Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training: How Out-Of-Options Players are Performing


The Pittsburgh Pirates have a few players who have no options left, but not all of them are guaranteed an MLB roster spot. They’re at risk of being designated for assignment at the end of Spring Training.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have now been playing Grapefruit League Games for about two-and-a-half weeks. We’ve gotten a fair look at most of the Pirates’ roster, including those fighting for a roster spot.

While guys like Jose Osuna, Colin Moran, Kevin Kramer, and Will Craig entered camp with options remaining, seven Pirate players entered with no options remaining. If the Bucs want to guarantee they’ll stay in the Majors, they’ll have to keep them on the 26-man roster or risk losing them to waivers.

If the borderline players don’t want to risk being designated for assignment, then they’ll have to have to put on a show during Spring Training to display they deserve a roster spot. If not, they will face not securing a spot on the team’s Opening Day roster.

The first player on the border is relief pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas. The first Lithuanian born MLB player has not lived up to the hype that surrounded him since arriving in the Majors. Although he was never a high-ranking top prospect, MLB Pipeline ranked him as the team’s 22nd best prospect at the end of 2016, and he showed much more promise throughout the minors.

The 27-year-old spent most of his time between 2016 and 2018 at the Triple-A level. He produced a very good 2.91 ERA, 3.07 FIP, walked 11.5% of all batters faced, and struck them out at a 26.8% rate. He also just gave up only four home runs across all 126.2 innings he pitched. However, 2019 was very rough at Triple-A. Neverauskas finished the year 5.02 ERA, 4.14 FIP, and a 4.37 DRA. He gave up eight home runs in 52 innings of work, resulting in a HR/9 of almost 2.0. He also struggled with control, walking batters at a 6.75 per 9 rate.

The Major Leagues have not been as kind to the right-hander. Neverauskas has a career 6.71 ERA and a 5.99 FIP. The home run ball has been a huge issue for the former prospect, as 15 of the 69  hits he has given up have left the park. That’s about 21.7% of all the hits he has given up have been home runs. His fastball has also dropped by over 1 MPH. After cranking it up into the high 97’s regularly, Neverauskas ended 2019 in the low 96’s.

In Spring this year, Neverauskas is doing what he can to make the team in what could be his last chance. In 5 innings, Neverauskas has struck out six batters, has only let up one walk, and four  hits.

Another player who could be out of a job soon is infielder Erik Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a light hitting, good fielding shortstop, and that’s mainly what he did in 2019. At short, Gonzalez posted a +4 DRS, and 1.3 UZR in only 209.1 innings. But on the other side of the ball, Gonzalez finished the year with a .254/.301/.317 line and 59 wRC+.

Gonzalez missed most of the 2019 season after a collision with now former center fielder Starling Marte, and the injury opened the door for former first rounder Kevin Newman to take over, which is exactly what happened. With Newman breaking out, Cole Tucker looking to take over another middle infield spot, and Adam Frazier being one of the best defensive second basemen in the National League, Gonzalez may have no room on the roster.

He could fit into an infield utility role, as he does have plenty of professional experience at second base, third base, and even a bit of left field. However, Frazier can fill that role (with Tucker taking over at shortstop, moving Newman to second base), while being a much more productive hitter. Gonzalez hasn’t helped his case much this Spring Training, either. He hasn’t had a single hit in the six plate appearances he has had, and has walked just once. On the other hand, his primary opposition, JT Riddle, has five hits including a double and two triples in 20 plate appearances. IT would not be a surprise to see Gonzalez being designated for assignment at the end of Spring Training.

One last name worth bringing up is Chris Stratton. Stratton was a mixed bag in 2019 for the Pirates. He posted a 3.66 ERA, but a 4.11 FIP and 4.55 DRA in 46.2 innings with the Bucs. While he struck out 47 batters, and walked only 15, he gave up seven home runs.

Spring Training hasn’t done him any favors whatsoever. In 5 innings, Stratton has surrendered six hits, four(!) home runs, and five walks. Now, granted, Stratton still has some promise to turn it around. He is in the top 93rd percentile in fastball spin, and 99th percentile of curveball spin. His slider has plenty of movement, with 40.1 inches of vertical movement (3.2 inches above average) and 6.4 inches of horizontal movement (1.7 inches above average). His change-up also has a lot of movement with 31.2 vertical (1.3 above average) and 14.1 horizontal (0.8 above average).

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Unlike another out-of-options, but injured relief pitcher who struggled last year, Clay Holmes, it’s not like Stratton has one pitch to blame for his problems. All of his primary pitches haven’t produced great results, and the right-hander needs to show some improvement next year. If Stratton comes stumbling out of the gates, and someone like Cody Ponce, JT Brubaker, or Pedro Vasquez get off to a hot start, or Holmes gets healthy, Stratton could get an early-season DFA.