Pittsburgh Pirates players to watch in spring training
By Tyler Waite
The most important spring training story lines for the Pittsburgh Pirates this year are often the ones most talked about. How Pedro Alvarez handles his transition from everyday third baseman to starting first baseman is vital to the team’s success this year, and it will be intriguing to see how Jeong-ho Kang adjusts to major league pitching in 2015.
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But there are plenty of under-the-radar players to keep an eye on during spring training. Many of these players could have important roles throughout the season. Here are five players fans should try to watch during the Pirates tour through the Grapefruit League.
Brad Lincoln (RP)
The Pirates drafted Brad Lincoln fourth overall in the 2006 first-year player draft, and the team had high hopes for him. Lincoln hasn’t amounted to much in the majors, with his claim to fame being the first half of 2012 when he pitched to a 2.73 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and a 60/14 K/BB ratio. After being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for outfielder Travis Snider at the deadline that year, he fell apart. Lincoln was later dealt to the Phillies in December of 2013 and spent almost the entire 2014 season at Philadelphia’s Triple-A level. Nonetheless, the Pirates decided to sign Lincoln to a minor league deal this past offseason.
The hope is that pitching coach Ray Searage can work his magic once again to return 29-year-old Lincoln to the form he had during the 2012 season. He’ll start the year in Triple-A Indianapolis, but expect him to get a shot at the bullpen at some point this season.
The hope is that pitching coach Ray Searage can work his magic once again to return 29-year-old Lincoln to the form he had during the 2012 season
Keon Broxton (OF)
24-year-old Keon Broxton has already received playing time this spring, but probably doesn’t figure into the Pirates long-term plans moving forward, barring a slew of injuries. Broxton was originally drafted by the Phillies back in 2008, but chose not to sign, and re-entered the draft in 2009, signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks after being taken in the third round. The Pirates traded for him last March, and he’ll likely begin the year at the Double-A or Triple-A level.
Broxton hasn’t posted knockout stats during his minor league career, slashing .249/.328/.405, yet Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS Projection system forecasts him to post a 0.9 WAR over 483 plate appearances in 2015, making his name an intriguing one. He could see a few plate appearances this year off the bench, but he probably won’t make an impact until at least next season.
Steve Lombardozzi (2B/IF)
Steve Lombardozzi was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles last month and will be one of the many middle infield options provided to Manager Clint Hurdle this season. He’s spent most of four major league seasons with the Washington Nationals, batting .273 in 2012, his best season statistically. The Minnesota native will likely begin the season in Triple-A Indianapolis but will be a top option should someone go down to injury. Last season, Michael Martinez, Jayson Nix, and Brent Morel all saw playing time. Hopefully Lombardozzi will be an upgrade over them.
Pedro Florimon (SS/IF)
Pedro Florimon spent the last three seasons with the Minnesota Twins, only seeing major playing time in 2013. That season as the Twins starting shortstop, he posted a low batting average (.221) and a high K/BB ratio (115/33), yet still managed a 2.1 WAR thanks to his strong defense. After a rough 2014, Florimon was claimed by the Washington Nationals that September, and subsequently claimed by the Pirates this past November.
The Pirates have two strong middle infield depth options with Sean Rodriguez and Jeong-ho Kang, but you can never have enough depth. We’ve seen the Pirates put an emphasis on defense with backups; expect Florimon’s defense to be put to the test at some point this season.
Elias Diaz (C)
The Pittsburgh Pirates have big plans for defensive stud Elias Diaz. An international signing out of Venezuela in 2008, Diaz has all the tools to be at least a league-average major league catcher: fantastic blocking ability, a great arm, and good game-calling skills. He still has some work to do with his bat, but Diaz says he’s been “more focused on defense” and that “the hitting would come.” Diaz could very well see time behind the plate at the major league level this year, and has the potential to be the starter next season or this one if Francisco Cervelli doesn’t work out.