Utility Battle Heating Up During Final Week

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The battle for the backup utility/bench job looks to be a tough competition during the final week of spring training. Other than the starting nine, the club has five spots for bench roles. Nate McLouth is a lock for the fourth outfielder, Michael McKenry will back up Rod Barajas at the plate, and the club will go with Casey McGehee in part of a platoon at first base with Garrett Jones. That leaves two positions open for the corner infield/bench roles.

Five players remain for the final two spots, but realistically the competition comes down to three: Matt Hague, Josh Harrison and Yamacio Navarro. And all three have had hot springs.

  • Hague, 26, leads the team with four home runs and has hit .417 over 18 games.
  • Harrison, 24, leads the team with seven doubles and has hit .500 over 16 games.
  • Navarro, 24, had a 4-for-4 day yesterday and has hit .366 over 19 games.

On Sunday, Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said he would be comfortable bringing either Josh Harrison and Yamaico Navarro north. Both of whom can play second, short and third.

“They’ve both played well defensively,” Huntington said. “They’ve worked hard. I’m not sure I’ve seen two infielders we’ve given more back field time than Yamaico and Josh have gotten with [Third base coach and infield coach] Nick [Leyva] this spring. He’s done a great job with those guys. It’s about being able to bounce around the diamond.”

Hague, who has played primarily at first base since 2009, has been working hard on his versatility. He played third base during winter ball this offseason as well as during Grapefruit League action this spring.

“Matt Hague can bounce back and forth between first and third,” Huntington said. “We’re giving some options for Clint [Hurdle] for some guys on the bench. Some guys are going to swing the bat, some guys that can run a little bit, some guys that can play a bunch of different positions defensively. That’s always beneficial for a Manager to have some versatility and bat off the bench.”

Huntington did mention, however, that Hague is at this point in time the club’s fourth option at the hot corner.

“In multiple inning, double switch situations that arose and Matt needed to go to third, he’d handle it. He handle it okay,” Huntington said on Hague playing third. “He’s probably third or fourth option at this point in time behind Pedro, behind Harrison, behind Navarro [defensively].”

As far as extra outfielder, if needed, Garrett Jones could be used in right, a position he played last season with Pittsburgh. Navarro also has seen Grapefruit League action in right field this spring. Both Hague and Harrison have been getting pregame work in the outfield as well.

“We’re going to have some decisions to make down the stretch,” Huntington said. “We’ve got some good options off the bench.”

During the final stretch of spring training, the competition will continue to heat up. Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said he could see a lot of different things with his options, but they will continue to evaluate.

“I’m just not going to sell out anything now with the discussions we’re having,” Hurdle said. “We’re glad we got Navarro. We’re glad we got Harrison. It’s hard not to be happy with the way Hague’s playing as well. We’re going to let them keep playing and we’ll keep evaluating.”

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  • Bob

    It has to be Hague and Harrison.  If they send Hague down he should look elsewhere for a job b/c if he doesn’t get the job with his body of work then he never will get a shot here.  I feel like he has shown a better ability to hit in all levels in comparison with what Navarro has done. 
    Hague – 4 Seasons in Minors, .302 BA, 41 HR’s, .813 OPS

    Navarro – 6 Seasons in Minors, .279 BA, 43 HR’s, .778 OPS

    Easy to see that Hague is the best choice. 

    • PiratesFan

      It’s not easy to see.  Navarro has more minor and major league experience and is more versatile than Hague.

    • white angus

      look elsewhere for a job?  is home depot hiring?

  • Bob

    I was at ST game in Bradenton on Saturday and before Hague batted in bottom 9 in yelled FREE HAGUE and he smiled and looked up to see who it was.  

  • ecbucs

    If he doesn’t make the team I wonder if any other team would make a play for him.

    the Bucs got Navarro because KC needed a roster spot.  I don’t think the Bucs are in the situation where Hague would lose his spot to put somebody like Cruz on team but we’ll see how it works out.

    • white angus

      Hague has like 3 options remaining, right?  hes not going anywhere except Indy.

    • Kristy Robinson

      The organization likes Hague. They won’t take him off the 40-man. 

  • leadoff

    Everyone coming up from AAA is a role player, thus none of them can play if the major league starter does not get hurt or needs a day off, none of the starters can be beaten out, I think we are looking at the 27 Yankees.

  • leadoff

    In Pittsburgh Hague should hit 15 homeruns and somewhere between .280 and .300 and play defense as good as what the Pirates have now at 1B, how that is not as good as players that might hit 15 home runs and maybe as high as .250 amazes me. Hague is not hitting at huge Victory Field, he should get a few more long balls in Pitt. 

  • Arriba21

    Could Hague play SS or 2B? No.  Then there is no battle for the utility player the team needs.  Harrison and Navarro will be with the team when the sason starts.

    • white angus


    • Kristy Robinson

      I’m glad you can read minds and know exactly what the team will do. Most teams backup utility guys include players that can play the corner infield and middle infield. All three are still in play. 

      • Arriba21

        You dont have to be a mind reader to know that a team cant go every night with just one backup player for two key defensive positions.  Specially in the National League were the manager have to use the backup players as pinch hitters or pinch runners more often. 

        • burgh_fan

          McGehee can play 2nd if needed. So that only leaves shortstop as having two options and if a team can only go with 2 catchers, 2 shortstops shouldn’t be a problem.

    • Bob

       That makes no sense!  Navarro and Harrison are both terrible at SS, Harrison probably being better.  Why have 2 guys that play all of the same positions? 

  • John Lease

    I don’t think the Pirates need both Harrison and Navarro, unless Whiffy McAlvarez goes to AAA.  In that event they can keep all three.

  • scrappy2499

    I like Hague and would like to see him get the shot, however I think that the team will go with Navarro and Harrison because they both can play 2nd, SS, and 3rd.  They provide more speed and range than Hague right now.  I think Jones would have to struggle at 1st for his chance to come up this year.  They would probably want to let him have regular playing time in AAA.

  • Nate

    I would rather see Hague go back to Indy and play everyday than ride the pine in the bigs.  Jones or McGehee will get hurt/suck at some point and Matt will get his shot. 

  • James S

    With McGehee, they only need one utility guy to back-up short. Hague is the best hitter of the three, but Harrison & Navarro hit well enough and can play short. I would go with Hague and Harrison, and make Navarro go to triple A (if he has options) but make him the first callup when the injuries come. On the other hand Harrison’s base running is for sht, so I could see sending him down instead of Navarro to learn that better.
    I would keep Hague for his hitting either way.

  • James S

    But If this were me making the decision, I wouldn’t have to make it because I would have Alvarez in triple-a, so all three would make the team.

  • bucsws2014

    Did I miss something? “Starting nine”? There are only 8 position players in a game.
    If the FO is going to go with a 4-man rotation until Burnett/Morton are ready as they say, that could mean as few as 10 pitchers, but more likely 11 to start. 8+11=19. So there are six bench spots open, not five, correct?

    McGehee, McLouth, McKenry are locks. Tossup between Navarro and Harrison, although Navarro can go yard more often and is a better SS. You don’t need both as McGehee can also back up 2b.

    So vs. a LH starter, you could go McGehee and Hague at the corners (assuming McGehee remembers how to hit LHers).

    Leaving one spot remaining. I say Jake Fox because having McKenry as the only backup to Barajas is a scary proposition. Too bad Morales got hurt.

    • Kristy Robinson

      Starting nine. 8 position players plus starting pitcher. It’s nine men in a lineup. 
      If they go with four man rotation, they will have an extra arm in the pen, not an extra position player. My guess Brad Lincoln. 

      • bucsws2014

        So you’re saying 8 relievers if they go with 4-man rotation. That seems like unnecessary overkill, especially since that last BP arm will be far less valuable than an extra bat.

        • Kristy Robinson

          Good point. They could go that way too. I can see the benefits of both. Possibly keeping Hague, Harrison and Navarro until Morton is back, then decide who is better fit for bench. Honestly, they aren’t really budging much with which way they will swing. We’ll find out soon.

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