When Tuesday’s workout wrapped, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington touched on a burning camp topic: How will the new outfield alignment among Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco work.
The three are set to occupy new positions this season with McCutchen shifting to right field, Polanco to left and Marte maneuvering to center.
The trio are also representing their countries in the World Baseball Classic and play on teams — the United States and Dominican Republic — favored to make a deep run in the tournament. That begs the question of how that will impact their switch with fewer reps to get ready for opening day should those teams use them in their previous outfield positions.
On Thursday, it was the outfielders, minus McCutchen, who reacted at Pirate City.
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“Clint called me and we had a good conversation,” Polanco said about first hearing the change. “He told me. I said, ‘I’m OK. Wherever you decide (for) me to play, I play. I’m ready to play anywhere.’”
McCutchen, who trains at IMG Academy ahead of official report dates with the Pirates each season, was not present on Thursday. Friday is the first full team workout at Pirate City for Pittsburgh.
McCutchen is the least experienced of the three with the outfield realignment.
He has never played in right field during his Pirates career, while Marte and Polanco each have played in center and left, respectively. Polanco received his time in left field during September last season.
I said, 'I'm OK. Wherever you decide (for) me to play, I play. I'm ready to play anywhere.'
Pittsburgh OF Gregory Polanco on his initial conversation with manager Clint Hurdle about the outfield realignment
Both players boast better hitting numbers from those positions than their old spots in left and right field, respectively.
Marte is hitting 23 points higher in 210 career plate appearances over the last five seasons when playing center field compared to when playing left field.
Although, it’s a smaller sample size in relation to their career numbers, there’s evidence to suggest a comfort factor. And Marte, who has 67 career MLB games in center field, said he feels comfortable in his new position.
“I know that there are some adjustments and some changes comparing center field or playing a corner outfield (position),” Marte said through team translator Mike Gonzalez. “The angles of the ball that you have to worry about when you play left field or right field, but when it comes to center field it’s something I’m looking forward to and something that comes naturally to me is just getting a good eye on the ball.”
Both Polanco and Marte said they spoke to each other during the offseason after Hurdle told them of the change, but they haven’t had any in-depth conversations with McCutchen yet.
And both players addressed the World Baseball Classic conundrum, but said they’re honored to represent the Dominican Republic and aren’t concerned with the potential lack of chemistry coming out of camp.
Marte confirmed he expects to play center field for the Dominican Republic during the WBC.
“It’s a bit bittersweet when I think about here we are taking off for the season and I’m going to miss continuing to build that chemistry with my teammates,” Marte said.
Note: Hurdle named Tony Watson his closer on Thursday, which is the same role he was promoted to during last year following Mark Melancon’s trade to the Washington Nationals. That wasn’t the only tidbit surrounding Watson on Thursday. He had an excused absence from camp on Wednesday, because he had an arbitration hearing. On Thursday, that arbitration hearing was decided. The Pirates won the case, which will see Watson make $5.6 million this year. It’s a 62 percent increase to last season. Watson and his representatives were seeking $6 million from Pittsburgh. “To go through it and try to fight for myself, I thought it was worth it,” Watson said.