Every year the battles in Spring Training are pretty much limited to the same three areas: the 5th starter role, the bullpen, and the bench. It only makes sense that this would be the case. These are the least important spots on the team. You don’t want to decide the important spots based on a limited amount of playing time against various levels of competition in Spring Training games. But for the lesser roles, it’s not as big of a deal to use Spring Training as a tie breaker.
That has been the case this year. The lineup is set. The first four spots in the rotation are set. The only position battles come from the rotation, bullpen, and bench. I covered the 5th starter battle, and the bullpen battles already. Now it’s time to take a look at the bench.
One spot on the bench has already been decided, as Matt Diaz and Garrett Jones will be platooning in right field, putting one of that duo on the bench every night. Another spot will almost certainly go to Ryan Doumit, as I don’t think the Pirates will have any luck trading him before the season starts. From there, the Pirates will have three spots open, along with some talk that they could use Jason Jaramillo as the backup catcher, and make Ryan Doumit a normal bench player. Here is a breakdown of each position on the bench.
Doumit is a lock to make the roster, and it might make sense to use him as a bench player, rather than limiting his time by making him the backup catcher. The Pirates need Doumit to hit in order to build some value, and he’s not going to get many opportunities to do that as the backup catcher.
One possibility would be for the Pirates to designate Doumit for assignment. That would allow them to force a trade, or get rid of his contract. If no one trades for him or claims him, they could send him to AAA to try and turn his game around. This seems unlikely, but it is a possibility. Overall I don’t think Doumit is strong enough defensively to be an everyday player, which makes him a future DH candidate. He will need to hit to play in that role, and making Jaramillo the backup catcher could allow Doumit more opportunities to turn his hitting around.
The Pirates have a few candidates for the backup middle infield spot, but no standouts, which makes it more likely that Josh Rodriguez, the Rule 5 pick, could open the season in Pittsburgh. Rodriguez will be competing against Pedro Ciriaco, Brian Friday, Chase D’Arnaud, and Corey Wimberly. I don’t give D’Arnaud any chance of making the team out of Spring Training, as he will need more time in the minors. Friday is a serious underdog of the remaining players.
Rodriguez would seem to have an advantage, due to the Rule 5 tag. Ciriaco is very strong defensively at shortstop, but the Pirates might prefer him in AAA to start the year, giving him more opportunities to improve on his hitting skills. Wimberly has the range to play anywhere on the field, although his bad hands limit his defensive production. Because Wimberly can play all three outfield spots, it’s possible that the Pirates could carry him as a second middle infield option. My money is on Rodriguez to start the year on the bench.
The Pirates signed three non-roster invitees who seem to be the favorites for this spot. Those players are Garrett Atkins, Josh Fields, and Andy Marte. It seems like it would be a strong bet for one of those three to make the Opening Day roster as a backup 1B/3B option.
The Pirates also have Steve Pearce and John Bowker as guys who could backup first base, although that leaves no backup option for third base. My guess is that one of the three 1B/3B options will make the team, with Pearce or Bowker getting a shot at the outfield bench spot.
If the Pirates go with Jason Jaramillo as their backup catcher, this spot could end up going to Doumit. If they stick with Doumit as the backup catcher, they will have one open spot for an outfielder. They will also have either Diaz or Jones on the bench as an additional outfielder, depending on who is on the mound.
The candidates for the outfield battle are Alex Presley, John Bowker, Steve Pearce, and Corey Wimberly. I don’t give Gorkys Hernandez or Andrew Lambo a chance, as both need more work in the minors. Of the candidates, Bowker is the only one out of options, and Wimberly is the only player who is not on the 40-man roster.
My ideal scenario would have Presley starting out in AAA, to show that his 2010 wasn’t a fluke, and to give him plenty of playing time, so that he could have a shot as a starter in the majors if he proves his 2010 wasn’t a fluke. Wimberly would be a valuable player off the bench due to his speed and his ability to play any position. He is a sleeper option, although I would think he has a better shot at winning the middle infield spot over Josh Rodriguez and Pedro Ciriaco.
My guess is that the battle will be between Bowker and Pearce. Pearce would be the better fit for the team, as Bowker is no different than Garrett Jones and Lyle Overbay, since none of them can hit left handers. In my ideal scenario, Pearce would be platooning with Overbay, due to their splits. My money would be on Bowker winning the spot, due to being out of options.
The bench has two spots occupied with the platoon in right field, and the backup catcher spot. That leaves three battles:
-Josh Rodriguez vs Pedro Ciriaco vs Corey Wimberly
-Garrett Atkins vs Josh Fields vs Andy Marte
-John Bowker vs Steve Pearce vs Alex Presley vs Jason Jaramillo (if the Pirates carry a third catcher, making Doumit the extra outfielder)
My prediction is Rodriguez, Atkins, and Bowker, with Doumit and Diaz/Jones rounding out the bench.