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Bucs' starting INF likely to remain same in 2020

Huntington addresses Sept. callups, Polanco's progress; Bucs' injury updates
@adamdberry
September 8, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- When the Pirates take the field against the Rays on March 26, 2020, their starting infield may not look much different than it did on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. By not calling up third-base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes or first baseman Will Craig, the Pirates essentially signaled that neither

PITTSBURGH -- When the Pirates take the field against the Rays on March 26, 2020, their starting infield may not look much different than it did on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

By not calling up third-base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes or first baseman Will Craig, the Pirates essentially signaled that neither infielder will be ready to crack their Opening Day roster next season. General manager Neal Huntington also said that Cole Tucker, who was called up after Triple-A Indianapolis’ season ended, “still has some growth” remaining before he’s ready to take over a starting job.

Barring some offseason acquisitions, that would indicate the Pirates are content heading into next season with Josh Bell at first base, Adam Frazier at second, Kevin Newman at shortstop and Colin Moran at third.

“We’ll certainly explore free agency. We’ll look at the trade market and see if there are opportunities to make this club better,” Huntington said. “Those are pretty good internal options to have, and we’ll take a look at what’s available on the free agent market or the trade market to see if there’s a way to even improve upon that."

Newman has seemingly solidified his position as the club’s everyday shortstop by playing solid defense, batting over .300 and establishing himself as their best option in the leadoff spot. Moran has struggled defensively, but he’s hit for more power (13 homers) and driven in 77 runs this year. The script has flipped on Frazier, as his defense at second has become more steady than his bat.

And it’s hard to imagine anyone replacing Bell, the All-Star who has 36 homers and 114 RBIs, unless the lineup has a designated hitter.

Huntington said the Pirates want to see “overall continued growth and development” from Craig and give Hayes a chance to hit more like he did in Spring Training. Both should be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft.

“September callups are about readiness to be at the Major League level and opportunity,” Huntington said. “And in both cases, we did not feel either was ready to come up here and do what they need to do at the Major League level. And, two, we didn’t necessarily see opportunity as well.”

What comes next in right field? Gregory Polanco won’t play again this season as he continues to rest his injured left shoulder. He will receive platelet-rich plasma injections this month before being reevaluated by Dr. David Altchek. The Pirates can hope for a full recovery with no additional surgery necessary, but can they count on him being their starting right fielder next March?

“This month will give us some better answers as he goes through the progression of one more time trying to get healthy. Obviously, it’s been a long year for Gregory Polanco,” Huntington said. “He will go into the offseason with some questions remaining and we’ll have to have some internal Plan Bs, and Cs and Ds. But we’ll also look for some external options as well.

“We don’t want to write him off, but we need to see how he progresses this month and next month as we go into the offseason with a plan in mind.”

Around the horn

• To make room on the 40-man roster for starter James Marvel, the Pirates placed outfielder Jason Martin (dislocated left shoulder) on the 60-day injured list.

• Before Sunday’s series finale, the Pirates reinstated reliever Yefry Ramirez (right calf strain) from the 10-day injured list.

• Huntington said the Pirates will “keep the door open” for Chris Archer (right shoulder inflammation) to start again this season. They are also hoping to get right-hander Joe Musgrove (right foot discomfort) back in their rotation “as soon as possible,” Huntington said. They could use a six-man rotation at some point this month with Marvel, Trevor Williams, Mitch Keller, Dario Agrazal, Steven Brault and Musgrove.

• Bell was given a standard day off on Sunday, Huntington said. It was only the seventh time in 143 games this season that someone other than Bell started in the cleanup spot.

• Last week, the Pirates dismissed Double-A Altoona manager Michael Ryan and Class A Advanced Bradenton manager Wyatt Toregas. Huntington praised both as “good baseball men,” wished them well moving forward and said they would welcome back Ryan in a non-managerial role.

“We appreciate all they’ve done for us. We appreciate their work. We just felt like in development, the most important part of the day is before the game and after the game,” Huntington said. “Michael was really good from 7-10 p.m., but our manager demands are different than his strengths at this point in time.”

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