Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Camp Decisions...

The five starters are pretty well in place now. Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Edinson Volquez were projected as the rotation, with Wandy Rodriguez penciled in, health permitting. Wandy's looked good so far, and if he can eat up 150-175 IP, he'll go a long way toward easing the loss of AJ. Volquez has been a BP pitcher this spring, but the brass have nary a discouraging word to say about him, so we see him as holding down the five spot.

Jeff Locke is close to recovered from an oblique tweak, Jameson Taillon is on the horizon, Brandon Cumpton can fill in, and the Stolmy Pimentel/Jeanmar Gomez duo can spot start from the pen. Phil Irwin also looks healthy, so the cavalry is ready.

Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Justin Wilson are locks in the bullpen.Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris, Gomez and Pimentel are out of options and working the bottom end of the pen, with three spots open for the four of them. Mazzaro and Gomez are the weaker links; both Morris and Pimentel have upside that those two lack.  So both are marketable products right now.  And it may cost the Bucs Watson or Wilson to get a first baseman, if the FO seeks one.

The pen is strong now, with nice spring performances by virtually all the NRI guys, so any wheeling and dealing by the Bucs should involve someone from this group, and it be one of the back-enders.

The first base spot was Andrew Lambo's to lose, and he's trying hard to do so with his .065 BA. Gaby Sanchez had a .742 OPS in 2011-12 v RHP as a Marlin, and he's making a case to man the spot himself as he did in his Fish days. Chris McGuiness and Travis Ishikawa have both been making solid contact in camp, and Kendry Davis is still out there, along with Mike Carp. So there are options for NH.

Travis Snider and Chris Dickerson are battling it out for a RF/bench gig behind JT, with Jaff Decker headed down thanks to a remaining option. That's as of now; Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review tweets that the Bucs are shopping Tabata. In fact, the Bucs will gladly move any of the current RF candidates for a hamburger today, as Biertempfel noted. With Dickerson and Decker, the team is well stocked with fourth and fifth OF types.

The interesting decision will come when Gregory Polanco is deemed ready by the club, a couple or three months down the road.

Is Tony Sanchez in as Russ Martin's caddy now that Chris Stewart is down? We're not very confident that's in the cards. Clint used John Buck ahead of Sanchez late last season, and the brass still have some concerns about his defense in a position they consider to be glove-first. The Bucs have Carlos Paulino, a good D guy, in the system, along with non-roster invitees Omir Santos and Nevin Ashley. Paulino and Santos have some MLB experience; Ashley doesn't.

We'd guess that if Stewart's knee doesn't keep him out for a terribly prolonged period, the Bucs could cover a few weeks in house. If it's an injury that's going to take til the All-Star break to heal, the FO will go outside the organization and bring in a fringe vet with a mitt. In either case, Sanchez is likely to still catch every day at Indy. We just don't sense that the FO feel that he's a finished enough product yet, and catching twice a week won't add any polish.

Camp began with the lineup card pretty well determined - Starling Marte, Cutch, Pedro, The Kid, Jordy Mercer and Russ Martin were set in stone. So now the Bucs are filling in around the fringes, and in fact many of the starters are seeing more time at Pirate City than in Grapefruit League competition as the bottom end of the roster is determined. The only noteworthy observation from this group is that Martin is getting a lot of looks batting second; it seems like he and Neil Walker may see time in that spot.

This off season shows that the FO is hoping for growth within. If the pitching staff can come close to last year's performance - and that's certainly not a given - they can keep the team afloat. But the next step is to improve the attack to support that pitching, and there's where this season's question marks abound and where the club's ultimate finish will be determined.

1 comment:

WilliamJPellas said...

No, NO, a thousand times NO to trading Watson or Wilson. NO! Did I mention, "NO"?!? Power-armed lefties are perhaps the single most rare commodity in major league baseball. The Pirates have TWO of them in their 'pen, and either or both (more likely Wilson) could theoretically be stretched out to become a starter. To my eyes the presence of both of these guys is a major advantage that the Pirates have over nearly all other teams at present. I'd rather take my chances with Gaby for 400 at bats at first, and mix in Ishikawa or Whatsisface against the tougher righthanders than trade either Watson or Wilson, particularly for the so-so names that have been mentioned as coming back to Pittsburgh in such a deal.