Battle of the Bench and Today’s Pitchers

Today’s spring training game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies allowed us to see all of the players battling for bench spots on the Pirates’ roster as well as some interesting pitchers.  As has been reported many times, there are really only 3 bench spots available since RF is a platoon and there will be at least 2 catchers on the team (Snyder & Doumit if both are healthy and still in the Pirate organization come Opening Day).

Here’s what I’ve learned based on this game, a few other games I’ve seen, and some practices I’ve attended:

Middle Infield

Rodriguez is no lock to make the Opening Day roster, despite being a Rule 5 pick.

The backup middle infield spot is a battle between Rule 5 Josh Rodriguez and last year’s acquisition Pedro Ciriaco.  Prior to spring training, I figured JRod would make the team and Pedro would start at AAA, due to (1) the Pirates had the #1 pick in the Rule 5 draft so surely they would pick someone who could stick and (2) Pedro can be sent to the minors to work on his hitting and play on an every day basis.

So far this spring, I’ve reversed my thinking.  JRod has looked lazy and doesn’t seem to care at all if he plays in the major leagues or not.  This absolutely baffles me.  His laziness is shown in his fielding (whether he just tosses a ball in a big arc over to 1B between innings, or stands flat-footed as a pitch is ready to be delivered in a game) and in his lack of effort in running to 1B when batting.  He has had some hits, but today was an example of the box score not accurately portraying his day at the plate.  In his first at bat, he chopped a ball into the ground that bounced over the third baseman’s head for a single.  In his second at bat, he hit a hard two-hopper a couple steps to Jimmy Rollins’ left; Rollins took one and a half steps and stuck his glove out; the ball hit his glove, bounced out and was ruled a single.  In his last at bat, on a hit and run, he hit a fly ball (a DEEP fly ball, but he needed to put the ball on the ground through the hole).

Pedro has looked good but not great in the field and has held his own at the plate — that is, he doesn’t look lost up there, but also is not going to make the team because of his bat.  He seems to be going all out.  And he has shown the willingness to try other positions, even the outfield.  With D’Arnaud apparently headed to AAA, it seems like Pedro is headed for the majors and JRod back to the Indians.

Corner Infield

I really didn’t know what to expect out of newcomers Garret Atkins, Josh Fields and Andy Marte, but I knew Steve Pearce would come to play.  Well, Atkins and Fields look completely lost on the field and at the plate and couldn’t care less.  Today, Atkins missed an easy pickoff throw at 1B, while Fields missed about 3 or 4 throws in practice between innings the other day (something that won’t show up in a box score).  Neither seem to even move when a ball is hit.  And their hitting has been atrocious.

Marte has looked good at the plate when I’ve seen him, stroking a couple line drives last Saturday as well as having a solid single today.  I haven’t seen power from him, but he’s making good contact.  His glove looks suspect to me (for example, Howard’s first inning “double” today was a ground ball that Marte didn’t move for, stuck his glove out and the ball bounced down the RF line), but this position needs to be won with the bat.  Another positive is that he’s run out everything he’s hit, even if it was a routine popup.

Pearce gives it everything he has all the time.  And his history of hitting lefties speaks for itself.  If I were awarding this spot on what I’ve seen this spring, I would give the nod to Pearce.  However, my guess is that Marte will be on the Pirates bench while Pearce goes to Indy to play every day, probably moving around among 1B, 3B, RF and DH.

The Last Spot

The last spot on the bench comes down to Wimberly, Bowker, one of the losers of the above battles and 3rd catcher.  I am in the camp of having only two catchers, so I would rule out the last choice.  I don’t really see any of the losers of the above battles being deserving of a bench role other than potentially Pearce, but I’d rather see him play every day in AAA than be the 25th guy.  Bowker has looked very good with the bat but is limited in the positions he can play.

Wimberly is an interesting option but hasn’t shown me much.  He failed on a couple bunt attempts.  Even though he got on base three times on Saturday, he didn’t steal.  And today, Hurdle had a chance to have him squeeze a run home but let him hit away.  He doesn’t look good in the infield, but didn’t look bad in CF today.

If it were up to me, I’d go with Bowker to provide power off the bench, but Hurdle has said that he would really like having a speed guy on the bench. So, in addition to the RF and C who aren’t starting, my bench would be Ciriaco, Pearce and Bowker; but I think the Pirates will go with Ciriaco, Marte and Wimberly (or a third catcher).

Today’s Pitchers

Brad Lincoln: I don’t think he threw a pitch today that Doumit didn’t move his glove at least 6 inches for.  He was all over the place with all of his pitches.  He threw first pitch balls to 7 out of 10 batters, walked 2 guys on 4 pitches (to lead off the 1st and 3rd innings) and went to a 3 ball count on each of the batters in the 1st inning.

The biggest thing that bothers me about Lincoln’s pitching is that he takes “forever” between pitches.  It seems like it takes him 10 seconds to just see the sign; then he settles in for a while, then finally delivers the pitch.  There was a huge contrast between Lincoln and Oswalt (who just catches the ball, sees the sign,  and throws his pitch).  And with all that, his pitching line was pretty good today — hopefully some fine-tuning in AAA will make him a viable rotation option later this year.

On the plus side, Lincoln’s hustle on a ground ball to beat out a double play led to the Pirates’ 2 runs.  In that at bat, Lincoln came up with runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs, and bunted two pitches foul (I was REALLY disappointed they didn’t try the chop play, where Lincoln turns to bunts, then pulls the bat back and tries to hit a grounder up the vacated middle of the infield).  He then fouled off a couple pitches and hit a sharp grounder, but ran hard to first.

The hit that knocked him out of the game was a great effort by Lincoln as well.  Rollins hit a line drive hard back to the box, where it hit Lincoln on the arm.  The ball rolled towards the first base line.  Lincoln ran after it, picked it up and tagged Rollins out.  Lincoln looked fine after that but came out of the game.

Chris Resop: Resop didn’t look overly sharp either and wasn’t throwing hard.  It seemed like he was working on his offspeed.  He was effective, but far from dominant.

Jose Veras: First time I ever saw him pitch and was very impressed.  His first inning was an 8-pitch, 7 strike effort, mixing fastballs and offspeed effectively.  His second inning wasn’t as sharp, partially due to an extreme squeezing of the strike zone on a 2-2 and 3-2 pitch which led to his walk.  I know his issue is control, but he seemed very much in control today.

Michael Crotta: I really like what I’ve seen from Crotta.  Great control, good velocity and a ball that sinks.  I wouldn’t mind if he made the major league bullpen but I think he’s headed for AAA.  I’ve seen comments that he might start there, but I think that would be a mistake.  I really believe he will be in the Pirates’ bullpen at some time during this year and be very effective.

Chris LeRoux: I’ve seen him twice this spring and he’s looked good both times.  He got the “L” today but didn’t let a ball out of the infield.  A bunt single started the 9th.  The next batter bunted the ball straight into the ground and it bounced high towards the first base line.  LeRoux had plenty of time to throw the batter out at 1B, but for some reason tried to let it roll foul.  Two groundouts later left runners at 2nd & 3rd.  The last batter of the game hit a sharp grounder that should have been fielded, but went off the second baseman’s glove (not sure who was in at that point) to score the runners and lose the game.

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