The Pirates are going to the NLDS. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 Spring Training Preview: The Bullpen

The Pittsburgh Pirates have their first Spring Training workouts today. To get ready for Spring Training, we have been previewing one set of positions each day this week, and today we take a look at the final group. Here are the groups we’ve already profiled:

The Infield

The Outfield

The Rotation

Today we take a look at the bullpen. Generally the bullpen is one of few areas where spots are up in the air for non-roster invitees and guys who haven’t broken in to the majors yet. The Pirates had a very successful bullpen in 2013, and most of those guys are returning this year. The final open spots will probably be reserved for guys who are out of options, making it hard for all of the other guys to crack the Opening Day roster. Here are the roster predictions based on the current Spring Training invitees.

Guaranteed Spots

There are four spots in the bullpen that are pretty much guaranteed for the Opening Day roster, as long as everyone stays healthy. Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, and Justin Wilson will all enter camp with their roles locked down. Grilli will return as the closer this year, while Melancon will return as the set-up man. Both guys had amazing 2013 seasons, and while it would be improbable for them to repeat their success to that extent, they both project to put up good numbers once again in 2014.

Tony Watson and Justin Wilson will return as the two left-handers in the bullpen. Watson was pitching like one of the best relievers in all of baseball in the second half, while Wilson put up great numbers all year out of the bullpen in his first full season.

Out of Options

The Pirates would have three remaining spots outside of the above group, with four players who are out of options. That means if everyone is healthy, and no one has been traded, the Pirates will have to designate one of these guys for assignment by the end of camp. The four players who are out of options are Vin Mazzaro, Jeanmar Gomez, Bryan Morris, and Stolmy Pimentel.

Mazzaro seems to have the edge due to his salary, which is slightly higher than the league minimum that everyone else will be making. Mazzaro and Gomez also had good numbers and were both very versatile in 2013, which strengthens their case. The decision could come down to Morris or Pimentel. At this point if the Pirates were going to pick one of those two, I’d take Pimentel. Both pitchers work off a mid-90s fastball and a good slider, although Pimentel has shown more promise with his slider, and can work in the upper 90s out of the bullpen. He also has a better chance of being a starting option, giving the Pirates additional depth.

If the Pirates end up dealing one of these guys, then Mazzaro or Gomez might have the best value to other teams, due to their success last year. If the Pirates had to DFA one of these guys, Morris would be my early pick. But it’s entirely possible that an injury could occur to one of the eight pitchers already mentioned in this article, making this whole topic moot.

40-Man Depth

Outside of the top eight, the rest of the options in camp don’t have much of a shot of making the Opening Day roster. It would take multiple injuries, or several players struggling for that to happen. Most of the remaining players will be used as depth throughout the year, with the guys on the 40-man roster getting the priority. Here are the options, with my thoughts on their potential roles this year.

Andy Oliver – He’s out of options, but I didn’t include him above because he doesn’t have a good shot of making the active roster. He needs a massive overhaul in his control before being considered for the majors.

Jared Hughes – Stands a good chance of being one of the main guys who will travel between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh this year.

Duke Welker – He’s a hard throwing right-hander with a nice slider. I’m guessing he’ll get a shot at some point this year, and it will be interesting to see how he handles that jump. His stuff has late inning quality.

Rotation Depth – Guys like Brandon Cumpton and Phil Irwin, who were profiled in the rotation article yesterday, could serve as bullpen depth later in the season if no starting pitching depth is needed.

NRI Depth

The Pirates brought in several relievers this off-season as minor league free agents. I could profile all of them, but the reality is that these guys were minor league free agents for a reason. Each pitcher has a certain flaw, or a lack of experience. That doesn’t mean they have no shot of making the majors. It’s very likely that 1-2 of these guys will see the majors this year. It’s just very hard to say which one it will be. The relievers who were brought in are Jake Brigham, Cody Eppley, Jay Jackson, Josh Kinney, Daniel Schlereth, and Adam Wilk.

The only other NRI reliever is Zack Thornton, who was already in the organization. Thornton had great numbers last year between Bradenton, Altoona, and Indianapolis. He looked like one of the top candidates to go in the Rule 5 draft this off-season, but ended up passing through the draft. Thornton doesn’t have the best stuff, working with a low-90s fastball, but he gets a ton of ground balls, and uses great control to out-perform his stuff. He profiles as middle relief depth, with the chance to become a full time middle reliever down the line. He could get a shot at cracking the major league roster this year.

Projected Opening Day Bullpen

CL – Jason Grilli

RP – Mark Melancon

RP – Tony Watson

RP – Justin Wilson

RP – Vin Mazzaro

RP – Jeanmar Gomez

RP – Stolmy Pimentel

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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, 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.

Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 Draft Preview: Prep Pitchers

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  • leefoo

    I’m expecting morris to get DFA’d or traded.

    • jaygray007

      RIP Bay trade. man. just think of that Moss – Sanchez Platoon NOW… phew.

  • JRIcentral


    It seemed to me that Melancon lost effectiveness by the end of the season.
    I’m no expert, but it seemed like a lack of movemente in his pitches (more hittable).
    Could it be the amount of Innings and just being a bit tired?
    Do you agree he lost some at the end?

  • letsgobucs22

    Melancon was horrible in Sept and the playoffs. I haven’t seen anyone suggest this, but I would be looking to trade him in spring training for a left-handed hitting 1B. He is very unlikely to put up as good of numbers as last year so we would be trading him at near peak value. I would rather trade him and keep Watson and Wilson who are cheaper and under control for longer.

    His salary is already $2.6 million and if he has a good season, the Pirates will be looking at having to pay him $5 million or more next year. If he has a bad season this year, the Bucs will have to DFA him in the off-season like they did Garrett Jones because his trade value will be non-existent with an arbitration raise coming. We could have traded guys like James McDonald and Garrett Jones after 2012 and gotten some return instead of being forced to DFA them for nothing after they peaked.

    • buster09

      And that LHed hitting 1st baseman would be ? A name or two would be helpful to push the discussion along.

      • letsgobucs22

        I’d be willing to deal Melancon for Smoak, Ike Davis, or Lind (Lind would be my preference, but I think Toronto would want more since they asked for Neil Walker previously). The salaries and service time are very similar for Smoak and Ike Davis so I think those are pretty fair trades and wouldn’t impact anyone’s financial budget.

        Melancon had a great season, but we are very deep with relievers and have to trade at least 1 before the season unless someone goes on the DL. It’s possible he will have another strong season and his struggles were due to fatigue, but it seemed like teams scouted him well down the stretch and just went opposite field against his cutter. Yes, he mostly got “singled to death” but he blew 3 saves in a row against SD, Cinci, and the Cubs by teams just taking him the other way over and over again. He also had a terrible NLCS with blowing a save in game 3 with a HR (luckily we rebounded and won that game) and blew any chance we had for a comeback in Game 5 with a terrible inning where he was hit hard and gave up another HR and 3 runs.

        • Andrew

          Again during Melancon’s “bad” stretch he struck out 11/9, and walked no one, while having opponents hit with a .447 BABIP. As good as the Pirates bullpen was, it was 28th in strikeouts, outside Grilli and Melancon no one had an above average K/9. Yes, Wilson and Watson were good but their performances were aided by .220 BABIPs.

          If we are trading anyone it should be Wilson, apparently there was interest, and let team buy that upside of being a starter.

  • deacs

    Right handers were taking him the other way. I feel like 99% of the hits he gave up were singles to right after September 1st. I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to them dealing a reliever but unless it’s for an infield bench bat or someone at first then really who are we going to get? A prospect? I’d be ok with that given the depth of the relievers. Maybe they deal someone during the year who’s pitching out of his mind and get another bat.

  • bucnright

    Man the buccos have such a solid team…is it opening day yet?:(

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