The first official workouts of Spring Training will take place tomorrow. The Pirates have a roster that is pretty much set, with younger players in starting roles, and some veterans on the bench. They do have a few position battles, with the key areas being the fifth starter spot, almost the entire bullpen, and the final outfield and bench spot.

Below is our Spring Training tracker, showing the position battles and the chances for each player in camp to make the team. Hat-tip to subscriber Dan Green for the inspiration for the new design. You can access the tracker at this link all throughout Spring Training.

Below the tracker I will break down each position battle.

The Rotation

The Pirates are returning four of their five starters from last year, and I’ve got all of them projected to make the rotation. The one guy who might be questionable is Trevor Williams, simply because the Pirates started him in the bullpen last year. However, he did enough in the rotation that he earned his spot, as shown by the Pirates keeping him around over Tyler Glasnow when that decision had to be made.

The three pitchers that have the best chance for the final rotation spot are Joe Musgrove, Tyler Glasnow, and Steven Brault. Musgrove was acquired in the Gerrit Cole trade, and the battle for the final spot will likely come down to him and Glasnow. There’s not much for Glasnow to prove in Triple-A at this point. He just needs to work on adjusting to the majors. I think Brault’s chances of making the team will be split as a starter or a reliever, with the bullpen being more likely.

The Bullpen

The bullpen is a mess right now. I have five open spots, and that’s only due to the amount of options available, creating actual competition. I have nine relievers with a shot to make those five spots, not including Brault, and possibly Glasnow or Musgrove. Here is the breakdown of their chances:

High Salary/Out of Options

Daniel Hudson is being paid $5.5 M this year, after struggling last year. Maybe it’s wishful thinking to think his performance will dictate whether he makes the Opening Day roster.

A.J. Schugel is out of options, but the Pirates have cut him before, and he’s cleared waivers. They’ve got a good chance to keep him around as depth in Triple-A if he doesn’t make the team.

Jordan Milbrath is a Rule 5 pick who needs to make the team, or be offered back to the Cleveland Indians. There’s a chance the Pirates could keep him around by working out a trade with Cleveland.

Hard Throwing Right-Handers

The Pirates have added a few hard-throwing right-handers, pairing them with some internal options. Michael Feliz was added in the Gerrit Cole trade, while Kyle Crick was added in the Andrew McCutchen trade. I’d give Feliz more of an inside track than anyone else, due to his previous MLB experience. They also have Edgar Santana and Dovydas Neverauskas as internal options.

You could add Glasnow and/or Musgrove to the list of potentials here. Milbrath from the list above also qualifies. I think the Pirates would be better off going with guys from this category over guys like Hudson and Schugel.

The Lefties

The Pirates have Jack Leathersich and Josh Smoker as lefties competing for the bullpen, and you’d have to think that one of them will make the team. This is an area where I could see Brault coming into play as well if the Pirates decide to use him as a reliever. I think they will have at least one left-hander in the bullpen outside of Felipe Rivero, so one of these three should make the team.

The Outfield/Bench

There is one projected outfield spot open, and one projected bench spot open, and they’ll probably go hand-in-hand. The Pirates reportedly want a platoon in left field, and added Daniel Nava as a minor league free agent to compete for that role. Because of this, Nava is the only non-roster invitee that I give a chance of making the Opening Day roster.

Adam Frazier and Jordan Luplow would be the guys competing for the other half of that role. I have Frazier making the team on the bench, so that creates a few scenarios. Nava could make the team and pair with Frazier, leaving the final bench spot to Luplow, Max Moroff, or Jose Osuna.

Or, Nava could make the team and pair with Luplow, which would make more sense, as Nava has done better against right-handers, and Luplow has done well in the minors against lefties. That would put Moroff and Osuna in the minors.

Finally, there’s the scenario where Nava doesn’t make the team, which would probably lead to Luplow and Frazier splitting the outfield duties, and Moroff and Osuna battling for the final bench spot. In that battle, I think Moroff would win.

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  1. All Nava has over any player is age, obviously one of Hurdles most valued assets. It troubles me that he is taking playing time away from the future. It’s not like you are acquiring an experienced veteran for a WS run.

  2. I’m hoping to see Frazier play a lot. I’ll take the sacrifice defensively for what he brings to the team overall. Solid ABs, a lot of hustle, and a quiet confidence

  3. Sorry Tim this roster has the look of at best a 4th place team and they have had a very tough time with the Reds so they could be looking at 5th place with only 3 potential impact players, Bell, Taillon and Rivero. Very discouraging and a very steep decline from 98 wins in 2015. They may not see that again for another 20 years with this awful ownership.

  4. Had to laugh Morgantown paper reported NH doesn’t like term “rebuilding” cos it projects a 5 year build to contend and he believes we have higher potential. There are so many holes in this team it’s a joke. I Love the Pirates and all the players but don’t piss down my neck and tell me it’s raining, this is less than a “rebuild” it’s closer to a “rescue”. Call 911 this team is dying.

  5. I like the tracker but I think its too broad for the point of the spring we’re at. I think it should be broken down into five tiers. Stick with a made the team, then most likely to make the team, then a tier for those in main competition, a tier for those who have little to no chance, and finally those who have no chance.

    Rotation: Locks – Taillon, Nova, Kuhl
    Likely – Williams and Musgrove
    Competition – Glasnow and Brault
    Unlikely – Kingham
    No Chance – Holmes, Escobar, McRae

    Bullpen: Locks – Rivero, Kontos, Hudson
    Likely – Feliz
    Competition – Crick, Schugel, Milbrath, Smoker, Santana, Neverauskas
    Unlikely – Leathersich
    No Chance – Stilson, Schultz, Sadler, Rodriguez, McKinney, Magnifico, Jones, Garcia, Eppler, Agrazal, Burdi, Turley

    Catcher: Locks – Cervelli
    Likely – Diaz
    Competition – None
    Unlikely – Stallings and Lavarnway
    No Chance – Kelley, Jhang, Williams

    Infield: Locks – Bell (1B), Harrison (2B), Mercer (SS), Moran, Freese, Frazier, Rodriguez (UTIL)
    Likely – None
    Competition – Moroff
    Unlikely – Bostick
    No Chance – Kramer, Newman, Reyes, Tucker, Weiss, Wood

    Outfield: Locks – Marte (CF) and Polanco (RF)
    Likely – Nava
    Competition – Luplow and Ozuna
    Unlikely – None
    No Chance – Meadows, Cunningham, Martin, Reynolds

    The players in the unlikely category are there if there is even the slightest chance of them making the team. Musgrove and Williams could be moved to locks in the rotation, Leathersich could be move to competition in the pen, and Lavarnway to no chance at catcher. Moran and Freese don’t have positions because I don’t think they are fully committed to Moran being the opening day starter

  6. My biggest wish this spring is for Fresse or SRod to get moved to open up a spot for a younger guy. Both guys have some value, but the way the roster has evolved this off-season, there shouldn’t be a spot for both of them.

  7. Rodriguez had a good winter pitching – I assume he might’ve snuck onto the radar. I think he starts at Indy and is my dark horse candidate for a cup of Joe in September.
    Do you think a trade for Milbrath will happen? I’d hate to see him given back.

  8. Very nice chart using color as an aid instead of a distraction.

    I might be inclined to move Frazier to an OF spot and put Moroff as a BN in the infielder. N/m–I forgot about Nava down there in the NRI’s.

  9. There it is! First player to say “best shape” goes to Nova…

    Super, slimmer Nova: Right-hander Ivan Nova reported to Spring Training about 10 pounds lighter than last season. He said the decision to drop some weight was caused by the left knee injury he pitched through last season.

    “This is my job. I’ve got to protect it,” Nova said. “You do everything you can to be in the best shape.”

        • Polanco is legitimately always jacked. But I do like the philosophy of his workout program this off season. I think the idea of trying to add a bunch of muscle was a poor match for his long frame.

          • Agreed. It was clear he had to change something.

            I kinda just wanted him to get huuuuuge but entirely stop trying to be fast…. but this is probably a smarter alternative.

    • Where did you catch this quote? This is the good news if the knee is 100% because he was visibly suffering with it last year. If Nova returns to health and form he can be a stopper and a very valuable trade chip at the deadline.

      Did he have any surgical cleanup or just rehab?

  10. I sure hope the Pirates pitch the heck out of the ball, as their offense is just not gonna compete with other teams.

  11. If Hudson comes out less than stellar this spring. I could see the Pirates actually eating his contract. It hasn’t happened much, but a few years back they ate two or three contracts in that 3 – 5 million range I believe…It doesn’t happen a lot but it has…fwiw…

    • yep. they’ve eaten Morse, Bastardo in recent memory.

      and in the case of liriano they ate prospects and not salary 😛

      • In each of those cases (Morse, Bastardo), they waited until the season started to eat those contracts. Remember Morse was essentially free (if you assume Tabata’s contract was a sunk cost), so he was easier to jettison.

        With Bastardo, they even dragged it out through a DL term, rehab assignment and three more pointless appearances before they finally cut him…in JULY. I give zero credit for that decision.

        Jared Hughes is the only other one I could come up with and even then he only ate a few hundred thousand. Which, as he would remind us later in the Nicasio debacle, is “real money.”

        No, NH is unfortunately so slavish to his principle that a salaried player is an “asset” that he’s seemingly allergic to just cutting the cord.

        • I don’t have a problem with sticking with Bastardo too long. It’s hard to just give up on a guy who’d been so successful so recently, and for so many consecutive seasons, before falling apart. It proved to be the wrong choice, but it would have been very worth it had he found his old good form.

  12. I like charts….Very well done. Personally, I believe Osuna at this point in time should be in the “No Chance at making the team”

    There’s no purpose with Freese and Sean Rod on the roster….They better not have any thoughts of him playing LF.

    • I was 50/50 on him being yellow or red. I went with yellow because history tells me that if I said he has no chance of making the team, people would burn the site to the ground.

      • if they plan on competing…. and they say that they do…. then Freese’s lefty-mashing ways are going to be a part of that.

        I’m looking forward to seeing what a Freese – Moran platoon can do.

        once they fall out of the race, sure, dump freese. until then, he’s fine as long as they use him right.

      • Freese is still a very useful player, provided he’s not stretched out too much and overexposed. Sean-Rod is the redundant player, even despite his versatility, since there are legitimate questions about him ever returning to form after his injury.

        • If he’s put in a role where he spells Polanco and… let’s just say Frazier (or Nava)… vs some/most/all lefties… then he really isn’t redundant. even when his body was broken, he was still good against lefties last year.

      • If Moran goes belly up we will be glad to have Freese. Your only other 3b is Harrison. Who they are trying to trade. The team doesn’t have enough 3b depth.

  13. One other thing, after Stallings hit the way he did in Indy
    last year, I have him in yellow and not red.

    And besides, can you guarantee that Cervelli and Diaz will
    be healthy for opening day?

    • If they get injured, he would turn to yellow. The chart assumes a scenario where each player is healthy on Opening Day. Any injuries during camp will adjust the chart.

  14. This yearly article is another of my top 5 reasons to be
    a member on this site. In a way, I like the new format,
    but Tim it was also helpful to have the number of
    options remaining in the tracker as well.
    Any chance you could put the number of options
    remaining next to their names in ( ). Yes, I know
    that this is not perfect because just because veteran
    players have options remaining it does not mean
    they can be send down directly. In that case,
    you could add an * to the number in ( ).
    Any chance you could try this?

  15. NH could earn a lot of points by cutting Hudson and Rodriguez, admitting failure and loosening the completely pointless backlog of playable options in the upper minors.

    And just for the record, I liked the Hudson signing and didn’t mind the Rodriguez re-acquisition. But subsequent events – the acquisition of Moran, Feliz and Crick – have made both of these guys largely redundant.

    • Hudson was a coin flip for me, but the acquisition of Rodriguez was stupid baseball by a GM in panic. The Atlanta front office is still laughing. He did not hit at all in Atlanta after the accident, and hit .168 with the Pirates who rushed him to the plate as often as possible after the trade.

      So we absorbed the remaining $7 mil of his contract, and have absolutely nothing to show for it. Is it possible we will have Rodriguez, Nava, and Freese combining for 700+ AB in 2018?

      • Yeah, very possible.

        I’m actually ok with Freese as a RH complement and possible late inning defensive replacement for Moran, plus RH pinch hitter. ~200-250 PA should be about what he’s ticketed for.

        And I’m ok with Nava getting the first crack at the strong side of a platoon in left until Meadows arrives, whenever that may be. I could see trotting Frazier out there since his bat needs to find its way into the lineup somehow, but it’s not a bad idea to have an experienced outfielder because (1) we have no idea whether Luplow can stick; (2) we have no idea when Meadows will be ready, and (3) we DO have an idea of what Jose Osuna looks like in the pasture, and it’s not good. Another 200 PA feels right.

        But Rodriguez, no matter how you look at it, is superfluous. He’ll take away AB from Frazier, he’ll take a roster spot from Moroff, and he contributes to the playing time logjam that reaches all the way down to Altoona. He’s a capable multi-positional defender, but he doesn’t play SS. He’s blocking the very people he could mentor. The best case scenario here is he’s this season’s Brandon Inge. But we all know Hurdle will play him 3x more often than he should.

        • Your last sentence is a major part of the problem – Hurdle. Freese had an excellent year in 2017, but Moran needs the AB and I like the way you put it – Freese as a late inning defensive replacement.

          NH keeps finding veterans who act as roadblocks to our younger players. No confidence in our development system. Why not Luplow or Osuna? Time for NH to step aside.

  16. I probably like a LF platoon of Frazier – Rodriguez more than most people. i think the likely outcome of that would be something like 2-3 WAR (i suggested a shot of 3-4 WAR on bucsdugout yesterday, and man, people didn’t like that 🙂 ).

    i probably like Moroff more than most people.

    so wrapping back to roster construction and getting back on topic….

    if Nava is making the team, and i’m choosing between Moroff and Luplow for the last spot, i’m weird in that i’m picking Moroff, and getting Luplow everyday PA in AAA, and temporarily running with Frazier/SeanRod in LF. I’m also sitting Harrison and Mercer against righties in favor of Moroff frequently.

    and i think we all know that Nava is making the team haha.

    but this whole post goes out the window if they deal Harrison.

    • Not weird at all man, but you were definitely still Wrong About Baseball on the Internet at bucsdugout yesterday. (kidding!)

  17. Huge help here, Tim.

    This roster is a mess of indecision, but it’s particularly difficult to see what purpose George Kontos and Sean Rodriguez serve. The lot of questionable relievers acquired this winter seem like they’re only pushing back the lot of question starters who should be given a chance to relieve that the Pirates already had. Given the situation at hand, better to have as many sports open as possible.

    One of the more frustrating parts of the past two “trial” years has been that they seem to end up with as many questions as answers. 2019/2020 contention means they gotta figure out what they have, and guys like those above aren’t helping them get there.

    • I’m working through an article for tonight that touches on this subject. Can’t figure out which direction it’s going to go. It will either be “Here are the players who definitely shouldn’t be taking spots from younger guys” or a breakdown of the minor league roster implications for the MLB battles. It might even be a combination of both.

    • the purpose of getting Kontos was always to be cute.

      “yeah we got rid of Nicasio for free, but we ALSO *got* Kontos for free, and HE has years of control! ”

      which would be a lot more valid if the team didnt have so many interesting young bullpen options right now.

      i mean i like Kontos. but if they let Milbrath go in favor of keeping Kontos i’ll be a little annoyed.

      i dont really care if they send Crick and Smoker and Co. to AAA as a result of keeping Kontos. that’s not a real problem IMO. both of them have enough warts that some AAA time could do them some good.

      • I lean a bit less cynical, but no more flattering; I think he genuinely believes they’re “contenders” and Hudson helps them in that regard.

      • They got Kontos a month before they let Nicasio go. Kontos wasn’t a bad pickup for free. At worst, they eventually lose him for free. At best, he gains some value and they can get something for him in return.

        • i probably came across as more angry about Kontos’ existence than i actually am. But i do appreciate being called out on the timeline. i dont want to spread that anymore if it wasn’t true.

          the Kontos move was fine for 2017. I just hope his existence in 2018 doesnt make them make an irreversible move and lose a younger player.

    • I don’t understand your view on Kontos. He’s a solid reliever and and could be a stabilizing presence among a young and potentially volatile bullpen. SRod (and Hudson) has no purpose though.

      • Sure, totally valid points. I’m just personally not very moved by the “stabilizing presence” argument and think his actual production is marginal on a club like that. Would rather let younger arms develop, particularly when they’re already gonna have Rivero and Hudson, for better and worse.

        Small quibble in the grand scheme.

    • Kontos was solid at the end of last season. You need him this year to be insurance while the younger BP arms see if they can handle high leverage situations. the BP is not the same as the starting rotation and starting position players. Kontos isn’t a blocker, like nova might be. I agree with you on SRod. Hurdle’s man crush on him might put younger players on the bench.

  18. I’d like to see what Glasnow could do in a low leverage relief role for a month or two. I definitely trust Musgrove in the rotation a lot more at this point.

    Moroff may deserve a spot on the roster, but it’s probably better for him to play regularly and develop in AAA than to just hang out on the bench and pinch hit in Pittsburgh.

      • Indy will try a new version of the shift this year — every inning the players will change positions. Fans can “bet” on who will be where b/t innings. The fun never stops!

    • i think i agree.

      I think the IDEAL solution here… would be Musgrove spending the first 2/3 of the season in the rotation and then going back to the pen FOR THE PLAYOFF PUSH (he probably doesnt have a full season of SP innings in him), and glasnow starting in the ‘pen, and then going into the rotation if/when he looks fixed.

  19. Just dreaming over here… I understand SRod was yet to fully recover from the accident but I would prefer Moroff over him, other relievers over Hudson, Glasnow over Nova, etc. Use the BAMtech money to move them!!

  20. The bench/LF situation will be interesting. I selfishly want all of those players to play b/c I want to see how each of them can progress.

  21. You briefly touched on it. Any way you can add the options remaining to the pitchers in the chart. That usually plays a big decision factor. Excellent chart!! This will be a great reference throughout the entire year and definitely a bookmark.

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