The Pirates still have some decisions to make for their Opening Day 25-man roster as they prepare to try to make their fourth straight post-season appearance. All teams go through this process every year and it’s always intriguing and tough to predict the exact roster. Obviously, injuries will play into the decision-making, but we will take a stab at the 25 that will make their way north from Bradenton to Pittsburgh. Feel free to post your predictions in the comment section.
IN: Gerrit Cole, Franciso Liriano, Jonathan Niese
The top two have a chance to match the Cubs 1-2 punch of Jake Arriera and Jon Lester if they pitch to their potential and stay healthy. After trading their starting second baseman for Niese, there is no way he won’t be in the rotation, even with a rotten spring.
PROBABLY: Jeff Locke, Ryan Vogelsong
These two are penciled in for now, but both could easily be out of the rotation April 4th. There are not a lot of other candidates to fill those two spots, but someone could pitch their way in during the spring. Locke has been inconsistent his whole career and his rotation spot is his to lose. Vogelsong is 38 and has to show he can give the Pirates quality starts and spring training will be his audition.
POSSIBLE: Juan Nicasio is being stretched out this spring to compete for a starting spot. He has 70-career starts but was primarily a bullpen option for Los Angeles last season. As a starter with Colorado, he had an ERA north of 5.00 so he will really have to show some progress to move into the rotation. There is also a chance the Pirates still bring in a veteran free agent to compete or even fill one of the spots.
IN THE WINGS: Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon are the Pirates future, but neither one will open the season in Pittsburgh. It will be at least June, when the Super 2 deadline has passed, and then we could see Glasnow. Taillon has not pitched since 2013 so if he does pitch well early in the season, he could be considered later in the summer.
IN: Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes, Arquimedes Caminero
Melancon and Watson are two of the best relief pitchers in the National League while Hughes and Caminero put up solid numbers. All four of these pitchers made at least 70 appearances for the Pirates last season and will return in similar roles as 2015.
If he doesn’t steal a rotation spot, he will have a very good chance to pitch out of the Pirates bullpen as he signed a 1-year, $3 million contract.
POSSIBLE: Two candidates for the pen have significant MLB experience. Neftali Feliz has made 246 big league appearances and has 97 saves to his credit. Rob Scahill was on the opening day roster in 2015 and made 28 appearances last season, but also shuttled between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. Of course, Nicasio will be considered for a bullpen. John Holdzkom and Kyle Lobstein have made their major league debuts. A wild card could be Eric O’Flaherty who is coming back from Tommy John surgery. He also has significant MLB experience and is left handed which is a need for the Pirates.
IN: Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart
Cervelli is the starter coming off his best and healthiest season of his career. Stewart signed a two-year contract in the off-season to be his backup. Not much to see here.
POSSIBLE: Elias Diaz
The odds are Diaz will start the season in Indianapolis where he can play every day. The Pirates prospect is probably ready defensively, but could use more seasoning from the plate. He might be considered for a bench spot, but he will not be competing with Cervelli or Stewart for a roster spot. It would be another position player.
IN: John Jaso, Josh Harrison, Jung-Ho Kang, Jordy Mercer, Michael Morse, Sean Rodriguez
It would be shocking if Jaso or Morse did not make the roster. The first base platoon is the plan and these two will be given numerous opportunities to make the platoon a success. Mercer is the starting shortstop. Harrison is the starting second baseman unless Kang is not ready for opening day. Then he could see some time at third base to start the season. Kang’s status will be determined by his health. If he is ready to go, he is the Pirate starting third baseman. Rodriguez will fill his role as the super-utility and main pinch hitter. His role be similar to last season.
POSSIBLE: Pedro Floriman, Jake Goebbert, Alen Hanson, Gift Ngoepe, Jason Rogers
Kang’s health will have a major influence on the Pirates final roster decisions. If Kang isn’t ready, one option is Hanson at second base. The other is Rogers getting at-bats at third. Harrison would play wherever the open spot would be. Floriman and Ngoepe are the same player – all glove, no bat. Both will compete for the middle infield backup spot (mainly someone to play shortstop). Floriman has an edge because of his big league experience. Goebbert can play first and the outfield. He is fighting for a spot that will be another super-utility role and primary pinch hitter.
IN THE WINGS: Josh Bell, Max Moroff
Both are longshots to be at PNC Park in April. But both could end up being in the big leagues this season. Bell is the heir apparent at first base. If the platoon fails, it could trigger his call-up in June. Moroff will make his AAA debut this year, but has made steady and quick progress in the organization. He can play 2B and SS.
IN: Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco
Cement. This is the starting outfield. Only a spring training injury would alter the makeup of the best outfield in baseball.
POSSIBLE: Matt Joyce
Joyce is the only true outfielder who will be competing for an outfield spot. However, players like Rodriguez, Rogers and Goebbert all have outfield experience. Jaso could probably play there in a pinch as can Josh Harrison although we probably won’t see that anymore. Joyce has significant pinch hitting experience which could give him the upper hand.
IN THE WINGS: Willy Garcia, Harold Ramirez
Both these players are prospects. Garcia struggled with the few at-bats he had in AAA. Ramirez is only 21 and although his numbers have been very good so far, he has only reached high A ball. He should start out in Altoona.
DL: Jung-Ho Kang