Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday: The Camp Outlook With Two Weeks To Go, R&R Day after 5-4 Walkoff Over Tampa Bay

Well, camp should start getting a little more interesting. Cutch and J-Hay will be back and playing by the end of the week and so the innings will become tighter for the guys trying to elbow their way to Pittsburgh.

The starting lineup is again pretty much set, with the wild card being Jung Ho Kang. Freeser will hold the fort with Adam Frazier spelling him and Harrison on occasion. Josh Bell will handle first, though we expect to see lots of time for John Jaso; both he and Bell can spot start in the pasture, too.

Is this Hansen's year? (photo Joe Guzzy/Pirates)

The bench battle will be heated, with Stew, JJ, Freeser & Fraze holding down four spots, with one more available until JHK can straighten out and fly right. Phil Gosselin looks like the fifth man. Alen Hanson has made a push for that extra spot and Jose Osuna has been red hot in camp; his only drawback is that he's pretty much a 1B; his OF skills leave something to be desired. Gift Ngoepe won't break with the club, but flashed some promise that he may yet become a sturdy bench piece.  Edge: Hanson.

Gerrit Cole & Ivan Nova have been strong, Jameson Taillon solid and Chad Kuhl has won the four hole spot in the rotation, but the fifth starter is  a position that no one has stepped up to claim. Hutch and Steven Brault have been fairly consistent, but Tyler Glasnow and Trevor Williams have both been coming on strong after stumbling out of the blocks. Josh Lindblom has been an eye-opener in camp, but there are too many bodies in the scrum for him to break camp as a Bucco. Edge: Hutchison.

The bullpen, eh. Felipe Rivero and Juan Nicasio have been lights out; the others as up-and-down as Kennywood's Jackrabbit coaster. Daniel Hudson has been steady while Tony Watson and Antonio Bastardo are locked in. That leaves Jared Hughes, Wade LeBlanc and AJ Shugel batttling for two open spots. Edge: Hughes and LeBlanc.

Juan has quietly put together a fierce spring (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)

Beside fine-tuning and filling in at the edges, two other factors will play into the final roster decisions - the aforementioned Kang situation, which could end tomorrow or end up a long-drawn affair, and whether the schedule will allow the club to pass on a fifth starter early on. Then the question is whether to carry and extra bat or arm.

So the battles entering camp are pretty much the same that will be waged over the final days of spring. Fifth starter, bullpen depth and final bench spot. Last year's bugaboo of running into outs has still continued. It's a tough habit to break overnight. The new outfield configuration will have to hustle to reach a comfort level thanks to the WBC. But the Pirates have gotten some learning experiences in, too.

The Pirates have emphasized versatility in Bradenton, and the bench will be loaded with guys Clint can match-and-mix (although the D has been, not too surprisingly, erratic). The depth may not be as great without S-Rod and Matt Joyce, but it should be acceptable. The pitchers have been working with a change and renewed emphasis on the two-seamer. Most of all, this year the pipeline is showing up; there are more young guys ready for the show than the Pirates have trotted out in years.

Fraze is a lock to break camp (photo Pittsburgh Pirates)

Yesterday's Game: Gift Ngoepe's two-out walk-off single scored Adam Frazier for a 5-4 win over Tampa. Fraze set it up with a walk, stolen base and snaky slide to beat the throw from right. Ngoepe is batting a surprising .389 this spring. JJ and Jacob Stallings went deep while Jose Osuna added two more hits. Chad Kuhl gave up two third inning bombs but settled in to give the Bucs five innings. AJ Shugel ducked some raindrops and Josh Lindblom brought it home, working 2-2/3 IP and giving up a run while whiffing four.

  • John Jaso made his debut at third and played all nine innings at the hot corner without a single ball or play coming his way.
  • Ivan Nova tossed six innings yesterday in a minor league game at Pirate City. He threw 97 pitches, giving up no runs, five hits and a walk while striking out five.
  • Wilbur Miller of Bucs Dugout has a list of eight minor leaguers (Jake Burnette being the most highly touted) who were released by the Pirates and three more who hung the spikes up after a season. The post is here.
  • Team USA defeated Japan 2-1 last night and will face Puerto Rico for the WBC crown tonight. Great pitching - ex-Bucco Mark Melancon put up a nerve-wracking zero - and just enough hitting, with Cutch banging out a RBI knock, carried the day.
  • Long-time blogger Charlie Wilmoth is leaving Bucs Dugout to work on some personal projects. His writing was always clean and to the point; he'll be missed in Pirates blogsphere. Good luck to him in his future endeavors (and he'll still be a contributor to MLBTR).

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