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The Pittsburgh Pirates must push the right buttons in September

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Too many options; not enough positions

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has a quandary to deal with.

In a notes column up now on the Post Gazette’s website, Pittsburgh Pirates beat man Bill Brink has quotes form manager Clint Hurdle hinting at the club sharing time at second base between Adam Frazier, Kevin Kramer and Josh Harrison. Previously, Hurdle had commented that Kramer could see time at third, as well.

Oy vey.

That’s quite a few options for not as many positions. The decisions that Hurdle and Neal Huntington make during the season’s final stanza will greatly impact the club in 2019. Each and every start, each and every at bat and perhaps even each and every play in the field that the young charges above — and let’s go ahead and throw Kevin Newman into this group as well — accumulate will inform the club for 2019 and beyond.

It is a nearly foregone conclusion that the Pittsburgh Pirates will not pick up Harrison’s 2019 option. Logic dictates that the club should thus keep his playing time to a bare minimum during these last 19 games. Of course, logic is not always practiced with this club. Having said that, it would appear that Hurdle has received the message from the August trades and call ups, stating to the PG that there is a plan to throw spot starts Harrison’s way.

Aside from Harrison’s situation, here now are the arguments for Frazier and Kramer to see the bulk of the time at second base the rest of the way.

Work on Frazier’s Shortcomings

The knock on Frazier has long been his defense, particularly at second base. Since rediscovering his swing during his demotion to the minors, Frazier’s bat has been back in a big way. He has slashed .350/.400/.593 since July 25th. Haters will say his .392 BABIP during that period is sure to regress. Frazier Truthers will retort by pointing to his 47 percent hard hit rate in August as a sign that the offensive production is here to stay.

Regardless, going into his second stint with the big league club this year, the group-think on Frazier’s defense was a universal one: It was no good; Very bad indeed. Since coming back up, Frazier has been passable at worst and improved in the eyes of many. With enough “tape” on Frazier at the plate, the Pittsburgh Pirates should now give every rep/inning/chance/pick your favorite noun here to Frazier to continue his improvement. Doing so would allow the club to collect more data points to determine if Frazier can hold down the second base position on a potentially permanent basis.

Bet on Kramer

If the Pittsburgh Pirates would rather bet on upside, they might want to find a way to work in Kramer as much as they can over these next few weeks.

Kramer has done nothing but see his stock steadily rise since his first pro season in 2015. His approach at the plate — though marred by higher strikeout rates than one would like — has allowed his raw power to turn into game power.

And that game power may come into play well at PNC Park. Kramer has had two consecutive seasons (in Double-A Atloona/The Arizona Fall League and in Triple-A Indianpolis) in which he enjoyed a fly ball rates and pull rates of 40 percent or greater. As my colleague Alex Stumpf explained recently, putting the ball in the air and pulling it — especially at PNC Park — usually leads to desirable results.

For the Pittsburgh Pirates, it comes down to this: Does the club bank on a steady hitter who they have seen enough of to know what to expect, or is the intrigue of what Kramer can grow into enough to tempt the organization into committing significant time into Kramer at second?

The rational answer here is to play Kramer at third base to get him as many plate appearances as possible. However, Colin Moran is still considered by many within the club to be an intriguing piece with room to grow moving forward. To take PAs away from him would be counter-productive, not to mention that both Moran and Kramer would just be there to hold the seat warm until Ke’Bryan Hayes’ arrival.

To me, the decisions the Pittsburgh Pirates make in regards to Frazier serve as one of the most interesting storylines as we turn our gaze towards next season. Simply deciding where Frazier will play — and, if he is even a full time player to begin with — will have a ripple effect that will help shape the club in 2019.