Top Battles to Watch in Spring

3-11-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Listen, I know this CBA wasn’t ideal for this market, and I swear I’m not ignoring it. I’ve written about the situation for close to 4 months now and watched the number of readers dwindle from week to week as the faithful became less so. Point is, the positives and negatives didn’t slip past me, nor did what they didn’t get done that would have actually fixed the game.

All that being said, you’ll have to pardon me as the kid in me just wants to write about baseball today. Talking about on the field has been difficult at best as we navigated the lockout and I’m chomping at the bit.

Starting Rotation

This is all about shear numbers, Jose Quintana, JT Brubaker, Mitch Keller, Bryse Wilson, Zach Thompson, Wil Crowe, Dillon Peters, Roansy Contreras, Miguel Yajure, Max Kranick, Jarad Eickhoff.

That’s 11 pitchers who could all conceivably start in MLB on day one. It doesn’t represent everyone who has a shot all season but from the jump, that’s an honest list.

Now, Ben Cherington is on record saying he wants to bring in another to compete. History tells us that’s going to look something like Ervin Santana on a MiLB show me deal not unlike Eickhoff, or seeing how much Chris Archer thinks his value has dropped, but to me, If I can’t sit here and say the new signing is nailed on better than the first five names I mentioned, I’ll pass.

For me, that’s a guy like Zach Davies, Drew Smyly, Brett Anderson, somewhere in that territory. I don’t think it’s terribly realistic, but again, if they’re going to sign someone, get someone destined to win a spot, not destined to happily be reassigned to AAA or cut.

Bullpen Battles

Closer is locked up, it’ll be David Bednar. I know some will want to talk about Cederlind but he’s still coming off TJS and on top of that wants to be given an (ill fated in my opinion) opportunity to start.

Barring a trade, Chris Stratton is a lock too. Beyond those two, I’d say it’s a pretty wide open battle.

For instance we could easily see a couple of those rotation options migrate to the pen like Peters or Crowe. They probably need to fill 9-11 spots accounting for call ups, meaning you’re going to want to have some guys in AAA who can come help, especially with a short Spring.

Duane Underwood Jr. is not going to be a popular lock, but I believe he is. He ate innings, more than any other reliever, and that’s valuable. Specifically 72 innings with a 4.33 ERA and a .2 WAR. Now, his WHIP stinks, 1.431, which is exactly what he has to improve on and ultimately what is his undoing. Far too many walks and hits. That said I think he gets a shot again.

Nick Mears and Sam Howard probably have the inside track on making it again as well. Anthony Banda to me needs one of Howard or Peters to not make the squad.

Folks, you don’t need me to tell you that’s a poor bullpen.

I think given his post trade performance last season, good chance Richard Rodriguez finds his way back to Pittsburgh. Personally, not someone who thinks what he does is sustainable, but it might be better than doing nothing. Really the club could stand to add 3 or 4 but I’m not expecting that.

Again, I think Blake Cederlind could at some point jump back into the conversation here and be a great help. Hunter Stratton, Yerry De Los Santos and Joe Jacques could all get a shot to contribute.

I also think depending on how the development proceeds, JC Flowers and Kyle Nicolas are names to watch. They’ll both start out as starters in AA but both have some scouts thinking bullpen is in their future. I’d toss Omar Cruz into this conversation, but I think they really want to have him stick as a starter. Cam Vieaux or Osvaldo Bido are more likely if they’re to pull another starter into the conversation from AAA.

Catcher

God help us they need another.

Roberto Perez is going to start, but let’s be blunt, he hasn’t played a ton and I don’t see it reversing course this year. As we sit here, Michael Perez (currently not even on the 40 man) has to be the leader in the clubhouse and I probably don’t need to tell you that’s not good enough.

I hoped the Pirates would handle this in the Rule 5 Draft, but according to Zach Buchanan of the Athletic this event has been cancelled for this season. Which helps the Pirates in other areas of course.

The Pirates brought in Jamie Ritchie to compete and Jason Delay is still around too, but neither are exciting options. If you’re looking for a real prospect you really have to look to AA and Eli Wilson or Carter Bins, neither of which are really ready in my eyes.

The free agent market is going to be hotly contested and it’s weak to begin with. A reunion with Luke Maile who never really got a chance here could be in order and I’ll be very blunt there isn’t another +WAR player on the board.

It’s easily the worst situation on the team and that’s saying something.

They could of course trade for one, but it’s too early to really understand who’s available. May need to think about acquiring someone in AAA, maybe even someone you might have wanted in the Rule 5.

First Base

Whether you want to admit it or not, Yoshi Tsutsugo was signed to play first base. He said it, the team said it, and all I’ve seen are people assuming he won’t play it. My bet is he gets a shot to hold it down at least part time while spending some time as the DH.

The other internal option that’s apparent is Michael Chavis who’s simply untested there and realistically as a hitter as well, but both of these bats are going to be wanted in the lineup if for no other reason than to get power inserted into what they’re trying to do.

I’ve made a pitch for this before, but Daniel Vogelbach might be a nice pickup here. He could do well at first and in a DH role as well. Problem is that’s 3 guys who really shouldn’t be playing anywhere but first. Chavis has some other positions he can play but he’s not a natural second baseman and as an outfielder, well, I’m not sure he has the chops to play left at least.

Mason Martin has the best shot from the prospect pool to impact the club. Now, he has work to do, but if he shows improvement in OBA the Pirates might be tempted to see what his bat could do in the bigs.

Even with his strikeout problem, I’m of the belief he could contribute but I’m not the one who needs convinced.

Third Base

There is no competition. Ke’Bryan Hayes as often as possible. They’ll still need someone else to play there and Michael Chavis is probably the best bet. Hoy Park could too but I’m not sure I’m convinced he’ll make the roster. Rodolfo Castro is another possibility.

Outfield

First, I’ve been told the team has just about zero interest in trading Bryan Reynolds, but I understand until such a time as they extend him or make a public statement the rumors aren’t going away.

For the time being, can I just say he’s a lock? I think so.

Ben Gamel will play and likely start. Bare minimum he’s a 4th outfielder and he’d be a damn good one of those.

That brings us to old friend Anthony Alford who I personally would have already moved on from or Greg Allen. I figure both are clubhouse favorites to make the club but they certainly shouldn’t make it without competition being more than cosmetic.

Travis Swaggerty or Jared Oliva certainly should have a chance to beat them out. Regardless of how you feel about Oliva I can’t see how he isn’t at least on the level of Allen or Alford. By mid season these names plus Jack Suwinski, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Cal Mitchell and Matthew Fraizer should all be making a push of their own.

I’ve called for them to bring in a real locked on starter at the position and while I don’t see them doing it, let’s put forward a name anyway, it’s just too fun not to.

Eddie Rosario intrigues me, first he’s not a world beater in the outfield, but he has plenty of DH experience which is interesting to me, so even if the kids progress quickly Eddie’s bat makes him a worthwhile signing anyway.

Middle Infield

Lots of possibilities, and that’s saying it lightly.

Oneil Cruz, Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker, Hoy Park are the 4 who probably have a head start, although I’ll have to actually see Cruz start in MLB before I’ll believe it. Rumor is expanded rosters could play a role at the beginning of the season (much like 2020 where we had 30 man rosters) and it’d be hard to convince fans that he isn’t one of the best 30 players they have.

Next up you have Castro who I already suggested could help in multiple places. Diego Castillo could really be a players too and before the season is out Marcano and Bae as well.

I think the Pirates have room to deal from this group, maybe even should, but this is the group I see initially battling it out.

Conclusion

Craig and I are going to obviously dig in much more but I thought since talking actual baseball was so tough during the lockout I thought it might be nice to give you all a refresher on who’s here and some of the guys to watch in this truncated Spring.

Have a good day everyone!

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

2 thoughts on “Top Battles to Watch in Spring

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