Friday, February 9, 2018

Camp Battles, Gimmes & Depth

Yes, baby, music to our ears - pitchers & catchers report to camp Monday! They begin workouts Wednesday with position players due in on Sunday the 18th and hitting the field the next day. Then boom - Grapefruit League games begin Friday the 23rd at Tampa and the Bradenton Opener is the following day against the Yankees.

It's LECOM Park time! (image Roots Sports Inside Pirates Baseball)

The Bucs are committed to youth and are in a transitional period that began in late 2016, although the FO has presented that segue to the fans as tactfully as an elephant rampaging through a china shop. As camp opens, several spots are locked up (the infield is set and there's one outfield spot up for grabs), but there will be some tussling, mostly for the fifth man off the bench and a pitching battle royale, especially from the pen. Here's our look at what the coaches and suits will be looking at by position:

Catcher - Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz are no-brainers here. The big question mark is how many games they'll get out of Cervy, who is historically an injury waiting to happen. Jacob Stallings will begin at Indy and is the next man up; he's handled his limited MLB exposure well enough to deserve that spot although the depth behind him is thinner than Kent Tekulve.

First Base - Josh Bell has room to grow at the position, but he's unchallenged. Both S-Rod and David Freese (58 games at 1B in 2016 with an adequate glove) are competent behind him; newcomer Colin Moran will get some work there, too. Jose Osuna looks like the odd man out; Moran and Freezer make him redundant as a corner player.

Second Base - Josh Harrison owns this spot, too. He may be a bit salty now, but the Mets were his main suitors and filled their wish list with Todd Frazier. If J-Hay gets moved, we expect it to a deadline, not pre-season, deal. S-Rod, Adam Frazier & maybe Max Moroff will be his caddies. The Bucs have pipeline guys flowing with Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer closing in.

The last hurrah for Josh & Jordy? (photo Nam Huh/Associated Press)

Shortstop - Jordy Mercer has no competition, but he is just a middle-of-the-packer. Pittsburgh doesn't have much behind him as camp opens - Moroff and S-Rod are his cavalry - but Cole Tucker and Newman are coming on fast.

Third Base - Colin Moran will start with Freeser getting time. J-Hay and S-Rod can also handle the spot. They have a couple of minor leagues horses in Ke'Bryan Hayes and an intriguing Oneil Cruz who will push Moran eventually, so the FO has filled in pretty well considering the Kang conundrum left them high and dry.

Outfield - Starling in center + El Coffee in right + Cutch in San Francisco = a hole in left. The Bucs are hoping to catch some Matt Joyce mojo from Daniel Nava but we'd be surprised if Adam Frazier doesn't get the lion's share of time, with better speed and no batting split. They may take a another peek at Gregory in left, but the first try didn't have very promising results. J-Hay and S-Rod provide additional depth. Austin Meadows, Jordan Luplow and Bryan Reynolds all need some seasoning and should start on the farm with a possible call-up later in the campaign.

Bench - Diaz, Freeser, S-Rod and Nava look locked in (although a Nava fail could open up a spot) and we'd guess Max Moroff fills the card as a matter of need. S-Rod is the only other guy who can man the middle, though the versatile Chris Bostick could give Mighty Max a run for the money. As noted, Luplow could use a AAA campaign under his belt and Osuna is a corner numbers victim.

The face of the new ace (image Positively Pittsburgh)

Rotation - Four spots are certain with Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl & Trevor Williams, and the fifth will be Joe Musgrove's to lose (and he could; he did much better as a reliever than as a starter last year). Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham are the next tier with Casey Sadler trying to get back on the radar. Mitch Keller, Taylor Hearn and Shane Baz are down the road.

Bullpen - Felipe Rivero, George Kontos, Daniel Hudson and Michael Feliz seem pretty certain to form the core (although Huddy could work his way out of the mix, big contract or not), and that leaves a small horde vying for three spots. Kyle Crick, Josh Smoker, Jack Leathersich, and Rule 5 pick Jordan Milbrathare all have some cred. AJ Schugel is out of options and has been dependable. Nick Burdi, when he's ready, is highly touted (though hopefully the Pirates can delay his arrival until September). Dovydas Neverauskas and Edgar Santana have options and will probably start at Indy. With the fifth spot uncertain, the two losers among the trio of Musgrove, Brault and Glasnow could be shuffled to the pen. The X factors will be how many lefties does Clint want (the core four are all RHP) and do they stow the sixth and seventh starters at Indy, though the threesome grappling for the fifth spot have nothing left to prove at that level, or carry them for the exposure on the big team?
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