The last lingering question remaining in the construction of Pirates 2015 on-field roster was first base, but with the league's interest in Pedro seemingly non-existent and the signing of another lumbering bounce-back platoon guy, Corey Hart, it appears the Bucs have made their major moves for the upcoming season.
Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Neil Walker fill the remaining infield dance card. Sean Rodriguez is the Harrison handyman replacement on the bench, leaving just the Clint Barmes' middle infield back-up slot open. We don't think Rodriguez will be that player. In the past two seasons for Tampa Bay, he's logged 148 innings at second and just 37 at short with lots of time at the infield and outfield corners, quite comparable to Josh's tool kit as a bench option.
That leaves the pick-up gang of Justin Sellers, Pedro Florimon and Jake Elmore as the likely up-the-middle suspects. All are on the 40-man roster and have had big league stops. None would scare Mario Mendoza with the bat, but Sellers and Florimon both have shown some skills at short.
Gustavo Nunez (SS/2B) and Deibinson Romero (3B) are non-roster invitees with some tools, while home-grown infielders Alan Hansen and Gift Ngoepe both could start the season at Indy. JaCoby Jones made some noise in the lower levels last year, while 2014's top pick Cole Tucker is learning the ropes. Stetson Allie continues his conversion to first, and the Pirates may flip some guys (Andrew Lambo, Tony Sanchez, Josh Bell) to first to add some depth to the spot while reducing an organization logjam or two.
The outfield is set with Cutch, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco with Travis Snider as the fourth man. Corey Hart is penciled in as an outfielder, but with his surgically repaired knees, he's a stretch. The Pirates may call on Rodriguez/Harrison as a fifth outfielder if they opt for a middle infield glove on the bench, and that spells bad news for Andrew Lambo. He has an option left, and looks like he'll spend time honing first base at Indy as the Pirates have no long term answer there while the outfield is young and under team control for the foreseeable future.
Jaff Decker is still around, and he'll meet prospects Willy Garcia and Josh Bell as they work their way through the system. Austin Meadows and Mel Rojas Jr. are farm guys to watch, and glove man Gorkys Hernandez has returned to the fold on a minor-league deal.
The Pirates were proactive after Russ Martin left and grabbed Francisco Cervelli early in the game to catch. They'll be ginger with him, as he's proved to be a capable two-way catcher but with a history of injury. Chris Stewart will regress at the plate, but his defensive skill set and experience make him a comfortable fit as the second banana.
Tony Sanchez is the odd man out; he has an option remaining and some hot competition with Elias Diaz for the Indy catcher's job. The Bucs have flirted with spotting him at first, which says all you need to know about his future projection. Pick-up Sebastian Valle has had a hot winter league session while former top pick Reese McGuire is early in his apprenticeship.
Picking a roster the week before Christmas is as certain as hitting the Lotto; maybe Neil Huntington will discover a hidden AJ Preller gene and start dealing like a madman, or more likely, dumpster dive for another infielder. But if the season opened tomorrow, our guess at the 13 position players sitting in the dugout would be:
Infield: Pedro Alvarez, Josh Harrison, Corey Hart, Jordy Mercer, Sean Rodriguez, Justin Sellers & Neil Walker.
Outfield: Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco & Travis Snider.
Catcher: Francisco Cervelli & Chris Stewart.
(Tomorrow - Pitching Roster)