Who will be in the Opening Day bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 03: Felipe Rivero
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 03: Felipe Rivero /
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When the Pittsburgh Pirates start the regular season against the Detroit Tigers on March 29th, who will be in their bullpen?

In 18 days, the Pittsburgh Pirates will head to Comerica Park to start the first series of the 2018 season against the Detroit Tigers. In the final three weeks of Spring Training, there are not many battles in Pirate camp. However, there are multiple battles going on in the bullpen.

Two of the seven relievers that will start the season in the Major Leagues is known. These two relievers are the team’s two best relievers – Felipe Rivero and George Kontos. But as Spring Training continues to chug along, the battle is on for the other five spots in the team’s Opening Day bullpen.

So, who else will join Rivero and Kontos in the Opening Day bullpen? Well, luckily, Clint Hurdle and his staff have a plethora of good options.

Right-handed pitchers Dovydas Neverauskas, Edgar Santana, Jordan Milbrath, Kyle Crick, Michael Feliz, and Tyler Glasnow, as well as lefties Josh Smoker, Kevin Siegrist, and Steven Brault are all competing for the other five bullpen spots. Additionally, Glasnow and Brault continue to try and make their cases for the final spot in the Pirate starting rotation.

Right-handed pitcher A.J. Schugel would also be in contention, but he left his first outing of the spring with shoulder discomfort. This happened on February 25th and there have been no updates on Schugel since then. So, it appears, that Schugel, who is out of options, will start the season on the disabled list.

It would appear that both Crick and Feliz have a leg up on the competition. This is due to the Pirates acquiring them in offseason trades. Additionally, both fit the Pirate mold of being hard throwing relievers as Feliz’s fastball averages 96.2 miles per hour and Crick’s averages 95.5 miles per hour. Look for both be in the Opening Day bullpen, and for them to play key late inning roles along with Rivero and Kontos.

Odds also seem high that both Brault and Glasnow will make the Opening Day bullpen. As long as Joe Musgrove is healthy, and it appears he is, he will be the team’s fifth starter. Combine that with neither Glasnow nor Brault having anything left to prove at Triple-A, Neal Huntington mentioning numerous times each could make the team as a reliever, and both being best suited for the bullpen in the Major Leagues, and it would be a surprise if they are not in the Opening Day bullpen.

Both Glasnow and Brault could pitch multiple inning outings for Hurdle when needed. Brault also adds another lefty to the bullpen, and Glasnow has all the tools needed to develop into a dominant late inning reliever.

This leaves one more spot up for grabs with five pitchers battling for it. Who gets this last spot could come down to a variety of things. Does Hurdle want a third lefty (Josh Smoker or Kevin Siegrist) in his bullpen? Do the Pirates want to give Rule 5 Draft selection Jordan Milbrath back to the Cleveland Indians? Does Hurdle want a reliever he has familiarity with and that he trusts in that final spot (Dovydas Neverauskas and Edgar Santana)?

As long as he is healthy, and he looked healthy in his spring debut on Saturday striking out the side, I expect this final bullpen spot to go to Kevin Siegrist. The ex-Cardinal reliever is in camp on a minor league contract, and he has plenty experience pitching in big spots and big games.

Furthermore, the Pirates can option Neverauskas, Santana, and Smoker to Triple-A to create some very strong bullpen depth. These three would join relief pitching prospects Tate Scioneaux and Montana DuRapau, once his PED suspension ends, to create a stellar Triple-A bullpen.

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Now, this is not the bullpen I would take north if it were my decision but the bullpen I believe the Pirates will take north on March 29th. In my opinion, Dovydas Neverasukas should make the Opening Day bullpen over Kyle Crick. But, that is not what the Pirates are likely to do.

Crick v. Neverauskas aside, the bullpen should be a strength for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018. This bullpen has the potential to be one of the best in the National League. Mix in strong depth at Triple-A, and the bullpen should be far from a problem for the Pirates this season.