316/.385/.432 slash line against left-handers last season, so he has more to offer than just a strong glove.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.