2011 Spring Training Battles: Bullpen

Hanrahan could be announced as the closer this week.

Yesterday I reviewed the battle for the fifth starter spot, noting that I saw it as a battle between Charlie Morton and Scott Olsen.  As reader “BLZR” pointed out in the comments, that’s pretty much the approach the Pirates will be taking this Spring, according to pitching coach Ray Searage.  My guess is that the loser of the battle between Morton and Olsen will take one of the open bullpen spots.  But what about the other spots?

I’ve gone over the bullpen in the past, including this article in early January.  A little bit has changed since that article, with Joe Beimel and Jose Veras being added to minor league deals.  However, not much has changed with the projected bullpen from the end of the article.

The locks for the 2011 bullpen would appear to be Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek, Chris Resop, and Jeff Karstens, due to a combination of salaries and performances.  The Pirates will make a decision on the closer battle between Meek and Hanrahan, possibly by the end of the week.  My guess is that Hanrahan will get the job.  That leaves Meek and Resop as the set-up men, and Karstens in a long relief role.  If we assume that one of Olsen or Morton gets a bullpen spot, that leaves two spots open.

One of those spots will almost certainly go to Joe Beimel.  The bullpen has no left handed options, unless Olsen gets sent to the pen.  However, Beimel’s contract insinuates that he will be making the Opening Day roster.  His salary is $1.75 M in the majors, and he has the ability to opt out of his deal if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster.  His signing is similar to D.J. Carrasco last year.  It’s a minor league addition, but there is little chance that he doesn’t make the majors out of Spring Training.

That would leave one open spot in the bullpen, or two if the loser of the Morton/Olsen battle doesn’t get sent to the bullpen.  Looking at the Spring Training tracker, there are a few groups of relievers competing for this final spot:

Out of Options: Jose Ascanio and Kevin Hart are both out of options, meaning they have to start the year on the 25-man roster.  Both players are candidates to start the year on the disabled list, buying the Pirates some additional time, although that only delays the inevitable.  Charlie Morton is also out of options.

Minor Leaguer With No Shot of Making the Team: This group includes Aaron Thompson, Daniel Moskos, Ramon Aguero, and Tony Watson.  The addition of Beimel means the Pirates are unlikely to jump Moskos or Watson to the majors from the AA level just to put a left hander in the bullpen.  I wouldn’t rule those two out from making the jump to the majors at some point in 2011, but I think they both start out the year in AAA.

Bullpen Depth With a Chance of Making the Team: This group includes players who could compete for the middle relief roles, and while most will serve as bullpen depth out of AAA, there’s a chance that one could crack the opening day roster.  On the 40-man roster you’ve got Chris Leroux, Daniel McCutchen, and Michael Crotta.  From the non-roster invitees, there’s Brian Burres, Cesar Valdez, Fernando Nieve, Justin Thomas, Sean Gallagher, Tyler Yates, and Jose Veras.  Veras seems to be the front runner, as the Pirates gave him an invite with a $1 M salary in the majors.

One would think that the preference will go to the out of options players, to give them one final shot before moving on to other possibilities.  However, Hart and Ascanio could both end up on the disabled list, buying a bit of time for another player to make an impact.  I’d label those two as the favorites for the 1-2 spots that will be open (depending on whether the Olsen/Morton loser goes to the bullpen).  If one, or both, fail to make the opening day roster, Jose Veras would be my next pick.  I could also see one of the 40-man guys cracking the roster with a strong performance this Spring.

The projected bullpen still looks the same, with Hart or Ascanio taking up the final spot after Hanrahan, Meek, Resop, Karstens, Beimel, and the loser of the Olsen/Morton battle.  That doesn’t indicate that there will be many bullpen battles this Spring.  Of course this is far from a guarantee.  The Olsen/Morton loser could go to AAA.  Beimel could tank, and fail to win a roster spot.  There could be an injury to one of the players projected to make the team.  The Pirates might feel that Hart or Ascanio aren’t worth holding on to, depending on how they rebound from their injuries.  If any one of those things happen, the battle for the open bullpen spots could end up being a wide open competition, with no standout favorites in the bullpen depth group.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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