By John Perrotto
The Pirates have faced few major roster decisions this spring, rare for a team coming off a 99-loss season, but not unexpected considering that general manager Neal Huntington completely reshaped the roster in the middle of last season by making seven trades in June and July.
Spring training is now down to its final hours as the Pirates played their last home game Monday at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, routing the Houston Astros 13-1. They will play three more games in Florida then break camp Thursday night and head to Philadelphia for a two-game exhibition series with the Phillies on Friday night and Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
The Pirates still have 37 players in camp and will most likely cut down to the opening-day roster limit of 25 before leaving Florida on Thursday after facing the Phillies in Clearwater. Yet, the final cuts don’t figure to be all that difficult as the Pirates seemingly need to settle on only their final three relievers and which way to go with their backup catching situation.
The starting rotation is set with left-handers Zach Duke and Paul Maholm and right-handers Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton and Daniel McCutchen while right-handers Octavio Dotel, Brendan Donnelly, Evan Meek and D.J. Carrasco are locks for the bullpen.
The Pirates have a set starting lineup with catcher Ryan Doumit, first baseman Jeff Clement, second baseman Aki Iwamura, third baseman Andy LaRoche, shortstop Ronny Cedeno, left fielder Lastings Milledge, center fielder Andrew McCutchen and right fielder Garrett Jones.
Bobby Crosby will be the primary utility infielder while Ryan Church, rookie Rule 5 draft pick John Raynor and Delwyn Young will be the reserve outfielders.
The Pirates will also formally placed right-handers Jose Ascanio and Joel Hanrahan on the disabled list in the next few days.
The remaining pitchers in camp are left-handers Javier Lopez and Jack Taschner and right-handers Brian Bass, Vinny Chulk, Anthony Claggett, Steven Jackson, Jeff Karstens, Hayden Penn and Jeremy Powell.
Lopez and Taschner have pitched well enough to make the team and it’s a tactical advantage to have two lefties in the bullpen. Lopez has given up three runs and five hits in 8 2/3 innings with three walks and eight strikeouts while Taschner has allowed two runs and seven innings with five walks and 13 strikeouts.
The Pirates claimed Penn off waivers from Florida on Monday afternoon and the fact they invested a 40-man roster spot on him indicates he has a serious chance to gain the 12th and final spot on the pitching staff.
Penn was once considered Baltimore’s top pitching prospect but has not lived up to those expectations and had a rough spring with the Marlins, giving up 12 runs and 14 hits in 13 innings while walking four and striking out four.
The Pirates’ plan is to use Penn in relief Tuesday and Thursday then hopefully make a decision before they fly north. However, there is also a chance they may take him along to Philadelphia for the weekend to make a further evaluation as the opening-day roster do not have to be set until Saturday at midnight.
If Penn fails to make a good impression, then the top two candidates to win the last spot, at least from a statistical standpoint, are Claggett and Powell. Claggett has given up five runs, three earned, in 8 2/3 innings with two walks and eight strikeouts and Powell has been touched for five runs, three earned, in nine innings while not issuing a walk and striking out four.
However, there is also a lot of internal thought of giving the last spot to right-hander Brian Bass, who spent all last season with Baltimore. In 6 1/3 innings this spring, he gave up three runs and five hits with three walks and four strikeouts.
Catcher Luke Carlin, first baseman Steve Pearce and infielder Ramon Vazquez have no chance of making the opening-day roster, barring a last-minute injury or trade. The Pirates are hanging on to Vazquez in hopes that they can trade him, although they would likely have to eat a good portion of his $2-million salary in any deal.
That leaves the final position player decision down to keeping either Jason Jaramillo or Erik Kratz as the No. 2 catcher. Both have had miserable spring statistically with Jaramillo going 4-for-21 (.190) and Kratz just 2-for-12 (.167).
The Pirates, though, believe Jaramillo, who spent all of last season in the major leagues, has the potential to be a starting catcher. Thus, they are considering sending him to Class AAA Indianapolis so he can play regularly and sharpen his game. The Pirates believe Kratz can handle backup duty in the major leagues as he is considered a good defensive catcher and has also shown some pop in recent minor-league seasons.