Three positions up for grabs in Pirates’ opening day lineup

March 17, 2022 GMT

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — Anthony Alford is getting baseball’s version of a mulligan.

Alford won the Pittsburgh’s center field job in spring training last year, then struggled and was demoted to the minor leagues in late April. The 27-year-old is back this spring training, trying to become the right fielder.

“The first goal is to make the team,” Alford said. “Really, it’s just about finding your role and playing your role, whatever you can do to help this ballclub win at the end of the day. How can I be of service to help the ballclub win? That’s just how I started approaching it last summer.”

Alford started last season 2 for 24 in 11 games, then went to Triple-A. He returned to the Pirates on Aug. 7 and hit .266 with five homers in 38 games.

He is competing with Greg Allen and Cole Tucker for right field. Claimed off waivers Nov. 5, Allen has hit .241 over five seasons with Cleveland, San Diego and the New York Yankees. Tucker, the Pirates’ first-round pick in the 2014 amateur draft, has batted just .217 in 136 games over three big league seasons.

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Alford hit .307 with 14 home runs and nine stolen bases in 56 games at Indianapolis last year.

“Wherever I’m at, I just want to win,” he said. “I want to do my part to help. Obviously, there’s always going to be competition, but just go out there and be the best version of yourself and give it all I got. Just control what I can control. That’s all I can do.”

Incumbent Kevin Newman is competing with top prospect Oneil Cruz to be the everyday shortstop.

Newman was a NL Gold Glove finalist last season but had a .226 batting average and .265 on-base percentage in 148 games. The 6-foot-7 Cruz became the tallest shortstop in major league history when he started the final two games of 2021.

“We’re just excited to see more of Oneil,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “He earned that opportunity late last September because of the way he responded to challenges laid out to him going back to last spring training.”

A second base opening was created when the Pirates traded Adam Frazier to the San Diego Padres last July just after he started in the All-Star Game.

Newman could wind up playing second if Cruz wins the shortstop job. Other candidates include Tucker, Michael Chavis, Hoy Park, Diego Castillo, Rodolfo Castro and Tucapita Marcano.

Chavis hit 18 home runs in 95 games as a rookie with the Boston Red Sox in 2019 and could add power to a lineup that was last in the major leagues in homers last season. He played in just 12 games with the Pirates last season after being acquired in a trade because of an elbow injury.

Yet, with his ebullient personality, Chavis has already made an impression.

“I’m playing baseball, man,” he said. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a kid. I would come home from school, only thing I wanted to do was go hit, go play baseball, go throw, something baseball-oriented. When I couldn’t get someone to go to the field with me, we had a garden in our backyard. I’d go back there. I’d grab a stick, and I’d toss rocks up to myself, pretending I was some big leaguer at the moment.

“It’s just something I’ve always had incredible passion for. Baseball’s a cool game.”

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