This is the third in a 10-part series that will break down the storylines at each position in advance of spring training. At the plate today: left field.
What happened last year: Nyjer Morgan started a team-high 61 games at the position before he headed to the Washington Nationals in a four-player trade. In return, the Pirates acquired Lastings Milledge, who assumed the position for 56 starts.
Overall, Milledge hit .279 with four home runs and 20 RBIs in 65 games. It was the way that he finished the season that gave the team a reason to be optimistic. In the final 17 games, he hit .300 with two home runs and three stolen bases.
Brandon Moss (19 starts) and Garrett Jones (16) also filled in here.
In the hunt this year: Milledge, Brandon Jones and John Raynor. This is a crucial season for Milledge, 24, who can solidify his future, whether it's in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, with a productive year.
For his part, Milledge at least has put himself in position to fulfill his potential as the 12th pick in the 2003 draft. In the offseason, the Bradenton, Fla., native took part in the team's weight and conditioning program, and he looked the part at PirateFest last week.
Jones, 26, was claimed one week after the Atlanta Braves had designated him for assignment last month. He had a .281 batting average, seven home runs and 57 RBIs in 107 games for Class AAA Gwinnett last season. The fact that he bats left-handed is in his favor. Two years ago, Baseball America ranked him as the No. 4 prospect in the Braves organization.
In its continued pursuit of more athletic types, the front office took a flyer on Raynor in the Rule 5 draft in December. In 123 games, he hit .256 with six home runs, 36 RBIs and 19 stolen bases for Class AAA New Orleans last season. He also struck out 121 times in 447 at-bats.
The leader in the clubhouse: Milledge. In fact, those are the words that pitcher Ross Ohlendorf alluded to the other day, when he singled out his teammate as a leader this season. By all accounts, this is a far more mature guy than the one who earned a bad reputation in stops at New York and Washington earlier in his career.
Player to watch: Raynor. At 26, he has yet to make his big-league debut, but maybe a change of scenery will be all that's needed to jump-start his career. The Memphis native is an excellent bunter and base-stealer -- he has an 83-percent success rate in his career - traits that are a good match for an offense that will have to find ways to manufacture runs this season.
If Raynor isn't a member of the parent club at the start of the regular season, then the Florida Marlins have the right to take him back. Given that he spent four seasons in their farm system already, a trade would seem to be a more likely option.
The big picture: Milledge has the greatest upside among the group by far, but with a career home run rate of one for every 38.5 at-bats, he appears to lack the long-ball capabilities necessary to hold down a corner spot on a regular basis.
In that case, a Milledge-Ryan Church platoon isn't out of the question. A right fielder by trade, Church saw extensive action in left field as recently as two years ago. Another possibility: move prospect Gorkys Hernandez from center field to left field, where his speed and Gold Glove-caliber defense are ideal for PNC Park.
The best scenario of all: Milledge to come of age as a consistent run-producer and home run threat.