The Pittsburgh Pirates made the decision to non-tender Pedro Alvarez in December without a clear plan on how they were going to fill the first base position for 2016. They were no longer able to stomach Alvarez’s defensive woes and inconsistencies at the plate. Alvarez had his ups and downs in a Pirate uniform, but never developed into the middle order of the bat that the front office and fan base expected him to be.
The Pirates made their first base plans evident when they signed John Jaso to a two-year deal worth $8 million. The years and amount of money is of importance for a small market team like the Pirates. This is a clear sign that they believe in Jaso as a player and plan on him contributing in a big way for them in 2016 and beyond.
John Jaso no longer has the ability to catch due to his history of concussions, which means his only option in the National League is to shift to first base. He will be on the strong side of a platoon (vs. RHP) with Michael Morse or Jason Rogers handling left-handed starters.
“He has hit leadoff,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune in reference to John Jaso. Hurdle also went on to say, “I think he can hit in multiple places in the lineup. I could see him hitting second. In some scenarios, he can probably provide some protection in the middle of the lineup. I will let you know at the end of spring training. I’m going to take some different looks.”
It is not crazy to think of Jaso as the Pirates new number one in the lineup. He may not be your prototypical leadoff hitter in terms of speed, but he has hit leadoff for the Tampa Bay Rays in the past. He owns a career .361 OBP, which is above league average and something that the Pirates could use at the top of their order.
Jaso has over 500 plate appearances in the leadoff spot and 151 of those came last season with the Rays. He had a .404 OBP over those 151 plate appearances, mostly due to a 12 percent walk rate.
The Pirates other candidates at leadoff would be Josh Harrison (.318 OBP) or Gregory Polanco (.316 OBP). Jaso is far superior to both in terms of his ability to get on base and with the Pirates losing power from both Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, they might be better suited with someone who can set the table for their middle-of-the-order hitters. The Pirates have adopted an all-fields, gap-to-gap style approach under hitting coach Jeff Branson. He is also a big proponent of making contact and limiting strikeouts. This could push manager Clint Hurdle to make John Jaso his leadoff hitter against right-handers.
So far this spring Jaso is 3-for-11 (.273 Avg.) with three walks, which is good for a .429 OBP. As long as Jaso can stay healthy, he should be the Pirates starter against right-handed pitching and it will be up to manager Clint Hurdle whether that is batting leadoff, second, or fifth.