On Thursday, we asked readers to submit questions for a Pirates Q&A. We received a great response to the post and started answering those questions on Friday. Tim Williams started with questions about the off-season on Friday, then on Saturday, he tackled questions about prospects, the Pirates budget and Manny Machado. We left two questions for expanded articles. The second article will be posted tomorrow, but today, we look at this question from Thursday:
rutkap: Who is the best bet for a Non-Roster Invitee to crash the party and make the opening day squad?
The Pittsburgh Pirates currently have 17 non-roster invites. That number will likely increase before Spring Training begins in three weeks and could possibly go up more during Spring Training. For now, we will look at the current invites and judge them based on the current roster setup and not the possibility of a player being signed who could hurt their chances of making the team. I have listed all 17 players in alphabetical order below, along with their chances of making the Opening Day roster.
Dario Agrazal – Agrazal doesn’t have a chance of making the Opening Day roster. He’s dealt with injuries each of the last two seasons and hasn’t even put in a full year at Double-A yet. He got his invite when he was dropped from the 40-man roster last week.
Steven Baron – The Pirates could go with three catchers on Opening Day and Baron right now would probably be fourth on the catching depth chart, but that doesn’t mean that one injury would open a spot for him. Jacob Stallings is out of options and if he is DFA’d, he not only has a chance of being picked up, he could also choose to become a free agent. Baron has small parts of two seasons in the majors and he has above average defense, but he’s headed to Indianapolis unless two injuries (or a trade) means that he’s needed in the backup big league role.
Will Craig – Craig will not be making the Opening Day role. First base in Indianapolis is waiting for him to see if he can put together the on base ability from 2017 to go with the power from 2018, to make him a strong prospect. We could see him this September, but I wouldn’t expect him up before then.
Jason Delay – Delay got his invite because teams need a lot of catchers for Spring Training. He has no shot for an Opening Day spot, but spending time at the Major League camp is a great experience. He appears set for a platoon spot behind the plate at Altoona this year.
Elvis Escobar – Escobar has no chance at an Opening Day spot, but his invite is a great story. Eight months ago, he was an outfielder. Now he’s a left-handed pitching prospect. He did well this winter in Venezuela and made it up to Altoona at the end of the 2018 season, so there is potential to see him late in the year in Pittsburgh. He won’t be there on Opening Day though.
Roberto Gomez – Gomez is a 29-year-old right-hander, who has pitched briefly in the majors with the San Francisco Giants during each of the last two seasons. He hasn’t had any success in the big leagues and his Triple-A numbers don’t impress, though the latter more indicative of the PCL and his home park in Sacramento. The Pirates made him one of their first off-season free agent signings, which is a good sign, but I think he’s more of a bullpen depth option at this point. I won’t say he has no chance at Opening Day, I’ll just say it’s highly unlikely.
Geoff Hartlieb – Hartlieb doesn’t have a chance for an Opening Day spot, but a 2019 late-season appearance in the Pittsburgh bullpen is a possibility. He could get some attention during Spring Training from people who don’t follow prospects closely, when they see someone sitting upper-90s with their fastball, occasionally touching 100 MPH.
Ke’Bryan Hayes – Hayes has no shot at making the Opening Day roster and will most likely be among the first cuts. He’s headed to Indianapolis to be their starting third baseman and we should see him in Pittsburgh in 2019…just not on March 28th.
Christian Kelley – This is the second big league invite for Kelley, who should move up to Indianapolis in 2019. He would rank fifth on the catching depth chart right now, so everything I wrote above for Steven Baron’s chances of making the team, applies here as well, just one spot lower on that chart.
Patrick Kivlehan – Kivlehan was the first minor league free agent signing for the Pirates and he signed very early in the process. That means he was a player they targeted. He has played in the majors during each of the last three seasons and he has some experience in a bench role, which is how he would be used if he made the team. Kivlehan has a chance at a big league spot on Opening Day, but the best odds go to the next guy…
Tyler Lyons – To answer the specific question asked above, Lyons has the best shot at an Opening Day spot. Yes, he had a tough season in 2018 with an 8.64 ERA in 27 appearances, but he’s one season removed from being a reliable reliever in the majors. He also had a back injury and an elbow injury last year that put him on the disabled list twice. The hope for the Pirates is that he struggles were injury related and they are getting the 2015-17 version.
Alex McRae – McRae got in some MLB experience last year, which would normally help his case for an Opening Day roster spot. He didn’t get called up in September and then the Pirates removed him from the 40-man roster this winter, so he doesn’t have any chance of making the Opening Day roster. Like other players in his situation, the invite gives him a chance to make a great impression for a possible call-up during the season.
Arden Pabst -Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Teams need a lot of catchers for Spring Training. Pabst would be sixth right now on the catching depth chart. He has a partial season of Double-A, so he’s probably two solid seasons away from seriously competing for a Major League spot.
Bryan Reynolds – Reynolds is in the same boat as Hayes and Craig, though he got a Spring Training invite last year, so this isn’t his first experience on the big league side. Reynolds will open the 2019 season in Indianapolis and we could see him reach Pittsburgh during the season.
Eduardo Vera – Vera was re-signed as a minor league free agent this off-season after finishing great in Altoona. He then went on to dominate in winter ball in Mexico, which is about the same talent level as Double-A. Vera isn’t going to make the Opening Day roster and will probably be one of the first cuts so he can get stretched out for a starting role in Indianapolis. Like almost everyone who isn’t a 6th/7th string catcher on this list, there is a chance we could see him in Pittsburgh this year, especially if his late season/winter success carries over.
Brandon Waddell – Waddell got a lot of experience in Triple-A last year and there aren’t too many lefties ahead of him in the system. That being said, he wasn’t protected during the Rule 5 draft last month, so don’t expect to see him on Opening Day. He needs more Triple-A experience before he’s big league ready.
Blake Weiman – Weiman won’t make the Opening Day roster, but as a left-handed pitcher with above average control, a decent three-pitch mix and some success in the AFL this fall, he could be a late season option. He should have a better shot next year at an Opening Day spot.
So without factoring in two injuries and/or a trade to get Steven Baron a backup catching spot, I see the most likely non-roster invites to make the Opening Day roster as Tyler Lyons and Patrick Kivlehan, followed by Roberto Gomez, who I’d still label as unlikely. Then you have 11 in-season possibilities who could contribute at some time in 2019. Some of the prospects are more likely to debut in 2020.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.