A few links to check out this morning.
**Rob Biertempfel spoke with Kyle McPherson, and notes that the right-hander will be ready for Spring Training. McPherson made one start in the Dominican Winter Leagues, then was removed due to shoulder tendonitis. It was the second time that a shoulder issue held the right-hander out of action in the last year. He had another shoulder problem during Spring Training, and didn’t make his 2012 debut until June. McPherson and Jeff Locke are the top candidates for the fifth spot in the Pirates’ rotation.
**Also in that link, Biertempfel notes that Jameson Taillon will start off in Double-A. That’s not a big surprise, since he finished the 2012 season at the level, but only made three starts. Taillon struggled in Bradenton, but turned his game around at the end of the season. That earned him a promotion to Altoona, where he looked dominant in his three outings. His progression in 2013 will be an interesting story to track. If he can carry over his performance from the end of the year, he might not be in Altoona for long. In a best case scenario I could see him arriving in Pittsburgh by the end of the season. A more conservative path has him arriving in 2014.
**Tom Singer wrote about Kris Johnson, who is having a good season in the Dominican Winter Leagues. I was asked over the weekend in an e-mail whether Johnson could emerge as a starting candidate in the second half. My response was that it’s highly unlikely. By mid-season the Pirates will have the following as starting options.
Other options by that point could include Phil Irwin, Justin Wilson, and then some of the depth options like Vin Mazzaro, Zach Stewart, and Andrew Oliver (assuming he’s used as a starter). I don’t think Johnson would crack my top 15 for starting candidates.
His chances as a left-handed reliever are totally different. The competition isn’t as strong in that area, and Clint Hurdle tends to prefer multiple left-handers in the bullpen. Tony Watson is the only left-hander who has a spot locked down. After Watson the Pirates could go with one of Justin Wilson or Andrew Oliver, who are both on the 40-man roster. Johnson is one of two non-roster invitees at the moment, with Mike Zagurski being the other option. If you’re just going with the best possible relievers, I’d go with one left-hander and choose from the list of right-handed options. If you’re committed to two left-handers, then Johnson has a shot at making the majors this year as a lefty reliever. However, I still think he’s behind Wilson and Oliver on the depth charts.