To put it nicely, the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen was a disaster. That’s not exactly nice, but it’s probably the nicest way to describe what happened. Players under-performed, then went on to other teams to look lights out (Jason Grilli, Bryan Morris). The team excelled in previous years with reclamation projects, but didn’t find that same magic for most of the 2014 season (Ernesto Frieri). Mark Melancon and Tony Watson were two of the best relievers in baseball, and Jared Hughes had a surprising season, but the rest of the bullpen was disappointing.

It seemed like the Pirates would have a lot of openings and a lot of competition for the 2015 bullpen at the end of last season. That’s almost a given after a season like we just saw. And the bullpen will have some roster competition, which makes it the only position group that has real roster battles. But it won’t be a free-for-all as expected. A few of the spots are already locked down. Some late-season success from a few other pitchers might give them the inside track. And then there are the guys who have incredible stuff and no MLB success, but might have an inside track over everyone else with a lack of MLB success, due to their lack of options.

Below I have detailed the outlook for the bullpen heading into Spring Training. There will be some competition, but in reality it seems that there will only be nine guys who will really be competing for seven spots.

Guaranteed Roster Spots

Mark Melancon – He has quietly been one of the best relievers in baseball over the last two seasons. He’ll return as the closer.

Tony Watson – He joined Melancon near the top of the relief pitching rankings last year, and should give the Pirates a dominant set up man once again in 2015.

Antonio Bastardo – The Pirates traded Joely Rodriguez to get a strong second lefty in Bastardo, which makes it easier to use Watson as a set-up man.

Likely to Have a Spot Guaranteed

Vance Worley/Jeff Locke – If Charlie Morton is ready to return by Opening Day, and right now it looks like he’s on track for that, then one of Worley or Locke will make the bullpen.

Radhames Liz – He fits the same “hard thrower with questionable control and no MLB success” category as some of the guys on the list below. However, the Pirates gave him a guaranteed $1 M contract, which means they probably see something in him that would make him more of a guarantee than the rest.

Options Remaining, But Good Numbers

There are two players competing for a spot who have a similar situation — they put up good numbers in 2014, but have options remaining, allowing them to be sent to Triple-A. Those two players are Jared Hughes and John Holdzkom. Their performances in 2014 would definitely warrant them getting a roster spot over any of the guys below. However, the upside of some of the guys below might be good enough that you hold on to them for a bit longer to see what they can do.

Out of Options, but Great Stuff

Arquimedes Caminero and Stolmy Pimentel present an interesting situation. Both have amazing stuff, with the ability to touch 98 MPH or higher with their fastballs, and good secondary stuff. They have both struggled with control and command of their pitches, which has prevented either from breaking out in the majors just yet. But they’re both still young enough that you want to take a risk on their stuff.

The problem: if one of Worley/Locke makes the team, along with Liz, then you’d have to send down Hughes or Holdzkom to make room for one of these guys. In previous years, the Pirates could do that, in order to maintain as much talent as possible. Now that they’re contenders, they might have to cut someone who has the chance to be a future impact reliever, all because they need to focus on who is giving them the best chance to win now.

I’d include Rob Scahill in this group, but he has options remaining, which means he’s unlikely to make the Opening Day roster. That goes for every other reliever or minor league free agent in camp not listed above. Their best shots would be a wave of injuries to hit the bullpen, and they’d need more than two in order to have a strong chance of cracking the squad.

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37 COMMENTS

  1. Bullpen should be seven deep, assuming the starting five are:
    Cole, Liriano, Burnett, Morton, Worley… no way Worley is out of the rotation IMO – he was outstanding last year.
    Bullpen:
    Melancon, Watson, Holdzkom, Bastardo, Liz, Caminero, Locke – with Hughes and Scahill going down and first up if needed.
    Locke is your long man and spot starter. Pimentel is out.

  2. I think it is time to make a move. B4 Spring training is over trade Pimentel and Locke. You can package them together for decent return or with the loaded minors make a SPLASH! Anyone say Cole Hamels.

  3. I DO NOT trust Hughes…I get it, he had a very good year last season, but if that sinker doesn’t sink it’s in the left field stands. I would rather see Seth Meyers, although he really needs a secondary pitch. He can’t throw his FB at the rate he did last year.

    • Jared Hughes is what he is, he throws his sinker 75% of the time to get ground balls. It is what the Pirates want, he is never going to strike guys out, just needs to not walk them.

      Guys are in the bullpen because they only have one real ability, if Grilli’s slider loses it break look what happened.

    • Hughes is the best pitcher they have when it comes to getting starters out of jams, he left more runners in scoring position than any other pitcher they have, he was not used correctly by Hurdle, he should have been a get of jam pitcher and hit the bench after that, but Hurdle is far to prone to pitching relief pitchers more than they should be pitched. Look at Hughes as a right handed version of Lopez and look at how successful he is with the Giants, too bad Hurdle does not see it that way.

      • Jared Hughes entered the game in 2014 with 37 inherited runners, (16th most in the NL) the next most by a Pirates’ pitcher was 27. His most common inning when entering the game was the 6th.

        I think Hurdle was already doing what you are suggesting.

  4. Enough with stolmy throwing 98! He generally sits around 93. I think I’ve seen him top 96 maybe 3 times in a bucco uni. When he tries to throw hard he can’t throw it across the plate. Please, cut all ties with this guy…this isn’t 2010 when we take chances on guys like this. We have plenty of options.

  5. This may be a little out of left field but I wonder if there would be some thought of stretching Holdzkom out in AAA to make him a starter. The guy already has 2 plus offerings in the fastball and palm ball and is working on a change up. He also seem to have solved the control issues he has had in the past. I guess the only question would be whether he could hold the velocity in longer outings. He is a big guy though and should be able to handle the workload.

    • It’s an interesting thought since if you’re gonna make it as a two-pitcher starter, a cutter and change are the two you want.

      I think you’d see Radhames Liz stretched out first, though.

    • there is a side benefit to this. Then nobody will feel cheated. Holdzkom knows he is not one of the best 5 starters at this point, but I am sure he feels he is one of the better relievers. If he gets sent down, it won’t send the wrong picture to him and the team

  6. There are always a bunch of trades late in ST. I expect one or two of these tough cases is included. Suppose one of Worley or Locke clearly wins that battle, and Clayton Richard or Nick Kingham has a great spring. Now the Pirates can afford to trade the loser. Same with Caminero / Pimentel. If one of them looks really bad, they can safely be optioned. If both look OK you can likely trade one of them.

    We look at Liz/Pimentel/Caminero as valuable assets. But we got both of the latter two on the cheap for a reason; nobody else wanted to pay more. Probably nobody else wanted them at all. And there are tricks to be played too – have them pitch in “B” squad games with aspiring umps who have small strike zones. Have them throw 10 secondary pitches in a row, which will likely end up with them getting shelled or walking the park. They’re both on our 40-man roster; that means if somebody wants them they have to clear a spot on their 40-man in order to claim them on waivers. And if nobody wants to do that, they would probably rather be in Indy working with Jim Benedict than anywhere else.

    There are flocks of these guys running around, they’re like lottery tickets. Honestly, there are probably a dozen Holdzkom’s running around in the Indy leagues. Most teams probably have several of them already. And you can only stash so many of them in AAA without impeding the development of other guys.

    • Now THAT is one of the funniest comments I have seen in some time. ” Honestly, there are probably a dozen Holdzkoms running around the Indy leagues . ” You ARE kidding….aren’t you ?

  7. OK, Just a thought. I like Holdzkom, But if guys are looking ok in Spring Training and with him just being up a short time last year. Might not be bad to start him in AAA. Then see what Liz can do and whichever guy we keep up in the Stolmy/Arqui battle. Nothing really to loose there. Hopefully this will not happen but it seems in the last few years our bullpen has been over worked a bit. This would allow for us to keep him fresher and allow him to step in and help down the road.
    Just a thought.

    • Not a bad thought at all, except that Jared Hughes is the guy who should be in AAA, not John Holdzkom.

      The John Holdzkom that immediately earned Clint Hurdle’s trust in leverage situations last September is pretty clearly the 3rd best reliever on this club. You don’t keep *that* guy in the minors.

      • OK fair enough either way. Just seems a simple solution to start the season. Can always as someone else mentioned use the “forearm tightness” move with the loser of the Stolmy/Arqui battle to gain a couple weeks of the season. Who knows someone could even actually get hurt in that short period of time. Sorry somehow my post shows up twice.

  8. The Pirates had a golden opportunity to evaluate Pimentel last year and Hurdle would not pitch him, If I am Huntington I move him or cut him because even if Huntington keeps him, Hurdle is not likely to change his thinking from last year. At times it seems to me that there is a disconnect between Hurdle and Huntington, if Hurdle does not want the guy, he won’t play him. Back to the pen, Holtzcom can go down to Indy, I think the battle for the last spot will be between Caminero and Liz, Worley probably gets wasted away in the pen when the stats say he is one of the best pitchers they have. Locke and Morton join Cole, Burnett and Liriano.

    • Hurdle might have been more inclined to use Pimental if he had shown any kind of ability to throw a quality strike. From what I understand, Caminero = Pimental. Same problems.

      • Caminero=Pimental, neither one might be better than Holtzcom, but he has the option left.
        As far as Pimental, It is not easy to pitch once in a long while for a young guy and some pitchers are more cut out to be starters than they are relievers, this guy could end up with another team and be a pretty good pitcher. The Pirates treated him like he was a player in waiting and I don’t see that changing especially because he is so low on the depth chart. Seems to me that the Pirates could not make up their minds about whether they wanted him to be a starter or a reliever.

  9. OK, Just a thought. I like Holdzkom, But if guys are looking ok in Spring Training and with him just being up a short time last year. Might not be bad to start him in AAA. Then see what Liz can do and whichever guy we keep up in the Stolmy/Arqui battle. Nothing really to loose there. Hopefully this will not happen but it seems in the last few years our bullpen has been over worked a bit. This would allow for us to keep him fresher and allow him to step in and help down the road.
    Just a thought.

  10. Anyone else betting that one of these out-of-options guys mysteriously develops an “injury” around the end of Spring Training? My bet is on Stolmy Pimentel.

  11. Melancon proved me wrong last year, which I am just fine with considering the results, I just hope he does not prove me right this year.

    • Don’t feel bad, Tim Neverette, for one, doesn’t know the difference either. Control means you can throw strikes in the zone when you have to. Command means you can hit specific spots consistently, in or out of the zone, when you ( or your catcher ) wants you to. That is how you get individual hitters out, making them hit ” your ” pitch. Not being a writer, that is the best way I can think of to explain those to you. Some graphics would help also.

    • That’s a good question. In my opinion, control is ability to throw it where Catcher expects it. Command is ability to throw pitches with speed and movement desired.

      • Think of playing darts. Control is the ability to hit the dartboard. Command is the ability to hit triple 20 or the bull when you need it.

        • I seem to be outvoted here but you guys seem to be double dipping on describing control. I often hear announcers say, “The Pitcher has command of all his pitches tonight.” Which means to me he’s throwing all his pitches for quality strikes. Hence my comment about speed and movement relating to command.

          It takes control to hit both the dart board and the bullseye. Just to a different degree.

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