Major League Roster Predictions With One Week Remaining in Camp

The Pirates made three cuts this morning, trimming the active roster down to 37 players. The Spring Training tracker has been updated with the moves, and the position battles at the bottom of the tracker have been updated. However, I wanted to take a closer look at each battle with a week remaining in camp. Below I break down each position battle, with all of the contenders included — even guys I have listed in red on the tracker.

Jonathan Sanchez looks like a favorite to win a rotation spot.

Jonathan Sanchez looks like a favorite to win a rotation spot.

Starting Rotation (2)

Contenders: Jeanmar Gomez, Jeff Karstens, Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Jonathan Sanchez

Francisco Liriano has yet to start throwing, which means the Pirates will be filling two rotation spots for the start of the season. Jeff Karstens is currently building up his innings, and the belief is that he has enough time to be ready to start the season on the active roster. The thought coming into camp was that Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson would be battling it out for the fifth starter job, with only one making the team. So far the numbers have been better from Locke. In his last outing he gave up two unearned runs on no hits and one walk in four innings against the Yankees. Meanwhile, McPherson has been hit around recently, including giving up eight earned runs in 4.2 innings on Wednesday. Locke also has an advantage in that he has more time in Triple-A, and doesn’t have anything left to prove at the level. McPherson only has three starts in Triple-A.

Jonathan Sanchez is currently a dark horse candidate to make the rotation. The team has until March 26th to make a decision on him. He threw a gem last night, tossing five shutout innings against Baltimore, while allowing two hits, one walk, and striking out four. Sanchez had horrible control early in camp, but has only walked two in ten innings over his last three games. He’s also gone eight shutout innings in his last two outings.

A week from today players will break camp. The reality is that Jeff Karstens is currently at two innings, while everyone else is at five. Karstens could be stretched out to three and four innings before camp breaks, but there’s no way he could throw five innings before Opening Day. The Pirates don’t need a starter for the first week of the season, so Karstens would have a bit more time. However, with Sanchez pitching so well, and the Pirates needing to make a decision on him, there’s no urgency to rush Karstens to the rotation. At this point he’d be healthy enough to be a long-man out of the bullpen.

Jeanmar Gomez is technically still in contention, and he’s starting today against the Rays, but I don’t see him winning a spot on the team.

The Way It Looks Now: Jonathan Sanchez, Jeff Locke

Bullpen (3)

Contenders: Jeanmar Gomez, Jeff Karstens, Chris Leroux, Vin Mazzaro, Ryan Reid, Jonathan Sanchez, Justin Wilson, Mike Zagurski

I don’t give Gomez, Mazzaro, Reid, or Zagurski much of a chance of making the team. Gomez is the only one on the 40-man roster, and is out of options. He could serve as the long-man out of the bullpen, but I think one of Jonathan Sanchez or Jeff Karstens will have that role (and my prediction above is Karstens going to the pen). That would leave two more spots.

Justin Wilson is currently making a strong case to be the second left-hander in the bullpen. Wilson has given up one earned run and nine hits in 12 innings this Spring, with a 14:7 K/BB ratio. The walks are a red flag, but that’s the story with Wilson. He has control problems, no matter if he’s in the rotation or bullpen, but he doesn’t allow a lot of hits and strikes out a lot of batters to negate the control issues. With Wilson, it’s more about what he’s done at Triple-A than his Spring Training numbers. I’m not sure there’s any chance he can improve those control problems. It’s time to see if he can pitch in the majors, even with those issues. At this point I could see him making the team.

That leaves one spot, and I think that final spot could go to Chris Leroux. He’s got good numbers so far, but again, this is more than the Spring Training numbers. I talked to Leroux earlier in camp, and he mentioned that he’ll be throwing his fastball more often this year. Last year he leaned on his slider more and lost velocity on his fastball as a result of a strained pectoral muscle. The velocity is back now, and Leroux is healthy. He’s always had good ratios in the majors, and has good overall numbers in limited experience with the Pirates, but hasn’t had a real shot at being a member of the bullpen. I think that comes this year.

One player to watch is Tony Watson. He stopped pitching for a few weeks after the end of February. Since then he’s pitched in two outings — one at Pirate City and one on Wednesday against the Braves. Both times he was hit hard. From a workload standpoint, he could be ready. However, Watson was working on mechanical issues, and in his first two outings he was hit hard, which isn’t encouraging for those changes. One option for the Pirates could be to start Watson on the 15-day disabled list (he did have some soreness that they were just being cautious with), give him more time to work on those mechanics, and allow the team to keep Jeanmar Gomez for a while longer.

The Way It Looks Now: Jeff Karstens, Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux

Right Field

Contenders: Alex Presley, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata

I don’t give Presley much of a shot of making the team right now, mostly because he has options and the other two players here don’t. Jose Tabata’s hitting has been much better than Travis Snider’s hitting this Spring. That’s not from a statistical standpoint, but how they’ve each looked. I’ve seen Snider taking a lot of at-bats at Pirate City, and he hasn’t stood out. There hasn’t been a lot of power, and some days he’s playing against A-ball players. Based on that, I would say that Tabata deserves the starting job right now. However, I could see the Pirates going with a split in playing time until one player gets established during the season. I don’t think it will be a platoon, since I think Tabata will get more playing time than he would in a platoon.

The Way It Looks Now: Jose Tabata/Travis Snider

Bench (2)

Contenders: Josh Harrison, Brad Hawpe, Brandon Inge, Lucas May, Jordy Mercer, Carlos Paulino, Felix Pie, Alex Presley, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata

John McDonald’s addition to the team filled one of the infield bench spots. The Tabata/Snider situation will fill another spot. Michael McKenry and Gaby Sanchez already have spots locked down. That really only leaves one spot remaining.

First I’d eliminate May and Paulino, since they’re both catchers and only in camp because the team would still need catchers in camp. Looking at the makeup of the bench, the Pirates have a first baseman who can play third, but not very well in Sanchez. Garrett Jones could fill in at outfield in a pinch when he’s not playing first. They have an outfielder in Tabata or Snider, and a strong defensive middle infielder with no bat in McDonald.

Clint Hurdle doesn’t really use that middle infield position much, so there would be a need for another utility type infielder. There’s not as big of a need for an outfielder, but adding a guy who could also fill in as an emergency outfielder makes sense.

I think Presley will go to Triple-A and play everyday. I don’t see Brad Hawpe making the team, and I’m surprised he’s still in camp at this point. Pie is the same situation. I see him going to Triple-A and starting in center field. I also think Jordy Mercer will be pushed to Triple-A due to the addition of McDonald.

That leaves Josh Harrison and Brandon Inge. I could see Inge making the team, just because he’s got more power than Harrison, and he seems like Hurdle’s kind of player with veteran presence.

The Way It Looks Now: Jose Tabata/Travis Snider, Brandon Inge

Roster Moves

If the above predictions come true, the Pirates would need to clear two roster spots on the 40-man for Jonathan Sanchez and Brandon Inge. One of those spots will eventually be cleared when Charlie Morton gets placed on the 60-day disabled list. Another spot could be cleared if Jeanmar Gomez gets designated for assignment.

The Projected 25-Man Roster has been updated with the above predictions taken into consideration.

Tim Williams

Author: 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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  • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

    No lefties on the bench in order to keep Inge, bah, keep Presley.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      They don’t really need left-handers. They’ve got Jones and Snider. Those two would be in the lineup vs RHP, and would be on the bench vs LHP. On those days, they’d be your first pinch hit options when a right-handed reliever came in and you wanted a lefty.

      • leadoff

        Unfortunately when Hurdle makes his famous double switch’s in the 4th or 5th inning, there goes your bench, so I guess it does not matter much whether you have a left hander’s or right hander’s on the bench at the start of the game.

      • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

        So, you pinch hit who against a RHP when there is a RHP starter that day?

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          You’ve got Jones, Alvarez, Walker, and Snider in the lineup. You’re not hitting for McCutchen, Martin, or Marte. So is there really a need to have a left-hander on the bench for those rare pinch hitting situations where you’ve got Clint Barmes up against a right-handed reliever late in the game, and you need a hit?

          Also, what if they counter by bringing in a lefty? Now you’ve removed Barmes, and you’ve got a poor lefty/lefty matchup.

          I don’t think there’s any need for a lefty bat on the bench, considering the makeup of this team.

          • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

            or the pitcher, that’s two opportunities following decent obp guys like Martin and Snider.

  • http://twitter.com/frsthypocrit frsthypocrit

    “Jose Tabata’s hitting has been much better than Travis Snider’s hitting this Spring”?

    Snider – .314 .372 .457 .829

    Tabata – .256 .302 .436 .738

    Both guys have exactly 43 plate appearances. I don’t see any way one could make the case that Tabata’s outhit Snider this spring.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Snider has been over to Pirate City a lot the last few weeks, and I haven’t really been impressed with his hitting. And that’s coming against minor leaguers, sometimes against A-ball players.

      • http://twitter.com/frsthypocrit frsthypocrit

        hm. sounded like he swung the bat relatively well yesterday against the Orioles squad.

      • Y2JGQ2

        Tabata is still a bonehead- In Orlando Vs. Atlanta he wasn’t paying attention and got thrown out by a mile on the back end of a double steal cause he wasn’t running hard when Marte had third strolling in neutral. Tabata was then taken out with 2 outs for the double switch in the 4th inning. In the games I saw, Tabata wasn’t impressing anyone, but nor was Snider. I think we both know that Presley has earned the spot, but just isn’t going to get it because of the business of options. I’d honestly be okay with designating Tabata for assignment and if someone wants the contract long-term, let them have fun.

  • leadoff

    Numbers don’t mean much in ST, Tabata got a good jump on everyone else early on, but if you look at all of them right now, Tabata is not ahead of anyone.

    At this point in time Presley is playing the best between Tabata, Snider and Presley. I believe options will be the decider in who stays and I think Presley goes down, not my choice, but I am not running the team.
    I think that Sanchez is locking down the 5th spot, I think Locke goes to the Pen, Watson goes on the DL and McPherson goes down, even though I think he is the best pitcher with the highest upside between him and Locke. After watching McPherson pitch against Atlanta, it became very clear that McPherson is just not ready yet, fastball around 91, he throws much harder than that and probably will in a couple of weeks, curve was nasty, could have used it more if he was worried about the score, but he continued to work on his fast ball thought the outing, at this time he should be sent back down.
    The toughest decision to me is between Harrison and Inge, keep Harrison Inge moves on, keep Inge and Harrison takes a real ego shot. It would be tough for me to send a hustling young ball player down for an older player that might done.

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

      If Sanchez is the 5 and Locke goes to the pen, whom is the 4th starter? Karstens isnt ready for the load just yet.
      .
      also, about mcfear’s fastball: he is a slow starter and as long as he gets his reps, in AAA, he should be back up around 94ish soon.
      also remember that radar guns sometimes arent accurate. for example, his 91 would read 99 in altoona.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

        Altoona is usually slow. West Virginia is the stadium that is usually fast, although last year they didn’t have a radar gun.

  • leadoff

    With the Pirates situation the way it is, I wonder if a trade or two might be in the wind?
    There are also some players that are playing pretty well that other teams will have to make decisions on by March 26, one of them is Garland from the Mariners.

  • La Pirate

    I understand the option situation. But I agree Presley should head north. He has some pop, has been playing well and can play all outfield positions. He did hit 10 homeruns last year. I think he is better than both Snyder and Tabata. I also think Cole is better than the 4th or 5th starters we are talking about. I surely hope Inge doesnt make the team, Harrison is versatile, plays the game right and should be even better this year. We should take the best 25 up north to win.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

    And then there’s the trickle-down effect of going north with Sanchez and Inge – logjams in the AAA infield (Mercer, Harrison, IDJ, D’Arnaud when he comes back) and in the ML rotation (with Liriano and Morton returning in May/June). Heck, even the AAA rotation looks full (Cole, Oliver, McPherson, Mazzaro, Gomez, eventually Taillon).

    • bohringer9

      Gomez likely wouldn’t still be in the organization if he’s not in the majors. Irwin would be there, although it’s not clear how going north with Sanchez affects this. AAA will be crowded whether we send Harrison down or not. Luckily Mercer, De Jesus, D’Arnaud and him all play multiple positions, so they should be able to work it out. There will be a lot of guys who need at bats though, so it’ll be interesting to see how that works out.

      • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

        i doubt Gomez gets claimed by anyone.

  • bohringer9

    This seems like the most logical roster construction. I didn’t realize that Sanchez had been pitching as well as has, and I would hate to lose him especially if it is only so Karstens can start. Some of Karsten’s value is in being able to move from the rotation to the bullpen, so we should take advantage of it to get a real look at Sanchez. I could also see him going to the pen if Watson is not ready to go. I would not want to dfa Snider or Tabata either, so I agree with sending down Presley. Tim, I think you’re right on with split playing time in right.
    I also don’t see how Harrison would add more value to the roster than Inge, and I would be annoyed if he made the team. I like him personally but he does pretty much every thing on diamond poorly.

  • Y2JGQ2

    Tim, I’d have to say I agree with everything you said. I wouldn’t disagree with a single one of those predictions even though they aren’t necessarily the best moves. I would have preferred releasing Inge and sending down Harrison, keeping Mercer and DeJesus. Keeping presley, designating Tabata- although I don’t think Karstens will open in the bullpen. I think they will DL him, get him stretched out by pitching two games at 5 innings and insert him into the rotation as soon as he’s eligible, which would allow us a tad more flexibility.

  • Y2JGQ2

    I still don’t know why Bryan Morris didn’t make the team…..I’m befuddled by that quite honestly. If Kastens and Watson start on the DL, which is what I expect, you might just see us recall Morris before the season even begins.

  • Y2JGQ2

    actually Tim, after thinking about it- I don’t think Inge makes the team with McDonald coming in. I think he takes that spot. Because of that I think Mercer or Harrison makes the team. The answer depending on whether or not FO kMercer can be the starter next year. Harrison has more speed, and grit, but actual skill level isn’t great. I would lean towards Mercer making the team, and Harrison being sent down personally, but since Harrison can play multiple positions, You may see Harrison make the team until D’Arnoud is healthy, and then Harrison getting sent down and Mercer called up if he is playing well in Indy. Eventually I think D’arnoud was the planned utility man because of his superior base running and base stealing skills, but that plan was blown up with the injury

  • ianmonk

    I said earlier Sanchez would make this team. McPherson showing he’s not ready is what surprised me. I really see him being a quality 3 or 4 eventually. Tabata got paid and thought he had it figured out. He looks better this year, I hope he makes Snyder’s soon to be struggles irrelevant. I like Harrison over Inge but hope Mercer gets his shot this year at some point. I would hate to see him go to another team and be a quality player without even getting a chance to show here (See P. Ciriaco).