This spring the Pittsburgh Pirates invited 22 non-roster players to their major league camp for spring training. Now just under a month into the camp, 16 of them still remain with the big league squad. In this article I will breakdown the performance of each individual player going into Sunday along with, in my opinion, their chances of making the opening day roster.
First, I will start with the players who did not survive the first cut which occurred on March 5th.
Tony Sanchez - Tony really had no chance of making the team. Early in spring training teams always carry extra catchers so the pitchers can get their throwing in. Once the minor league camp opens then they need the extra catchers down there so the team will usually cut them first. Tony played one spring game hitting a double and striking out in his only two at-bats. He will be assigned to Altoona and continue his road to the majors which should happen sometime during 2012.
Eric Fryer – Eric falls into the same catcher category as Sanchez. He will either open the season in Altoona as a backup catcher getting occasional playing time at other positions such as corner outfielder or DH, or he will return to Bradenton where he would have the chance for more playing time behind the plate. His only spring playing time before being cut was the end of a split squad game on Feb 28 in which he had one hitless AB.
Donald Veal – Veal was recovering from Tommy John surgery and had zero chance of making the team as he wasn’t even throwing off the mound yet when spring started. He will return to Indianapolis mid-season if all goes well although he will likely make some rehab appearances in the lower levels first.
Cesar Valdez - The Pirates acquired Valdez as the player to be named later in the Zach Duke trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was a surprise early cut as he he pitched briefly in the majors each of the last two seasons. According to a Clint Hurdle quote following his demotion it sounds like his velocity wasn’t up to his usual standards which is 90-92 MPH on his sinker. He pitched 2.1 scoreless IP over two games with two strikeouts in spring.
The next group I will cover are the top prospects who came into camp with little chance to make the team but so far have got extended looks. Rudy Owens and Justin Wilson were part of the second round of cuts on Saturday March 12th while Chase d’Arnaud and Andrew Lambo remained. Minor league spring training games begin play on Tuesday March 15th so these guys will likely be assigned to minor league camp soon as well.
Rudy Owens – Owens did not fare well in his spring appearances. His pinpoint control wasn’t there in any of his three appearances, the first of which was the game vs the Manatees in which he allowed the only walk of the game by Pirates pitchers. In the two major league spring games he went 4 IP with eight baserunners allowed and no strikeouts. He should start the year in the Indianapolis rotation and assuming his spring control problems pass he will likely get his first taste of the majors sometime this season.
Justin Wilson - Justin was impressive his last spring game although he still has some control issues to work on. He struck out the side on March 6th in his only inning but walked a batter in between strikeouts. He also struck out 2 batters in his one inning during the Manatees game. In the outing in between those two games he walked 3 hitters, gave up another hit and could only get two outs before being pulled. He will either open at Altoona or Indianapolis depending on where the Pirates see his progress and who they want to keep as starters at AAA in case of an injury. Altoona is the likely choice between the two but he will see AAA at some point this season regardless.
Chase d’Arnaud – The team has got a long look at Chase so far but he has not produced. He really had no chance making the team coming into spring but he had a chance to impress them and work his way back from what was considered a down season for him. He has played 12 games already but has gone just 2-18 at the plate with two walks. It hasn’t been announced whether he will start at AAA or back at Altoona yet but he will be at Indianapolis at some point during the season.
Andrew Lambo – Andrew has played 13 games already this spring but overall his playing time has been less than d’Arnaud as he has just 16 plate appearances. He has gone just 3-15 with 2 RBI’s. It’s been hinted that he will go to Indianapolis to start the year but I wouldn’t rule out starting at Altoona with a AAA call up at the first sign of success.
As for the other 14 players I will break them down into positions starting with the two catchers.
Dusty Brown – Dusty has hit well this spring, 6-17 with 4 RBI’s in 10 games, and could possibly be passing Jason Jaramillo, who is playing less, on the depth chart. The roster situation though obviously favors Jaramillo who is already on the 40 man roster. It’s likely that both of them will split the duties at AAA unless the Pirates are able to trade Ryan Doumit before the season starts then one of them will backup Chris Snyder. There is also an outside chance the Pirates could carry 3 catchers which would free up Doumit to be a strong bat off the bench.
Wyatt Toregas – Wyatt has just 7 AB’s in 6 games with two singles and three strikeouts. His name has never came up as a possible player to make the Pirates and he will likely be among players in the next cut. With two off days and no more split squad days on the schedule that could come very soon although both Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder are both out with minor ailments right now so he could still a little longer. He has played at AAA each of the last three years but if Brown and Jaramillo are in Indianapolis there’s a chance Toregas could start at either Altoona or Bradenton, basically wherever he is needed.
Three non-roster players, all with a decent amount of major league experience are competing possibly for one spot, that being the backup corner infielder. Steven Pearce is also vying for this job and as of right now he not only has a 40 man roster spot, but he also can play RF. He has struggled in spring so he may be playing himself back to AAA with his .208 average and nine strikeouts in 24 AB’s.
Garret Atkins – Atkins had a strong advantage on his side coming into spring, he is well known by Clint Hurdle who managed him while with the Rockies and saw him at his best. He is getting a long look at both corner infield positions but thus far has not hit well going 4-22 in 12 games with two walks and seven strikeouts and a home run. Garret’s stats have dropped dramatically each of the last four seasons and it’s possible he may be done as even a bench option. It’s unknown if he would accept a AAA spot to try to work his way back but it’s possible his old manager might be able to convince him to give it a try if he doesn’t make the major league roster out of spring.
Josh Fields – Josh has played a team high 14 games so far but in 20 AB’s he has just four singles to show for all that game action. He has walked five times which is a good sign but he also has seven strikeouts. Fields looked like a future superstar just four years ago but injuries have derailed his career. He played winter league this past offseason and his just .200 in 80 AB’s. In the battle between these three players he has probably fallen to third place for now as Marte has hit well and Atkins has the familiarity factor. If he doesn’t win a spot he would open up at Indianapolis (if he doesn’t have an out clause in his contract) and get regular time between 3B/1B/DH.
Andy Marte – Marte so far has made the most of his chances going 6-16 with four doubles and four walks in 11 games. Once he was one of the top prospects in baseball but now at age 27 he has proven over and over he can’t hit major league pitching despite his success in the minors. One has to wonder if his past failures will work against him. He also played winter ball and did even worse than Fields going 7-50 (.140) before heading home early. It’s likely the winner of this battle will barely start any games with Alvarez/Overbay playing everyday and other 1B options such as Garrett Jones (when Matt Diaz starts) and Ryan Doumit on the bench as well. It’s also likely Marte would have a hard time succeeding in that role, he has gone just 1-24 in his career as a PH with 12 strikeouts. The team would probably like him at AAA getting regular AB’s in case they need him but someone has to win out of these three and Pearce.
Competing for the middle infield spot.
Brian Friday – Friday likely had very little chance to make the majors coming into spring and so far nothing has changed. He missed a few days with a left hand injury and has played just eight games going 2-9 with a walk and four strikeouts. He was left available during the Rule V draft in December and the Pirates took Josh Rodriguez who basically plays the same role as Friday except he’s now on the 40 man roster. He should be in AAA to start the year unless he’s forced out by the sheer number of infielders the Pirates have who could be there on the depth chart ahead of him.
Corey Wimberly – Corey had a great chance to come into camp as a player the team traded for in the offseason and show off his versatility and speed. Instead he has had trouble getting on base, and he had a horrible game at SS which is the position they will need an infielder at the most based on the projected roster setup. He went 2-2 with a walk and sac bunt Saturday so he may have earned himself more time but he looks destined for AAA where he could play almost anywhere on the field. He needs to show his speed is a plus tool and his defense is stronger for him to get to the majors.
Finally the seven pitchers who are making a push for one of the possible 2-3 open spots in the bullpen as of right now. The bullpen right now has Joe Hanrahan, Evan Meek, Chris Resop and Jeff Karstens as guys who will make the team and are healthy now. The loser of the 5th rotation spot will likely take another spot but that may be Scott Olsen and he hasn’t pitched yet so he may not be ready by opening day so those 2-3 spots could be filled by the guys below.
Joe Beimel – Joe has not pitched in a game yet, he was shut down early with soreness in his left forearm. An MRI was done and nothing was found so rest was the prescribed medication. He is throwing now without any issues and could be ready for opening day if that progression continues. He signed a minor league deal but has an out option in his contract if he doesn’t make the team out of spring. He is more than likely, if healthy, the main and possibly only lefty out of the pen for the Pirates to start the year and Clint Hurdle all but guaranteed him making the team early in spring before the forearm injury.
Brian Burres – Burres more than anyone in camp has made the most of his time. He has now thrown nine shutout innings over four appearances. It helps his case that he is a lefty (although lefties hit him well), he can spot start and the Pirates saw him at his best last season. The injury status of Scott Olsen, who hasn’t pitched yet, and James McDonald, who left his last start early, could dictate whether Burres makes the team or not. If not, he would be a strong candidate for the AAA rotation.
Sean Gallagher – The Pirates said they wanted Gallagher to start this season and he has never been mentioned for the fifth starter spot so he has basically been ticketed for Indianapolis from the start. He has pitched well this spring giving up just one ER in seven innings over four appearances. If he is going to be a starter at AAA he will probably return to minor league camp soon so he can get stretched out.
Fernando Nieve – Nieve has looked bad giving up 15 hits in just 5.1 IP and has an ERA of 11.81 over four games. He somehow has struck out six while walking just one batter so far. However, a WHIP of 3.00 has pretty much guaranteed he will be at Indianapolis in some role, either as a starter, long man, or back end of the bullpen. He has four partial seasons in the majors but very little success so he could be on that shuttle between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh sometime during the year.
Justin Thomas – Thomas has one chance to make the majors and that is if Beimel isn’t ready and the team doesn’t want to go with someone like Burres, who isn’t a traditional LOOGY, or if they want both Daniel Moskos and Tony Watson to get work at AAA instead of rushing them to the majors. Thomas has a 0.00 ERA in 4 appearances covering 3.1 IP but he has allowed five unearned runs and nine baserunners. He is likely going to the Indianapolis bullpen but may get a longer look based on Beimel’s lack of playing time.
Jose Veras – Jose had a good chance of making the team as a middle reliever when he signed and has pitched decent in spring so far. He pitched well with the Marlins last year and has a good strikeout rate throughout his career including a 10.1 SO/9 in 48 games in 2010. In five games this spring he has pitched 6 IP with one run allowed. He has 5 K’s and a 1.50 WHIP so right now he is probably leading the race for that 7th bullpen spot. Earlier in Spring Training, it was announced that he was basically a lock to make the team.
Tyler Yates – Yates missed most of 2009 and all of last season with arm injuries. He was in camp early and by the time games kicked in he was ahead of all the other pitchers as far as being ready to pitch. He impressed the team early but hasn’t looked good since and will more than likely head to the Indianapolis pen if they decide to keep him around. They seem to really like him for some unknown reason so there’s a good chance he stays in the organization. In four games he’s allowed eight baserunners and three runs in just 3.1 IP.