The Pittsburgh Pirates made their second round of cuts this morning, sending down eight players, including top prospects like Jameson Taillon, Alen Hanson, and Willy Garcia. Neal Huntington talked with the media after the roster moves, discussing the plans for each player, along with a few other roster issues on the big league squad. Here are the notes.
Jameson Taillon’s Tommy John Recovery
It was no surprise that Taillon was sent down today. The right-hander is returning from Tommy John surgery, and won’t start pitching in live games until the end of Spring Training. So keeping him in major league camp was useless at this point. The Pirates have been playing things very conservative with the top pitching prospect.
“He continues to make daily progress and we’re still anticipating a setback at some point in time,” Huntington said. “Hopefully it’s a small one. His mindset has been fantastic. He wants to get out there. This guy wants to go compete, he wants to get on his track to the big leagues to help this big league club win games. But he understands why we’re focused on ten years over ten months.”
Taillon is slated to throw his second live batting practice tomorrow, and is still on a Tuesday/Friday schedule.
“We’re nearing almost a year of just flat-out grind,” Huntington said. “Just flat-out arduous labor. Painful at times. Monotonous at times. Lonely at times. And he wants to go compete. Getting ready to go through some live batting practices, and again we’ll build on each one of those positive days, and we’ll adjust if the days aren’t so positive.”
Is there a Future For Willy Garcia and Mel Rojas?
Willy Garcia and Mel Rojas were both cut today. Both outfielders showed good things in camp, with Garcia hitting a home run in last night’s game.
“Willy showed some great growth from last year to this year,” Huntington said. “Obviously the line drive, absolute missile home run he hit last night just reinforces some of the positive baseball tools that he has. We’re continuing to work to help him grow as a player, and turn him from a prospect into a good player.”
It’s going to be difficult for the Pirates to eventually find spots for guys like Garcia and Rojas. They have Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco in the outfield. They have a lot of outfield depth options. They have strong outfield prospects in the lower levels, such as Austin Meadows and Harold Ramirez. And Garcia and Rojas both have a chance to be starters, which would be wasted on the bench. So how will the Pirates find spots for these guys?
“That’s the beautiful part about the game, there’s 30 teams. And if we don’t have an opportunity for them, and we help them grow and develop as players, someone else will,” Huntington said. “There’s always injuries. There’s free agency. There’s trades. So even though there might not be an immediate opportunity here, there’s 30 teams and an opportunity may present itself down the road because of their development as players.”
This isn’t a bad situation for the Pirates to be in at all. If these guys work out, they’re choosing from having a starting quality outfielder as depth on their bench, or trading a prospect they won’t miss to get a piece they need.
“If they have success here, that’s a fantastic thing,” Huntington said. “If their opportunity comes somewhere else and they have success, then we’ve done our jobs as well too, and in return hopefully we’ve added to our Major League club or to our system.”
Starling Marte Moving to the Middle of the Order
Speaking of that current outfield, Clint Hurdle has been batting Starling Marte in the middle of the order recently. The emergence of Josh Harrison helped lead to a situation where the Pirates no longer need Marte at the top of the lineup. Huntington said that they see Marte as more of a run producer than a run scorer.
“When you have a guy that’s multi-dimensional, you put him where he fits,” Huntington said. “Early in his career, Starling fit better at the top of the lineup for us, but he’s always been more of a guy that’s going to drive the ball to the gaps, hit some home runs, versus that prototypical speed, slap and go guy. We always envisioned that he would eventually end up toward the middle of the lineup, but if our lineup was constructed so that he would be that speed guy at the top of the lineup, then so be it. We’re not married to a certain set of criteria for a certain spot in the lineup.”
The Chris Stewart Injury and Tony Sanchez’s Future
Chris Stewart is down with a strained right hamstring, which will keep him out of action for two weeks. That makes it seem incredibly likely that Tony Sanchez will open the season as the backup catcher, with Stewart on the disabled list. Huntington didn’t want to go that far, pointing out that Stewart recovered quickly from knee surgery last year.
“Right now our focus is getting the hamstring healthy,” Huntington said. “Right now our focus is continuing to help Tony Sanchez continue to be ready if needed. And we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Of course, even with Stewart’s quick recovery last year, Sanchez was needed at the start of the year in the majors. He has certainly set himself up well to be in a good position to take that role again this year if Stewart can’t make it by Opening Day.
“Nice part is, Tony Sanchez is having a great camp on all sides of the game, and if Chris is not ready to go, obviously we’ve got somebody that we feel strongly about stepping in as we did a year ago,” Huntington said. “If Stewey is ready to go, then obviously we’ll have a lot of catching depth as well.”
The Pirates moved Sanchez to first base at the end of last year to create more playing time for Elias Diaz behind the plate. It sounds like Sanchez has worked his way back into the catching mix, with the first base plans on hold.
“Right now our focus is helping Tony to be ready to help us at the major league level as a catcher,” Huntington said. “It is something that is in the backs of our minds, depending upon how this club breaks down. Right now, especially with Stewey’s situation, Tony is a catcher. He’s shown the ability to go over there, and it may be something that we approach somewhere down the road again. More as a different opportunity to make a major league team.”
The biggest change for Sanchez has been his improved throwing. Last year, around the middle of the season, I heard from several people that Sanchez was falling out of favor with the Pirates due to the lack of trust in his throwing. It got to the point where he took it upon himself to go to the Dominican Leagues to work as a catcher, after the Pirates had moved him to first. He was determined to work on improving behind the plate, and continued that after his time in winter ball. Pete Ellis wrote over the weekend about how Sanchez did exactly that, and how he improved his throwing issues. The results so far have been encouraging.
“With the development and the consistency he’s showing, it’s been fun to watch him this Spring,” Huntington said.
Sadler Hurt By a Lack of Innings
Casey Sadler had a great Spring in major league camp. He started off dominating with his sinker in his first two outings. The sinker struggled and was up in the zone in the third outing. Then he went five days without throwing, before coming out of the bullpen last night and striking out the side with nasty stuff in his only inning. After the game, Clint Hurdle said that they still viewed Sadler as a starting option, but were running out of innings. Today, Sadler was sent to minor league camp.
“He’s in kind of in no man’s land, where it’s a little unfair for him to take him out of camp right now, because he probably belongs in camp still, but we need to get him stretched out,” Huntington said. “We need him to be one of our depth starters, and the only way to get him innings is to get him out, and get him going, because we’ve got guys we’re trying to build up at the Major League level.”
The Final Spot on the Bench
Most of the offensive positions for the Pirates are set, with the one exception being the final bench spot. Andrew Lambo is assumed to be the front-runner for that position, although Huntington said the team is still working through who the player will be, and what position that player will be.
One issue with the current roster makeup is that there are no left-handed hitters off the bench. The current bench projects to be Corey Hart, Jung-ho Kang, Sean Rodriguez, and either Stewart or Sanchez on Opening Day. Lambo would give the Pirates their only left-hander if he made the team. However, it’s not a guarantee that the Pirates will need a lefty.
“The left/right will be a part of the conversation, but again our goal is to take the best 25, and not the 25 best,” Huntington said. “That may factor into it. We’ve still got a couple of weeks left. We have to make that decision, but that is a part of the process.”
Clayton Richard as a Depth Option For the Rotation
Huntington was asked whether Clayton Richard had an opt out clause, but didn’t want to answer the question.
“We’re going to let other teams do what they need to do to find that out,” he said with a laugh.
The Pirates have been working with Richard on getting back to where he was in 2010, before the injuries derailed his career. I talked to Richard and to Ray Searage about this, detailing the types of changes they were making, which are very similar to the changes made with Vance Worley last year. Huntington seemed encouraged by the early results.
“We’ll see where Clayton is at the end of Spring Training,” Huntington said. We like him. We like the work that he’s put in. We like the man a lot. He’s been a great student, but he’s also provided our guys with incredible feedback…We’ve still got some work to do, we’ve still got a ways to go, but we do believe that he’s on track to being a good major league pitcher again, and we certainly hope it’s here with us.”
One interesting note about Richard is that he has five years and 70 days of service time. If the Pirates were able to call him up on June 26th or later, and keep him in the majors the rest of the year, they’d have him under control for the 2016 season, at which point he’d be eligible for arbitration. However, it seems likely that if he has an opt-out clause, it would take place before that date.