BRADENTON, Fla. — Neal Huntington isn’t ready to say who will be the Pirates’ opening-day right fielder. However, the general manager seemed to answer the question without directly answering it.
“Some guys are capitalizing on the opportunity,” Huntington said. “We have other guys who are being impacted by that a little and getting outside themselves.”
That could be interpreted as Travis Snider having the edge over Jose Tabata less than two weeks before the March 31 opener against the Chicago Cubs, though both are likely keeping the position warm until top prospect Gregory Polanco gets called up from Triple-A Indianapolis sometime during the summer.
Snider has gone 8-for-26 this spring with three doubles and one home run while Tabata is 3-for-25 with no extra-base hits. Snider is healthy after being bothered by a left foot injury throughout most of last season when he hit just .215 with five home runs.
He had foot surgery in October.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle believes the surgery has made a big difference.
“It’s helped him all over,” Hurdle said. “Balance in the box, outfield, first-step quickness, on the bases, running. Everything that he does, when you can do it without having to think about a certain way to do it, it frees him up to play to his best capabilities.”
Snider was on the disabled list July 28-Aug. 31 last season then played sparingly in September when the Pirates clinched both their first postseason berth and winning season since 1992.
“It was the first time in my life that I was almost glad not to be playing,” Snider said.
“It was really hard for me to stand on my feet for nine innings.”
Tabata is struggling this spring. That is in contrast to how Tabata finished last season, hitting .312 in 170 plate appearances in August and September to finish with a .282 batting average and six homers in 106 games.
Tabata even gave up his starting job to Marlon Byrd when the Pirates acquired the veteran from the New York Mets in a trade.
Byrd hit .318 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 30 regular-season games then went 8-for-22 with one homer and five RBIs in the postseason as the Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds in the National League wild-card game before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the Division Series.
“When you have a chance to win, you’ve got to go for it and sometimes you’ve got to make sacrifices,” Tabata said. “Byrd came in and helped us a lot.”
Byrd is gone, having signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in November as a free agent, and Tabata is struggling to regain his old job.
“It’s been tough,” Tabata said. “I haven’t had many hits, but I’ve just got to keep working at it.”