We’ve covered the Altoona and Indianapolis infields so far. The lower levels are where things start getting tricky for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates have focused heavily on the draft the past few seasons. Because they are adding new players every year, they run in to a potential problem at the lower levels. If a player struggles, and isn’t ready to make the jump to AA, it creates a position jam, either blocking a player at the lower levels, or putting two players on the same roster, trying to get playing time in one spot. In those situations, the Pirates have three options. They could move the struggling player to a bench/organizational role, they could hold the new player back, or they could try to find a new position for one of the players, which is difficult for some positions.
Here is a look at each position, with an attempt to try and figure out the opening day roster at the end.
This position could depend on what happens in the upper levels. The Pirates will most likely have Jason Jaramillo as the starting catcher in Indianapolis, with Dusty Brown as the backup. In Altoona they will have Tony Sanchez starting, with either Kris Watts, Wyatt Toregas, or Eric Fryer as the backup. I project that Watts will be the backup, with Fryer serving as the designated hitter to get playing time. That leaves Toregas without a spot, which could put him in Bradenton.
If Jaramillo starts off the season as the third catcher in the majors, that would move Toregas and Watts up, leaving Bradenton with no catching options. One option for a starter could be Ramon Cabrera, who played in West Virginia in 2010. Jairo Marquez is a possibility for a backup if Toregas or Watts aren’t on the roster. The initial roster makeup will depend on what happens with Jaramillo.
The player to watch here is Cabrera. He hit for a .269/.312/.342 line in West Virginia last year, after an aggressive promotion to the level at the age of 20. His biggest drawback is his small size, at 5′ 7″, 202 pounds. In 2009 he hit for a .291/. 372/.417 line in 127 at-bats in the GCL.
The big holdup here is Calvin Anderson. Anderson only hit for a .259/.328/.392 line in 464 at-bats in high-A last year, with a horrible 30.4% strikeout rate. His first half wasn’t bad, with a .278/.352/.415 line, but he fell apart in the second half, with a .243/.309/.375 line. Anderson isn’t ready to jump to AA, and because the Pirates have drafted a lot of first basemen out of college, this creates a jam in Bradenton.
Aaron Baker should move up from West Virginia. Baker hit for a .253/.340/.453 line in 459 at-bats, along with 18 homers. He’s got power, but also struggles with the strikeouts, with a 25.1% strikeout rate in 2010. He doesn’t project to hit for a high average in the upper levels, as he’s more of a guy who will crush a mistake, but have trouble against difficult pitchers. For that reason, the Pirates could opt to jump him over high-A, and move him right to AA. They could also have him and Anderson rotating between 1B and DH duties.
Matt Curry is the most recent college addition. Curry could move to high-A, but it would be difficult with both Baker and Anderson to contend with. Curry looks like the best of the three, although he has the benefit of only playing in short season ball, which means he’s got the shiny new toy syndrome going for him. That doesn’t mean he won’t succeed, just that he hasn’t really been given the chance to struggle, like Baker and Anderson have. The Pirates could definitely make room for Curry to start at first in Bradenton, since he could have a bigger upside than Baker and Anderson.
Curry could get the bump due to two other first basemen: Justin Howard, another college first baseman, and Jared Lakind, a prep first baseman, who could both be candidates to play in West Virginia this year.
This is one position that has a lot of certainty. Jarek Cunningham will be moving up from West Virginia this year, and should take this spot. Cunningham is originally a shortstop, although the Pirates used him at second all last season. That was initially due to his recovery from a knee injury, although Wilbur Miller saw him and noted that he lacked range throughout the year, even at second.
Elevys Gonzalez and Benji Gonzalez could both factor in to the playing time situation here, and a lot of it has to do with third base, so let’s get right to that.
Jeremy Farrell missed a lot of time in 2010, and while that’s not stopping Brock Holt or Tony Sanchez from moving up to Altoona at the start of the year, it could hold Farrell back. That’s mostly because Farrell struggled prior to the 2010 season, while Sanchez and Holt had prior success. If Farrell starts the season back in Bradenton, I could see Elevys Gonzalez starting at shortstop, with Benji Gonzalez staying in West Virginia.
The Pirates do have a shortstop jam at the lower level, with Drew Maggi expected to be the starter in West Virginia. That doesn’t leave room for Benji Gonzalez, which could make it likely that the Pirates will push Farrell up to Bradenton, and use Elevys as the third baseman, with Benji starting at shortstop.
Elevys projects more as a utility player, although he did hold his own defensively at short in 2010. Benji is by far the better shortstop, with his defense being one of the best in the system. He profiles as a Pedro Ciriaco type, since his game is all defense. That makes him a prospect to pay attention to, with the hopes that he can get some type of offensive output to add value to that defensive game.
The Pirates have several organizational guys who they need to make a decision on. Those players include Greg Picart, Adenson Chourio, Shelby Ford, Adam Davis, Jesus Brito, and Andy Vasquez. Ford could start the season in Altoona, and Picart should return to Bradenton. The others could be released in favor of new organizational guys.
Opening Day Projection
The estimated opening day starters, with bench players in parenthesis.
C - Ramon Cabrera (Wyatt Toregas)
1B - Matt Curry (Calvin Anderson)
2B - Jarek Cunningham (Greg Picart)
SS - Benji Gonzalez
3B - Elevys Gonzalez
DH - Aaron Baker
Strong chance at a late season arrival: Drew Maggi
Could reach AA in 2011: Aaron Baker, Calvin Anderson. Overall I see this team as a group that will stay in Bradenton all season, unless we see an unexpected breakout year from someone.