It seems as if the entire Pittsburgh Pirates offseason has been centered on Andrew McCutchen. It has been in the form of trade rumors, or due to his lack of production in 2016.
This clichéd “bounce back” and “rebound” candidate did not move out of Pittsburgh, as some National “experts” rumored, but Cutch is still packing up from one spot to move elsewhere in 2017 – he’s moving from center field to right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The corresponding moves sent Gregory Polanco to left field and Starling Marte to center field. So while the Pirates did not add or subtract from the roster, they did make a seemingly smart move just by relocating pieces to where Clint Hurdle would continue to get the most out of.
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One x-factor in this whole ordeal seems to be forgotten, and that’s top outfield prospect Austin Meadows.
Meadows is a bona fide center fielder by trade (273 career Minor League games in CF). He has plus defense and speed tools to play it. Also, he does have some experience in left (15 games) and right field (80 games) in his four-year career. With Marte now in center field, who will be a mainstay after re-upping for $31m over five years through 2021 (with two club options), will Meadows have to start seeing more playing time in left or right field to prepare for a possible Cutch departure following the 2017 season?
Another possibility to look into, provided the Pirates do not retain McCutchen, is whether Gregory Polanco stays in left field or moves back to right field following this season. Obviously, with playing half of their games at PNC Park, with a short porch in right field comes a shorter distance to run and track balls, and, in turn, means less ground for whomever mans right field to cover. Moving forward past McCutchen’s time in right field, will Polanco reassume his duties, or will Meadows be the new heir-apparent to take the position once he’s ready for the Big Leagues?
Once camp breaks, and Meadows gets consistent playing time, an early note to keep in mind is where he aligns defensively. He is a plus-defender in center field. With a short porch in PNC’s right field, one would think he could break as a left fielder. Mainly this is because of the distance that needs covered in left-center field. Small details throughout this process need to be accounted for, as well. Both Polanco and Meadows throw with their left hand, so whoever plays left field will have to range to left-center field with their back hand, as does Marte who throws right handed. With that deep gap to cover, how much will that factor into the “who plays where” game? This is something the front office and Clint Hurdle will inevitably determine.
We know what Austin Meadows brings to the table as a prospect. Now it’s not only WHEN is he going to show off his talents in Pittsburgh, but now it’s a WHERE question, as well. For the Pirates, the outfield realignment should pay off in 2017. However, beyond 2017, how will the effects trickle down beyond this season when Meadows figures to be 100% ready? The possibilities are numerous. There is only one formula that fits and maximizes the net production from the outfield, even if that means no McCutchen. As we progress in 2017, keep Austin Meadows in the back of your mind as you watch one of the best outfields in baseball go to work daily.
Corey Crisan is a contributor for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Rum Bunter on the FanSided family of networks. Follow him on twitter @cdcrisan.