Spring Training 2013 Position Battles: The Bench

With pitchers and catchers reporting today, and Spring Training starting up this week, we will be previewing the position battles to follow throughout the Spring. To keep track of the players who are in camp, and the updated status of each position battle, check out the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training Tracker.

I’ve already reviewed two of the position battles heading into Spring Training, looking at the starting rotation and the right field job. Those two battles are a bit more clear cut. Looking at the bench is a little harder to project. Some spots are easy, such as the backup catcher’s role or the platoon of Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez taking one of the available spots. Other spots on the bench are harder to project. For the outfield, you have to get the right field job correct before guessing which players could make the bench. The infield could really depend on Clint Hurdle’s preference. The final spot on the bench will depend on whether the Pirates want to carry an extra infielder or an extra outfielder. Plus, unlike starting spots, bench spots are usually more of an open competition, dependent on Spring Training results. Last year Matt Hague won a spot largely on his Spring Training performance. Some of the players projected to win a spot today could have a horrible Spring, while some players projected to go to Triple-A could force their way on the roster with a great Spring.

With that said, here is my best guess at how the bench will take shape.

The Locks

Michael McKenry will serve as the backup catcher.
Michael McKenry will serve as the backup catcher.

Michael McKenry – McKenry will serve as the backup catcher to Russell Martin. The Pirates have a few other players in camp (Tony Sanchez, Lucas May, Carlos Paulino, Ali Solis), but McKenry pretty much has this job locked down.

Gaby Sanchez – Sanchez will be platooning with Garrett Jones at first base this year, which means he will be taking up one of the bench spots the majority of the time.

Backup Infielder

Contenders:¬†Chase d’Arnaud, Ivan De Jesus, Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Brandon Inge, Jordy Mercer, Clint Robinson

You could probably take Robinson and Hague out of the mix here, since the Pirates already have two first basemen on the roster. Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison seem like the favorites here based on their previous playing time, and the fact that both are on the 40-man roster. Brandon Inge adds an interesting twist. He’s been better than Harrison or Mercer. The problem is that Harrison and Mercer can play shortstop.

Ivan De Jesus and Chase d’Arnaud can also play shortstop. De Jesus is a non-roster invitee, and doesn’t stand out ahead of anyone else in this group at the moment. D’Arnaud is coming off a down year in Triple-A, plagued by injuries and a low batting average. Both players would be better off going to Triple-A to raise their stock.

The top three options would be Mercer, Harrison, and Inge. I’ll break down those three when I get to the final spot.

Backup Outfielder

Contenders: Brad Hawpe, Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata

Yesterday I wrote about the battle for the starting right field job. I predicted Travis Snider would win the job, which would leave Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, and Jose Tabata battling for the backup outfield position. I don’t see Brad Hawpe having a shot at winning a major league job.

Out of the three remaining outfielders, Tabata is the only one who is out of options. Presley and Sands each have one option remaining, and could go to Triple-A to start the year. As I wrote yesterday, Sands would be better off getting everyday playing time in Indianapolis, proving that his upper level power wasn’t a product of the PCL. Presley’s upside is more of a strong fourth outfielder, and he’d be good to keep in Triple-A as the first to come up to replace an injured player.

The lack of an option is what really makes Tabata stand out from the other two players. None of them really have the numbers to stand out above anyone else. Sands hasn’t had a lot of major league experience, and hasn’t done well in his limited time. Presley and Tabata are both coming off down years, but both showed some promise prior to the 2012 season. In order to keep all three players, the best approach would be to go with Tabata.

Final Spot

The final spot on the bench will really be about whether the Pirates want an extra infielder or an extra outfielder. They’re going to have one of the outfielders on the bench, plus one of the infielders. The question is, do they want an additional outfielder as a pinch hitter, or do they want an additional infielder, so that they could use the other infielder for pinch-hitting?

The argument for the extra outfielder is that the hitting potential is better for guys like Presley and Sands, since they have more power than guys like Mercer or Harrison. The argument against the extra outfielder is that you only have one infielder to backup three spots. Technically you could use Garrett Jones as an emergency replacement in the outfield and put Gaby Sanchez at first. You don’t have that option if you need an emergency infield replacement.

The compromise here is with Inge and Harrison. Both have played corner outfield positions in the past, and both could serve as emergency replacements if needed. They can also play second and third base. Harrison has spent far more time at second, with Inge only adding the position last year. Harrison also can fill in as an emergency option at shortstop, while Inge could serve as an emergency catcher, even though he hasn’t caught since 2008.

Neither player provides a strong backup to the middle infield positions. Harrison is decent at second base, but isn’t what you want at shortstop. Because of this, Jordy Mercer would make sense as the backup infielder. That would put him in a similar role as last year, spending a lot of time on the bench, not getting many starts, and not being used in many pinch-hitting opportunities.

With Mercer serving as the backup infielder, that would leave the Pirates free to use Inge or Harrison in more of a super utility role, or as a pinch hitter. Both could play outfield in an emergency, which combined with Garrett Jones would lessen the need for two bench outfielders. The advantage Harrison has is his ability to play shortstop in a pinch, but that wouldn’t be needed with Mercer. Inge could serve as an emergency catcher, plus he has more power than Harrison.

Because of the power advantage from Inge, and the ability to serve as a third catcher, my prediction would be him taking the final bench spot, with Jordy Mercer taking the backup infield spot.

Projected Bench: Michael McKenry, Gaby Sanchez, Jordy Mercer, Jose Tabata, Brandon Inge

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Tabata’s lack of an option shouldn’t be an issue since he’ll be able to clear waivers. Personally, I’m in favor of carrying Sands as the 4th OF, it would be nice to have a guy on the bench with a little pop.


No way I take Inge over J-hay




Ugh. Sad that the only thing that seems to distinguish Tabata from anyone else is his lack of options.

Tim, two questions: is having at least one LH bat on the bench worth having a 5th OF (Presley) over the two utility IFs?

And, what, technically, are the steps in the process/what are the risks if Tabata does not make the 25-man roster.


if Tabata isnt on the 25 man, he has to be taken off the 40 man. he then will be had for the taking, i believe the NL teams have first crack at him. the first option, however, is trading him, which is what the Rays just did with Reid Brignac.


Hey Tim, are you guys down in Fl. covering Spring Training? It seems like last year there was more articles from Pirate City that were posted…Just wondering.


Inge has not had a MLB average RC+ season since 2005, move on from washed up vets. He is also RH on a bench full of RHs.

The best option IMO is to keep Presley around as a key LH bench bat to complement Gaby and Tabata. Have Gaby dust off his 3B glove to be the emergency IF. Let Mercer and Chase battle it out for the primary IF spot.

If you send Presley down keep both Chase and Jordy.


While I agree that Mercer should have a spot on the bench and Harrison should go….well, somewhere else, it’s unlikely that happens. After all, Mercer sat around so much once he was promoted that it’s a miracle that he didn’t go on the DL with hemorrhoids; when Hurdle wanted to spell Barmes late in the season, it was Harrison that was starting at short, even though he’s pretty much an emergency-only option there. We may as well get used to another 250 pointless plate appearances from Harrison.

Lee Young

wk….I agree….unless they absolutely think Mercer is a non-viable starting option, I’d prefer he go to AAA and get ABs.

Dean Manifest

They really are treating Mercer like a non-prospect. Maybe he is. But it’s too bad you can’t get a hitter acclimated to the big leagues via the bullpen like you can a pitcher. A young pitcher can get a few low-leverage innings per week out of the pen and be ok, but a hitter needs near-daily reps to establish a rhythm.


the same people who think Mercer is a prospect are the same ones who thought Hague should have been our starting 1Bman.


I just don’t think Tabata can play right field, IMO, Presley is the better player and I think with a new batting coach Presley just might change his approach a little bit and become the hitter he is capable of.
I keep Presley as an extra outfielder and I keep Inge, after that I think they can pick anyone they want from the list of who is left.
I would not let Tabata’s option status deter me from making decisions if I were making them for the Pirates, releasing him would not be a dumb move, he either gets picked up and someone else gets his contract or he goes to Indy.


I think you’re right about Tabata, he makes a lot of money for a fourth outfielder. I’m not sure there are many teams that would be willing to take on his contract for his production of late. Maybe he does clear waivers.
However, the thing about Tabata is he is one of the few guys in the upper levels of the organization that has proven to be a high OBP guy. It sure would be nice to have guys on base in front of all the potential power that the Pirates have this year.

Jimbo Rollins

I really despise the idea of needing a hit, looking at the bench and having to depend on Tabata. Maybe he’ll prove me wrong this spring. Does Hawpe not have infield experience?


Please, for the love of God, do not suggest Brad Hawpe being on this team.

Lee Young


John Dreker

Assuming Tim is right, the Indy roster is going to be full with infielders too. Hague/Robinson, DeJesus/Harrison/d’Arnaud and they still have Alex Valdez signed, plus Matt Curry should be right there too. No need for him to repeat AA, though he may have to just to get time.
The outfield would have Sands, Presley, Darren Ford, Felix Pie and maybe Hawpe, plus numerous infielders above have or could play OF.
Plus from 2012 Altoona, they have Adalberto Santos, Andrew Lambo, Oscar Tejeda as guys who could/should move up. Plus there are some other fillers around that could play a AAA bench spot.


It would be fabulous if you could create a depth chart for the AAA, AA, and A+ clubs.

I agree with the projected Bench of McKenry, Sanchez, Mercer, Tabata, and Inge. Presley first man called up.

AAA outfield of Presley, Sands, Lambo and Pie. Ford called up to replace Presley. Santos to replace anyone else. Hawpe is told thanks but no thanks. Pie allowed to walk if he wants.

Lee Young

Tim…nice job. I, too, never knew that existed.




very cool. been coming here for years and never found that. in fact, it took me 3-4 minutes to re-find it from the home page. thanks.

Allyn Weimer

I have always felt that bench players where always best filled by veterans. That is why I’m hoping Inge will make the club on penning day.


I just like Chase’s speed, energy, and aggressiveness on the base paths

Ian Rothermund

Yeah, if only he could hit his weight. Everything else seems good…or at least good enough

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