Evaluating Pirates Positional Battles 10 Days Before Opening Day
The Pirates are already more than halfway through their condensed spring training schedule. With 10 days to go until the Bucs face the Cardinals in St. Louis on Opening Day, there are still a position battles that are seemingly up in the air.
A few of the positions are already set in stone. Bryan Reynolds and Ben Gamel will hold two of the three outfield spots. Ke’Bryan Hayes will man the hot corner, and Yoshi Tsutsugo and Daniel Vogelbach will spend the bulk of the time at first base and DH. Some components of the pitching staff are set, but more needs to be sorted out in both the rotation and bullpen.
The one everyone seems to be talking about. Will the Pirates actually start Oneil Cruz at the Major League level, or will they go the seemingly more likely route of sending him to Triple-A Indianapolis? There are likely three players in the mix here; Cruz, Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker.
Newman is probably the frontrunner with Cruz likely beginning the season at Triple-A and Tucker starting elsewhere or serving in a super-utility role,
Spring stats: Cruz: 5 for 15, 2 HR, 3 RBIs, Newman: 4 for 11, 2 2B, Tucker: 6 for 18, 3B, 2 HR, 3 RBIs
With Reynolds manning center, and Gamel taking either right or left field, that leaves one spot for three players; Tucker, Greg Allen and Anthony Alford. As it stands right now, Allen looks to be the leading candidate. Alford has had a difficult time at the plate this spring.
Spring stats: Allen: 3 for 10, 2 HR, 4 RBIs, 3 BB, SB, Alford: 1 for 13, HR, 2 RBIs, 9 K, BB, Tucker: 6 for 18, 3B, 2 HR, 3 RBIs
The second base battle could depend on who starts at shortstop. If Cruz is the choice, Newman probably slides over to second. If Newman wins, it likely comes down to “veterans” Tucker or Michael Chavis or a pair of younger players in Diego Castillo or Hoy Park. With how things have gone so far this spring, Tucker and Castillo are the most logical choices.
Spring stats: Tucker: 6 for 18, 3B, 2 HR, 3 RBIs, Castillo: 5 for 15, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, Chavis: 1 for 13, BB, 6 K, Park: 2 for 9, HR, RBI
Unless the Pirates bring in an outside addition, which seems unlikely at this point, this comes down to Michael Perez and Jamie Ritchie. Neither are on the 40-man roster, so a corresponding move will be needed when they break camp.
Spring stats: Perez: 2 for 8, HR, 2 RBIs, Ritchie: 4 for 9, BB
It’s safe to assume that Mitch Keller, JT Brubaker and Jose Quintana will take up three spots in the rotation. Now, the Pirates could use a six-man rotation this season with the condensed spring, so they could need to pick three out of Zach Thompson, Wil Crowe, Bryse Wilson and Dillon Peters, or two if they use a standard rotation.
Spring stats: Peters: 5ip, 4 hits, 2 runs, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts, Thompson: 5ip, 4 hits, 3 runs, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts, Crowe: 4.2ip, 5 hits, 3 runs, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts, Wilson: 4.2ip, 6 hits, 4 runs, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts.
David Bednar and Chris Stratton are both locks. If I was a betting man, I’d say Heath Hembree, Duane Underwood Jr. and Anthony Banda are safe. That means there are two or three spots open for quite a few candidates, maybe even one less if one of the starters listed above gets moved to the bullpen.. The pitchers in the mix not listed above are Sam Howard, Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Fletcher and Adonis Medina, though the latter hasn’t seen game action yet.
Spring stats: Howard: 2.2ip, 4 hits, 6 runs, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts, Eickhoff: 4.2 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts, Fletcher: 2.1ip, 1 hit, 2 runs (0 earned), 2 walks, 4 strikeouts. Medina: N/A
Third outfielder: Allen
Second base: Tucker
Backup catcher: M. Perez
Five-man rotation: Peters, Thompson
Six-man rotation: Peters, Thompson, Crowe
Bullpen (with five man rotation): Howard, Eickhoff, Crowe, Fletcher
Bullpen (with six man rotation): Howard, Eickhoff, Fletcher