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 BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -Until early Monday morning, Steve Pearce was the Pittsburgh Pirates' top prospect at first base, a position that figures to be filled by Adam LaRoche for a while.
Welcome to right field, Steve Pearce. Left field, too.
With left fielder Jason Bay and right fielder Xavier Nady likely to be the Pirates' most-sought position players in possible trades this season, the Pirates obviously want Pearce ready to go. That means he's now a full-time outfielder.
First base, his natural position, is on hold.
``They think my future is in the outfield. ... They recognize my ability and I know what I can do,'' Pearce said Monday, shortly after general manager Neal Huntington and manager John Russell told him of the switch. ``I'm not looking into the future (and any possible trades), I'm taking care of business here.''
Huntington probably wanted to deal Bay and Nady for prospects this winter, but Bay was coming off his first down season (.247 average) since reaching the majors in 1993 and Nady was hurt part of last season. The Pirates thought both would attract more in trades if they produce at their expected level this season.
The 24-year-old Pearce, not considered a prime prospect while growing up in Lakeland, Fla., sailed through every level of the Pirates' farm system last season. He hit .347 in 19 games at Class-A Lynchburg, .334 in 81 games at Double-A Altoona and .320 in 34 games at Triple-A Indianapolis with a combined 31 homers and 113 RBIs.
Pearce - chosen as the Topps minor league player of the year - had a .294 average in 23 late-season games with Pittsburgh but did not homer after averaging a homer every 15 1/2 at-bats in the minors.
The Pirates don't want Pearce worrying about shuffling between several positions at the same time he is adjusting to the superior pitching he will see in the majors. A year ago, Pearce was preparing to start the season in Class-A.
``We've asked too much of him already to ask him to try to develop at two positions and make the club, so we're going to simplify the process for him,'' Huntington said. ``He's more accomplished at first, so we're going to allow him to focus on the outfield for the time being. Primarily, he'll play right.''
Pearce might also play left field, but Huntington said, ``It will depend upon how he's progressing with his abilities in the outfield.''
The Pearce move is another signal LaRoche is among the players the Pirates have identified as wanting to keep around. He is making $5 million this season, but the team wants to sign him to a long-term contract.
Pearce has a chance to make the opening day roster, but there is currently no job available in the outfield and it makes little sense for such a key prospect to not play.
``We don't want young players sitting on the bench. That's not in their best developmental interest,'' Huntington said. ``If there's regular opportunity for regular at-bats for any of the young players, then it makes sense for them to be on our club. If not, then it makes sense for them to be in the minor leagues.''
Another prospect making a switch is left-hander Daniel Moskos, the No. 4 overall draft pick last season. He was sent to minor league camp Monday and will be tried as a starter. He was drafted last year as a reliever.
``We believe that (pitching) every fifth day, having to work deeper into games, having to throw all three pitches, having to deal with some adversity and get through some 25- and 30-pitch innings will be great for him,'' Huntington said.
Last season, the Pirates shifted former first-round draft pick Neil Walker from catcher to third base.
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