The opening day bench

Brandon Moss - jmd41280, Flickr.com
Brandon Moss - jmd41280, Flickr.com

The Pirates’ bench has become very crowded this offseason. Neal Huntington selected John Raynor in the Rule 5 draft, claimed Brandon Jones off waivers, and added Bobby Crosby and Ryan Church through free agency. There are clearly too many players to fit on the roster and a few should expect to find themselves in different organizations come April. Before that time arrives, we have to sort through our available options.

Here are the ten candidates to fill the five bench spots when the Pirates break camp at the end of March. I included each player’s age, handedness, primary/secondary position(s), and 2010 CHONE projection. An asterisk indicates a player that can be assigned to Triple-A without being lost.

Age Bats Primary Position(s) Secondary Position(s) 2010 Projection
Jason Jaramillo * 27 S C n/a .259/.324/.372
Ryan Church 31 L RF/LF CF .268/.337/.408
Bobby Crosby 30 R SS IF .245/.315/.367
Ramon Vazquez 33 L 2B/3B SS .237/.328/.332
Delwyn Young 28 S RF/LF 2B .258/.320/.402
John Raynor 26 R RF/LF CF .259/.330/.374
Brandon Moss 26 L RF/LF CF/1B .267/.335/.426
Brandon Jones * 26 L RF/LF n/a .271/.342/.428
Steve Pearce * 27 R 1B RF .259/.328/.439
Neil Walker * 24 S 3B C/2B/RF/LF .262/.314/.434

The first three are virtual locks to make the 25-man roster. Jaramillo will serve as the back-up catcher, and Church and Crosby were signed as free agents this offseason. Beyond those three, there are seven players competing for two available spots. Management has maintained that Vazquez will be on the team, but I am unconvinced. I am holding out hope that Huntington will eat his contract, either through a minor trade or by simply releasing him. He does not serve much purpose as a poor fielding utility infielder with little offense. Bobby Crosby already has that role covered.

Delwyn Young faces two distinct disadvantages at this point. First of all, he is a bit older than most of the marginal options. More importantly, he is a poor defender, both at second and in the outfield. His bat does not project to be any better than guys like Moss, Raynor or Jones, all better defensive players. His only real advantage is his ability to switch hit, although he is not exactly a useful right-handed hitter.

I hope the Pirates are able to keep Moss and Raynor around. I am intrigued by Raynor’s offensive potential and I still believe that Moss has the chance to turn into a poor-man’s Nate McLouth. But the reality is that both players, particularly Moss, are going to have a hard time cracking the opening day roster.

Jones is probably the best player on this list, but his remaining option makes it likely that he will start in Triple-A. The same goes for Pearce and Walker. I would be very surprised if any of these three comes north with the Pirates.

If it were up to me, I would go north with this bench.

Jason Jaramillo
Ryan Church
Bobby Crosby
John Raynor
Brandon Moss

This bench would definitely be a bit heavy on corner outfielders, but it keeps the most talented players in the organization. In this situation, both Vazquez and Young would need to either be traded or released. If the Pirates were to keep Young over either Moss or Raynor, I would probably be okay with that as well.

The Pirates can keep an extra player if they are willing to be a bit creative. They could go with an 11-man pitching staff and keep six position players on the bench. As many have pointed out, the team essentially did this much of last season while hiding Donnie Veal in the bullpen. If the starting pitchers consistently work at least six innings, this scenario should be very possible.

Depending on Jeff Clement’s health, the Pirates could also try going without a back-up catcher. I have never heard a definitive statement regarding the possibility of Clement moving back behind the plate, so this may not even be an option. But if Clement is capable of catching one day a week, there would really be no reason to keep Jaramillo around. He could go to Indy and wait for Ryan Doumit to get hurt. I highly doubt we would see this situation occurring, but it is an interesting possibility to think about. I also wonder if we may see something similar to this in Walker’s future.

This will likely be the most interesting position battle in spring training.

Analysis

  • I can’t imagine the Pirates go with three pure outfielders on the bench. If Vazquez indeed is cut I think that would open the door for Young to stay on the roster.

    I’d like to see Moss dealt in spring training, I just don’t see any evidence he’s going to hit. Raynor is a more versatile bench option since he can help as a pinch runner and can play center field

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