Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pitchers In, Battle On...

Everyone is in camp, without nary a visa issue in sight. The Pirates are in a sort of reverse build this season; the rotation is fairly well set up, bar injuries, while the bullpen signings ran the gamut from a power arm look to more worm burners. (Our earlier pitching breakdown) Here's what to look for during the Pirates' spring fling:

The rotation has four guys set in stone with Gerrit Cole, Frankie Liriano, AJ Burnett and Charlie Morton. Vance Worley and Jeff Locke look like they'll duel for the fifth spot. The questions:

Vance Worley is looking to nail down the fifth spot this spring (Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • Can Burnett and in particular Morton be ready physically by April? AJ looks to be on schedule after his sports hernia repair and Charlie is saying and doing all the right things, but he just started tossing off a mound this month, so he may be iffy for the opening bell.
  • But no problem; With Vanimal and Locke-Down, the Bucs have depth behind the big four. Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham should be ready by mid-to-late season, and Brandon Cumpton has experience at the back end of the rotation. And who knows - maybe Clayton Richard or Chris Volstad can rediscover their mojo with a Jim Benedict/Ray Searage tweak.
  • Bigger problem: Worley and Locke are out of options. Ditto with Radhames Liz, who was inked to a $1M deal and Stolmy Pimentel. The FO isn't going to want to lose any of these guys on waivers, so look for a deal or two as camp gets deeper and other clubs look for some depth.
  • Last item - will the Pirates get some innings out their starters? That would go a long way toward helping the bullpen, but historically, AJ is the only guy that tosses 200 innings...and he's 38 this campaign.
And so is Jeff Locke in one of the spring's top battles (Charles Leclaire/USAToday)
The bullpen looks tough again in the eight and ninth frames with Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Antonio Bastardo locks to break camp. Bastardo is slotted to take Justin Wilson's place, and has eighth inning experience with good K rate to go with minimal splits, although control is an issue. After that, well, it gets a little more interesting.
  • Jared Hughes and John Holdzkem are frontrunners to hold down their spots. The wild card is both have options remaining, so one big factor will be what the Pirates do with their glut of MLB-ready but out of option hurlers like Pimentel and Liz.
  • The non-roster guys and depth pick-ups, as always, are dark horses, but heat tossers Rob Scahill and Arquimedes Caminero are on the forty man roster while Blake Wood has some experience and a nice fastball.
  • The Bucs have more fairly capable bodies than spots available, so the battle of the bullpen should be one of the better contested spots in camp.
Mark The Shark (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

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