Hurdle: Marte, Snider Must Audition for Jobs
Well, Clint Hurdle pronounced which position players will have job certainty next season. In addition to mainstays Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez, Hurdle said that Clint Barmes will be back at shortstop, Michael McKenry will be the starting catcher, and that Gaby Sanchez may get a shot at the full time first base job, thus moving Garrett Jones back to right field. In any event, he said that the corner outfield positions are up for grabs.
If, after the last two seasons, you still harbor some uncertainty as to whether Hurdle should be removed from his position as manager, these remarks may clarify the situation for you. There are two components of Hurdle’s little speech that are obviously objectionable. The first is that Clint Barmes and his .593 OPS will return at shortstop. If there is one decision that is sure to sink a small market team, it is to settle for less at key positions. Just because the Pirates consider Barmes to be an excellent defender (a viewpoint I do not share) does not mean that they should just move on to the next position on the diamond. Accepting the minimum performance is a surefire way to punch a ticket to last place.
The second Hurdle whopper is much more abhorrent, and if it is seconded by the front office, they should all be removed posthaste. Apparently Hurdle intends to set up a competition in Spring Training between Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Alex Presley and Jose Tabata for the two corner outfield positions – that is if one of those spots has not already been accounted for by the possible, and completely inexplicable, decision to make Sanchez the everyday first baseman.
Let’s assume for the moment that common sense prevails, and Jones is returned to first base. The Pirates have already given long looks to Presley and Tabata, and both have failed miserably. Presley has no pedigree – he was never considered a prospect, and even after over-achieving, he has reached the status of a fourth outfielder, if he stays in the major leagues at all. He has one tool – speed – which is difficult to use when you can’t hit and don’t walk. There were higher hopes for Tabata, but he has gone backwards; not only has the power that many analysts anticipated not materialized, his other tools have disintegrated in a remarkably short time span.
Starling Marte has already demonstrated remarkable tools; all he needs is playing time. I took a long look at comparables for Marte, and one of the closest matches I found was Adam Jones. But the Adam Jones of today didn’t just pop out of thin air; he was a player with serious tools but significant flaws, just like Marte. The Orioles had to watch him work through those flaws over the course of four seasons before he reached his current level of production. The approach the Pirates need to take with Marte is to tell him that he is their everyday leftfielder, no matter what, and to go out there and have fun. The results may not be pretty for a while, but this organization, and their fans, should understand that minor league players don’t arrive in the big leagues as perfectly sculpted works of art. Often the one thing they need in order to blossom is the time to play, and learn, at the major league level, without some gum-chewing dolt looking over their shoulders waiting to replace them with Alex Presley at the first sign of trouble.
If anything, the Pirates should refer to the history of Travis Snider if they need a refresher course in how to screw up a serious prospect. The Blue Jays brought Snider up too early, and then proceeded to mess with his swing and otherwise jerk him around until they could finally give up on him while wiping their hands clean of the mess. He may have less of a tether than Marte, but the Pirates need to take a similar approach – right field is his until further notice. Snider is a better defender than either Presley or Tabata, and his ceiling as a hitter is about thirty floors higher than either of them.
If the Pittsburgh Pirates are to become a championship caliber club, it is not going to happen by plugging holes with mediocre stopgaps who had a good day at the plate yesterday. It will happen when they develop, or trade for, high impact players and let them play free of competitive pressure.
Marte, McCutchen and Snider could become one of the most envied young outfields in the game. The only obstacles in their way are a manager who can’t evaluate talent, a front office that won’t stand up to him, and a suddenly entitled, impatient fan base willing to throw away the chance at future championships in a desperate attempt to reach mediocrity.