BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates started making cuts in the last week, which didn’t really do much to clear up their Opening Day roster picture. Most of the cuts that were made were expected, with 2016 depth options and top prospects being sent down. However, outside of a few spots on the bench and in the bullpen, the roster is pretty cut and dry.
There are about two weeks remaining in Spring Training, and I’d expect more cuts this week, with some of these cuts making the final roster a bit more clear. But before that happens, I figured I’d get my prediction out there for the Opening Day roster, giving an idea of what to expect in the coming weeks.
I’m not about to get into the actual batting order, although I plan to tackle that subject tomorrow. For now, we’ll just keep it simple and look at the normal starters at each position on Opening Day.
C – Francisco Cervelli
1B – John Jaso
2B – Josh Harrison
SS – Jordy Mercer
3B – David Freese
LF – Starling Marte
CF – Andrew McCutchen
RF – Gregory Polanco
The lineup is pretty simple, with no real competition. The bench will have some tougher decisions. Chris Stewart, Sean Rodriguez, and Michael Morse are locks right now. That leaves two final spots and a lot of different directions the Pirates could go in.
I think Jason Rogers will get one of those spots at the start of the year, just based on what Neal Huntington said to me after they acquired David Freese:
“Out of the gate, we can absolutely carry [Morse and Rogers], because one can be the right-handed option at first base. And we do like what we’ve seen out of Jason at third base, and feel like he can fill a role there. … Out of the gate, certainly, we feel like both of those guys will make the club. You could still see Goebbert, you could still see Cole Figueroa, Matt Joyce, Florimon.”
I don’t think Huntington was saying Rogers is a lock to make the club, but they definitely seem to like him. He mentioned a few other names there, but I think the final spot really comes down to two guys: Matt Joyce and Cole Figueroa.
The Pirates have the ability to keep Joyce in the system by paying him a $100,000 retention bonus five days before Opening Day, and stashing him in Indianapolis. That makes a lot of sense when Kang returns, which I’ll detail below.
I think this, plus the fact that Cole Figueroa can play a lot of positions, gives Figueroa the edge. You don’t have a true fourth outfielder without Joyce, but you’ve got three guys (Rodriguez, Figueroa, Morse) who can play outfield if needed, and Joyce in Triple-A if there is a long-term need. Without Figueroa, you’ve got one guy who can back up the middle infield spots: Sean Rodriguez.
I think the need for a second backup utility infielder will be much more important than an extra outfielder. So I’m going with Figueroa here.
When Jung-ho Kang Returns
The Pirates’ lineup will change when Jung-ho Kang returns. David Freese will move to the right-handed platoon role at first base, and Michael Morse will move to the bench. That would make Jason Rogers expendable, which means he’d move to Triple-A, assuming he makes the roster on Opening Day.
We once again have the same situation as above, with a bigger need for an infielder than the need for a true fourth outfielder like Joyce. This is the biggest reason I think they’ll go with Cole Figueroa at the start of the year. You might say that Jason Rogers could go down at the start of the year to make room on the roster for Figueroa, but then you’d need to send Joyce down to make room to keep Figueroa once Kang returned. And you can’t send Joyce down and keep him, since he could opt out of his deal by declining to be outrighted, or could be claimed off waivers.
There’s also the fact that Figueroa and Joyce would both require 40-man spots. I can only see one spot being cleared easily, and that would be Pedro Florimon. Any other spots would be difficult, especially when it also makes more sense to keep Joyce as depth in Triple-A.
Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, and Jon Niese are locks for the rotation. Yesterday we learned that the final two spots will be a competition between Jeff Locke, Ryan Vogelsong, and Juan Nicasio. There are still two weeks remaining, and I think Locke and Vogelsong still have the inside tracks right now. But if I had to take a wild guess at what will happen over the next two weeks, I’d say that Nicasio and Vogelsong get the remaining spots.
Part of this might be influenced by what I’d do right now. But part of it is seeing Locke struggling with his mechanics early in camp. He’s getting more comfortable with each start, but it’s incredibly difficult to go through the type of overhaul he’s been going through. Likewise, it’s incredibly difficult to ignore the success Nicasio has been having, and the stuff he has. And Vogelsong is starting to show that same success, albeit with much less upside. Right now, I’d project the two right-handers in those final spots.
Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Neftali Feliz, and Jared Hughes are locks. If Jeff Locke doesn’t make the rotation, then he’s in the bullpen, and that kind of solves the second lefty role, and the need for another long reliever. If Nicasio or Vogelsong don’t make it, then you’ve got another bullpen guy and a long-reliever. So either way, you’re looking for two more spots.
I think that Arquimedes Caminero will get one of the spots, even though he hasn’t had the best Spring Training. His stuff is difficult to cut loose, and the Pirates have to keep him around or risk losing him through waivers. I don’t think they’d take that route based off some struggles during Spring Training.
Since I’m predicting Locke for the bullpen, there’s not a need for a lefty in the final spot. That means my prediction would lean towards Rob Scahill. He’s a hard thrower who can go multiple innings, and he has an option remaining. One of the things with the “multi-inning reliever” approach is that the Pirates might need to have a revolving door for their final spot, in order to always have a fresh bullpen. I could see a scenario where Scahill starts the year in the majors, but the Pirates rotate between him, Trey Haley, and Kyle Lobstein throughout the season, with the tired pitchers going to Triple-A for some rest. For now, I’m going with Scahill as the final guy at the start of the year.
**We had our Bradenton subscriber meetup today at Pirate City and then World of Beer after. There were several subscribers who stopped by Pirate City throughout the day, and only a few were able to go to WOB after, but we had a great time with plenty of baseball discussion. We’ll do this again when I head up to Pittsburgh at the start of the season. It will either be the Saturday before Opening Day, or the Monday after. I’m thinking Saturday would work better.
**If you’re not a subscriber, this is the point in the free article where I make my sales pitch. Tonight it’s going to be this: Today was an off-day, which means there was very little written about the Pirates, and most everyone took the day off. Except us. We don’t have off-days during the season (we might have one or two in the off-season). We also wrote four articles, including this one, which might match the rest of the articles that went up from Spring Training today. And those articles include information that you can’t find anywhere else. So if you’re looking for a site that routinely posts quality Pirates articles, with coverage from the Dominican Summer League to Pittsburgh, and information you can’t find elsewhere, this is the site for you. And getting all of this info will only cost you less than a cup of coffee per month.
**Pirate City Notes: Jordan Luplow Will Be Getting Time in the Outfield in 2016. A lot of prospect notes, with the big news being how the Pirates will split time at third base in Bradenton between Jordan Luplow and Connor Joe. Also, reports on today’s outings from Wilbur Miller, and a World Baseball Classic qualifiers recap from John Dreker.
**Wyatt Mathisen Has a Sore Shoulder, Luis Heredia Moving to the Bullpen. A few minor league injury updates, along with news that Luis Heredia will be a reliever this year.
**The Mystery Surrounding the Ryan Vogelsong Reclamation Project. Not much is known about what Vogelsong is working on with Ray Searage, although he did look good in his last start, and the Pirates believe he can do well in a rotation role, now that he’s not bouncing back and forth between the rotation and bullpen.
**Pirates Prospects Job Openings in Pittsburgh and West Virginia. We’re hiring a West Virginia writer, and an additional Pirates writer.