By focusing their attention on filling holes at first base and within the pitching staff, the Pirates appear willing to consider starting the season with Alex Presley as their left fielder, filling out an outfield that will also include Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata.
The Pirates have not already anointed Presley a starter, and likely won't before Spring Training. But the 26-year-old outfielder certainly put together a 2011 season that would warrant the chance. And as each week passes, it's looking more likely that he'll get it.
"He's going to be interesting to watch develop as he continues to develop," general manager Neal Huntington said. "You need to see more, but the opportunity can present itself. Is he ever going to be a 20-home run guy? I'd hit the pause button on that. But as far as the ability to get on base, the ability to create havoc on the bases, score runs ... he has shown he can do all of it."
Presley's 2011 season started in disappointing fashion, as he was sent out to Minor League camp early in Spring Training. He hadn't done enough to make new manager Clint Hurdle a believer, and there were particular improvements in Presley's baserunning that the club felt needed to be made before he'd be ready to play regularly in the Majors.
Unhappy about the demotion at the time, Presley later pointed out how that day jump-started the rest of his season.
"It was all going to depend on how I was going to react to it, and I knew that," Presley said during the team's final series of the season. "I knew if I went down and was angry and negative that I wouldn't be back here. I just tried to put a positive spin on it and get better and let things happen."
What happened was much more than the Pirates had anticipated.
In 87 games with Triple-A Indianapolis, Presley batted .333 with 31 extra-base hits, 41 RBIs, 58 runs scored and 22 stolen bases. That earned him a midseason callup, an opportunity Presley also seized. Plugged into the starting lineup immediately, Presley posted a .298 batting average and .339 on-base percentage. He swiped another nine bases and scored 27 runs in 52 games.
The only thing that truly slowed Presley down was a left thumb bruise, which left him on the disabled list for close to a month.
"Alex, if he's an above-average defensive left fielder, if he finds a way on base, drives enough balls into the gap and can become an impact baserunner, then yes, he has every opportunity to become a good regular Major League player," Hurdle said.
"He can create runs in a number of different dimensions. He can prevent runs on defense in the corner. You start thinking about an outfield of Presley, McCutchen and Tabata and what it can be at the top of the lineup and the pressure that we can put on defenses and the runs we can prevent, it starts to be fun."
An outfield of Presley-McCutchen-Tabata would be defensively strong and would also give the Pirates plenty of speed to work with at the top of the lineup. The club would, however, sacrifice power from their corner outfield spots, which are traditionally positions where teams get decent home run numbers.
That's not overly concerning to Huntington, who stressed that the ability to create and prevent runs is nowadays weighed more heavily than the ability to change the game with one swing. While that's not to suggest that power is invaluable, it is to point out that the Pirates do not believe that they must have a prominent presence of power in order to improve their offensive production.
"Yes, the ability to change the score with one swing is a wonderful thing, but the game is evolving, and multi-faceted players have made an impact by creating runs," Huntington said. "We still want power. But as an organization, we're going to take hits over power because we believe power develops. We also believe that power is extra-base hits and not just home runs.
"We have some players that are athletic, and we've wanted to add some athleticism to the organization because we have seen the way the curve is shifting."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.