BRADENTON, Fla. -- Whoever fills the void in the Pirates' outfield won't be asked to replace Andrew McCutchen. For one, it's not possible to supplant the former face of the franchise who was also, by most metrics, Pittsburgh's most productive hitter a year ago.
But someone must join Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco in the Comerica Park outfield on Opening Day. It's just not clear who that will be or where he will line up, as Polanco can play left or right field. The Pirates could choose someone from outside the organization, but it seems more likely they'll pick from their internal options: super-utility men Adam Frazier and Sean Rodriguez and 24-year-old Jordan Luplow.
"There are still players of interest to us. If we're able to find that common ground, then we'd be open to adding," general manager Neal Huntington said last week. "If not, we are intrigued as to what those three players can do in a regular to semi-regular role, given what they've done in the past."
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Let's start with who it won't be: prospect Austin Meadows. The 22-year-old is on the brink of the Majors, and his No. 17 jersey now hangs on the big league side of the Pirate City clubhouse. Meadows' time will come soon, if he's able to stay healthy, but he still needs some seasoning in Triple-A.
It probably won't be Daniel Nava, either, at least not as a full-time starter. The veteran switch-hitter has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster. If he does, his career .374 on-base percentage against right-handed pitching would make him a viable platoon candidate or fourth outfielder.
What about Frazier, Rodriguez and Luplow? Or perhaps a mix-and-match combination of all three?
Drafted and developed as an infielder, Frazier graded out well in the outfield last season. He recorded five Defensive Runs Saved -- only Marte (eight) had more among Pirates outfielders -- and a team-leading two Outs Above Average. The Pirates are also high on Frazier's bat, and he was manager Clint Hurdle's most frequent leadoff hitter last season.
A June/early July slump marred Frazier's overall numbers, but he bounced back to slash .304/.360/.462 in the second half. Teammate David Freese even declared the 26-year-old lefty hitter, who put up a .300 average in the Minors, will someday win a batting title.
The Pirates aren't worried about Rodriguez's poor 2017 numbers, as he rushed back from shoulder surgery following a car crash last January. Instead, they remain encouraged by his career-best 2016 season, when he hit .270/.349/.510 with 18 homers. Rodriguez, 32, totaled two Outs Above Average in 2016 and zero last year.
Then there's Luplow, the only full-time outfielder in this discussion. He's also the only player who might wind up in Triple-A at the end of Spring Training, as the Pirates have suggested he could benefit from playing every day.
Luplow flew through Double-A and Triple-A last season, hitting .302/.381/.527 with 23 homers, then struggled to a .660 OPS in limited Major League time. If he makes the roster as a full- or part-time outfielder, it might force Frazier or Rodriguez into more frequent infield work, thus eliminating a roster spot for someone like utility infielder Max Moroff.
"We're comfortable with those three, that between those three we can get a productive outfielder out of that group, one that we feel compares well to the group of free-agent outfielders that are in our scope," Huntington said.