Welcome back to the weekly Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag here at Rum Bunter
How will the bullpen shape up in front of Felipe Vazquez and Keone Kela? Will Rookie Davis crack the rotation? What is going to happen at third base? And more in this week’s jumbo sized Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag.
As always, thank you to everyone who submitted questions and participated this week. Now, let’s dive in!
The Pirates will have one of the best 8th/9th inning duos in all of baseball this season in Keone Kela and Felipe Vazquez. Outside of these two, the ‘pen will be deep and strong.
After strong performances in 2018, Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez are locks for the bullpen as high leverage situation relievers. Ex-Bucco ace Francisco Liriano entered the spring with a great shot to make the team, and his performance this spring has only solidified his spot. Nick Burdi also seems like a safe bet due to his great stuff and Rule 5 status.
After these six, the battles begin. Veteran lefty Tyler Lyons was signed to a minor league deal, and, as we covered yesterday, is off to a strong start this spring. If he does not win the final spot in the rotation, Nick Kingham is a name to watch as well. The Pirates remain high on the former top-100 prospect and he is out of minor league options.
If the team takes eight relievers to start the season, then Lyons and Kingham are both likely to head north with the club. If they take just seven, then Clint Hurdle and company will have a decision to make.
When the Pirates signed Rookie Davis to a minor league deal last month, he appeared destined for Triple-A to start the season. While this remains likely, his odds of making the team have seemed to improve.
In his lone outing this spring, Davis pitched a pair of scoreless innings. Meanwhile, the other three pitchers competing for the final rotation spot, have allowed 17 runs in 21 innings pitched. That said, the Bucs remain committed to giving Jordan Lyles a shot in the rotation. And if Lyles did not win the final rotation spot, Kingham would appear to be next in line.
Davis will certainly be a player to keep an eye on at Triple-A, though. Odds are he will be pitching for the Pirates at some point this season.
To start the season I expect Jung Ho Kang and Colin Moran to have some sort of platoon at third base. But if Kang continues to hit the way he has this spring and proves he’s back, or close to, his 2015/2016 form, then I believe he will win the third base job on a daily basis.
If this happens, look for Moran to become a key bench piece for the Pirates. Quietly, Moran was one of the best pinch hitters in the National League last season. Pinch hitting is not easy to do, but Moran has proven he can do it. Also, Kang is set to hit free agency following the season while Moran remains under team control through 2023.
Although, there is another player that may impact Moran’s long term future in Pittsburgh…..
Few players have been more impressive for the Pirates this spring than Ke’Bryan Hayes. The team’s top position player prospect has a Grapefruit League best seven extra base hits, while also showing off why many scouts have long pegged him as a future Gold Glove winner at third base.
While the future is bright for Hayes, in my opinion he is a future superstar, he is still a ways away from the Major Leagues. Hayes will start the year at the Triple-A level, but he currently has zero career at bats above Double-A. He will need plenty of work at Triple-A.
Due to this, while a September call up could be a possibility, you should not expect him to be a full time member of the active roster until some time during the 2020 season. With that said, if the team would want to trade Moran to clear a spot for Hayes this is something they would not need to do until some time in 2020.
Prior to Elias Diaz being stricken with an illness that will cause him to miss Opening Day, I’m not sure Pablo Reyes was going to be on the Opening Day roster. Whoever is not starting at third base and shortstop would claim two bench spots, Jacob Stallings is out of options which was likely going to cause the Pirates to carry three catchers, Melky Cabrera seems like a safe bet to make the team, and then Diaz would have the fifth and final bench spot.
It is also possible the team could start the season with eight relievers and four bench players, which would not have been good for Reyes. Shoot, that still may not bode well for Reyes.
As of now, I expect Kevin Newman, Stallings, Cabrera, and Moran/Kang to be locks for the Opening Day bench. After that, it becomes a question of roster makeup. If they take seven relievers, Reyes gets a spot. If not, he starts at Triple-A.
If Reyes does start at Triple-A, it will be nothing he has done wrong. He just simply has minor league options and whoever does not win the shortstop job is a lock to make the roster as a utility player.
Cole Tucker‘s performance so far this spring has been awesome to see. Throughout his minor league career he has been viewed as a potential Gold Glove winner at shortstop, but questions about his bat have always persisted.
His bat, however, may be coming around. He slashed .273/.360/.411 with a .139 ISO and a 114 wRC+ during the final three months of the season at Double-A last year. He followed that up with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League, and now he is slashing .400/.471/.867 this spring.
All of that said, Tucker is nowhere near MLB ready. He has not played a game at the Triple-A level yet. And there are still plenty of questions about his offense. Tucker will need to hit well for an extended period at the Triple-A level before he is even considered as an option for the Pirates. That may come at some point in 2019, but that point will not be Opening Day.
This is something I had never thought of before, but you may be onto something. As a small market team with a low payroll the Pittsburgh Pirates are always looking for every cutting edge out of the box advantage they can find. Adding a real life Air Bud to the roster would be just that.
Just imagine, a fly ball heading toward the Northside Notch for a sure fire extra base hit, then, boom, Air Bud comes diving in to rob the hitter. What a very good boy he would be.
That will do it for this week. If you ever have a question for the mailbag look for our Tweet each week asking for questions for the mailbag. Also, do not ever be afraid to ask a question on Twitter or Facebook.