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Acquiring outfielder could help Pirates at third base

| Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, 7:18 p.m.
Pirates third baseman Sean Rodriguez catches a pop-up at the dugout next to pitcher Trevor Williams during the seventh inning against the Reds Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman Sean Rodriguez catches a pop-up at the dugout next to pitcher Trevor Williams during the seventh inning against the Reds Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017, at PNC Park.
The Pirates' Adam Frazier throws to first base during the sixth inning against the Yankees April 22, 2017, at PNC Park.
Getty Images
The Pirates' Adam Frazier throws to first base during the sixth inning against the Yankees April 22, 2017, at PNC Park.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — With Jung Ho Kang stuck in never-never land and David Freese reduced to a part-time player, the Pirates have a glaring hole at third base.

They might fill it by acquiring an outfielder.

Sean Rodriguez and Adam Frazier will help out at third base. When they do, it will cost the bench a spare outfielder.

“We're looking at the extra outfielder market via trade or free agency,” general manager Neal Huntington said Tuesday. “But it has to be something that makes sense for us.”

The second day of the winter meetings was quiet. The Pirates continued to listen to trade offers — in particular, the demand for pitcher Gerrit Cole remained strong — but didn't make any moves.

There hasn't been much movement in the outfield markets, so the budget-conscious Pirates likely will hold off on shopping until it's closer to spring training. That's when unsigned players get more desperate and prices drop.

When the outfield was culled last season by Starling Marte's suspension and Gregory Polanco's gimpy hamstring, Jordan Luplow was fast-tracked to the majors. Luplow played in 73 games with Double-A Altoona and 44 games with Triple-A Indianapolis before making his big league debut.

Luplow, 24, batted .205 with three home runs. Acquiring an outfielder would let him to get more at-bats at Indy next year.

“If that's where we end up, that's great,” Huntington said. “If we end up with Jordan on our major league team, we'll go forward with that.”

Jose Osuna might eventually be an everyday player at third base, but not any time in the near future.

“He's going to get a good amount of time at third base in spring training,” Huntington said. “Like Jordan, it may be in his best interest to go get a lot of at-bats (at Indy) to continue his growth, especially if we believe third base might be a viable option for him somewhere down the road.”

A natural first baseman, Osuna has made significant progress adapting to third base during winter ball in Venezuela. Former major leaguer Henry Blanco, who manages Bravos de Margarita, has been feeding the Pirates reports on Osuna's performance.

“Henry has really liked what he's seen,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “The first couple of weeks, he took Osuna out for defense because games mean a lot to the people over there. The last couple weeks, he's finished games defensively. Henry wouldn't be doing that if he didn't have the confidence in him. The work that's being done is paying off.”

In 18 games with Margarita, Osuna has hit .302 with an .886 OPS.

Bullpen apprenticeships

Huntington indicated the Pirates could go into next season with the same five-man rotation — Cole, Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams — that handled the bulk of the duties last season.

In that case, Steven Brault probably would begin the season as a long reliever. Tyler Glasnow, who has nothing left to prove in the minors, also could end up in the big league bullpen.

“Years ago, in the old days, when I first started,” general manager Neal Huntington said with a smile, “young starters typically served an apprenticeship in the bullpen.”

That trend faded, as teams began to rely more on using eight, nine or 10 starting pitchers over the course of a season. The Pirates last season were an exception, using just six starters until September.

The Pirates have enough depth in the minors that Glasnow, who was once rated their top pitching prospect, could do a tour of duty as a reliever while still being groomed as a starter.

“We are more open to one, maybe two of our young starters being in the bullpen to start the season,” Huntington said. “It's using the old-school model of the apprenticeship, but also using a little bit of the new-school model and allowing Clint to be aggressive and get a guy out in the third or fourth inning when it's obvious it's not his night.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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