What To Watch For - Pirates Spring Training

Spring Training is finally upon us. Pitchers and catchers are in camp and they will be joined by the rest of the 40-man roster and invitees in coming days. Games start March 3rd and there is a lot to be excited about this season.

There are a handful of things that I’ll be paying extra attention to, here’s the list:

Bench Competition
There aren’t any battles for starting positions this year, which puts a lot more focus on the bench spots. The Pirates starting infield will be Garrett Jones, Neil Walker, Clint Barmes, and Pedro Alvarez from right to left, with Casey McGehee backing up the corners (and hopefully platooning at first). That leaves the Pirates with a spot or two on the bench for back-up middle infielders. The contestants are Josh Harrison, Yamaico Navarro, Anderson Hernandez, and Chase d’Arnaud. Now, I fully expect d’Arnaud to be the every day starting shortstop at AAA come season’s start, just because the Pirates aren’t ready to give up on him being an everyday player someday and they don’t want him to sit on the bench. I also don’t think Hernandez has much of a chance, unless he absolutely lights the world on fire in spring training. That leaves Navarro and Harrison. I wrote this post a couple weeks ago talking more specifically about these two. It kind of boils down to the fact that Harrison really doesn’t play shortstop. He’s a second and third baseman, which is probably going to hurt his chances. He’s a fan favorite who had some sort of success in Pittsburgh last year, but I just don’t see how they can take him to the big leagues without Navarro being with him. The Pirates need a legitimate backup shortstop, and Harrison isn’t that. I think there’s a decent shot both of these guys make the cut, but I don’t see Harrison coming without Navarro.

Bench Catcher
Michael McKenry is a guy that all the fans want to see in Pittsburgh this year, and a less intelligent fan might even want him to start a bunch of games. However, he’s not without competition this March. The Pirates brought in Jose Morales to compete with him this offseason. Morales boasts and impressive minor league career at the dish, with a .286/.341/.383 triple-slash in his career. He even had a good 2009 season with Minnesota where he hit .311/.381/.361 in 134 plate appearances (he DH’d some). There is little to no power in his bat, so there’s no advantage in that category over McKenry. Despite all those positive numbers I just rattled off, Morales is coming into camp behind in the race. McKenry played well behind the plate for the Pirates last year, and did some work with Clint Hurdle this offseason, which can only bode well. As long as he doesn’t really stink this spring training, I think McKenry’s spot is safe.

Bullpen Candidates
The bullpen is a crowded one this season. Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek, Jason Grilli, Tony Watson, and Chris Resop are locks for the bullpen. I’m not entirely sure what the Pirates are going to do with Kevin Correia now that he’s out of the rotation (I’m assuming as much), but I would guess he’d be in the bullpen as well. That leaves one spot (although they may take an extra bullpen arm to start the season with while Morton is on the DL) which will be fought over by Juan Cruz, Daniel McCutchen, and Chris Leroux, primarily. Other guys (such as Tim Wood, Danny Moskos, and Jared Hughes) could sneak into that competition, but for now I think it’s going to be one of those three. That’s probably the biggest question mark here. I don’t see any clear favorite there. McCutchen was very successful in the first half of last year, Cruz has had success in the past and can strike guys out, and Leroux is a high-upside guy. I’m not going to make any predictions here. All of these pitchers’ spring training outings will be huge in deciding who makes the team. Don’t just look at the numbers though, those are rarely a sole determining factor in spring ball.

Evan Meek
Two years ago Meek was one of the best relievers in the league, but missed a lot of time and lost some velocity because of a shoulder injury last year. He’s going to make the big league team as long as he’s healthy, but it will be interesting to see where his velocity is and how comfortable he looks on the mound this March. You can read more about Meek in this post that I wrote last week.

Nick Evans
With Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, and Nate McLouth in camp, Evans doesn’t have much chance to make the team out of spring training unless someone gets hurt. His cause is helped by the fact that he plays first base and outfield, but again there just isn’t really room for him. Despite that, I am intrigued by Evans. The guy has some upside and the Pirates were definitely excited to have the chance to grab him this offseason. I think he’ll play a role in the big leagues at some point this season, and I’m not convinced that he couldn’t eventually be a big league starter for someone someday. I’ll have a close eye on Evans this spring.

Again, games start March 3rd, here’s the schedule:

Tags: Anderson Hernandez Casey McGehee Chase D'Arnaud Chris LeRoux Clint Barmes Daniel McCutchen Danny Moskos Garrett Jones Jared Hughes Jose Morales Josh Harrison Juan Cruz Kevin Correia Michael McKenry Nate McLouth Neil Walker Nick Evans Pedro Alvarez Tim Wood Yamaico Navarro

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