The Pirates made three cuts this morning, trimming the active roster down to 37 players. The Spring Training tracker has been updated with the moves, and the position battles at the bottom of the tracker have been updated. However, I wanted to take a closer look at each battle with a week remaining in camp. Below I break down each position battle, with all of the contenders included — even guys I have listed in red on the tracker.
Starting Rotation (2)
Contenders: Jeanmar Gomez, Jeff Karstens, Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Jonathan Sanchez
Francisco Liriano has yet to start throwing, which means the Pirates will be filling two rotation spots for the start of the season. Jeff Karstens is currently building up his innings, and the belief is that he has enough time to be ready to start the season on the active roster. The thought coming into camp was that Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson would be battling it out for the fifth starter job, with only one making the team. So far the numbers have been better from Locke. In his last outing he gave up two unearned runs on no hits and one walk in four innings against the Yankees. Meanwhile, McPherson has been hit around recently, including giving up eight earned runs in 4.2 innings on Wednesday. Locke also has an advantage in that he has more time in Triple-A, and doesn’t have anything left to prove at the level. McPherson only has three starts in Triple-A.
Jonathan Sanchez is currently a dark horse candidate to make the rotation. The team has until March 26th to make a decision on him. He threw a gem last night, tossing five shutout innings against Baltimore, while allowing two hits, one walk, and striking out four. Sanchez had horrible control early in camp, but has only walked two in ten innings over his last three games. He’s also gone eight shutout innings in his last two outings.
A week from today players will break camp. The reality is that Jeff Karstens is currently at two innings, while everyone else is at five. Karstens could be stretched out to three and four innings before camp breaks, but there’s no way he could throw five innings before Opening Day. The Pirates don’t need a starter for the first week of the season, so Karstens would have a bit more time. However, with Sanchez pitching so well, and the Pirates needing to make a decision on him, there’s no urgency to rush Karstens to the rotation. At this point he’d be healthy enough to be a long-man out of the bullpen.
Jeanmar Gomez is technically still in contention, and he’s starting today against the Rays, but I don’t see him winning a spot on the team.
The Way It Looks Now: Jonathan Sanchez, Jeff Locke
Contenders: Jeanmar Gomez, Jeff Karstens, Chris Leroux, Vin Mazzaro, Ryan Reid, Jonathan Sanchez, Justin Wilson, Mike Zagurski
I don’t give Gomez, Mazzaro, Reid, or Zagurski much of a chance of making the team. Gomez is the only one on the 40-man roster, and is out of options. He could serve as the long-man out of the bullpen, but I think one of Jonathan Sanchez or Jeff Karstens will have that role (and my prediction above is Karstens going to the pen). That would leave two more spots.
Justin Wilson is currently making a strong case to be the second left-hander in the bullpen. Wilson has given up one earned run and nine hits in 12 innings this Spring, with a 14:7 K/BB ratio. The walks are a red flag, but that’s the story with Wilson. He has control problems, no matter if he’s in the rotation or bullpen, but he doesn’t allow a lot of hits and strikes out a lot of batters to negate the control issues. With Wilson, it’s more about what he’s done at Triple-A than his Spring Training numbers. I’m not sure there’s any chance he can improve those control problems. It’s time to see if he can pitch in the majors, even with those issues. At this point I could see him making the team.
That leaves one spot, and I think that final spot could go to Chris Leroux. He’s got good numbers so far, but again, this is more than the Spring Training numbers. I talked to Leroux earlier in camp, and he mentioned that he’ll be throwing his fastball more often this year. Last year he leaned on his slider more and lost velocity on his fastball as a result of a strained pectoral muscle. The velocity is back now, and Leroux is healthy. He’s always had good ratios in the majors, and has good overall numbers in limited experience with the Pirates, but hasn’t had a real shot at being a member of the bullpen. I think that comes this year.
One player to watch is Tony Watson. He stopped pitching for a few weeks after the end of February. Since then he’s pitched in two outings — one at Pirate City and one on Wednesday against the Braves. Both times he was hit hard. From a workload standpoint, he could be ready. However, Watson was working on mechanical issues, and in his first two outings he was hit hard, which isn’t encouraging for those changes. One option for the Pirates could be to start Watson on the 15-day disabled list (he did have some soreness that they were just being cautious with), give him more time to work on those mechanics, and allow the team to keep Jeanmar Gomez for a while longer.
The Way It Looks Now: Jeff Karstens, Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux
Contenders: Alex Presley, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata
I don’t give Presley much of a shot of making the team right now, mostly because he has options and the other two players here don’t. Jose Tabata’s hitting has been much better than Travis Snider’s hitting this Spring. That’s not from a statistical standpoint, but how they’ve each looked. I’ve seen Snider taking a lot of at-bats at Pirate City, and he hasn’t stood out. There hasn’t been a lot of power, and some days he’s playing against A-ball players. Based on that, I would say that Tabata deserves the starting job right now. However, I could see the Pirates going with a split in playing time until one player gets established during the season. I don’t think it will be a platoon, since I think Tabata will get more playing time than he would in a platoon.
The Way It Looks Now: Jose Tabata/Travis Snider
Contenders: Josh Harrison, Brad Hawpe, Brandon Inge, Lucas May, Jordy Mercer, Carlos Paulino, Felix Pie, Alex Presley, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata
John McDonald’s addition to the team filled one of the infield bench spots. The Tabata/Snider situation will fill another spot. Michael McKenry and Gaby Sanchez already have spots locked down. That really only leaves one spot remaining.
First I’d eliminate May and Paulino, since they’re both catchers and only in camp because the team would still need catchers in camp. Looking at the makeup of the bench, the Pirates have a first baseman who can play third, but not very well in Sanchez. Garrett Jones could fill in at outfield in a pinch when he’s not playing first. They have an outfielder in Tabata or Snider, and a strong defensive middle infielder with no bat in McDonald.
Clint Hurdle doesn’t really use that middle infield position much, so there would be a need for another utility type infielder. There’s not as big of a need for an outfielder, but adding a guy who could also fill in as an emergency outfielder makes sense.
I think Presley will go to Triple-A and play everyday. I don’t see Brad Hawpe making the team, and I’m surprised he’s still in camp at this point. Pie is the same situation. I see him going to Triple-A and starting in center field. I also think Jordy Mercer will be pushed to Triple-A due to the addition of McDonald.
That leaves Josh Harrison and Brandon Inge. I could see Inge making the team, just because he’s got more power than Harrison, and he seems like Hurdle’s kind of player with veteran presence.
The Way It Looks Now: Jose Tabata/Travis Snider, Brandon Inge
If the above predictions come true, the Pirates would need to clear two roster spots on the 40-man for Jonathan Sanchez and Brandon Inge. One of those spots will eventually be cleared when Charlie Morton gets placed on the 60-day disabled list. Another spot could be cleared if Jeanmar Gomez gets designated for assignment.
The Projected 25-Man Roster has been updated with the above predictions taken into consideration.+ posts
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.