Bucs long on shortstops heading into season

February 24th, 2021

The Pirates have had top shortstop prospects coming up the ranks for years now, and two more are still making their way toward the Majors.

So it’s become a bit of a crowded situation, with a lot of guys who haven’t had many full Major League seasons competing to show why they’re poised to be the best option. With that said, this mix is subject to change depending on what unfolds this spring, and as manager Derek Shelton put it, “Going in, it’s going to be a competition.”

For now, here are the likely options on the depth chart.

The Pirates gave González the most playing time at shortstop last season, then extended him a one-year deal in the offseason. Although he had a career-worst OPS (.614) in the shortened season, so did all three of Pittsburgh’s top options at shortstop. However, González was in the top 25 percent in the league in hard-hit rate (44.8 percent) while posting a career-low .292 batting average on balls in play.

Newman has had the best individual season of any shortstop contender, posting an .800 OPS in 2019 -- even while recording a below-average 24.8 percent hard-hit rate. But his numbers cooled off drastically in the short ‘20 season, including a .247 weighted on-base average that was in the bottom 2 percent of the league. Newman also provides a backup option at second base behind Adam Frazier or, if the Pirates can find a trade partner for Frazier, Newman could become the primary second baseman.


Tucker reported to camp and began his defensive drills as a shortstop, which the Pirates see as his primary position. But with the logjam there last year, he was moved to center field, where he had -2 Outs Above Average in his first pro season as an outfielder. Something has to tick up with the bat for Tucker, who has a career .215 average and .584 OPS in 93 games, for him to get regular reps at shortstop, which is why it wouldn’t be a slight on him to start the season at Triple-A to develop his offense with consistent at-bats. But his versatility could land him a bench spot.

“Playing the National League game, versatility is important. … So he will get work in the outfield, but a majority of his work will be at short,” Shelton said of Tucker.

Difo was blocked out of the everyday shortstop role in D.C. by Trea Turner, and he’ll likely serve as depth in Pittsburgh at shortstop, as well as second base and third base. The switch-hitter got only 14 at-bats last season, but he saw more than 100 games in the 2017 and ‘18 seasons, during which he produced a .667 OPS in 272 games.

Evans is an option at every infield spot, including shortstop, but he last played this position at Triple-A in 2018. He’s a better bet to fill in at the other three spots, but in a pinch, he could be used here.

In the pipeline: ,

At 6-foot-7, Cruz could join a growing list of tall shortstops who are excelling in the Majors, a list that includes Carlos Correa and Fernando Tatis Jr. But there are questions about his fit at shortstop, with some seeing his 70-grade arm as a huge asset in the outfield. General manager Ben Cherington said that the club sees Cruz primarily as a shortstop but he will get looks at other positions since the Pirates place a high value on versatility. It’s unlikely he will break with the big league club, but a good start at Triple-A could catapult him to the Majors quickly.

Peguero was the first Pirate outside of the Top 100 prospects as ranked by MLB Pipeline. He has yet to play a pro game in the Pirates organization since being acquired in the Starling Marte trade in January 2020, but he hit .326 in 60 games across Rookie and Class A Short Season in 2019. He also has great speed and an above-average arm to complement his hitting, but it will likely be another year before he makes a push for playing time in the Majors.