In the third installment of the “depth chart series” (previously exploring the starting rotation and catcher depth), we take a look at what options the Pittsburgh Pirates will have at first base this season when camp breaks.
Basically there are only four viable options at first base today — Gaby Sanchez, Andrew Lambo, Travis Ishakawa and the newly-acquired Chris McGuiness. Looking back to the 2013 season, Sanchez is the lone returner after the Pirates let Garret Jones and Justin Morneau depart via free agency.
Projected Starter – Gaby Sanchez
Sanchez appeared in 87 games last season at first base, posting a triple slash of .265/.359/.419 with seven homers in 234 at-bats. A right handed batter, Sanchez absolutely abused left-handed pitching (.333/.448/.539) last year which does follow his career trend against lefties. You’d like to see your corner infielders both reach double-digit home run totals, but Sanchez hasn’t hit that goal since his All-Star season in 2011.
Defensively, he is fairly solid, committing only three errors last season and boasting a career .995 fielding percentage. Comparing that to the rest of the league’s first basemen, he’s a bit better than the average (.993 fielding percentage).
All said, he’s not a terrible candidate to be a full-time starter, except for maybe his performance against right-handed pitching.
1A Backup – Andrew Lambo
This could be Andrew Lambo’s year. Joining the big club later in the 2013 season after homering 32 times split between AA and AAA and posting a triple slash of .282/.347/.574, Lambo spent his time with the Pirates split between both corner outfield positions. Over six starting assignments and 13 at-bats as a sub, Lambo didn’t enjoy the same success as he did in the minors, finishing with a .233 batting average and one home run.
He should have ample opportunity to get himself into the lineup this season because of his defensive versatility with the ablity to play either corner outfield position and first base. If Sanchez starts to struggle, especially against right-handed pitching, Lambo could see his role with the Pirates develop into a full platoon at first base.
1B Backup – Travis Ishikawa
Travis Ishikawa was signed out of free agency to a minor league contract by the Pirates in December 2013. The 30-year-old first baseman was most recently with the Baltimore Orioles‘ and New York Yankees‘ organizations appearing in six and one game, respectively, during the 2013 season. The rest of the time he was in AAA. A World-Series winner with the San Francisco Giants in 2013, Ishakawa has a lifetime triple slash of .260/.324/.398 in six big league seasons.
He’s listed as the “1B” backup behind Lambo for a couple of reasons. Most notably, Ishakawa isn’t as versatile as Lambo in the sense that he is limited to only first base. Secondly, he’s a left-handed hitting first baseman — the same is Gaby Sanchez — though Ishakawa’s career numbers against right-handed pitching (.262/.329/.408) aren’t horrid. If Lambo struggles or Ishakawa has a monster spring, this alone could make him a viable candidate to platoon with Sanchez.
Wildcard – Chris McGuiness
Chris McGuiness joins the Pirates by way of a trade with the Texas Rangers at the end of the year. With the Rangers, he appeared in ten games in 2013 as a result of an injury to Mitch Moreland. His tenure with the Rangers wasn’t as successful as most had hoped, only hitting .176 with thirteen strikeouts in 34 at-bats.
McGuiness does come with a great deal of offensive power upside, hitting 23 homers at AA Frisco in 2012 and eleven at AAA Round Rock last season. Given some time to mature, he could be an option for the Pirates later in the season if an injury occurs.
All said, the Pirates of 2014 differ from many of the Pirates’ teams from the 20 years in losing in the sense that they actually have some viable options and competition for a particular spot. It is likely that the Pirates will break camp with Sanchez as the starter and Lambo as the backup, but this is one position that is still a bit undecided as far as reserves are concerned.