BRADENTON, Fl. – The David Freese addition this weekend improved the Pirates’ situation at third base at the start of the year, and improved their depth throughout the season. The one fallout of this deal is that it will eventually make a crowded Indianapolis roster even more crowded. That’s not a “problem”, as there’s no such thing as too much depth being a problem, or even a real thing. But it does make things complicated, especially with so many versatile players up for multiple positions.
At the start of the season, the Pirates will have Chris Stewart, Sean Rodriguez, and Michael Morse on their bench. That leaves two spots open for Jason Rogers, Cole Figueroa, Matt Joyce, Jake Goebbert, Alen Hanson, and Pedro Florimon. I’d include other players, but these guys seem like they have the best shot of making it. And even then, half of those guys don’t really have a shot. I can’t see Goebbert, Hanson, or Florimon making it at this point, outside of an injury.
That leaves the final two bench spots down to Rogers, Figueroa, and Joyce. I think Rogers has the inside track here, and I could also see Figueroa getting a job, due to how much playing time he has received. That would leave Joyce as the odd man out, and outfield depth in Triple-A.
But when Jung-ho Kang returns, things get tricky. Michael Morse would go from the right-handed first base role to the bench, with Freese taking his old spot. That would make things very difficult for the Pirates to also keep Rogers, who has options remaining. My guess is that Rogers goes down when Kang returns, and either Figueroa or Joyce stay in the majors (I’d expect Figueroa to be the guy staying up).
With those assumptions in place, here is how I see the Triple-A playing time:
This position is going to be primarily Josh Bell’s spot. This is obviously the best spot for Rogers, and Dan Gamache has been learning the position. But I see little opportunity here for Rogers, and no chance at all for Gamache to get time if Bell and Rogers are on the same team. Jake Goebbert can also play first base, but would be an outfielder if he goes down to Triple-A.
The Pirates are keeping Alen Hanson at second base to work on his consistency, rather than moving him around like the other infielders. Just like first base, this will limit the opportunities for other players to get time at the position.
The other guys who can play second base are Max Moroff, Gift Ngoepe, Adam Frazier, and Dan Gamache. Of that group, I think Moroff would be the Jason Rogers of this situation, getting time behind Hanson when it’s available. Pedro Florimon is also an option here, although I’m not considering him much, for reasons stated in the next position.
Here is where things start getting complicated. The shortstop candidates are Max Moroff, Adam Frazier, Gift Ngoepe, and maybe Florimon. I’ll address Florimon first. He’s out of options, so he would have to clear waivers to be sent down. He’s also been outrighted off the 40-man roster before, which means he can decline the assignment and become a free agent if he gets outrighted again. I think he’d take that choice, since there’s not much of an opportunity for him here. It wouldn’t hurt the Pirates, as they’ve got an all-defense shortstop option in Ngoepe.
Frazier isn’t getting much time at second base with Hanson in the mix, and he’s available as an outfielder. I could see him getting most of his time there, just like he did last year in Altoona for the first half of the season (before Gift Ngoepe moved up to Indianapolis and created an opening at shortstop).
Moroff could get some time here, but also has an option at third base, where he’s been getting a lot of time this spring. I could see him getting most of his time at third, with a few starts at second and short to fill in time.
That would leave Ngoepe as the starting shortstop. I don’t think he’d start as much as Bell or Hanson, so there would be more opportunities here for Moroff and Frazier to get extra playing time.
I said above that I see Moroff getting the most time at third base. The other options would be Gift, Jason Rogers, and Dan Gamache. Gift would primarily be at shortstop, and wouldn’t factor in much at third, although it’s an option for him.
Rogers isn’t going to get much time at first base, and I don’t see him getting much time here either. The Pirates have been using him there during Spring Training, but he’s also an option as an outfielder, and there’s more of an opening at that spot in Indianapolis. I could see him getting maybe a start per week at first, and a start per week at third. But I think a lot of his time will come as the designated hitter or in the outfield.
Gamache seems to be the odd man out in all of this. He might get a start per week at second and a start per week at third, but other than that, he becomes a strong bench option when Rogers gets sent down. All it takes is one injury to one of the other guys and he’s back in the mix.
The only outfield prospect who is a lock for a position is Willy Garcia. Other than that, the rest of the top outfield prospects will start off in Altoona. Adam Frazier should see a lot of time in the outfield, with the ability to play all three positions. That will relieve the strain on the infield situation.
Jake Goebbert will play the outfield when he is sent down, which gives you the third outfield starter. If Matt Joyce makes it down, then you’ve got a crowded situation where the designated hitter might come into play. And then there’s Jason Rogers factoring into the mix.
The Normal Lineup
The lack of outfielders makes it possible to start almost everyone, although it will be a squeeze for playing time when Rogers arrives. There won’t really be a “normal” lineup in Indianapolis, as the positional flexibility means there could be a different lineup each day. But here is my best guess at what the usual lineup could look like when Rogers goes down.
C – Elias Diaz
1B – Josh Bell
2B – Alen Hanson
SS – Gift Ngoepe
3B – Max Moroff
LF – Jake Goebbert
CF – Adam Frazier
RF – Willy Garcia
DH – Jason Rogers
Searching for playing time – Dan Gamache, maybe Matt Joyce or Cole Figueroa