BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates start their Spring Training game schedule today, and after the addition of Corey Dickerson, they really only have one battle on the position player side.
Dickerson will join a starting outfield that also includes Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco.
Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, and Colin Moran will take the infield spots, with Francisco Cervelli behind the plate.
That puts Elias Diaz, Sean Rodriguez, David Freese, and Adam Frazier on the bench, with one spot open.
Neal Huntington said last night that the team will have a strong competition for that spot, looking at a few different factors.
“We will have a really strong competition for that final spot,” Huntington said. “Part of it will be how the players play this spring. Part of it will be how they help our staff win a ball game. We may even change that as the season goes along depending on where we are in the schedule. Versatility could be beneficial. But, it might be a right-handed bat, it might be a left-handed bat, it might be a defensive versatility options, it might be somebody more speed-based that gives Clint a pinch runner. It’ll be somebody that compliments this existing group, depending on how we get through Spring Training. … If it’s a tiebreaker, that’s where options or lack thereof become a factor.”
After the trade yesterday, I updated the Spring Training tracker, including changing some of the individual odds to make the team.
At this point, I’ve got Jordan Luplow in red, with no chance to make the team. That could change if there’s an injury to one of the starting outfielders. However, the Pirates prefer to have Luplow getting daily starts in Triple-A, rather than playing on the bench in Pittsburgh at this point.
I’ve got Max Moroff and Jose Osuna still in yellow, although both are trending more to the red. In fact, I’d almost put Osuna in red right now, since he has very little chance to play. At best, he’s the number three option at third base, the number three option at first base, and a worse defensive option than Dickerson in left field.
Moroff is in an interesting situation. The Pirates will have Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer in Triple-A at the middle infield spots. They’ll have Cole Tucker at shortstop in Altoona, and second base is vacant after Mitchell Tolman’s suspension. The Pirates could send Moroff down and hold Kramer back in Altoona, which wouldn’t be the worst thing for the first half of the season. It’s just that Moroff really doesn’t have anything to work on in Triple-A.
Looking at the makeup of the team, it seems that they can really go with any position on the bench, since they’ve got some versatile players who can cover any spot. Here is the current depth chart:
1B – David Freese would be the main backup, and Sean Rodriguez can play there in a pinch, or for defense. The latter probably won’t be an issue, since Josh Bell has become a nine inning starter.
2B – Adam Frazier or Sean Rodriguez can back up Josh Harrison.
SS – Sean Rodriguez can back up Jordy Mercer, although the defense isn’t good. Max Moroff could be an option for this spot, although I don’t think there’s a good defensive backup on the roster.
3B – David Freese is the main backup to Colin Moran, and Sean Rodriguez can also play this spot.
OF – I’m going to group these spots together. The Pirates don’t have a true outfielder, but Sean Rodriguez and Adam Frazier can both play the position. Before the Dickerson trade, the Pirates were considering Frazier for the bulk of the time in left field. While they could use a true outfielder, I don’t think it’s necessary, since there aren’t really better defensive options than Frazier or Rodriguez in camp.
The Pirates have at least two depth options for each position. Therefore, it doesn’t seem that their needs would be based on specific positional depth. That would allow them to take the best bat or the best skill forward.
My guess is that the battle will come down to one of the veteran outfielders for the final bench spot. Daniel Nava seemed to have the inside track at the start of Spring Training, but hurt his back this week. He’s still out of action, and said this morning that the injury is similar to the one that kept him out of action for a long stretch last year. At this point, I wouldn’t expect him to be in the mix for a spot on the team on Opening Day.
That leaves Bryce Brentz and Michael Saunders. Brentz is on the 40-man roster and out of options. I don’t know if Saunders has an opt-out in his deal, allowing him to be a free agent if he isn’t added to the MLB roster by the end of Spring Training. I’m guessing he does, and I don’t think the option status matters in this case, since the Pirates will be choosing between one of these two, and maybe sending the other to Triple-A.
My guess on the final bench spot is that it will come down to either Brentz or Saunders. Considering the Pirates are well stocked with left-handed hitters in the lineup, it might make more sense to have the right-handed, lefty smashing Brentz taking that final spot. We’ll see how it plays out.