The Pittsburgh Pirates have entered 2014 Spring Training with the potential to have one of the fastest outfields in all of MLB. Noticeably quiet in the offseason, the Pirates chose not to make any attempt to upgrade at left field or center field, and understandably so. Starling Marte started 113 games in left field and Jose Tabata started 34. Marte will definitely be returning, obviously, and the vote is still out on Tabata. For now, let’s have a look at the projected depth chart at left field.
Starling Marte — Starter
Marte is one of the speediest left fielders in the game today. Defensively speaking, he is a bit streaky. Marte had the third-best fielding percentage at left field last season, but he also committed the most errors (six). He has the ability to cover a decent amount of real estate, but could really use another year of maturation at the left field position. Many expect him to develop into a Gold Glove candidate at left field over the next couple of years.
Offensively, it’s been a long time since the Pirates have had a legitimate leadoff hitter in their lineup — Chris Duffy does not count, nor does Andrew McCutchen. In 2013, Marte finished the season with a triple-slash of .280/.343/.441 and 12 home runs. For a leadoff hitter, he has the ability to hit for some power, but he does have a few negatives associated with him and they go hand-in-hand. Marte is a strike-out victim far too often and he doesn’t draw nearly enough walks. This will need to improve if he has his sights set on becoming one of the premiere leadoff hitters in the game.
Jose Tabata — Backup
Tabata is probably going to begin the season as the team’s starting right fielder, unless one of the other candidates for the job goes nuts this spring. Tabata was the primary backup in 2013 to Marte as well, seeing time when Marte needed a day off. From an offensive standpoint, Tabata and Marte have the potential to be fairly interchangeable, with both players having the ability to occupy the leadoff spot and hit for some power.
Tabata has the edge on plate discipline, surprisingly. He strikes out about 12 percent less than Marte and actually performs better offensively when playing left field as opposed to right field (.292/.336/.438 vs. .281/.352/.425, respectively). He’s a solid backup to Marte offensively. Defensively, there’s no problem there. Tabata has above-average speed that’s comparable to Marte’s, and he didn’t make an error in 2013 at any position in 200-plus chances.
Alex Presley — Backup
Presley is likely to get his shot in 2014, but it’s going to be at first base primarily in a platoon situation with Gaby Sanchez. Presley saw action in eight games at left field in 2013, but this was mainly to give Marte a break and explore what kind of potential Presley may have at the MLB level. This season, Presley will have that chance at first base, so the Pirates aren’t going to have to force him into action in left field.
Still, he’s a good contingency plan to have. Presley is unproven offensively, but his capabilities should be clearly present within the first 10-15 games of the season.
Travis Snider — Backup
Presumably, Travis Snider and Tabata will make the team as right fielders — Tabata the starter and Snider as the backup. This gives the Pirates a large amount of flexibility to minimize the potential of a single injury disrupting the normal defensive lineup. Snider saw action in four games at left field in 2013, but don’t expect that to happen too much in 2014. Tabata will likely slide across to left in such a scenario as he’s the better defensive option of the two.
The depth chart at left field is quite easy to project, but the puzzle begins to get a bit fuzzy as the right field situation remains undecided. The depth chart in right field will look very similar to that of left field once the starter has been decided. Snider, Tabata and Presley all have the ability to play either corner outfield position, so Clint Hurdle has a decent number of options on the table that he can consider.
Vinny Gala is a Pittsburgh Pirates writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @VinnyGala.