With the Pittsburgh Pirates opening the season against the Chicago Cubs in just 80 short days, it seems appropriate to break down how the Pirates roster will look on that inevitably cold March afternoon.
For the sake of this post, the only players being analyzed will already be within the Pirates organization. There won't be any signing or trade predictions, just a breakdown of the players already within the system.
There are numerous players on the Bucs that, injury aside, are assured of their Opening Day job and won't have to compete for them during Spring Training. These players are listed below.
Starting Pitchers: Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Edinson Volquez and Wandy Rodriguez
Relief Pitchers: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Justin Wilson
Catchers: Russell Martin and Chris Stewart
Infielders: Pedro Alvarez, Gaby Sanchez, Clint Barmes, Jordy Mercer, Neil Walker
Outfielders: Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Jose Tabata
This puts the Pirates at 19 players and leaves six holes. Three are bullpen jobs while the other three are a left-handed platoon first baseman to pair with Sanchez, a backup outfielder and another backup infielder/outfielder. That last spot will almost assuredly be a backup infielder, since Hurdle prefers having seven infielders and four outfielders as opposed to six and five.
Three Relief Jobs: Jeff Locke, Stolmy Pimentel, Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris, Jeanmar Gomez, Jared Hughes and Duke Welker
This competition could be vastly different if Wandy Rodriguez is unable to start the season or if Edinson Volquez falters miserably during spring training, although there are five million reasons why that wouldn't matter. As is, the Bucs will have to leave some very good pitchers off the team. The first big desicion has to be Jeff Locke, who was an All-Star last season before falling apart in the second half and being left off the post season roster. Nevertheless, Locke is next in line to start should something happen to the rotation, and he certainly seems capable of handling the long relief job until then. His being on the team essentially eliminates the spot for Jeanmar Gomez, who performed well in the long relief role a season ago. Stolmy Pimentel provides another interesting case as he is out of options for 2014 and the Pirates would risk losing him if he doesn't make the team. After a strong showing as a starter in AAA last year followed up by an impressive display as a reliever for the Bucs in September, it's highly doubtful the club would risk losing Pimentel, who was a main piece in the Joel Hanrahan trade. The last spot will go to Vin Mazzaro, who had a very successful season for the team in 2013. Mazzaro was the definition of a "middle-innings reliever" and pitched much better out of that bullpen slot than the others he was and will be competing with this spring.
Platoon First Baseman: Andrew Lambo, Chris McGuiness
As it stands today, one of these two will open up the season platooning with Gaby Sanchez. Unless McGuiness tears the cover off the ball in the spring, Lambo will be that player. The job is his to lose after being named the Pirates minor league player of the year following the 2013 season, and it should be exciting to see what a player with Lambo's power can do in the middle of the Pirates' lineup.
Backup Outfielder: Travis Snider, Jaff Decker, Chris Dickerson
Although Decker and Dickerson would provide much more defensively, especially with the ability to play center, Snider's offensive potential, salary and pinch-hitting abilities will land him this spot. It doesn't help the other guys that they have minor league options, while Snider does not. Snider should see a split in playing time between himself and Jose Tabata as well as being the go-to hitter off the bench.
Backup Infielder: Josh Harrison, Robert Andino, Chase d'Arnaud
J-Hay is an important part of the clubhouse, has notched clutch hits and can play five positions. While d'Arnaud should put up a good fight, there is no reason to unseat the incumbent when Harrison has produced as well as you could expect from the 25th man on the roster. However, Pirates fans would be pleased if he is no longer used as a pinch runner late in games…
Starters: Liriano, Cole, Morton, Rodriguez and Volquez
Relievers: Locke, Mazzaro, Pimentel, Watson, Wilson, Melancon and Grilli
Catchers: Martin and Stewart
Infielders: Lambo, Sanchez, Alvarez, Barmes, Mercer, Walker and Harrison
Outfielders: Marte, McCutchen, Tabata and SniderTags: Baseball, MLB, Opening Day, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pirates, Roster