Who Will Fill Out The Pittsburgh Pirates Bench Opening Day?

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ spring training competition for the fifth starter rotation spot has been highly disappointing and uneventful, but the competition for the remaining bench spots on the major league roster has been the exact opposite. Who will the Pirates choose to fill their last offensive roster spots on Opening Day?

At most, the Pittsburgh Pirates will start the season with five offensive bench players, one of which will be a backup catcher. Without a doubt, this player will be Chris Stewart, which leaves four open spots for Pirates to fill.

In my opinion, there are eight players competing for these four spots and every one of them is hitting the cover off of the ball during spring training – Adam Frazier, Jose Osuna, Gift Ngoepe, David Freese, Alen Hanson, Phil Gosselin, John Jaso, and Danny Ortiz. These eight players are averaging a batting average of .378 over spring training and all eight are individually batting above the .310 mark – which is pure insanity.

Out of these eight players, it is safe to assume that Jaso and Frazier will return to the Major League roster. Both are performing extraordinarily well and have the advantage of playing a lot of games last year at the highest level for the Pirates’ organization.

I would argue that Frazier is actually competing for a starting job with his strong .442/.520/.606/1.125 slash. Freese is also guaranteed a spot on the roster and will most likely play third base in Boston on Opening Day, especially with the recent news of Jung Ho Kang’s early season absence.

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This leaves the Pirates with Osuna, Ngoepe, Gosselin, Hanson, Ortiz and two open bench spots. The Pirates haven’t hidden the fact that these players are competing for the last two bench spots. Throughout spring training, these five players have all received at least 37 at-bats, making them five of the six most used players by the Pirates during spring training.

If I had to rate these five players today on their chances of making the Opening Day roster, it would look like this:

  1. Jose Osuna
  2. Alen Hanson
  3. Phil Gosselin
  4. Gift Ngoepe
  5. Danny Ortiz

Let’s start at the top. In my opinion, Jose Osuna should be an easy yes for the Pirates. Last year, Matt Joyce was extremely valuable to the Pirates because he was viable power threat coming off of the bench. Osuna can fill this role and easily replace Matt Joyce with his .436/.521/.897/1.418 slash accompanied by his eye-opening 5 home runs and 14 RBIs in just 39 at-bats during spring training.

Osuna does lack strong defense and the ability to play a couple hundred positions, like the Pirate’s average bench player, but his power potential far outweighs these negatives and make Osuna a must have for the Pirates in 2017.

Alen Hanson will nudge out Phil Gosselin for the second and final bench spot this year for reasons that lie outside of the statistics. Hanson and Gosselin are very comparable throughout spring training, batting .385 and .333 respectively. Hanson is a utility infield player and Gosselin plays everywhere minus catcher, pitcher, and center field.

The biggest factor at play here is that Gosselin has one minor league option left whereas Hanson is out of minor league options. In addition, both Osuna and Jaso can play in the outfield, negating Gosselin’s outfield utility. Therefore, I believe that the Pirates will choose to use Gosselin’s final minor league option and keep the speedy Hanson on the Opening Day roster.

Gift Ngoepe is a highly skilled shortstop that has played well above his potential during Spring Training, sporting a .405/.463/.486/.950 slash. Ngoepe also has infield utility and can play second and third base. Even though Ngoepe is hitting the cover off of the ball, he has plenty of Minor League options left and the Pirates will use one of them. Ngoepe has only hit for a .221 average in his 444 Triple-A plate appearances and I believe the Pirates will want to see a lot more than just one successful spring training stint to justify Ngoepe a roster spot.

Danny Ortiz is number five on the list and without a doubt will be heading to Triple-A Indy despite his .350/.366/.425/.791 spring training slash. Last year Ortiz hit .236 with 436 plate appearances in Triple-A. Even though this year’s spring training is a great step forward for Ortiz, he lacks the raw power that his fellow outfielder Jose Osuna has. In addition, the Pirates will want to see more proof of success in AAA before Ortiz is given the chance to contribute at PNC Park.

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Without a doubt, the Pirates bench is one of the most exciting stories developing during spring training this year. It is great to know that the Pirates have incredible big league options as well as some strong depth in the minors for future seasons and weekly call-ups.

Let’s go Bucs!

*All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and MLB.com