If (or when) the 2020 Major League Baseball season begins, it's a near certainty the league will employ a universal designated hitter. That means the Pirates' Derek Shelton will have options to help bolster his lineup.
Minds will immediately gravitate to one player: Josh Bell.
All Bell did in 2019 was hit 37 home runs and ring up 116 RBIs, slashing .277/.367/.569 across an All-Star campaign. But he struggles on defense. Waiting in the minors is Will Craig, a Gold Glove-winning first baseman who also provides some pop, so the idea here seems obvious. Let Bell swing away, where he's best, and let the young prospect Craig shine defensively while continuing to improve his efficiency at the plate.
... but what if we go ahead and ignore that option?
That's where things get fun. Let's break down three options beyond Bell that could positively impact the club in 2020.
1. GREGORY POLANCO
We're coming in hot. Gregory Polanco has flashed brilliance at the plate throughout his six-year career with the Pirates, but the issue with him has always been consistency (and availability). Sliding into a DH role could allow Polanco to solely focus on his hitting and his health, which could become a major win-win for the team.
But the second layer here is that Polanco is coming off a throwing-shoulder injury that required surgery in 2018 and that limited him to just 42 games in 2019 as the complications lingered. In the early stages of the 2019 season, when he played, it was obvious his arm was not back to full health, as he routinely struggled with throws from right field. The DH, then, could protect Polanco in the field while allowing him to focus exclusively on hitting and on being fully healthy, a potential win-win for the team in 2020.
2. COLIN MORAN
A left-handed bat with limited range on defense sounds like an ideal candidate for the DH, no?
Moran slashed .277/.322/.429 while hitting 13 home runs and driving in 80 runs in 503 plate appearances for the Pirates in 2019, but making this option even juicier is the fact that star prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes is already waiting to take over his third-base position, anyway. Hayes, 23, is a multi-time Gold Glover and All-Star in the minors, and many feel it's only a matter of time before he's the team's full-time starter at third. By making Moran the DH, the Pirates get Hayes in the field (where he excels the most) while also allowing him to hone his skills at the plate by facing MLB pitchers on a regular basis.
3. KEVIN NEWMAN
Here's the one you've been waiting on. The wild-and-wacky pick. And before you completely obliterate me here, just know this actually came from my colleague, Alex Stumpf, on a recent edition of 'Morning Java.' For real, I have the receipts:
— DK Pittsburgh Sports (@DKPghSports) May 21, 2020
But he's onto something here. The Pirates need to get Cole Tucker, their 2014 first-round draft pick, more playing time in 2020. Thing is, Adam Frazier has second base locked down, while Kevin Newman's excelled at shortstop for the team. That leaves room for Tucker only on a spot basis.
But what if Newman serves as the DH?
That opens up space for Tucker at short, getting him those much-needed reps. Newman is fine defensively, but Tucker is better.
Newman, meanwhile, has adjusted to the big leagues at the plate faster than Tucker, slashing .308/.353/.446 with 12 home runs and 64 RBIs in a rock-solid 2019 rookie campaign.
More defense from Tucker? More hitting from Newman?
It sounds wacky on the surface, but it further emphasizes the defense-first lineup the Pirates have slowly built with the likes of catcher Jacob Stallings and center fielder Jarrod Dyson. So it's not the obvious choice, but it represents a creative approach that emphasizes defense — which could be a legitimate strength for the club — when considering the DH.
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