General manager Neal Huntington said Monday that Moran would open the season in a reserve role after Jung Ho Kang was named the team's starting third baseman, Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic reports. While serving as the Pirates' primary starter at the position last season, Moran didn't build on the power gains he had demonstrated at the Triple-A level in 2017. He delivered a solid .277 average while striking out in only 17.6 percent of his 465 plate appearances, but finished with only 31 extra-base hits, including 11 home runs. Per Adam Berry of MLB.com, Huntington cited Kang's superior defense as a reason why the veteran emerged as the winner in the job battle, but the five home runs the 31-year-old has already slugged this spring might have also factored heavily into the team's decision. With the Pirates now set to roll with Kang at the hot corner, Moran will get some work in at first base in the final week of camp as he looks to increase his usefulness as a reserve player.
Moran went 1-for-2 with a walk and three-run homer against Philadelphia on Thursday. The Pirates haven't committed to Moran or Jung Ho Kang as their starting third baseman yet, nor have they given any indication as to who might grab the job. Though he's a capable defender, Moran made a pair of errors Thursday, giving him three miscues this spring. If Kang beats him out for the third base gig, it's possible the Bucs could try him out as a backup on the right side of the infield.
Moran went 2-for-2 with a walk while serving as the designated hitter against the Red Sox on Wednesday. He's facing a stiff challenge for the starting third baseman's job from Jung Ho Kang. Even after Wednesday's strong offensive showing, Moran has just three hits in 16 Grapefruit League at-bats. The 26-year-old has Kang to contend with in 2019 and Ke'Bryan Hayes as soon as 2020.
Moran, who spent the offseason working to improve his mobility, will compete with Jung Ho Kang for the starting third baseman spot, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. He finished with a minus-5 defensive WAR in 2018, second worst among qualified third basemen. Moran didn't fare much better offensively, slashing .270/.333/.399 in 113 starts at third base. He hit .423 in 26 at-bats as a pinch-hitter, but he still managed only 11 home runs in 415 at-bats. Moran will look for improved consistency in 2019 -- he hit one homer with a .639 OPS in 193 plate appearances from June 18 to Sept. 8 -- as he battles Kang and top prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes for playing time this year.
Moran is not in the lineup against the Reds on Saturday. Moran will head to the bench after going 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI in Friday's series opener. Jung Ho Kang will receive his first start in the majors this season in Saturday's matinee.
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