In about a week and a half, minor leaguers will break camp and head north to their respective full-season teams (with the exception of Bradenton players, who will just head ten minutes across town). The rosters are starting to take shape, although there are still a few decisions to be made, especially as it relates to the final Spring Training cuts. Those moves will send players to Indianapolis, which will in turn start a chain reaction that will push guys down to Altoona, or end up with some players being released.
One of those moves has already taken place, as Keon Broxton will now start the year in Altoona. Broxton was one of the first cuts from Major League camp, but will be bumped down at the start of the year due to the presence of Gorkys Hernandez, Mel Rojas, and Jose Tabata in Indianapolis, plus the future addition of either Jaff Decker or Andrew Lambo, depending on which one wins the final bench spot in Pittsburgh. Broxton will be in an Altoona outfield with Stetson Allie and Willy Garcia.
The Pirates have sent players back to Altoona in this manner in the past, and it doesn’t prevent them from making the jump to Indianapolis or the majors that season. Andrew Lambo started back at the level in 2013, was eventually promoted to Indianapolis after a strong start, and ended up in Pittsburgh by the end of the season.
First and Third With Indianapolis
Speaking of Indianapolis, the current plan is for Deibinson Romero and Brent Morel to split time between first base and third base. Romero looks like the guy with a higher upside, and the guy you’d want to see most at third base. However, the Pirates had him playing first base a lot in big league camp, with Morel getting more time at third.
Espinal Plays His Way to Bradenton
In a final roster note, at the start of camp it looked like Edwin Espinal would be held back in West Virginia. He was playing with the rest of the West Virginia roster, while Jose Osuna was playing in Bradenton. Both hitters had good seasons at their respective levels in 2014, but the presence of Josh Bell at first base in Altoona was seemingly holding everyone back, including putting Osuna in Bradenton for his third year in a row.
Espinal was hitting well in the early part of camp, and has been getting playing time with Bradenton over the last week, splitting time with Osuna at first base. I talked to Pirates’ Director of Minor League Operations Larry Broadway, who said the plan was to get them both at-bats, splitting time between first base and DH. An interesting development is that Broadway said Espinal will also get some time at third base, while Osuna will get some time in the outfield.
Both players are familiar with the positions. Espinal was signed as a third baseman, but quickly moved over to first base due to his large frame, which earned him the nickname “Tank”. He has done a much better job the last few years getting in better shape, and the Pirates appear to be willing to try him out at third again this year. Wyatt Mathisen expects to get the bulk of the work at the position in Bradenton, so don’t expect a lot of time for Espinal.
Osuna came up as an outfielder, and switched to first base full-time when he reached West Virginia in 2012. The Pirates are expected to start the year with Austin Meadows and Barrett Barnes in the Bradenton outfield, and Justin Maffei has been getting a lot of time in right field. Osuna could factor into the mix there to get more at-bats, although playing time will be hard to come by if Harold Ramirez eventually makes it to Bradenton this year (more on that below).
Today’s Game Notes
**Alex McRae got the start for the West Virginia team today, and looked good. He gave up one unearned run on two hits in four innings, with no walks and two strikeouts. McRae had good movement on his two-seam fastball, sitting 90-92 MPH. He threw 46 pitches, with 30 strikes. He also showed off a nice curveball that looks like it could be an out pitch.
**Harold Ramirez was getting at-bats in a short-season game today. He has been out due to his conditioning, as I reported last week. He worked in the batting cages over the weekend, and took his work on the field today. In the two at-bats I saw, he lined a single up the middle, and struck out on a low and away breaking ball. Even with the missed time, Ramirez should be close to being ready for the start of the season, although right now he’s projected to start off in West Virginia, rather than making the previously expected jump to Bradenton.
**Austin Meadows was crushing the ball today, including a big two-run homer. He’s going to be a player to watch in Bradenton this year, especially with his new swing potentially tapping into his power.
**John Sever pitched two innings, sitting 89-92 MPH. He was 90-92 in the first, and 89-90 in the second, touching 92 once. It looks like Sever is being prepped for a long-relief role in West Virginia, which is the role he had at the start of the year in Bristol last year. His stuff has looked good, with good movement on his fastball, and sharp break on his slider. If he pitches like he did last year, he could find himself in a rotation spot by the end of the season.
**Hector Garcia, a 19-year-old left-hander who pitched in Bristol last year, made a start today in a short-season game. He was sitting 86-89 MPH with his fastball, which is a bit below the 92 MPH range he hit last year. It’s still very early in the process for him, and he should be one of the starting pitchers to watch in Morgantown this year.
**I got to see 2014 fourth round pick Taylor Gushue catching today, and he displayed some good blocking skills behind the plate, showing off some good agility and athleticism.