The Pirates have anything from a set roster.
They’ve added a lot of free agents this offseason, but those free agents will only help to boost an organization ready to promote a lot of young players from Triple-A Indianapolis. That wave of prospects will first impact second base and the outfield, where the Pirates are loaded with young options, and seem set to go with those young options.
This week I asked everyone which roster battles they’re watching during Spring Training. The answers largely revolved around those two positions above.
Which Spring Training roster battle are you watching?
If I’m focusing on one battle this spring, it’s whether or not Ji-Hwan Bae makes the Opening Day roster. I believe he’s ready for it, but there’s the common sense side of things where I wouldn’t want to throw away a year of service time over a few weeks of him being a bench player in 2023.
That story changes if I think the Pirates are ready to compete for the division. Then every game is important towards that goal.
The Pirates need a backup middle infielder to start the season, but I don’t think it’s as much of a battle for the spot as it is roster management. Since they signed Chris Owings, I think he’s the guy to at least take that spot early in the season. Maybe they sign someone else over the next few weeks who is a better option, or maybe they trust Tucupita Marcano to take the limited shortstop time when Oneil Cruz is on the bench/DH.
Either way, I’m more interested in seeing how they handle Bae, as opposed to who actually wins the job if he doesn’t.
This is lame because it’s probably the very popular choice, but I’m going to go with second base. I would have pegged it to be Rodolfo Castro’s to lose, but there’s at least a possibility that Ji-Hwan Bae could stake a claim to it as well — unless they truly feel more comfortable moving him around and giving Castro the bulk of the playing time.
Tucupita Marcano is definitely on the outside looking in, but probably has a nonzero chance of winning it as well. However, I’m also interested to see how this plays out because of how it affects the makeup of the bench, with whomever loses out likely sticking around as the utility player.
The addition of Kevin Plawecki makes backup catcher at least a bit more interesting, but they are all still just placeholders until one of the prospects is ready to take over, with second base more up-for-grabs long-term.
The second base job will have the most direct battle, between Rodolfo Castro and Ji-Hwan Bae . . . and possibly also Tucupita Marcano, although he should be a much more remote possibility. In the end, though, both Castro and Bae should get significant looks, unless one or the other just takes charge in the spring and never looks back. So there isn’t that much suspense involved for the spring, as the position should play out however it’s going to play out over the course of the season.
The outfield, though, is much more fluid. The general assumption is that the primary outfielders will be Bryan Reynolds, Andrew McCutchen, and Jack Suwinski. Cutch, though, is supposedly going to serve as DH, possibly a lot. And Suwinski hasn’t established himself yet; in fact, if he has any more long hitless stretches, he might not be in the majors. We also don’t know whether he’ll play a lot against LHPs. He batted .122 against them in 2022, and the team added Cutch and Connor Joe.
Of course, there’s the raft of outfield prospects – Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Njigba and Travis Swaggerty – all of whom need opportunities, unless the team is simply ready to cut bait on one or more. And there’s always the looming threat of Derek Shelton playing weak-hitting infielders in the outfield. There are so many possible scenarios that they’d too extensive to delineate. Of course, the ideal situation is that somebody takes a big step forward in the spring. The outfield is open enough that true surprises are realistically possible.
The biggest position battle for me will be how the outfield rotation shakes out. Bryan Reynolds will be in center field, and you would have to imagine Jack Suwinski would factor into the picture as well. How much depends on the progress he makes on trying not to be a home-only, righty-facing-only platoon player.
Andrew McCutchen will factor into the picture somewhat, but if designated hitter is going to be his primary position, there is still a lot to fall into place in the outfield.
The Pirates added a couple of extra names to the mix, but also got Canaan Smith-Njigba back after missing time with an injury. Ji-Hwan Bae might be a guy that bounces all over the field, as his speed is really an asset in the outfield.
There are plenty of names in play, and all of them seem to have a legitimate case to make the Opening Day roster, so from start to finish I think this will be the position battle I’ll be watching the most.
The battle I’ll be most focused on will be the outfield. I think we mostly assume Bryan Reynolds will be the center fielder, but they did attempt other alignments at the end of last season. Even if ever so slightly.
It feels that should be answered quickly by whether Reynolds is playing strictly center field innings or not early in the spring. What will be more interesting to follow is the other two spots. We know Andrew McCutchen will be utilized more as the designated hitter (his own words).
Jack Suwinski would appear to have an inside track for at least one corner outfield spot. Though, I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s set in stone, as he had his own issues when it came to strikeouts and very severe home/road splits along with not hitting left-handed pitching well.
The roster is once again rather left-hander heavy, leaving the door open for Connor Joe and Ryan Vilade as right-handed outfield options. Then we can’t forget about Miguel Andujar who will be in camp, and I’d say could have a good chance of supplanting Vilade from the 40-man roster. It’s probably fair to say they seem to really like Vilade, since he’s made it all this way through various roster moves. I also think there is a chance they held onto him as they feel he is someone that may easily pass through waivers midway through spring, or the end, when they would be making their final opening day decisions.
All-in-all, I think it’s going to be a wide open competition. You have a handful of outfielders that all received various levels of big league experience last season, and an argument could be made for any of Canaan Smith-Njigba, Cal Mitchell, Ji-Hwan Bae, Travis Swaggerty, and so on. That’s why I believe the only given at this point is Reynolds in the outfield (somewhere), and looking to make the kids compete for a spot.
I’m interested in seeing how the second base competition plays out. Rodolfo Castro, Ji-Hwan Bae, and Tucupita Marcano are all intriguing options who have shown brief periods of success in the big leagues. They could all end up in the big league mix. Castro seems like more of a lock at second base, while the other two have been used as super utility types.
Castro was making better swing decisions at the end of the 2022 season, after several trips back and forth from the minors. His raw power is unmatched by Bae and Marcano, and his defensive abilities might be the best of the three. His struggle has been making consistent contact, leading to power, but a low average and a decent walk rate at best.
From August 9th through the end of the season last year, Castro hit .247/.310/.478 with ten homers in 200 plate appearances. That’s a 25-homer pace over a 500 plate appearance season, for some quick, easy math. Honestly, a .788 OPS and a 25-homer pace should put Castro in the starting role.
I’m not sure that the 37 plate appearances from Bae is enough to discount what Castro did. Those plate appearances and his performance during them — a .333/.405/.424 — should put Bae in the discussion for the Opening Day roster. There’s a lot to like from Bae, who is entering his age 23 season, has a lot of speed, great contact and on-base skills, and can play center field.
Perhaps the best caution against his small sample size would come from Tucupita Marcano, who hit for a .259/.355/.519 line in 33 plate appearances in his first run through the majors last year. Marcano hit for a .185/.225/.246 line in 141 plate appearances throughout a few appearances in the majors the rest of the year.
Bae and Marcano are the same age. Bae might not struggle like Marcano, but Marcano shows a reason for caution against putting too much stock in small sample sizes from young players in the majors.
All the more reason why I think Castro should be the starter, while Bae and maybe Marcano should be treated as wild cards off the bench.
This is only loosely related, but i’d say theres a battle for “future CF”.
one of the most paramount things to accomplish this year is to figure that out, given that Reynolds is either gonna be traded or likely age out of the position. We all have 2024 circled on our calendars as the Win year, so they need to figure this out.
I’d honestly be a bit interested in throwing Bae into CF every day in MLB, Swaggerty every day in AAA, and Triolo every day in CF in AA and just going from there.
They already hinted at this configuration at the end of last yr with Bae in CF and Reynolds in LF.
(i believe fangraphs said that triolo appeared uncomfortable in CF in brief times but has the tools. it’s worth seeing if he can get comfy)
One more note that im sure the team would benefit by playing Reynolds in CF at least some of the time to indicate that he ~can~ play it still this year, for any trade talks (that said, i’d probably prefer to just keep reynolds as a strong LF next year, but maybe that depends on the development of the other corner guys)
Longenhagen on Triolo:
“He clearly wasn’t comfortable in center field during his brief time there last season, but he only played there once every couple of weeks and he isn’t a firm “no” at the position, even if he is bad there right now”
slap him out there for a few months and see what happens.
The one I find most interesting is 2nd base. I think it is Castro’s to lose, but Bae could force his way in the talks if he has a good spring. I would love to see them keep Bae on the roster, but only if he is going to play. They could move him back and forth between 2B and CF, but if he is kept he needs to play. Could be an interesting problem getting him and Castro plenty of playing time.
The forgotten guy has been Andujar, but if he had a monster spring, I could see him putting himself back in the talk, and even making the OD roster. If he does not make the roster, I doubt he would accept a MILB assignment.
Nick G will establish himself as the primary 2B before the 2023 draft
A few months in AAA and then to the majors
it’d be a little weird for them to shoehorn him onto the 40 man before they need to when they already have evaluation of 40 man roster guys like Bae, Castro, Marcano, Peguero, Triolo to accomplish
but it’d be amazing if he rakes in AAA to the point where theyre forced to do so.
Hard to see that happening. He had a mildly “down” year at AA last year (compared to his numbers in A+, and in the AFL in 2021). Only 316 PA, 259 AB at Altoona where he posted an OPS of .812, but with only 7 HR.
The Pirates are moving in the direction of having the 2B position manned by a solid fielding 2B who can also play 3B, SS, and in the cases of Bae and Triolo, the possibility of providing relief in the OF. Those two also provide the SB option – Triolo 24 SB’s at AA, and Bae 30 SB’s at AAA. Castro does not bring the SB option, but he provided 11 HR power at the MLB level (tied for 5th on the team) in only 250 AB.
The non battle for the 5th starter, will Vazquez show enough to prevent a mini revolt. Oviedo should be a starter in the bigs until he proves he isn’t, vAzquez has proven that he isn’t a starter for many years now.
This makes me feel alittle better too. Although Pirates fan don’t have a ton of faith in Marin.
I have a lot more faith in Marin than I do in Andy Haines, but this does not make me feel better. Q had already had success at the Big league level. He just needed help getting back to the pitcher he was pre injuries. For VV he has never had much success, at least not as a starter.
The Pirates have a major problem developing in that our GM does not know when his tinkering is going too far. Mitch Keller had his best year in 2022 and is hopefully going to validate that with a strong 2023. BRU was solid in 2022 and could possibly improve in 2023. I would like to think Marin was part of the reason for their success.
Rich Hill was this year’s Q – quality starts from a Lefty and plenty of maturity to impart to younger pitchers. So, three parts of a 5 man Rotation with young kids like Roansy Contreras and Johan Oviedo that we need to see and evaluate as our first SP priority in 2023. Contreras we know more of his capability. Oviedo was pressed into service as a SP for St Louis in 13 games in 2021 after only 11 Starts at AAA. Then mostly all BP for the Cardinals in 2022. After the trade, the Pirates stretched him out and he had 7 impressive Starts for the Pirates to end the season. That’s the 5 man Rotation IMO.
Did BC sign VV as a possible SP? If so, he sent a very loud vote of No Confidence to all of the young pitchers of the Pirates at or near the MLB level. This team is not ready to compete in 2023, and VV is not particularly impressive as a SP.
Cheech Marin was a part of Keller and Brubaker’s success last year?
I think Oviedo should be in the rotation but there is a good chance that at least one of the five who begin in the rotation will miss some time before someone like Burrows is ready, especially given Hill’s age and Contreras pitching in the WBC. Plus, while I really like what I saw from Oviedo, he doesn’t have enough of a track record to have simply handed him a spot. I’m not excited about VV because there seemed to be better options for a similar role (though the better options signed for more). But signing someone like VV gives Oviedo a better chance of making the rotation while giving Marin and Meccage an opportunity to see if they can get more out of VV, perhaps similar to what Searage and staff did with Volquez.
I have to say that I was disappointed with both the Anderson and Quintana signing, hope I’m completely wrong again. Thanks for posting the tweets, I don’t have access.
Me too. I wasn’t thrilled with either signing; especially Quintana. I liked the Tyler Anderson signing a bit more but wasn’t ecstatic about it either.
For some reason I like the R.Hill signing probably the most. So that probably won’t work out too well. And I think VV is a better option as a long RP than DeJong(or a better spot starter than Zach Thompson/Byrse Wilson would have been).
As questions go, this is a ‘no-brainer.’ The most important roster battle is Cherrington vs. Reynolds!
OF is most intriguing. Who are the 3-4 OFers to join Reynolds? Really looking forward to the competition. Really looking forward to seeing what Villade brings……both offense and defensive.
If Chris Owings makes the team ,Young Shelton will get him 250 ab’s he just can’t help it.
Backup backup catcher? Important role!
Rodolfo Castro has done an excellent job in just under 100 MLB games at both 2B and at 3B filling in when Hayes was injured. He has also played SS at the MLB level. He’s young, and has been playing opposite Oneil Cruz in the MI as they both climbed through the minors.
I like Bae also and think he and Castro will see a lot of time at 2B and as Utility players. Another valuable option is Jared Triolo.
Outfield number 1. Second base 1a.
If Bae takes CF, then that, to me, solves both problems.
I am with the outfield voters as I see many options. I initially assumed Cutch would play a lot of outfield, but if he is truly mostly a DH then there is really Reynolds and the rest. I think Suwinski is in unless he looks like mid-season Suwinski, but that is a legitimate concern. Was he just in a bad place/slump or did the major leaguers figure him out. He had what I consider a small sample size at the end of the year that was promising.
I do believe whatever they decide they have to let it play out for a while. I’d prefer players be given a real shot – however you want to define that – vs. looking over their shoulders after an 0 – 10 spell.
As a side note – and I am repeating myself – I give Bae and Mitchell extra credit for hitting as well as they did in AAA last year. I think they both checked that box (and I think others competing can not all say that). That doesn’t mean they are long term answers but I do think that should not be overlooked if decisions do not become obvious.
I am one who puts money on Suwinski taking a step forward this season. Big fan of Smith-N’Jigba. But if I had to count on one guy making a legit improvement this season it would be Jack.
We’ll see who did the ‘lonely work’ this offseason to improve.
Unrelated: college season starts tomorrow, I believe. Are there update articles on Crews and Company throughout the year? Always loved that stuff.
The Saturday winter report will turn into a draft report next week.
Agreed it would be nice to have a weekly roundup article of the top 5 or 10 current draft prospects games throughout the spring to see how they are progressing.
I saw an article on the CBS sports website today that ranked the draftees. Crews was number 1 with a veteran scout declaring he was the most obvious #1 since Bryce Harper.
Read that too. Also sounds like it’s one scout all in on him, as opposed to the entire industry (which was the case with guys like Price, Harper, Strasburg, Adley).
Hoping one of Yohan or Yerry make the team
Can both De Jong and Underwood both make the opening day roster?
the one I am most interested in is whether the ball goes to Crowe or Holderman in the 8th inning
Primary 8th inning set up man is what intrigues me the most. I think it eventually goes to Selby. Unfortunately, not until many games are blown by guys with worse stuff.
It should be anybody but Crowe.
I think the offense is nearly a foregone conclusion, barring injury or faceplanting, as I expect Owings to make the roster. Hedges, backup C, Santana, Choi, Castro, Cruz, Owings, Hayes, Cutch, Reynolds, Suwinski, Joe makes 12.
So it’s not really a position battle so much as it is a bench battle, and it’s Mitchell vs. Bae, with Swaggerty, Marcano and Smith-Njigba stalking.
Unless traded beforehand, all of these players will have opportunities to show their skills off in Pittsburgh this year.