BRADENTON, Fla. — There are just eight days remaining in spring training for the Pirates. The club will play its final game of the Grapefruit League on April 1st against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin before kicking off two exhibition games against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 2nd and 3rd.
After optioning Jordy Mercer to Triple-A, and reassigning non-roster invites Shairon Martis, Jose Morales, Jo-Jo Reyes and Doug Slaten on Saturday, the Pirates still have 34 active players at big league camp.
The Pirates have until Opening Day to have their 25-man roster set, so the final week of spring training could be interesting for the club.
“The conversations definitely pick up the last week in spring training in general,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said. “As clubs start to look at what they have in access, guys that are out of options that they are trying to get something for, instead of losing on a waiver claim. Injuries, needs begin to clarify at the end of camp that maybe you don’t have that solution that you thought you had internally. The conversations pick up.”
The rotation and starters are set heading into the 2012 season, but the Pirates bullpen and extra utility infield positions still have open battles for jobs.
“It does seem that most teams are looking to fill their holes from within. Most teams are looking to their own guys. As much as we are,” Huntington said.
The Pirates bullpen:
- Locks: Jason Grilli, Joel Hanrahan, Chris Resop
- Position battles: Juan Cruz, Jared Hughes, Chris Leroux, Daniel McCutchen, Evan Meek, Daniel Moskos, Tony Watson
“Our bullpen, we’re going to find out seven best relievers from within this camp, we believe at this point in time,” Huntington said.
The Pirates bench:
- Locks: Nate McLouth (outfield)
- Position battles: Nick Evans, Jake Fox, Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Yamaico Navarro
“Our bench spots, we believe our best alternatives we believe are in this camp,” Huntington said.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t look outside. Doesn’t mean we don’t have conversations. Doesn’t mean we’re not going to claim somebody on waivers or make a small trade towards the end of spring training. We’re comfortable with the alternatives we have internally. If something pops up externally, we’ll be prepared to make a move. We don’t see it as a devastating need that we have to go do something. We like this group. We like the depth. We like our internal options.”
Mercer to Play Primarily at Second with Triple-A
Jordy Mercer was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday morning, one of five players that was cut from big league camp.
Mercer, 25, was added to the Pirates 40-man roster over the offseason after a solid 2011 season. Mercer hit .255 with 30 doubles, 19 home runs and 69 RBI over 132 games with Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis. The former 3rd round pick in 2008, who was drafted as a shortstop, will start the season at Triple-A Indy, where he will primarily play second base.
“Right now, Chase [d’Arnaud] is going to get the primary opportunity at shortstop, partially because we’ve got more work to do there with Chase then we do with Jordy,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said. “Jordy’s more accomplished at shortstop today as we sit here right now…Jordy may be one of those guys that breaks into the club as a guy that bounces around, as a role player. So his comfort level at second and third is going to be important for him. He’s also got to continue to swing the bat, continue to advance as an offensive player.”
The experience for Mercer was an invaluable one. The 25-year-old played in his first big league camp after playing four seasons in the Bucs minor leauge system.
“It was a great opportunity for Jordy to get around Major League camp, and to get around the speed of the big league game,” Huntington said. “He can do some things defensively. He’s maturing as a hitter. A lot of it is going to be his versatility and his ability to play second, his ability to play third, as well as short. The consistency of the swing mechanics. The consistency of the approach at the plate. Just continue maturation with Jordy. He does something’s really well now, he’s just got to continue to master what he does well.”
Mercer hit .238 (5-for-21) with a double over 15 games during Grapefruit League action. With another solid season in Triple-A, Mercer could see himself playing in Pittsburgh at some point during the 2012 season.
“He’s put himself in a position that he’s a candidate to come up at some point this year,” Huntington said. “Offensively, just gaining a comfort, gaining an understanding of what Major League pitchers can do. How they separate themselves from guys that he’s seen in Double-A, and has faced at Triple-A last year. He did a nice job of slowing the game down. It was a little fast for him at the start of camp. As he gained comfort, as he gained confidence, he did a nice job of showing he can take that next step. And now, he’s just got to go do that.”
Get Out There and Compete
During a closed-door team meeting today, right-hander James McDonald said after his outing that the message was to compete. With just eight games remaining in spring training and roster moves on the horizon, the team was told it’s time to put it all together.
The message seemed to work for McDonald, who pitched seven innings in his fourth Grapefruit League outing — 5.1 of them were no-hit frames.
“We had a meeting this morning, kind of just saying to put it together, to start going out there and competing,” McDonald said. “For me, it’s not really the time for me to start working on things. That was earlier. Now it’s time to start putting all that work into game ready situations.”
“We’ve talked about it internally, just going out and competing everyday,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve been trying to compete for four days. We’re still not playing fundamentally sound baseball the way were capable of playing, but it was a much better game out there today, especially off the mound. Some good swings of the bat from [Neil] Walker and from [Garrett] Jones. We need to get the starting pitching ramped up. There wont be anymore days really where if their efficient with the pitch count, we’ll take them to the back and finish them off. They need to finish their pitches off on the field, and get their work done on the field.”