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Pirates notebook: With Gregory Polanco in right, Pirates looking for a left fielder, leadoff hitter

March 13, 2018 GMT

BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates’ outfield picture became a bit clearer on Saturday, when Gregory Polanco arrived at spring training and said his preference is to play in right field.

And not just for this season.

“Play me in right. I want to be in right field,” Polanco said. “Other guys can play left field. I like right field and I want to stay there my whole career. … I feel more comfortable in right field.”

The Pirates played musical chairs with their Dream Outfield last season, moving Andrew McCutchen from center field to right, Starling Marte from left to center and Polanco from right to left.

When Marte drew an 80-game MLB suspension in April, McCutchen returned to center and Polanco to right. Polanco ended up starting 68 games in right field last season, 25 in left and two in center.

Manager Clint Hurdle said that “right now” the Pirates were preparing to play Polanco in right field, even though he fits what they are looking for in left field because of his combination of size, speed and arm.

“In a perfect world, you look at skill sets, you look at arm strength, you need somebody who can cover ground and have a big arm in left field,” Hurdle said. “That’s what you like. That might not be what we end up with because the guy who can cover ground and has a big arm is playing right. And the other who can cover ground and has a big arm is playing center.”

But Polanco played center until switching to right in Triple-A Indianapolis, and never adjusted to PNC Park’s cavernous left-field corner, and the Pirates are more interested in his productivity.

“When you line up things analytically, it just goes to show you that it makes all the sense in the world analytically for what we tried to do last year. Add the human analytics to it and it doesn’t make as much sense,” Hurdle said. “Andrew showed the most adaptability, Marte was in center field and was comfortable but I don’t know what was going on mentally – it didn’t play out very well – and Polanco, I just don’t think he was as comfortable, so we’re running him back over to right field and giving him every opportunity to be the best right fielder he can be.”

Who’s in left?

With Marte in center and Polanco in right, that leaves the starting job in left field open for competition. Hurdle mentioned three players prominently as candidate, all of whom also play infield positions: Adam Frazier, Sean Rodriguez and Jose Osuna.

“Rodriguez has the strongest arm of the three, Osuna is the most accurate – smaller distance – and Frazier probably has an infielder’s arm,” Hurdle said. “We’re trying to help him figure out just to be accurate, how to hit the cutoff man. He’s played center field in the past, so he’s got some length I think he can develop his throw and pull it off. He’s got some speed, though, and has shown some range out there, as well.”

Rookie Jordan Luplow, who made 13 starts in right and seven in left last season, and free-agent signee Daniel Nava also are candidates.

Looking for a leadoff

Hurdle hasn’t committed to a leadoff hitter but Frazier and Josh Harrison are both candidates, Harrison for his bat and base-running ability and Frazier for his aggressive and comfort in the role.

Frazier drew more walks than Harrison (36 to 29) while accounting for fewer strikeouts (57 to 90), which is important to Hurdle.

“Walks are a real thing at some point in time in the count. A walk can show up,” Hurdle said of Frazier. “He has the ability to steal a base. He has the ability to work at-bats. … The barrel can show up as well when that lineup turns around. I just like that dynamic of him going up there, he’s up there with intent. Some guys look to get on base. He’s looking to get on base but he’s also got bad intentions with the bat in his hand.”

Frazier hit .276/.344/.399 with six homers and 53 RBI in 121 games last season, when he batted leadoff a team-high 63 times. Marte was next with 49, followed by Harrison’s 29.

Quick pitches

Harrison and catcher Elias Diaz were the only two players who have yet to report for spring training, and both are expected to arrive at Pirate City on Sunday. … Harrison’s arrival could be interesting after he publicly criticized the club’s direction and requested a trade last month the day after McCutchen was dealt to San Francisco. … The Pirates extended Diaz’s report date so he could spend more time with his family after his mother was kidnapped but returned safely three days later. … Hurdle said the Pirates planned to take live batting practice on Sunday, a move made because of the accelerated spring training schedule. The first full-squad practice is Monday, and games begin Feb. 23. ... Relief pitcher Tony Watson signed a two-year contract with San Francisco, joining former Pirates teammates McCutchen and closer Mark Melancon with the Giants.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.