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Newcomer Moran gets first crack at hot corner

Bucs vet Freese likely to play third against tough lefties
MLB.com @adamdberry

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: third base.

Big question: What will Colin Moran do with this opportunity?

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: third base.

Big question: What will Colin Moran do with this opportunity?

Moran might be the most intriguing player the Pirates received for either Gerrit Cole or Andrew McCutchen. The sixth overall pick in the 2013 Draft was blocked by Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, but he's expected to start for the Bucs.

Moran made a number of adjustments to his left-handed swing last offseason, and the results were evident in his performance. But he is still a rookie with 16 Major League games to his name. Is he ready for an everyday role? Can he hit at a high level and provide the power the Pirates desperately need from their corner bats?

Video: HOU@BOS: Moran plates Davis with a single in the 7th

The starter: Moran

Moran, 25, put up a .308/.373/.543 line with a career-high 18 homers for Triple-A Fresno last season. He dramatically improved his fly-ball rate while maintaining a 9.2 percent walk rate and trimming his strikeout rate by 8 percent from 2016. As former Astros teammate Joe Musgrove said, Moran "looked like a completely different hitter."

Moran was off to a good start for the Astros last season before he fouled a ball off his face and sustained multiple fractures. He's had a healthy offseason, however, and he's excited the Pirates are giving him a chance to lock down the starting third-base job.

Backing up: David Freese

The way the past two seasons have gone, Freese is probably waiting to see what thrusts him into everyday duty again this season. Freese accumulated 995 plate appearances over 271 games in 2016-17 due to the various injuries and absences of Jung Ho Kang, who remains on the restricted list without a work visa.

Video: PIT@WSH: Freese makes a smooth barehanded play

Freese owns an exactly-league-average 100 OPS+ as a Pirate, led the team in on-base percentage last season and finished as a 2017 Gold Glove Award finalist. But the 34-year-old admitted last year he'll be more productive if he's not playing every day, and manager Clint Hurdle agreed.

Ideally, Freese will start against particularly tough left-handers, work at first base on Josh Bell's rare days off and serve as a right-handed bat off the bench. The Pirates have additional depth in Sean Rodriguez, Max Moroff and Josh Harrison (if he's not traded or playing second).

Depth: Jose Osuna, Eric Wood, Erich Weiss

Osuna worked at third last season and played there during winter ball in Venezuela. Hurdle was encouraged by the early reports about Osuna's defense, so the young slugger could be a backup option if he cracks the Major League roster. Wood, primarily a third baseman, and Weiss, who has more experience at second, will return to Triple-A after another turn in big league Spring Training.

Video: Statcast™: Osuna highlights Bucs' longest HRs of 2017

In the pipeline: Ke'Bryan Hayes, who finished just outside MLB Pipeline's list of Top 100 Prospects, posted a .278/.345/.363 line for Class A Advanced Bradenton last season and should play this year at Double-A Altoona.

Hayes should be an above-average defender, which might give him an edge over Moran. He has not hit for much power, with eight homers in 231 professional games, but it's possible that will come with age and experience as he only turned 21 last Sunday.

Oneil Cruz, the Pirates' main return for Tony Watson, slashed just .237/.297/.350 with a paltry .828 fielding percentage at third base in Class A last season. But he's only 19, and his 6-foot-6 frame gives him significant power potential if he puts it all together.

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

Pittsburgh Pirates, David Freese, Colin Moran, Jose Osuna, Erich Weiss, Eric Wood