Written by Joe Luchok
Spring Training Battles-Bench
In his poem the The Solitary Reaper, William Wordsworth wrote, “Will no one tell me what she sings? Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow for old, unhappy, far-off things, and Battles long ago.”
Every year there are battles for spots on major league teams. This is not about battles long ago but the battles taking place in Bradenton for spots on the Pirates’ opening day roster.
The Pirates have three types of players in spring training camp, those who are guaranteed a roster spot, those who have no chance for a roster spot, and those who are in a battle for a roster spot. Last week I looked at the first group, those who are expected to be the starters. The second group includes players, like Gerrit Cole, who are there just to get a taste of major league camp. The third group includes young players who have a chance to make the team and older players trying to stay in or return to the majors.
One bench position is all but certain, Nate McLouth will be the fourth outfielder. If Pedro Alvarez starts the season at 3rd base, Garrett Jones or Casey McGehee will be on the bench opening day. That fills 10 roster spots.
Backup catcher—The Pirates will probably carry two catchers and there are two players in camp who have a chance to be the second catcher.
Michael McKenry was the best of the string of catchers the team ran through last season after their top three catchers went on the DL. He handled the plate fairly well but did not hit well, batting .222 with 2 home runs and OBP of .276. McKenry did hit 22 home runs in low A and 18 in high A so he has some power.
Jose Morales is a free agent signing. He has 218 major league at bats and has a .289 batting average with a .365 OBP. He has no major league home runs and his minor league high is 4 so he has no power.
McKenry has experience with the Pirates and a lot more power while Morales has the better batting average and on base percentage. Backup catcher fills the 11th roster spot. If the Pirates carry 11 pitchers that leaves three spots to fill and a whole bunch of candidates to fill them.
Infield Backups- Casey McGehee can play third and first. If he is going to platoon at first, or takes the first base job, the team needs an additional corner infield backup. They also need a middle infield backup.
Josh Harrison-He was up and down last season and played mostly at third with a few games at second. Word is that he has been doing some work at shortstop over the winter to enhance his skill set. Harrison hit .271 with an OBP of only .281 and showed no power.
Matt Hague-Hague is primarily a first baseman but has been doing some work at third. Hague has climbed the ladder one step at time and hit at every level. Last season in AAA he hit .309 with an OPB of .372 with 12 home runs and 75 RBI. Hague is not going be the next Albert Pujols but could be a good bat to have around.
Nick Evans-Evans is a free agent signing who can play first base and left field. He has 386 major league at bats over the past 4 seasons with a .256 BA, .305 OBP and 8 home runs. Unless he has a great spring training he looks unlikely to make the team.
Jake Fox-Fox is a free agent signing who has played first, third, catcher, left, and right. He has 439 major league at bats over 3 seasons and has a .237 BA with a .288 OBP, and 20 homeruns. His power and flexibility on defense make him an intriguing candidate for a bench position.
Chase d’Arnaud-d’Arnaud played some last season and looked overmatched at the plate. Probably belongs in the no chance to make the team group and will probably be in Indy to start the season.
Yamaico Navarro-Navarro was obtained in a trade with Royals. Has 102 major league at bats with a .206 BA and .250 OBP. He could be the new Pedro Ciriaco as he has options remaining so could be sent up and down as needed.
Anderson Hernandez-Hernandez , a free agent signing, has considerable major league experience and can play both second and shortstop. He has 643 major league AB with a .241 BA, .300 OPB, and 4 home runs. With Nunez starting the season on the DL Hernandez has a chance to make the team as backup second base and shortstop.
Gustavo Nunez-Nunez is a rule 5 pick but he is on the 60 day DL so will not make the team out of spring training. When he come off the DL a move will have be made to be put on the 25 man roster or the Pirates will have to return him to the Tigers or make a trade to keep him.
Outfield Backups-With 4 outfield spots set, they only need one additional outfielder. Not much to pick from in camp.
Gorkys Hernandez can field but nothing indicates he can hit in the majors. Most likely he is headed back to AAA.
Brandon Boggs has shown no ability to hit in the majors, in 326 major league at bats he has a .209 BA with 10 home runs and 113 strikeouts. Some power does not make up for his strikeouts and poor batting average.
The other outfielders in camp are young and not ready for the majors.
Who will fill the remaining three spots? One has to go to someone who can play shortstop so that battle is down to Harrison and Navarro with d’Arnaud a longshot. Harrison has to show he can play shortstop and Hernandez is better at second base, so the leader for backup shortstop going into spring training is Navarro.
The remaining two spots will go to players who can hit and play several positions. One will probably go to Evans or Fox, possibly both if they hit well in the spring. Fox is the leader here as he plays multiple positions and has power.
The battle for the final spot is down to Josh Harrison and Matt Hague. If Hague hits in the spring he is most likely to get the spot. Not much Hague has left to prove in AAA.
Many things can happen in the spring but going into spring training the likely bench is Morales or McKenry, McGehee or Jones, McLouth, Navarro, Fox, and Hague. If Alvarez fails to show he is ready then Evans or Harrison will probably get a spot as McGeHee takes over third base.
The spring numbers game is always interesting to watch and often mistakes are made. This is where we look to battles of the past. Remember the spring Craig Monroe tore things up then did nothing when the season started? Every fan has their pet player who did not go north but should have made the team. This spring will add more names to the list as someone will have a good spring and not make the team. Arguing over who should make the team is part of the fun of spring training. Five weeks from now we know who made the team and this year’s battles will be history.
This was part two in a series of articles by Joe Luchok. The first one is linked below: