As the Pittsburgh Pirates' young talent has started to graduate from their farm system in recent years, their outfield has become a much more exciting unit.
Entering 2013, the Bucs likely have two thirds of their outfield set for the better part of the decade, with several interesting candidates to fill the third position in the short- or long-term future.
There are still questions to be answered, and the Pirates cannot necessarily expect above-average production from any position other than center field. But the Bucs' outfield is starting to look like a long-term strength,
The Pirates have two young, athletic players that should be patrolling their outfield for years to come in superstar Andrew McCutchen and prospect Starling Marte. It is pretty clear what McCutchen will bring to the Bucs this year, but Marte's contribution is less certain.
As he has been for the past four seasons, McCutchen will be the centerpiece of Pittsburgh's 2013 offense. The main question he must answer is whether he can sustain his MVP-caliber 2012 performance over the course of a full season.
Given that McCutchen was worth more than seven wins last year, despite a noticeable drop-off in the season's final third, his ceiling remains frighteningly high.
Marte has a somewhat similar ceiling to McCutchen. H is an excellent defensive player with great bat speed and more power than is first anticipated. But unlike McCutchen, Marte has yet to mature and refine his approach in order to become a consistently productive offensive player. The Pirates have a lot to gain if he can make that leap.
The Pirates' third outfield position is not as set in stone, and the Bucs could see a bit of a revolving door in right field if no player claims an everyday role. For the time being, former Toronto prospect Travis Snider is penciled in as the starter. Snider has power, can take a walk and plays decent defense but needs to cut down on his strikeouts.
Jose Tabata is currently the odd-man out in the Pirates' outfield, but if he sustains his strong spring play, then he may see a lot of at-bats fairly early in the season.
Like Snider, Tabata is a former top prospect that hasn't put it all together yet. He has frustrated Pittsburgh management with his immaturity at times, but he is still only 24 years old and is actually one of the best players on the team at getting on base.
Alex Presley will likely make the team as well.
Presley probably is what he is at this point, a decent contact hitter that contributes in the field and on the basepaths but doesn't provide much power or patience.
Jerry Sands may also factor into the Bucs' outfield equation before the year is through, and strong play from Gaby Sanchez could result in Garrett Jones getting more starts in right field.
Down on the Farm
The Pirates have a deep organizational pipeline in the outfield right now, with a few high-ceiling prospects supported by decent depth.
Twenty-one year-old Gregory Polanco, coming off a breakout 2012 season in Single-A, headlines the system. Polanco is another athletic center field type who looks to have all the requisite hit tools, though he is still several years from the majors.
Josh Bell, the recipient of a big signing bonus less than two years ago, is often a forgotten man in the Bucs' organization. Nagging injuries mean he has only had 62 professional at-bats, but he remains the Pirates' best power-hitting prospect.
Barrett Barnes, the Pirates' sandwich-round pick in the 2012 draft, is another player who sits at the higher end of most Pittsburgh top prospect lists. A .401 on-base percentage in 153 plate appearances in his debut did nothing to harm his status.
Other outfielders to watch in the lower levels of the organization include Adalberto Santos, Willy Garcia and Elvis Escobar.
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