Neal Huntington on Taillon’s Rehab, Diaz vs Sanchez, the Versatile Bench, Bullpen Battle

Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington met with the media today at McKechnie Field to discuss today’s cuts and other Spring Training topics. For his comments on the five players who were cut, check out my article from earlier. One big topic was Jameson Taillon’s rehab from Tommy John surgery. Taillon threw his first live batting practice yesterday, facing live hitters for the first time in a year.

“He’s on track. He’s checked all of the boxes so far,” Huntington said. “We’re anticipating, and continue to anticipate there will be a set back at some point in time. There is in just about every Tommy John recovery. Just trying to make sure we stay out in front of it, and do everything in our power to keep him on track. The ball seems to be coming out of his hand well. His delivery is as clean and as efficient as it’s been. He’s positive. In talking with the guys who faced him yesterday, they said you can obviously see why he’s an elite prospect.”

Huntington discussed the possibility of setbacks, and how the Pirates expect them during the rehab process.

“That’s the unfortunate part about it, is you expect them,” Huntington said. “The big thing is to catch them early, and to allow the appropriate time — whether it’s a few down days, or modify a program, or repeat a step.”

Huntington gave a few examples of setbacks. The one everyone thinks about would be soreness, but he also mentioned a player’s hesitancy to throw a certain pitch, or a hesitancy to face live hitters. In any case, he said the plan would be to adjust the rehab process accordingly. As for when Taillon could get into live games, Huntington said they don’t have a calendar locked in, and that they are “taking it day by day.”

The Catcher of the Future

I wrote earlier this week that Elias Diaz has impressed Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle with his play so far. Huntington also talked about how impressive Diaz has been.

“He’s obviously had a great camp,” Huntington said. “We’ve loved what he’s done the last couple of years. We’ve always loved the throw. He’s gotten better as a catcher. He’s learning to slow the game down. Been very impressive in the batter’s box. A couple of 1-2 hits the other day where, if you watched his actions and you watched how he handled himself, you would have thought it was a 3-1 count, instead of a 1-2 count. He didn’t try to do too much, and just stayed within himself. Obviously, the throw lights you up, and he’s received well. He’s handling himself well in camp, and a guy we’re looking forward to continuing to help grow and develop, and see where it goes from there.”

Diaz projects to be the top catcher with Indianapolis, and the starter of the future at the position. However, the Pirates still have first round pick Tony Sanchez, who obviously would still like to have a say in the whole “catcher of the future” matter.

“He’s committed,” Huntington said on Sanchez. “He’s on a mission, and he wants to make our life difficult, which is a great thing. If he continues to progress the way he has, we’ll have some challenges as we move forward.”

Sean Rodriguez and the Versatile Bench

The Pirates added Sean Rodriguez this off-season, paying a high price to get him by sending out pitching prospect Buddy Borden, despite Rodriguez being designated for assignment. They did so because of the versatility that Rodriguez provides, and the options he can give Clint Hurdle off the bench. A lot of this approach has been due to the impact Josh Harrison provided last year in a similar role.

“One of the things that we wanted to do, and we were able to do because of the quality core we have in place, increased revenues, increased payroll,” Huntington said on adding Rodriguez. “We aggressively went out to find a guy who could play multiple positions. We traded a player that we liked a lot to get Sean. But the idea was, we have a guy who can play six positions, and it gives Clint more options off the bench late in the game.”

Huntington also mentioned Corey Hart as another versatile guy, saying he would play right field, first base, and would probably be in the lineup against left-handed starters.

“As we’ve said, this is our most talented, most versatile club on paper.”

The Bullpen Battle Will Be Interesting

The only real battle that the Pirates have this Spring is in their bullpen. There is the battle for the fifth rotation spot, and the battle for the final bench spot, but those two have clear favorites in Vance Worley and Andrew Lambo. Huntington said that the team came into camp expecting one or two openings in the bullpen.

“We’ve got some guys who have thrown the ball really well in camp. We’ve got some guys who, it’s their jobs to keep,” Huntington said. “We’re going to have some interesting decisions on the role player spot, and the bullpen. We’re going to have some very interesting decisions.”

One of those interesting decisions will be what to do with John Holdzkom. He was great last year, and has the best stuff of anyone competing for the team. However, he has options remaining, which can’t be said for someone like Arquimedes Caminero.

“We’ve talked repeatedly that we hope the players make the decisions for us in their play,” Huntington said. “But when it’s not a clear-cut decision to be made, sometimes the roster status, sometimes there are elements beyond our players’ control that do come into effect. We still have two weeks of games left…We love what John’s doing. We also have a handful of other guys who are throwing the ball really well, and could make life interesting.”

  • either stewart or sanchez will be moved before april, imo. if sanchez keeps hitting then it’s difficult to deny him a spot on the ML bench/roster…

  • Let’s not make it too interesting. If caminero continues to impress do not send holdzkom down. As is April games mean less than late summer? Goodbye stolmy and Jared can use his option

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