Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Spring Battles Still Unsettled...

The Bucs came into camp with just a couple of spots open for the taking. We've watched a couple of questions resolves themselves, but other battles are still being waged.

The Rotation: The starting five right now are Frankie Liriano (who will toss on Opening Day), Gerrit Cole (who should get the home Opener), AJ Burnett, Vince Worley and Charlie Morton. The performances of AJ and Morton in camp haven't been terribly uplifting so far. Burnett has whiffed 12 in his 12-2/3 IP but walked eight; hopefully his control will come around. Charlie has been getting hit pretty hard, and he chalked it up to too much thinking, too little trust. The clock for getting him back on track - Ray Searage & Jim Benedict are trying to simplify his motion - is ticking.

There are a couple of things that bode well, though. Jeff Locke and Rahdames Liz should both make the club and can step in if someone does falter. And if Charlie needs a little more time to get comfortable, he could be skipped during the season's first week so that his first outing wouldn't be until April 15th. So even with Brandon Cumpton's TJ surgery, the Pirates seem solid enough. Clayton Richard may replace Cumpton (who would move to the DL) on the 40-man roster - he's performed well and has an opt-out clause if he's not on that list.

The Bullpen: Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Antonio Bastardo are in. Jeff Locke and Radhames Liz are very likely to join them; both are out of options and both are stretched enough to bail out the rotation if and as required. That leaves two spots for John Holdzkom, Jared Hughes, Stolmy Pimentel and Arquimedes Caminero. It may come down to options - Holdzkom & Hughes have one; Caminero & Pimentel don't.

Has Arquimedes made the cut? (Photo: Dave Arrigo/Pirates)

Performance would make it an easy decision; Arquimedes and Big John have been head and shoulders above the other pair so far. But Stolmy has a big arm and Jared has 170 big-league appearances, so all sorts of mix-and-match are in play.  Unless he implodes, Carmenero should claim one of the spots while the other is still up for grabs; we'd guess Holdzkom has the edge for that final spot as of now.

The Starters: Nothing has changed the set lineup, with the questions being whether Pedro and El Coffee could pick it up. So far, Alvarez has been solid, going the opposite way and cutting his K rate down to 23% while Polanco is still under the Mendoza Line. But 30 - 40 plate appearances does not make a trend, so... Josh Harrison, who is due to a return to earth, has given no indication of letting up so far, hitting a healthy .321.

The Bench: It's more competitive than first thought. Sean Rodriguez is in, Tony Sanchez - who has been tearing it up in camp - will get at least an April cup of joe until Chris Stewart returns and Cory Hart also has had a decent spring as the RH compliment at first. Andrew Lambo, again off to a slow start, has gotten some competition from Jaff Decker. Lambo and Decker still have options in their pockets, so that's one battle where it that won't come into play. The current make-up of all RH hitters on the pine fairly much limits the final cut to these two.

Management may be sorry they touted Jung-Ho Kang as a lock on the active roster. He's had adjustment problems, as a .111 BA and 41% K rate show. We're certainly not saying he's a bust at this stage of the game, but he is quite obviously in a learning cycle. That makes his bench use somewhat problematic, but the Pirates may have painted themselves in a corner. Pedro Florimon and Steve Lombardozzi are the next men up and both are veteran bench players.

Jung-Ho Kang...he's not in Kansas any more (photo: USAToday Sports)
The Pirates are in a pretty good spot now. The rotation has some back-end depth, even if it lacks a true ace. The bullpen may be a bit jerry-rigged to protect depth starters like Locke and Liz, but carrying two long men shouldn't be too much of a burden. The position starters are set and the bench is stocked with guys who have mainly been there, done that and are versatile enough to warm Clint Hurdle's chess-playing heart.


WilliamJPellas said...

I sure hope Kang doesn't get totally lost at the plate. If he does, can the Pirates send him down to Triple A? Honestly, I thought it was a reach to start him off in the majors, anyway. You can see why the brass thought it might work. Kang is 27 and thus has a lot of experience, plus he's played in the World Baseball Classic and done alright against some of the best players in the world. So he was not a bad gamble in that sense. But ya know what they say: "Welcome to The Show, kid". I hope he can be at least somewhat useful for us this season.

Ron Ieraci said...

The Pirates opted for the high road, Will. I thought there was a very real chance he started at Indy to get acclimated, but his age, contract, resume and even a bit of psychology probably played into their decision to etch his name in stone.

WilliamJPellas said...

Is there anything in his contract such that he cannot be sent to Triple A?

Ron Ieraci said...

All I saw was the tweet, Will, that said he had to be on the 40-man roster, and that makes him eligible for Indy if they add him to it. Since he signed a minor league contract, that wouldn't require an option. But I haven't seen the tweet confirmed, so caveat emptor; if the contract says active roster rather than 40-man, then he has to go north. The 40-man sounds right, tho.