Well, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ spring training journey has officially come to an end. I’d like to say this moment is bittersweet, but, well, it’s not. Opening Day is tomorrow and I couldn’t be more excited. Spring training is better than no baseball, that’s for sure, but nothing beats getting the MLB season underway. And while the outcomes in spring training don’t reflect how a team will do during the regular season, it’s still interesting to look back on the Pirates trek through Florida and see what we learned about the team moving forward.
The deadline for major league teams to finalize their 25-man rosters was 3PM on Sunday, April 5th. Officially, the Pirates placed five players on the 15-day disabled list: Jaff Decker, Chris Stewart, Justin Sellers, Charlie Morton, and Brandon Cumpton. Relief pitcher Stolmy Pimentel and infielder Pedro Florimon were designated for assignment. Both are out of minor league options, so both need to clear waivers and accept an assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis to remain with the Pirates. And relief pitcher Rob Scahill was recalled from Indianapolis, filling the last bullpen spot. The full 25-man roster is as follows:
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The Pirates went 15-13 in spring training, scored 137 runs while allowing 146 (a -9 differential), all of which ranked them in the middle of the pack in the Grapefruit League. In terms off offense, some positive standouts included major league hopeful Tony Sanchez (16-44, .364 average, 4 home runs), Dominican stud Starling Marte (23-68, .338 average, team-leading 12 runs scored and 5 steals), shortstop Jordy Mercer (19-57, .333 average, 3 home runs) and former National League home run champ Pedro Alvarez (15-53, .283 average, and team-leading 5 home runs and 17 RBIs).
Some negatives included utility man Sean Rodriguez (8-51, .157 average, 0 home runs, 12 strikeouts), outfielder Jose Tabata (5-30, .167 average, 0 walks, 0 home runs, 1 RBI), final bench man Andrew Lambo (11-60, .183 average, 0 home runs, 12 strikeouts), and Korean Jeong-ho Kang (9-45, .200 average, team-leading 17 strikeouts).
…while the outcomes in spring training don’t reflect how a team will do during the regular season, it’s still interesting to look back on the Pirates trek through the Grapefruit League and see what we learned about the team moving forward
In terms of pitching, Francisco Liriano led the five-man rotation with a 0.75 ERA over 12 innings pitched, while Tony Watson led the bullpen with a perfect ERA of 0.00 in 8 innings pitched. Other positive standouts included bullpen arm Radhames Liz (1.80 ERA over 15 innings pitched), closer Mark Melancon (2.25 ERA over 8 innings), and Arquimedes Caminero (2.70 ERA over 13.1 innings, team-leading 21 strikeouts).
On the flip side, Charlie Morton had a five-man rotation low ERA of 8.47 over 17 innings with a team-leading 10 walks, Jared Hughes had the worst ERA for the bullpen arms at 10.61 over 9.1 innings. Jeff Locke allowed the most hits with 23 over 18.2 innings, while Morton gave up the most home runs with 4.
The Position Battles
Going into the spring, the Pirates had very few position battles lined up. Some would say that makes for a less exciting spring training. Others, like myself, would say that bodes well for a team with playoff aspirations and beyond. The three battles that the Pirates did have were for the fifth starter, the final few bullpen spots, and the final bench spot.
The fifth starter battle would be between Jeff Locke and Vance Worley. To much surprise, Locke was given the nod while Worley was relegated to the pen. With the number of injuries that always happen over the course of the season, both pitchers will see time as a starter this year.
The back end of the Pirates’ bullpen was solidified from the start: Melancon would be the closer, Watson would be the setup man, and Antonio Bastardo would get most of the primary seventh inning duties. Other than that, the last four spots were up for grabs. Radhames Liz had an impressive spring, and after being given a major league contract, would make the team. Caminero greatly impressed manager Clint Hurdle and the staff to the tune of 21 strikeouts over 13.1 innings and has hit 100 mph this spring, and Jared Hughes was soon given one of the last two spots even though he had minor league options remaining. The final bullpen spot has to be decided by 3PM Sunday.
The final bench spot was given to Andrew Lambo, who hasn’t had good springs the last two years. He’s the only left-handed bat off the bench, to his advantage (for information on all of the position battle decisions, click here).
The Pirates were fortunate that they didn’t experience any significant injuries this spring, but the team did see its fair share of damage. Most notably, starting pitcher Charlie Morton, who had a very rough spring, will start the season on the disabled list. Morton had hip surgery last September, ending his 2014 season. This opens up a spot in the rotation for Vance Worley. It will be interesting to see how long Morton will remain out and if he will return to the form that netted him a 3-year, $21 million extension after the 2013 season.
Backup catcher Chris Stewart will also begin the season on the disabled list. Stewart’s been battling a hamstring injury this spring. This will allow Tony Sanchez to break camp with the team after having a great spring.
Jaff Decker, battling for the last bench spot, has a calf injury and will begin the season on the disabled list as well. This helped open the door for Andrew Lambo. Justin Sellers, who didn’t figure to make the team, has a sore Achilles tendon and will start on the disabled list too.
Acquisitions and Demotions
The Pirates only made one trade during spring training, acquiring first baseman Hunter Morris from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for a player to be named later. The Pirates lack depth at first base behind Pedro Alvarez, Corey Hart, and Andrew Lambo, yet 26-year-old Morris hasn’t seen time in the majors to date.
Reclamation project Clayton Richard declined his opt-out clause when he was not added to the Pirates’ 40-man roster, choosing to stay with the team and probably head to extended spring training. If pitching coach Ray Searage can work his magic, Richard should provide starting depth throughout the season. 2014 surprise relief pitcher John Holdzkom was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis, a victim of having minor league options. He should still see major league time this year, however.
As with most springs, the Pirates invited certain prospects from within the organization to take part in spring training games. Some figure into the Pirates’ plans this season, while others are pieces for the future. Tyler Glasnow, the top prospect in the Pirates system according to Baseball America, pitched just one inning but had two strikeouts. Nick Kingham pitched 6 innings to an ERA of 0.00 while Adrian Sampson had an ERA of 7.20 over five innings. On the offensive side, catcher Elias Diaz batted .438 with an OPS of 1.161, infielder Alen Hanson batted .400, and Josh Bell had one hit in three at-bats. Outfielders Austin Meadows only had one hit in nine at-bats and Willy Garcia only batted .238 over 21 at-bats.
While spring training is over, the regular season is set to begin. The Pirates open with the Cincinnatti Reds Monday at 4:10 PM. Francisco Liriano faces off against Reds’ ace Johnny Cueto, and the game should be one to remember. If this year’s Opening Day is anything like last year’s, it will be a great start to the season.