BRADENTON, Fla. – Every time I talk to a Pirates’ minor league player this spring, I ask them where they are being assigned for the upcoming season. Almost all of the time I get the same answer.
“They told me to come in and compete for a job with [Insert Team Here].”
I’ve heard this answer before, but never so frequently. It used to be a rare response at this stage in camp. It was only two years ago that Larry Broadway told me in early March that Mitch Keller and Ke’Bryan Hayes were going to West Virginia, with no questions about competing for a job. We’re now a few weeks from the start of the season, and for the most part there has been no roster clarity.
There is some clarity in some cases. I know Mitch Keller is going to Altoona. I know Gage Hinsz will be in Bradenton. The common trend seems to be that if a player moved up to a new level at the end of the year (like Keller), then he will start off at that level. If a player has no chance of moving up after struggling (like Hinsz), then he knows he’s returning to his previous level.
I think the reason for the uncertainty from everyone else is that there is uncertainty at the top, and a big trickle down effect that could impact several levels.
We saw the first potential trickle down today with Max Moroff being optioned to Indianapolis. This follows Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer being sent down last week. If you don’t want to do the math, that’s three starting middle infield prospects for two spots.
One of them could move over to third base. But if Jose Osuna gets sent down, then the Pirates would want him to play third base. They also want to give playing time to guys like Eric Wood, Erich Weiss, and Chris Bostick.
I asked Neal Huntington today if the Moroff demotion would lead to a trickle down effect, where Kevin Kramer would go back to Altoona, and Stephen Alemais would go back to Bradenton, at least until Moroff eventually moved up. Huntington started with a familiar phrase this spring.
“We fully anticipate Kevin Kramer, Kevin Newman will have that opportunity to make that Indianapolis club, and then to play regularly on that Indianapolis club,” Huntington said.
Huntington later said that they felt Kramer was ready for Indianapolis, rather than even discussing the possibility that he could use more work in Altoona.
“We do feel that Kevin Kramer is ready for that next step, feel that Kevin Newman is ready for that next step,” Huntington said. “It’s just a matter of mixing and matching, and getting as many opportunities as we can for those guys, and keeping everybody sharp and growing.”
There are a few easy solutions here. They could play Kramer, Newman, and Moroff at the second, short, and third base positions. If Osuna goes down, they could play him at first base. That would leave little playing time for Wood, Weiss, and Bostick, although those three profile as bench players in the majors at best, and Moroff and Osuna are higher on the depth chart with the bench player designation.
They could also keep Osuna in the majors, which at least keeps one additional lineup spot open for one of Wood, Weiss, and Bostick. But that would depend on Osuna winning a job over Bryce Brentz, which sounds a bit more possible today than it did earlier in camp.
The key takeaway here is that the Pirates want Kramer in Indianapolis, and feel that he’s ready. I don’t think they have a difficult decision here. It’s less important for guys like Wood, Weiss, and Bostick to get additional playing time off the bench, especially when it means holding back Kramer and Alemais from a promotion, when each of those players has a higher upside than the Indianapolis bench guys.
There are other roster situations in the system that are up in the air, with the pitching side being a big one, along with a lot of young players competing for the spots in West Virginia. We’ll see how that shakes out in the next week. But I feel the decision on how to handle the trickle down effect from Moroff should be an easy one, ultimately resulting in a way for Kevin Kramer and Stephen Alemais to move up.