A beautiful spring mood floated through the Pittsburgh Pirates infield in Bradenton, Florida.
Baseballs found gaps and landed safely for hits, and not just those that ricocheted off bats of opposing players. Pirate infielders Ke’Bryan Hayes, Kevin Newman, Adam Frazier, Colin Moran and Erik Gonzalez have hit a collective of .432 in preseason games.
The trick is to keep these bats warm in typically cooler temperatures, such as in Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Detroit, where the pirates have to play in April. Palm trees don’t grow in Wrigley Field.
For better or worse, the top four and catcher Jacob Stallings seem set, and manager Derek Shelton likes the look of the group.
“I am very confident. I think we got better, ”Shelton said. “I know we identified some things that we wanted to work on in spring training, not just by eye test but metric, and I think the assessment we both did was really good.
“We did various training stuff to identify those things and basically isolate how we can make any guy better. We talked about doing double games. We were more consistent. ”
The pirates shot 25 double games in 27 spring games.
Hayes’ glove appears to be a significant third base improvement over Moran.
“He makes it look way too simple,” Shelton said.
Second baseman Adam Frazier said the Pirates’ infield defense may be the best of his six years in Pittsburgh.
“When I first came in we were pretty good. We had some experience and I was just a little bit of it, ”he said. “I would say now… it’s definitely quite thick. It gives our pitchers something (comfort).
“As boys get older, they gain experience and feel more comfortable. Same for me. I wasn’t very good on the second base when I first walked in. ”
Moran made a total of 24 mistakes in third place in 2018 and 19, but this season he’s moving to first, replacing former National League All-Star Josh Bell. Moran won’t be doing home runs like Bell’s for the Washington Nationals. Moran has 34 of 1,059 bats with the pirates. Bell hit 37 of 527 bats in 2019.
Newman and Erik Gonzalez are the shortstops, but Shelton will find it difficult to keep Newman’s bat on the bench. He hits .714 with 20 hits (including six doubles) in 28 spring bats. He looks closer to the full season, .308 batsman of 2019, than the sophomore, who hit .224 in 337 fewer bats last season.
Frazier hit .553 (21 of 38) with an OPS of 1.549 that spring, and Shelton said a change to the plate might have helped.
“The only thing we see is the brevity of the stroke,” said the manager. “Last year there was sometimes a length of the swing. This looks very similar to what it did before last year. That’s what stands out. ”
Frazier said, “I put my hands out of my body to begin instead of behind my head.”
“When I look back now, no, it’s not difficult. When I look back last year I thought, yes, it was very difficult. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but that was part of that hand thing. Unable to hit the ball in all fields. Opens all fields again. That feels pretty good. This means that I can have a chance on many more parking spaces. ”
Shelton was impressed last Wednesday when Frazier took on the Atlanta Braves’ Ian Anderson on the pitch.
Hayes may be the most famous young pirate player since Andrew McCutchen was a rookie in 2009. Hayes hit .376 in September and continued to hit this spring (.413).
Gonzalez and Phillip Evans will be two of the backup infielder.
Evans’ versatility will likely lead him to a roster. He played the third, second, first, left and right field, but only for a total of 26 games in three seasons. It could be Moran’s primary backup on the first base.
Evans, who hit .406 this spring, has a lifetime average of .290 but has only been on the plate 106 times.
The pirates might miss Todd Frazier’s experience after he signed off last week. At 35, he made 4,909 recordings and an average of 0.242 in 10 seasons. That spring he completed three home runs that were only surpassed by Bryan Reynolds.
After Frazier leaves, the 31-year-old Stallings wins back the award as the oldest pirate player. His backup will be either Tony Wolters or Michael Perez.
“It’s something we’re still debating,” Shelton said.
Perez showed a strong arm on Saturday, kicking out Bostonian Gilberto Jimenez who tried to steal the second base.
Shelton described Wolters’ versatility as “extremely interesting”. He has a history (25 games) on the second base and played third, shortstop and left field in his five year career with the Colorado Rockies.
Wolters hits .194 this spring, Perez .167.
Veteran Wilmer Difo, who had spent the past six seasons with the Nationals, extended his basic streak to 13 games on Sunday, of which 11 scored.
“High energy guy. If you spend five minutes around him, you can see how much energy he has, ”Shelton said. “He went to every position he played and did a good job. He jumped to the center and did a good job. ”
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Jerry DiPaola is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Jerry by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.
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