The Pirates essentially finalized their 25 man roster earlier today. Technically speaking there are still a few additional players in camp but all of them are expected to begin the season on the DL. Overall the roster is constructed in a very expected manner and while it is not how I would have went about doing it most of the decisions are at least somewhat understandable. There are always going to be people who complain about the fringes of the 25 man roster but at the end of the day those fringes really do not matter much, it is the core of the team and the overall depth (bench, bullpen and minor leagues) that will determine the fate of a team. The 5th starter, the 5th bench spot and the 7th reliever are not really positions that will dramatically alter the course of a team so the overreaction to the Pirates decisions on those roster spots is likely overblown. With all that in mind let’s take a look at how the Pirates roster looks headed into Opening Day.
C: Russell Martin
1B: Garrett Jones
2B: Neil Walker
3B: Pedro Alvarez
SS: Clint Barmes
LF: Starling Marte
CF: Andrew McCutchen
RF: Travis Snider
BN: Michael McKenry, Gaby Sanchez, Jose Tabata, John McDonald, Josh Harrison
SP: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeff Locke
RP: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux, Jeanmar Gomez
In reality the only players I would remove from the roster if I was in charge of its construction would be McDonald, Harrison (eventually Inge) and Gomez. In their place I would prefer to see Mercer, De Jesus and Morris. The other change I would like to see made is swapping Wilson and J Sanchez. Wilson is younger and in my opinion more likely to be able to contribute to the rotation for a few starts while Sanchez at this point is probably best suited trying to turn his career around as a lefty reliever. Even these changes though are for the most part temporary. When Liriano comes back I would most likely opt to bump Wilson from the rotation, when Karstens comes back I would most likely opt to bump Morris from the bullpen and I can even understand the argument for wanting McDonald over De Jesus. I don’t get Harrison or Inge over Mercer though. I know Mercer can’t play the outfield while the other sort of kind of can but the Pirates have enough options where they shouldn’t be considering playing infielders in the outfield anyway. The other advantage Inge has is supposedly power but people seem to forget Mercer has a little pop in his bat as well, it was just 2011 when he lead the Pirates minor leagues in home runs. Still arguments over the last bench spot are basically trivial and irrelevant. I don’t get why the Pirates need two (or even one) veteran middle infielders on the bench who can’t hit but in reality the difference between them and the other options is most likely negligible.
With that rather long disclaimer out-of-the-way I figured now was as good as time as any to take a look at the players the Pirates have opted to bring north.
The starting infield is what we expected it to be all along. Russell Martin behind the dish will be counted on to provide solid defense and hopefully will produce somewhere in the vicinity of league average offense from the catcher position. The Pirates likely overpaid for him but if his superior pitch framing skills are actually real and not just a product of catching for guys like C.C. Sabathia then there is a chance he lives up the contract or maybe even provides some surplus value. I’m not expecting much in terms of offense from him but if he can be non horrible and provide the Pirates with an OPS around .700 I would take it.
Garrett Jones likely won’t be playing full-time at first base but assuming the Pirates actually stick to regularly platooning him this season he should get about 70% of the starts. Jones is here for essentially one purpose, to provide the Pirates with relatively cheap power. The rest of Jones’ game is fairly unremarkable from his defense to his baserunning but he is a fair hitter with plus power. That doesn’t make him a super valuable piece but it makes him an asset in the middle of the order. On the hot corner will reside Pedro Alvarez. Like Jones, Alvarez could probably benefit by sitting against some left handers but hopefully the Pirates give him a chance to prove his worth against them. Also like Jones, Alvarez is here to provide the Pirates with some power but unlike Jones, Alvarez has enough power potential where he could develop into an extremely valuable piece. Alvarez is going to strike out too much and not play the best defense at third but if he can show a little more plate discipline, draw a few more walks and continue blasting home runs he is going to have a lot of value.
Up the middle Neil Walker figures to get nearly every start at 2nd base and assuming Inge takes Harrison spot he better be starting everyday as the Pirates really won’t have a viable alternative on the 25 man roster. He had some back problems near the end of last season which bares watching but in reality any injury to him would really hurt the Pirates. It is unclear whether Hurdle plans to use him near the top of the order or more towards the bottom but given the fact he is one of the few Pirates players with a decent knack for getting on base placing him near the top (or eve at the top) of the order would probably be the wisest decision. Up the middle with Walker is Clint Barmes. Barmes’s value comes almost entirely from his ability to field the shortstop position very well but even so he is going to have to improve upon last year’s numbers to be of much use to the Pirates. Over the last 4 months of 2012 Barmes posted an OPS of around .650 and if he is able to do that for an entire season he won’t be the most glamorous shortstop but he will give the Pirates value.
The starting outfield is pretty much what we expected all along. There was a quasi competition for the corner spots but for the most part those were basically just made up as it was rather clear who should be the starters. In center field the Pirates will once again have their superstar Andrew McCutchen. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about him. He is likely one of the best 10 players in the game today and in order for the Pirates to have any chance of competing he will need to perform at a MVP caliber level. McCutchen did have a few flaws last year though and hopefully this season he will improve upon them. Last season he struggled stealing bases and was a little on the weak side defensively. Considering the rest of his game these are minor points of course but shoring them up would only make him more valuable.
In the corners the Pirates will use Starling Marte and Travis Snider. I expect to see both of them rested, especially Snider, on a fairly consistent basis but they will both get a long chance to prove themselves. Marte has plus speed and is a great defender so even if he struggles with the bat this season he is likely to still provide the Pirates with value. By no means is Marte’s bat weak though as he has the potential to possibly be the Pirates second best hitter this season behind only McCutchen. Marte is likely going to be forced into the leadoff spot a role he isn’t really suited for since he has some strike out issues but if he can maintain a high average and show any improvement in plate discipline he should be serviceable there. In the other corner will be Snider. He doesn’t have the speed or defense of Marte so he is going to have to hit to create value. People tend to think him hitting is less likely than Marte hitting well but in reality I think its a pretty even race. Snider has shown flashes in the past and comes with more power potential than Marte. The Pirates in order to have a shot at competing probably need one of these two to break out and become a true plus player and the other one will have to at least hold his own and be an average starter.
As I have previously stated the construction of the bottom of the bench really doesn’t matter a whole lot but the players near the top of the bench will likely get a lot of playing time so they will matter a good deal. The top player on the bench is likely Gaby Sanchez and he is expected to pick up the 30% or so of the starts that Garrett Jones doesn’t get at 1st base. Ideally Sanchez would bounce back to his 2010-11 form but that doesn’t really seem likely. In reality all the Pirates need him to be is a good bat against LHP and a good PH option off the bench two roles I think he’ll have no problem handling. Jose Tabata could potentially wind up in a similar situation to Sanchez only in right field. It is possible he winds up platooning with Snider and if that is the case he too will have to hit very well against left handed pitching. Tabata has the upside for more though. At this point he isn’t likely to develop into your traditional starting corner outfielder but he has very good plate discipline and that alone has the potential to make him a valuable asset atop the order. His speed although it has been questioned is still above average and his defense is probably around average as well. Tabata has the makings of an OBP first starting corner outfielder or a solid 4th outfielder. He is likely to be the second most important bench player.
The third most important bench spot and the last I see with much value will go to Michael McKenry. As the backup catcher he is likely to get at least 60 starts this season and will need to continue hitting as well as he did last season to provide value in those starts. His defense is decent but often overrated by Pirates fans but his bat can make him a solid backup catcher. The last two spots are currently slated to go to Harrison and McDonald but Inge will likely eventually assume Harrison’s role. In my mind the most important of these spots is the Harrison/Inge spot. This is supposedly the offensive first infield bench spot so whoever holds it down is going to have to actually you know hit at a respectable level. McDonald will serve as Barmes backup and though he is probably a touch worse both offensively and defensively his presence in the lineup for a day here or there shouldn’t really cause a noticeable difference.
Right now the Pirates rotation is a bit of mess. At the top of it the Pirates have probably one of the best one-two punches they have had in a while in AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez. Neither one is a true ace but both seem like fairly safe bets to put up solid numbers this season. At 36 and 34 years old respectively there is of course the chance that either Burnett or Rodriguez has reached the end of their rope as pitchers but with how both of them pitched last year it seems likely they probably have another year or two of value left in them at least. Behind them is James McDonald who si the ultimate wildcard for the Pirates. If there is a true ace currently in the Pirates rotation it is James McDonald. McDonald showed us in the first half of the season last year that he has the talent to be a number one starting pitcher but he showed us in the second half of the year that he isn’t ready to be that yet and possibly never will be. What James McDonald the Pirates get this year, potential ace, borderline #5 starter or somewhere in between will probably be one of the biggest factors in how the Pirates season winds up.
Rounding out the rotation are a pitcher who amazingly actually has a wider range of possible outcomes than McDonald and a pitcher who looks like a fair bet to be a solid a back end guy but who has yet to prove it at the major league level. Jonathan Sanchez is another wildcard in the Pirates rotation but he is even less likely to pay off than McDonald. If Sanchez can keep his control problems at a minimum he will have an excellent chance of being a solid middle of the rotation starter for the Pirates but if he can’t he will most definitely be a total disaster. The Pirates really can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be expecting much from him. If Sanchez can give the Pirates 3 or 4 non-horrible starts in the month of April without completely exploding then it should be considered a success. The other pitcher Locke is a different story. Locke pitched exceptionally well in AAA last season but in his short stint in the majors was the victim of a very unlucky high home run rate. Assuming the high home rate drops this season which it will almost assuredly do I’m fairly confident Locke can become a solid #4 starter for the Pirates and mange to keep them in almost every game. He isn’t the flashiest pitcher but his performance in AAA has earned him this shot.
The back of the bullpen will consist of Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes. These four actually make for a fairly solid quartet of arms. Grilli has been successful in a set up and middle relief role the last two seasons and will inherit the closer role this year. Melancon struggled last year in April and was sent down to the minors but when he returned to the majors he pitched pretty well The two of them , Grilli and Melancon, will likely be the Pirates 8th and 9th inning duo. By no means is this the best back end duo in the league but the tandem should be able to close out most leads that are handed over to them. Watson and Hughes were rather successful last season in their middle relief roles and will be counted on this season in later inning situations. Hughes will probably inherit the 7th inning role and Watson will continue being the top left handed releiver in the bullpen. The success of these two last year makes it fairly likely the adjustment should be relatively smooth.
At the front of the bullpen trying to bridge the gap to the back 4 guys will be Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux and Jeanmar Gomez. All 3 pitchers are capable of throwing multiple innings and all will likely be called upon to do so throughout the year. Wilson provides the Pirates with a second lefty and one who is more of a strike out pitcher. Leroux and Gomez will likely pick up most of the long relief duties. Both are out of options and one of them is likely to be released once pitchers began to get healthy so it will be sort of an extended competition for the duo. Leroux appears to have the more upside but Gomez has more major league experience. Leroux and Gomez are both fairly replaceable relievers so they will have to pitch well this season to remain with the team.
Not much happening today. But I thought a general post to catch up on some recent news would be a good idea.
Brad Hawpe who has been receiving an inordinate amount of playing time has been released from camp. That means according to my projection there are 5 players left in camp for the last bench spot: Josh Harrison, Brandon Inge, Jordy Mercer, Alex Presley and Felix Pie. To me it comes down to Harrison and Inge and I think considering Inge’s health issues that Harrison has the upper hand.
Tony Watson pitched an uneventful 1-2-3 inning today so it appears more likely that he will be ready for Opening Day which would displace Mike Zagurski from my projected roster. Zagurski hasn’t looked good recently anyway and probably shouldn’t make the team.
Jeff Karstens is scheduled to pitch tomorrow and as long as things go right he has a chance of being ready to be part of the rotation to start the season. If Karstens joins the rotation he would displace Sanchez or Locke from the rotation. That displacement could result in the displacement of Ryan Reid/Jeanmar Gomez or even Justin Wilson from the bullpen. In addition to Karstens possibly being ready by Opening Day it sounds as if Francisco Liriano may be about a month behind that.
As Spring Training winds down the Pirates camp roster now sits at 36 meaning there are still 11 cuts to be made. I’m expecting that we will see some early next week and the roster will really begin to round into shape. The roster battles as I see them are down to Harrison/Inge for the last bench spot, Locke/McPherson/Sanchez/Karstens for the final two rotation spots and Wilson/Gomez/Reid along with the losers of the rotation battle fighting for the final two bullpen spots. All of this assumes Watson is healthy and the Pirates decide to carry Leroux and Tabata which all seem rather likely.
On the site this week I am planning to conclude my expectations series with a look at the non-player parts of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The final three parts of the series will be the coaches, the front office and the team as a whole. Keep an eye out for those. In addition to those I will have a few more season preview pieces. Finally I’ll be attending the Pirates last exhibition game of Spring when they play their AA affiliate on Saturday March 30th. It should be a fun experience and I’m looking forward to providing a recap of the game both from the major and minor league perspective.
In the meantime I have recently updated my Top 20 Hitting and Top 20 Pitching prospects. Check them out. For the record I update them about two or three times a month during the season and I am planning on providing some details on the top prospects in the near future.
Yesterday I made an ill-advised final attempt at predicting what the Pirates roster would look like come Opening Day. Less than 24 hours it has been proven wrong as Bryan Morris has been optioned to AAA. Morris wasn’t having the best Spring but I still feel like he was on of the Pirates seven best options for the bullpen to start the season. Since that attempt has failed I decided to give in another go today but this time primarily focus on the pitching side since that appears to have the most interesting questions remaining.
With today’s cuts of Morris, Ivan De Jesus and Jared Goedert there remains 40 players in camp. The following 18 players I believe have a firm grasp on their roster spots.
C: Russell Martin, Michael McKenry
IF: Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes, John McDonald
OF: Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata
RHP: AJ Burnett, James McDonald, Jason Grilli, Jared Hughes, Marek Melancon
LHP: Wandy Rodriguez
The above roster guarantees leaves one position player spot and six pitching spots available. Of the remaining 22 players three, Charlie Morton, Francisco Liriano and Jose Contreras are definitely not going to be healthy enough to start the season so the number essentially is reduced to 19 players. Of those 19 players there are two who’s place on the roster is only dependent upon their health, Jeff Karstens and Tony Watson. This bring us down to 17 players battling for somewhere between 5-7 spots.
The one position player spot is fairly straightforward. The eight position players left in camp without a guaranteed spot on the roster are Lucas May, Carlos Paulino, Josh Harrison, Brandon Inge, Jordy Mercer, Alex Presley, Felix Pie and Brad Hawpe. May and Paulino have absolutely zero chance of making the team as they are just extra catchers. Hawpe, Pie and Presley face an uphill climb as the Pirates are likely to give this final spot to an infielder not an outfielder. So what all that reasoning leaves us with is Mercer, Inge and Harrison fighting for one spot. The acquisition of McDonald makes it less likely the Pirates will keep Mercer on the roster and Inge has been awful this Spring and has never really been fully healthy so the edge here has to go to Josh Harrison.
The pitching gets a little more complicated as there are anywhere from 4-6 spots available depending on the health of Watson and Karstens and 9 players vying for those spots. There is likely to be 1-2 spots available in the rotation depending upon the health of Karstens and the last remaining competitors for those are Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Jonathan Sanchez and Jeanmar Gomez. Of the group Gomez is probably the least deserving and can likely be quickly removed from the discussion. That leaves Locke, McPherson and Sanchez and of those 3 McPherson has has the worst Spring Training and has the least supporting performance to fall back on. That makes the favorites for the final one or two rotation spots Jeff Locke and Jonathan Sanchez. At this point I can’t imagine Karstens being ready to start at the beginning of the year so I think both players will wind up in the rotation to begin the season.
Next up is the bullpen and that is a little more crowded. There are only three locks for the bullpen in Grilli, Melancon and Hughes but Watson and even Karstens could join them there if they are healthy. Outside of those players the Pirates have the following left handers, Jonathan Sanchez, Justin Wilson, and Mike Zagurski competing for spots and the following right handers, Chris Leroux, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro and Ryan Reid competing for spots. Based on spring performances and past track records I feel fairly confident that two of the vacant spots will be filled by Leroux and Wilson. If Watson and Karstens both start the season in the bullpen that will be enough arms to round out the pen but otherwise there could be one to two spots available. Right now I have no clue if these two will be healthy or even if the Pirates would be willing to have Karstens work out of the bullpen to begin the season. If Watson isn’t healthy I have to figure the Pirates carry a second lefty in Mike Zagurski and if Karstens isn’t healthy or they decide not to use him in a bullpen role and instead start him on the DL I think it likely comes down to Reid or Gomez. As things currently stand I think Reid has the upper hand in such a battle.
All of this leaves me with my first (and hopefully only) post final 25 man roster prediction of:
C: Martin, McKenry
IF: Jones, G Sanchez, Walker, Alvarez, Barmes, Jo McDonald, Harrison
OF: Marte, McCutchen, Snider, Tabata
SP: Burnett, Rodriguez, Ja McDonald, Locke, J Sanchez
RP: Grilli, Melancon, Hughes, Leroux, Wilson, Watson/Zagurski, Karstens/Reid
At this point the Pirates are roughly half way through the spring training schedule. Yesterday they cut 11 players from camp, none of which were a surprise so that leaves the Pirates with 51 players left in camp. Over the course of the next 2 weeks or so that list is going to have to be pared down to only 25 players which means there are 26 more cuts in the forthcoming. Looking at how the roster currently sits I see 21 players with fairly secure spots on the team assuming they remain healthy and conversely I see 19 players who I believe have little to no chance of making the team out of Spring Training unless injuries were to occur. That leaves 4 open roster spots for the remaining 11 players to compete for.
Lineup: Russell Martin, Garrett Jones, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Travis Snider
Barring injury this is the starting eight I figured we’d see on opening day since the beginning of Spring Training and nothing has happened to make me change my mind.
Bench: Michael McKenry, Gaby Sanchez, Jose Tabata
Much like the starting 8 I had figured these 3 to be near locks for the roster from the beginning of Spring Training and to date nothing has happened to make me change my opinion.
Rotation: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Jeff Locke
Once it became apparent Liriano wasn’t going to be ready for the beginning of the season it appeared quite likely that the above 5 would comprise the Pirates rotation. There is still one question mark remaining though and that is the health of Karstens. Right now he appears as if he should be ready for the start of the season but if he isn’t Kyle McPherson would likely take his place.
Bullpen: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes, Bryan Morris
Again assuming good health these 5 players were essentially guaranteed a 25 man roster spot at the start of the season. As expected nothing has happened to change this so expect these 5 to be part of the opening day squad.
Catchers: Tony Sanchez, Lucas May, Ali Solis, Carlos Paulino
These 4 catchers were only brought to major league camp to help work out all the extra arms. I expect once the number of arms begins to thin out these catchers will start to be cut as well.
Infielders: Chase d’Arnaud, Jared Goedert
D’Arnaud had an outside chance of making the team entering Spring Training but has been injured for most of it so his chances now are likely next to none. Goedert entered camp as basically just a body to take up some early ST innings but he has played exceptionally well still he is a long shot for the roster.
Outfielders: Alex Presley, Brad Hawpe, Felix Pie
Huntington has shown in the past he prefers to have two utility infielders on the bench so the chances of the Pirates carrying a 5th outfielder seem slim to none. The Pirates already have their 4 outfielders in place so barring an injury or an unexpected decision to carry a 5th outfielder there just isn’t any room for any of these three.
Starting Pitchers: Kyle McPherson, Gerrit Cole, Phillip Irwin, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton
McPherson entered with a chance of making the rotation over Locke but it was a long shot and he has done nothing to distinguish himself to this point (written before his strong outing today but still his overall line still doesn’t stand out). Right now it appears his only chance of making the team would be some sort of injury. Cole hopefully won’t be in the minors long but the Pirates want him to get a little seasoning in AAA before bringing him up to the majors, Irwin is turning heads this spring but like McPherson and Cole he would probably be best served to get some more time in AAA. The last Liriano and Morton would be candidates to make the team or even locks would they be healthy but both are likely to start the season on the DL.
Relief Pitchers: Vin Mazzaro, Andy Oliver, Jose Contreras, Kyle Waldrop, Ryan Reid
All these pitchers are unlikely to stick for a variety of reasons. Mazzaro has gotten a decent look in camp but was removed from the 40 man roster earlier this year, if the Pirates were serious about him possibly starting with the major league club that wouldn’t have happened. Olive has gotten a look but has shown poor control and will likely be kept in AAA where they will work on improving it. Contreras is currently rehabbing and won’t be ready to start the season. Waldrop and Reid were signed to minor league deals and have pitched well this spring but the way the Pirates are using them suggests they don’t see them as much more than depth options.
Bench Infielders: Josh Harrison, Brandon Inge, Jordy Mercer, Ivan De Jesus
Along with Chase d’Arnaud these 4 have been competing for the 2 bench utility infield jobs since the beginning of spring. Right now it is difficult to say just who the favorites are but if I were pushed to guess I would say the Pirates might be leaning towards Harrison and Inge. Mercer and De Jesus have undoubtedly had the best springs and are also the best options to backup shortstop but in reality it seems like this was probably not a fair fight. Harrison seems to be very well liked by the Pirates management and Inge fills the veteran role Hurdle seems to like to have on his bench. Personally I’d think it would be a mistake to carry both but right now I’d lean that way. Ideally the Pirates would seek upgrade over these options or even contemplate carrying only one but short of that I think the best option would be to carry one of De Jesus or Mercer and one of Harrison or Inge. De Jesus or Mercer would give the Pirates a competent backup option at shortstop and Inge or Harrison would give the Pirates slightly more offense and a right handed caddy for Alvarez in case he struggles.
Bullpen: Chris Leroux, Bryce Brown, Jeanmar Gomez, Justin Wilson, Mike Zagurski, Kris Johnson, Jonathan Sanchez
I actually see this as two separate competitions. The Pirates haven’t publicly stated anything but I suspect in addition to the 5 players who appear to be locks for the bullpen they wish to carry a long reliever and a second lefty to round out the pen. Leroux, Brown and Gomez seem like the logical candidates for the long relief job. Leroux and Gomez because they are on the 40 man roster and out of options and Brown was signed to a contract like Reid and Waldrop but he is being used in such a way that suggests the Pirates see some potential in him. Gomez has been awful this spring so he really shouldn’t factor into this discussion but he remains on the fringes. Of Leroux and Brown right now I’d give the edge to Leroux because he seems to fit the Pirates mold and is on the roster and out of options but this one is probably pretty close. The last spot in the bullpen will likely go to a second lefty. I list 4 competitors but at this point Sanchez is likely out of the conversation as he has shown no control. Zagurski and Johnson are non-roster players who have pitcher fairly well this spring and Johnson has the momentum of a strong 2012 season and strong winter ball campaign propelling him up this list. Wilson is a candidate to return to AAA and once again try his hand as a starter but the Pirates could opt to keep him in the majors as a relief pitcher. Zagurski has the major league experience and has looked the best this spring, Johnson has the momentum and Wilson has the status. I think this is the closest race there is right now but as of now I’ll give the edge to the rostered player and say Wilson would get my vote.
Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.
Due to the nature of the job the bullpen arms perform I am not going to bother predicting exact numbers for each player but instead focus on a more general idea of what my expectation is for each player. With a small sample of innings the numbers of bullpen pitchers can vary greatly without there being much variance in their actual performance. As a whole thought I’m expecting the Pirates bullpen to be roughly like the rest of the team which is basically around average. It’s tough to put a number on the bullpen but I could see them being worth roughly 1.5-2.0 WAR this season.
Morris is out of options and is an interesting enough arm that the Pirates will almost surely decide to keep him on the 25 man roster as part of the bullpen. He doesn’t really have much major league experience but he was effective in his limited sample size last year. I actually think Morris will do quite well this season and I see him as being the team’s best reliever this season which should end up giving him a chance at the closer role either later on this year or next year.
I currently have Wilson slated in for one of the final two bullpen spots but it is a decision I am constantly going back and forth on. The Pirates could certainly opt to keep him starting at AAA but at this point I’m not sure we can expect much improvement in his control. Hurdle has stated he would prefer to have two lefty relievers in his bullpen and as of right now Wilson appears to be the second best option the Pirates have. If he makes the bullpen out of spring training my expectation is that he will be shaky at first trying to get used to the position but he has the stuff where I believe he could eventually settle in as the number one lefty out of the bullpen and maybe even as a set up man.
The last bullpen job I currently have going to Chris Leroux. I won’t make it a secret I really like Leroux and I think he could make for a very serviceable reliever for the Pirates. Even with Wilson who is capable of going multiple innings I believe the Pirates will opt to carry a more traditional long reliever and Leroux fits that description. He should easily be able to give the Pirates 2-3 innings when needed and his stuff is good enough that they should be very solid innings at that. I think he’ll be decent in his time with the Pirates, if he makes the team, but I don’t see him finishing the year with the Pirates as his out of options status makes him a candidate to be waived at some point this season.
I think Leroux’s main competition for the last bullpen job heading into spring training at least was Gomez. The Pirates acquired him from the Indians for minor league Quincy Latimore. Gomez is on the 40 man roster and out of options which gives him a fighting chance to make the roster but he has been fairly terrible so far this spring so I see no way he makes it. Should he end up spending time with the Pirates my expectations for him are rather low.
The Pirates have a few more bullpen options I briefly want to mention here. Vin Mazzaro, Brooks Brown, Jose Contreas, Kyle Waldrop, Mike Zagurski, Roman Colon and several other pitchers were all brought in this offseason and are all in some capacity or another competing for time in the major leagues. All of them are essentially just standard depth relievers. If any of them should see any significant time in the majors this season my expectations would be probably around something like what Chad Qualls managed to do for the Pirates last season. In other words a whole lot of nothing.
With Jeff Karstens now back on the Pirates payroll there are 6 pitchers with a reasonable chance of starting the year in the major league rotation. They are A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson. In addition to those six there are quite a few other players who could factor in at some point this season. There are a handful of pitchers who look like they could be non-horrible spot starting options in Chris Leroux, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro and Zach Stewart but none of them would ideally be counted on. There is also the two reinforcements, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole, who will hopefully both be ready to help contribute by mid season. Then there is even Justin Wilson and Andy Oliver who have the stuff to be good starters if they can figure out their control. Finally the Pirates also have a stable of AAA pitchers who look like they should be ready to step up and make a handful of starts later in the year in Phillip Irwin, Brandon Cumpton and even Michael Colla. That is undoubtedly a lot of arms but I still believe the Pirates need to bring in another starter and I’ll explain why.
Let’s first take a look at the depth. A lot of the pitchers making up the Pirates depth, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Phillip Irwin, Brandon Cumpton and Michael Colla are going to probably need a couple of months before they would be ideally counted on to help the rotation. Two more Justin Wilson and Andy Oliver will need time to prove that they have improved their control before being ready to move up. What this means is that a lot of this depth will not be ready to help out should a problem arise in say April or May. Now with six starters ready to start the year that ordinarily wouldn’t be a huge deal but the Pirates have risk factors with all six of their starters.
Burnett – AJ will be 36 years old this upcoming season and had two poor seasons prior to his good year last season. A pitcher nearing his late 30s is always at risk of breaking down especially one with as much use on it as Burnett.
Rodriguez – At 34 years old Rodriguez isn’t as old as Burnett but there is a cause for concern as his strike out rate has been steadily dropping the last few seasons. The bottom really fell out in 2012 as he dropped from 7.8 K/9 to 6.1 K/9. He is going to need to show he can transition into being successful as a finesse pitcher.
McDonald – The biggest question mark of them all. Which McDonald is the real McDonald? Is he the Cy Young candidate we saw the first half of last year, the AA arm we saw in the second half or somewhere in between. A complete collapse can not be ruled out.
Karstens – The reason the Pirates didn’t offer Karstens arbitration was his injury history. Karstens has been a very consistent starter for the Pirates but the question is how long can he stay healthy? The Pirates really shouldn’t be counting on Karstens for more than about 120 innings max.
Locke – I feel pretty good about Locke but the issue with him is that he has no track record of big league success and has struggled when given his few chances. Locke has been a very successful AAA pitcher and while that probably should transition over to him being at least a solid 4/5 in the majors you never know until he actually does it.
McPherson – McPherson has had shoulder soreness twice in the past year and last time it cause him to miss a decent chunk of the season. Add in the fact that he has only made 3 starts at the AAA level and you have a pitcher who the Pirates should probably proceed cautiously with.
With all those question marks and the real possibility that a starter outside of those 6 might be needed the way the Pirates are currently constructed they would need to give the chances to one of the spot starter options in Gomez, Stewart, Leroux or Mazzaro. If those 4 are forced to make a combined 2-3 starts this year, ok stuff happens the team should be fine but if one of them is needed to move into the rotation in April or May it could very well likely signal bad things for the Pirates. For the Pirates and all teams really one of the most important keys is depth in the rotation and while that is coming for the Pirates it isn’t there yet. Ideally come midseason the Pirates will have a surplus to trade for needs in other areas or will be able to convert some starters into bullpen arms but you can’t go on expecting the ideal the Pirates need to prepare for the very real possibility that they may need an extra arm to help the rotation get through April and May. As long as health holds out Burnett, Rodriguez and McDonald should all start the season in the majors. McPherson would ideally start the year in AAA to get a few more starts and a little more polish. This leaves two rotation spots for Karstens and Locke. I would really like to see those two battle it out for the 5th spot with Locke going to AAA if he loses and Karstens being the swing man if he loses. The las rotation spot needs to go to someone on the outside. Perhaps the Liriano deal can be reworked and he can fill the last spot (his upside would really fit nicely with what the Pirates need) or perhaps another free agent such as Marcum or Saunders can be had or maybe a trade for someone like Capuano or Porcello but the bottom line is another arm needs to be added so the Pirates can have some reasonable security that they will be able to make him through April and May with their in house rotation options.