BRADENTON, Fl. – It has been announced before, but Clint Hurdle confirmed again today that Juan Nicasio and Kyle Lobstein will be stretched out in Spring Training as starting pitching depth.
“They’re starter depth,” Hurdle said. “We’re going to stretch them out. There will come a point in time in camp we’ll have to decide who is still in play, the health of the five guys that are going out there first right now, and where it takes us. They very well could both be options. Both of them have shown the ability to start. Both of them are aware of the opportunity in the bullpen as well.”
I wrote this weekend about how the Pirates let their pitching prospects in Triple-A impact their approach to adding pitching this off-season. They’ve got Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon projected to arrive by mid-season, and Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, and Trevor Williams as second half options. But the depth is thin in the first half, leaving the need for Nicasio and Lobstein.
Nicasio is the better option of the two pitchers, and a guarantee to make the roster as a reliever if an injury doesn’t put him in the rotation.
“Nicasio is a guy that we targeted early, were aggressive to go after,” Hurdle said. “So we’ll definitely be finding a spot for him.”
There is some debate about how good Nicasio could be as a starter. He moved to the bullpen last year, and saw his average fastball velocity jump from 92.7 MPH to 95.1 MPH. His results were pretty solid, although his control was an issue. Prior to that, he struggled as a starter with the Rockies, although that does come with the disclaimer that he pitched in Coors Field. But that disclaimer ignores the fact that he struggled on the road most years. Still, the Pirates are looking past the overall numbers.
“Nicasio is an interesting guy, because you can’t judge his starting performance based on numbers alone,” Hurdle said. “I think you need to look at the development. We’ve talked to some people. What he can do now, after having the experience starting in Colorado, and then spending the year in the bullpen. Could that help him moving forward? As a starter, he believes it can. He wants to look at that opportunity.”
As for Lobstein, if he isn’t needed for the rotation, he could battle for the second lefty position in the bullpen. Although, the Pirates might not go with two lefty relievers, even though they brought in a lot of options this off-season.
“We’re not going to carry a left-hander just because he’s left-handed. We’re going to carry the seven best pitchers breaking out of Spring Training,” Hurdle said. “We brought the men in because we wanted to look at the men. We believe they all have skill sets that could play, end up being another opportunity for them as a left-handed reliever. Where it’s going to go? Time will tell. These guys deserve looks, we feel they’ve earned looks, and we want to see them and see if we can get them to pop on our watch.”
If Lobstein doesn’t make the roster, he will almost certainly join the Indianapolis rotation, being used as rotation depth at the start of the year. That would likely push one of Steven Brault or Trevor Williams back to Altoona, until a long-term rotation spot opens up with Indianapolis.
Joyce Battling For a Fourth Outfield Spot
Matt Joyce joined the Pirates officially on Saturday, and mentioned that Clint Hurdle told him he had a shot at the fourth outfield spot. Hurdle discussed the other side of that conversation, and how Joyce ended up with the Pirates.
“First we had a conversation while he was still hunting. I just shared with him what I thought the opportunity would be here,” Hurdle said. “I told him we had three established guys who were put in place right now. Even with a slow go out of the box, they’re going to get opportunity, they’re going to get reps. So it’s an extra outfielder. It’s a bat off the bench. Told him what I liked about him and seen from him. The opportunity to start off as a fourth outfielder.”
There’s no guarantee, though, that the Pirates will carry a true fourth outfielder. Hurdle discussed today that Sean Rodriguez wouldn’t be needed as much at first base, which frees him up to play the outfield, along with many other places. Josh Harrison can move to the outfield if needed. Cole Figueroa is another super utility guy who could make the move.
“I think you need to look at your best outfielder,” Hurdle said on whether they needed a true fourth outfielder. “It’s a combination of things, based on how the parts and the players come together on the team. You want to have some protection off the bench, somebody to come and swing the bat from the right side, from the left side. You want a guy with outfield experience. As I said last year, there were times when Sean Rodriguez was our fourth best outfielder. He’s not listed in the outfield picture. I don’t think you’ll get any arguments from guys who watch our team. We’ll have different options.”
One thing that could help Joyce is his eagerness to learn first base. The Pirates are actually stocked pretty well at first base, especially from the left side. When Joyce originally talked to Hurdle, he wasn’t aware that his former teammate, John Jaso, was their left-handed hitting first baseman. But even with Jaso on the roster, Joyce could have value as a backup, or a depth option.
“A guy that can play both corners, a guy that can post up and show his worth over at first base as well, it makes him attractive,” Hurdle said. He later added: “We like duality with our guys, that they can show multiple positions that can be played. It opens up a manager’s handbook for usage throughout the game and throughout the season.”
Hurdle praised Joyce for his work in the batter’s box, his play on the field, and called him a “baseball player” and “a guy who was more than a contributor.” Joyce had a strong run of production up until last year, and the big question will be whether he can bounce back from those struggles and get back to where he was pre-2015.
“If he would have kept going on that plane, we wouldn’t have got him,” Hurdle said, referencing his past success. “Three years ago, inside of three years ago, he was doing some things, especially against right-handed pitching.”
I don’t think Joyce is a guarantee to make the roster, but he’s got a real shot, especially with the added versatility at first base.
**Cory Luebke was held out of workouts today due to right hamstring discomfort. I wrote about Luebke this week, and noted his tough string of elbow injuries, which held him out each of the last three years.
**The Pirates have only been throwing bullpen sessions so far, but will start live batting practice on Tuesday.