Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Season Preview: The Bench

We’ve already touched on the platoons of Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez and Travis Snider/Jose Tabata in the previews of the infield and outfield, so for today’s preview of the bench players the focus will be on Michael McKenry, John McDonald and Josh Harrison.

Michael McKenry will be the backup catcher again this year.

Michael McKenry will be the backup catcher again this year.

Michael McKenry — Catcher

McKenry gives the Pirates a serviceable backup catcher behind Russell Martin after filling that role in 2012 and 2011 with Rod Barajas. He appeared in 81 games last season and 59 the year before (including once at third base), and in that time McKenry has only committed eight errors and allowed three passed balls.

At the plate McKenry does not bring much to the table. He has hit .222 and .233 in his two seasons in Pittsburgh but it is worth noting that his power numbers did improve from 2011 to 2012. Last year he had career-highs with 12 home runs in 275 plate appearances after accounting for just two home runs in 201 plate appearances the previous season.

The trouble with McKenry the last two seasons was when he saw extended time behind the plate. As a backup he’s been good enough to give you the option of giving the starter the day off every so often, but when he’s been the everyday guy he has left something to be desired. If the team thought McKenry could be the everyday catcher they wouldn’t have gone out and grabbed Russell Martin.

John McDonald — Infield

McDonald is a career “that guy” — meaning when he comes into a game or appears in the starting lineup the average fan sees his name and says “Who is that guy?”

He has consistently been a good defensive player during his 14-year, four team career. McDonald is kind of like McKenry in that if you’re better off to be in a position to bring him off the bench rather than having to rely on him as your starter. At 38 he is certainly not a long-term option but with Chase d’Arnaud currently doing a stint on the disabled list, the club was in need of a backup infielder on its bench.

Josh Harrison — Utility

Harrison came to the Pirates as a minor league prospects in the 2009 trade that sent Tom Gorzelanny to the Cubs. He’s spent parts of two seasons in the big leagues and played at all three outfield positions in addition to spending time at third base and second base in 2012 after primarily serving as a utility infielder in 2011.

As with McDonald and McKenry, Harrison is a good enough addition to the roster to serve as a backup option but, with his youth there is still time for him to develop his skills. He had seven stolen bases in 10 attempts last season and also seems like a candidate to pinch run for the Pirates, thought it is possible Harrison ends up back in Indianapolis when Brandon Inge returns from his injury.


– I mentioned above that we’ve been over the platoons in right field and first base, but not from the perspective of what they mean to the bench. When Sanchez and Tabata are in the lineup (which is highly likely against left-handed pitching) it will give the Pirates two left-handed bats off the bench in Snider and Jones. The lineup loses some pop against lefties but Snider and Jones appear to be better options as pinch-hitters than the counterparts who will be on the bench against right-handed pitching.

– A.J. Burnett and Clint Hurdle spoke to the media earlier today at PNC Park. When asked about facing the Cubs tomorrow, Burnett got a laugh from the group of reporters when he responded, “I don’t even know who is in their lineup yet.” I’ll have more from Burnett and Hurdle later today.

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Tom Bragg

Tom Bragg is a beat writer and analyst for He is the former sports editor of the (Fairmont) Times West Virginian and has worked at the Charleston Gazette, Charleston Daily Mail and the (Ashland, Ky.) Independent. His freelance work has appeared in newspapers all over West Virginia and he has written for The Associated Press with stories posted to several major media outlets (,, Tom graduated from Marshall University in May 2010 with a degree in Print Journalism. Follow Tom on Twitter: @TomBraggSports

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    Barajas was only there in 2012, in 2011 McKenry was one of a troop of backups who were cycled in and out with Doumit.

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