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:
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.
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.
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.
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