March 5, 2011

The 25th Man

One of the least interesting battles during any spring training is for the final position player spot on the roster. This is a guy who will barely play and usually will be optioned out by May. As a reliable source of uninteresting Pirates-related news, I figured I would cover this battle.I consider 12 position players locks to make the roster: catchers Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder; infielders Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Atkins, Ronny Cedeno, Lyle Overbay, Josh Rodriguez, and Neil Walker; and outfielders Matt Diaz, Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata. With the starting pitching situation what it is, the Pirates certainly will carry seven relievers. So there's one position player spot left on the roster.

The coaches are saying Rodriguez still has to make the team, but rest assured the Pirates aren't shipping their #1 Rule V pick back to Cleveland at the end of spring training. Atkins likewise is supposedly in competition for a spot, but he's a Clint Hurdle guy from their years in Colorado and I'd be shocked if he doesn't go north with the MLB team.

It's too early to evaluate spring training stats, and they're largely meaningless even over the full month. But for better or for worse, decisions like this are made based on spring performance. Here are the candidates to watch for that 25th man spot:

OF John Bowker is probably the most likely player to get this spot simply because he's out of options. He hit .232/.312/.391 in 77 plate appearances after coming over from the Giants last year - not good by any means, but better than most of the guys on this list could muster. Bowker also would provide a lefthanded bat off the bench - the only one on days when both Doumit and Jones are in the starting lineup. I'm not saying Bowker is the best choice, but teams will usually take the player who is out of options if the roster spot is even in question. I don't see the Pirates waiving Bowker so soon after trading for him.

1B Steven Pearce is another front runner. He'll be 28 this year so there's no need for more seasoning. He also hit well last year, .276/.395/.414, albeit in only 38 plate appearances. Personally I would be fine with Pearce on the team as a platoon partner for Overbay. However, I see no use for Pearce when Overbay is the everyday starter and Atkins, Jones and Diaz are all also able to play first base.

3B Josh Fields isn't a great defender, but has absolutely murdered lefthanded pitchers in his career with a .293/.357/.600 slash line. He would be a great weapon off the bench, particularly since having lefthanders Jones, Alvarez, and Overbay in the middle of the lineup is sure to summon lefthanders out of opposing bullpens. However, Fields is here on a minor league deal and can be easily stashed at Indianapolis.

C Jason Jaramillo would be my choice. He didn't hit at all (.149/.227/.207) last year, but with backups already covered at every position I think Jaramillo gives the greatest roster flexibility. With another catcher on board, Clint Hurdle can use his best pinch hitter, Ryan Doumit, in any situation without worrying about a possible catcher injury. Chris Snyder is also the only player in the everyday lineup who would require a pinch runner in the late innings, so it helps to have a good defensive catcher to come off the bench in that likely event. Jaramillo can also come in for Ryan Doumit as a defensive substitute when Snyder has the day off.

3B Andy Marte fields well at third base and hits well enough against lefties (.253/.328/.380) to give Pedro Alvarez an occasional rest. He could be a defensive replacement for Alvarez in the late innings as well. However, I think the Pirates will let Alvarez sink or swim in all situations. Marte is here on a minor league deal for a reason.

SS Pedro Ciriaco is a great fielder and had a single, double and a triple in six at bats last fall. I think he would be the first choice to play every day if Neil Walker or Ronny Cedeno (O hope of hopes) go down with injuries. However, he has options left, could use some more minor leage at bats, and probably is redundant with Rodriguez already on the roster.

No comments:

Post a Comment