Shortstop was one of the many areas of weakness for the 2020 Pittsburgh Pirates.
As a whole, the Pirates ranked 29th in total shortstop fWAR at -0.3. The two players who manned that position in 2020 were Erik Gonzalez (0.1 fWAR) and Kevin Newman (-0.4 fWAR). Cole Tucker is also primarily a shortstop but spent his 2020 learning how to play in the outfield.
So which one of these shortstops should open next season as the team’s starter? Let’s make the case for each.
In my opinion, of these three options, Gonzalez has the most raw talent. His fielding is solid. He runs fairly fast (27.3 ft/sec). And although he is inconsistent as a hitter, Gonzalez has shown some flashes of power. His average exit velocity of 88.5 mph was higher than both Newman (85.5 mph) and Tucker (83.1 mph) in 2020.
The main problem with Gonzalez is that he’s 29 years old and more than likely, is what he is. Yes, the talent is there and the ceiling is fairly high if he can put it all together but what are the chances of that happening?
Without a doubt, Newman is the best pure contact hitter of this group. Even though he was awful in 2020, we cannot forget that Newman was a 2.4 win player in 2019. Defensively speaking, Newman is below average at shortstop but not terrible. If it were up to me, he would switch to second base full time where his defensive metrics improve. That is another conversation though. When it comes to sprint speed, Newman (27.5 ft/sec) is slightly faster than Gonzalez.
Of these three, Newman is the most consistent. He will hit singles and field balls hit in his vicinity. It’s not flashy, but sometimes it leads to an fWAR of greater than two.
Tucker has not had much success as a major league ballplayer, especially at the plate. In 275 career plate appearances, Tucker has hit .215/.260/.324 with three dingers. Thus far in his career, he has accumulated an fWAR of -0.5.
Defensively, Tucker is solid at shortstop. In terms of speed, he is the fastest of the three (28.5 ft/sec). If Tucker could hit just even a little bit, the job would be his.
At age 24, Tucker still has some time to figure things out. Getting some AAA at-bats could do him well to start next season. At this point though, it is impossible to be a productive major league hitter when one strikes out 26.7 percent of the time while having a hard-hit rate of 20 percent. That is what Tucker did in 2020.
Looking at the shortstop free agent market, guys like Marcus Semien, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons are probably out of the Pirates preferred price range. Freddy Galvis, aka older Erik Gonzalez, is also a free agent.
I don’t see the Pirates signing any of these players.
Of these three, the job has to go to either Gonzalez or Newman. Gonzalez has the higher ceiling but Newman has the higher floor. It’s a tough decision to make. And just to be clear, none of these options are all that great.
At this point, the main hope for the Pirates is that one of these players emerges as the clear cut guy.