Say what you want about how difficult Clint Hurdle‘s job has been over the last few seasons, but one of the easiest parts of his job will be making the decision of who gets the start at third base in 2014.
There are a couple of reasons that make this a very simple decision for Hurdle. For one, reigning Pittsburgh Pirates home run king, Pedro Alvarez is back for his fifth season with the Bucs after a monster 2013 season that saw him belt a league-leading 36 home runs.
The other reason is quite simple as well: there’s no one else, really. Alvarez started 148 games at third base for the Pirates in 2013, with the other starts going to Brandon Inge (eight), Josh Harrison (three), Jordy Mercer (two), and Russell Martin (one). Inge is gone, Mercer is tapped to be the Pirates’ starting shortstop and Martin the starting catcher. This leaves Harrison, who is also listed as the backup at second base and shortstop, as the only other returning player with any MLB experience of note.
At any rate, let us have a look at the Pirates options for 2014.
Starter: Pedro Alvarez
Alvarez returns to the Pirates for his fifth season, the last two of which he’s spent as the club’s full-time third baseman. Alvarez backed up what many called a fluke season in 2012 — a season in which saw him homer 30 times and post a triple slash of .244/.317/.467 — by homering 36 times with a triple slash of .233/.296/.473 in 558 at-bats. For the Pirates’ sake, hopefully Alvarez can continue the trend in 2014.
It wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows for Alvarez. He led the league in a few other categories too, but these ones weren’t positive. He had high strikeout totals (186) and has led the league in fielding errors (27) for the last two seasons.
Another negative with Alvarez is that he can be neutralized quite easily by throwing a lefty against him. With a triple-slash of .180/252/.286 with three home runs against left-handed pitching in 2013 compared to .249/.310/.532 with 33 homers against right-handed pitching, the Pirates may need to begin to consider a platoon situation as they become more competitive over the next couple of years, especially if Andrew Lambo pans out.
The Pirates control Alvarez through the 2017 season, though he was eligible for arbitration starting with the 2014 season.
Backup: Josh Harrison
Harrison saw action at third base only a few times last season, but will be the team’s primary backup for Alvarez at third base in 2014 barring some miraculous acquisition for which the Pirates are famous, of course. Harrison also made defensive appearances at second base (seven) and right field (five) during the 2013 season.
His versatility is what makes him a key part of this Pirates’ team in 2014. He will be listed on the overall depth chart at the aforementioned positions for 2014 and is only one injury away from seeing substantial playing time at any of these positions — except right field perhaps.
Offensively, Harrison didn’t have an awful year in 2013, posting a triple slash line of.250/.290/.409 with three home runs in just 88 at-bats.
“Oh No” backup: Russell Martin
Oh no, indeed. In Martin’s eight-year big league career, he has dropped the catcher’s gear for the hot corner 18 times and has a dismal fielding percentage (.882) during these games. He’s committed four errors in 34 chances. Hopefully, it won’t come to this as Mercer or Clint Barmes could even shift over in a pinch.
Who knows what the Pirates have planned for Matt Hague in 2014, but he will be back at triple-A Indianapolis by all accounts. At Indy for the 2013 season, Hague posted a slash of .285/.378/.407 with eight homers. An offensive downgrade with respect to power compared to Alvarez, he’s a modest safety valve in the worst case.
Vinny Gala is a Pittsburgh Pirates writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @VinnyGala.