First Pitch: Projecting the Pirates 2020 Opening Day Roster

It feels like the World Series was just yesterday. It feels like a week ago that we were debating whether Pirates owner Bob Nutting should fire former General Manager Neal Huntington. It seems like moments only passed between that time and the time Ben Cherington was hired as the new General Manager.

Here we are, on the day when pitchers and catchers report, getting our first look at the moves that Cherington will make to get the Pirates back to being a winner.

It’s difficult to project how the roster will fully take shape. We don’t know what Cherington will do with all of the individual players. We don’t know how much he likes the players who would be locks for the roster under Huntington. We also don’t know how he, or any other team, will handle the 26th man roster spot.

Since it’s more difficult to project this year, I decided to put the roster into groups, pairing everyone by their chances of making the team.

Projected On the Roster

There are some guys who we already know will be on the roster on Opening Day. I’ll just list them here, rather than break down the obvious:

C – Luke Maile, Jacob Stallings

1B – Josh Bell

2B – Adam Frazier

SS – Kevin Newman

3B – Colin Moran (A note here that I think Moran makes the roster, but I’m not projecting him as the starter at third base)

LF – Bryan Reynolds

RF – Gregory Polanco

SP – Chris Archer, Mitch Keller, Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams

RP – Keone Kela, Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez, Edgar Santana, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault (Projecting these last two as relievers, even though they’ll probably both be in the starting mix during the spring)

They’ll Probably Need Some 40-Man Spots

Ben Cherington has signed a few notable non-roster invitees, led by Derek Holland and Robbie Erlin. I’m also going to project both of them on the team, rather than being in the next section. I think the Pirates will try to get as much out of them as possible, and will give them a shot if the Spring Training results aren’t disastrous.

A Better Shot Than Most

If the above group is at 100%, and the below group is a coin toss or worse odds, then this group would be the 75% range. They’re not on the roster, but they seem to have inside tracks.

I currently have the starting center field and third base jobs open, plus three bench roles, and the 26th man spot. I’d expect the center field role to be filled from the outside, leaving five spots remaining.

Erik Gonzalez

Guillermo Heredia

Nick Burdi

Chris Stratton

Michael Feliz

The pitchers here would either have to take the 26th man role, or fill in for an injury or poor performance from someone above.

A Coin Toss Chance

These are all guys who I think could make the roster, but who have about a 50/50 chance. Part of that is due to a lack of MLB success. Part of it is due to a lack of spots projected from above. The position players have a better shot here.

Jose Osuna

JT Riddle

Kevin Kramer

Jason Martin

Yacksel Rios

Geoff Hartlieb

Clay Holmes

Sam Howard

Dovydas Neverauskas

Maybe With a Good Spring

There’s always a player or two who opens eyes and surprisingly wins a bench or bullpen role out of camp. This is the group where I think that player will come from.

John Ryan Murphy

Andrew Susac

Jake Elmore

Phillip Evans

Socrates Brito

Charlie Tilson

Miguel Del Pozo

Luis Escobar

Williams Jerez

Tom Koehler

James Marvel

Hector Noesi

Nik Turley

The Prospects

I don’t think any of these guys have a shot at the Opening Day roster. Hayes is the biggest potential 2020 contributor here. There are also some hard throwing pitchers who could arrive in the next year, led by JT Brubaker, Blake Cederlind, Cody Ponce, and Nick Mears.

Ke’Bryan Hayes

Oneil Cruz

Will Craig

JT Brubaker

Blake Cederlind

Cody Ponce

Jason Delay

Christian Kelley

Arden Pabst

Jared Oliva

Montana DuRapau

Nick Mears

Blake Weiman





By John Dreker

Ten former Pittsburgh Pirates have been born on this date.

Duke Welker, pitcher for the 2013 Pirates. His big league career consisted of two scoreless relief appearances in late June of 2013. Welker was a second round draft pick in 2007. He missed most of 2014 and all of 2015 due to injury, then returned for one season in Triple-A with the San Francisco Giants before retiring.

Jeanmar Gomez, pitcher for the 2013-14 Pirates. In two seasons in Pittsburgh, he had a 5-2, 3.28 record in 142.2 innings, making 70 relief appearances and eight starts. Gomez played for the Texas Rangers in 2019 and has pitched the last ten seasons in the majors. He has a 28-30, 4.51 record in 555.1 innings, with 269 relief appearances, 46 starts and 40 career saves.

Luis Cruz, shortstop and second base for the 2008-09 Pirates. He came to the Pirates as a minor league free agent following the 2007 season. Cruz played 22 games in his first season with the Pirates and 27 games the next year, starting a total of 32 games at shortstop. He hit .219 with five RBIs in 137 at-bats for Pittsburgh. After the 2009 season, he was picked up off waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers. He played five seasons in the majors, batting .234 in 195 games. Cruz is still active, playing in Mexico this past summer and winter. He has not appeared in the majors since 2013.

Cesar Izturis, infielder for the 2007 Pirates. In his one partial season in Pittsburgh, he batted .276 in 45 games. He had an extremely impressive strikeout rate during that time, striking out just three times in 130 plate appearances. The Pirates purchased him from the Cubs in mid-July of 2007 and let him leave via free agency at the end of the season. Izturis played a total of 1,310 games over 13 seasons and had a .254 average. He was an All-Star in 2005 and won a Gold Glove at shortstop in 2004.

Ruben Mateo, outfielder for the 2004 Pirates. In his brief 19-game stint with the Pirates, Mateo played all three outfield spots and hit .242 with three homers. He played six seasons in the majors (1999-2004) and he batted .250 with 21 homers in 295 games. The Pirates signed him as a free agent prior to the 2004 season and he was sold to the Kansas City Royals on July 1, 2004. He played pro ball until 2015, spending most of his time in Mexico.

Larry McWiliams, pitcher for the Pirates from 1982 until 1986. He was a first round draft pick of the Braves in 1974, and had pitched for them in the majors since 1978 when the Pirates traded for him on June 30,1982, sending Pascual Perez to Atlanta. McWilliams was a starter his first four seasons in the majors, but was moved to the bullpen for 1982 and was struggling with a 6.21 ERA before the Pirates picked him up. He would move back to the starting role in Pittsburgh and cut his ERA in half with a 6-5, 3.11 record. In 1983 he had his best big league season, going 15-8, 3.25 in 38 starts. He finished fifth in the NL Cy Young award voting. Hie ERA improved to 2.93 the following season, but the Pirates were a sub .500 team and it showed in his 12-11 record. McWilliams was moved to the bullpen late in 1985, and then he went back and forth between the starting and relieving roles in 1986. He posted a 4.70 ERA in 1985 and a 5.15 in 1986. He was released by the Pirates following the 1986 season and went on to play for four teams over the next four seasons before retiring as a player.

Billy O’Dell, pitcher for the 1966-67 Pirates. He had been a starter early in his career, four times winning at least ten games, with a high of 19 in 1962. He was moved to a bullpen role in 1964 and the following year he won ten games with a 2.18 ERA and 18 saves in 62 games. He began the 1966 season with the Atlanta Braves before the Pirates acquired him on June 15 for reliever Don Schwall. O’Dell would pitch 37 games after the trade, going 3-2, 2.78 in 71.1 innings. In the beginning of the 1967 season he was used as a starter and struggled in the role, posting a 6.18 ERA in 11 games before being moved back to the bullpen. He finished the season with a 5-6, 5.82 record in 86.2 innings. O’Dell retired after the Pirates released him following the 1967 season. He was a two-time All-Star, who never played a single game in the minors.

Cotton Tierney, second baseman for the 1920-23 Pirates. He played minor league ball for seven seasons before the Pirates gave him his first shot at the majors as a September call-up in 1920. Cotton was a regular on the 1921 Pirates, playing about half of the team’s games at second base, while getting time in at three other positions. He hit .299 with 52 RBIs in 117 games. In 1922 he played 122 games and hit .345, which place him fifth in the NL in average and second on the Pirates to outfielder Carson Bigbee. Early in the 1923 season he was traded to the Phillies in a four-player deal that got the Pirates pitcher Lee Meadows. Tierney hit .312 in 1923, but by the end of 1925 his Major League career was over. He played in the minors until 1930.

Bill Evans, pitcher for the 1916-17 and 1919 Pirates. His contract was purchased by Pittsburgh on August 10, 1916 and just three days later he was making his major league debut. Evans pitched 13 games over the final seven weeks of the season, starting seven of those games and throwing three complete games. He had a 2-5, 3.00 record in 63 innings. In 1917 he went 0-4, 3.38 in eight appearances before joining the military to serve during WWI. He missed the entire 1918 season, returning the following year to go 0-4, 5.65 in seven early season games for the Pirates before being sent to the minors. He played minor league baseball until 1928, three times winning at least 16 games in a season, but never returned to the majors. He had a 2-13 record with the Pirates despite a 3.85 overall ERA. That winning percentage of .133 leaves him tied with John Van Benschoten (who had a 9.20 ERA) for the worst winning percentage in franchise history among pitchers with at least 15 decisions.

Jim Keenan, catcher for the first team in franchise history, the 1882 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Keenan caught the first pitch in franchise history. Prior to joining the Alleghenys, he had seven games of MLB experience. He played five games in 1875 for New Haven of the National Association, which was a league that lasted five seasons before giving way to the National League in 1876. Keenan then caught two games for the 1880 Buffalo Bisons of the National League. In 1882 for Pittsburgh, he hit .209 with nine runs scored in 24 games. Keenan caught 22 games. After not playing major league ball in 1883, he finally established himself as a big league regular in 1884, playing one season for Indianapolis of the American Association and the next seven years in Cincinnati. Keenan finished with a .240 average in 527 games. In 1888, he led all American Association catchers with a .946 fielding percentage.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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