As with their pitching staff, the Pirates have accumulated enough depth among position players that it could be very hard for one of their10 non-roster hitters to make the team out of camp. The depth at the corners especially contrasts with last year, when the team disastrously went with so little outfield depth that Drew Sutton started 16 games in the corners. This year, 1B/OF options are abundant without need to look outside the 40-man roster. The catching also is set in stone to a greater extent than possibly any year since Jason Kendall was a Pirate. The one exception may be middle infield depth, where the available options are dubious. Clint Hurdle seems to have no interest at all in Jordy Mercer, and his preferred utility player, Josh Harrison, is an offense-first player who posted a dismal OPS+ of 74 last year. And former shortstop-of-the-future Chase d’Arnaud was used almost exclusively as a pinch runner during a September callup.
Here’s the rundown on NRI hitters:
Lucas May, C: May has a history of hitting for power but struggling with the strike zone in the minors. Or at least he did until he suffered through a miserable 2012 season with the Mets’ AAA affiliate. He’s not well regarded defensively, outside of a decent arm. He seems a likely choice to back up Tony Sanchez at Indianapolis, as he could see duty as DH or maybe at first if he gets his bat going again.
Carlos Paulino, C: There’s always a need for legions of catchers in spring training, which accounts for Paulino getting an invite to camp. It may not hurt that he's caught both Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. He’s a solid defensive catcher who struggled in his second season at high A. He could return there again or share the duties at Altoona. He’s not a candidate to see any time with the Pirates.
Ali Solis, C: The Pirates added Solis in their annual fall game of waiver pong, although Solis lost out on top honors to Chad Beck. Solis is a defense-oriented catcher who’s mostly been a pretty terrible hitter in the minors, although he did have a very solid offensive season in AA last year. He also got into five games with the Padres in September. With Sanchez in AAA and Paulino not distinguishing himself in 2012, Solis could be the starting catcher at Altoona. If injuries create a need, he’d probably be the next choice after Sanchez to move up to Pittsburgh. Russell Martin and Mike McKenry aren’t very comparable to Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder, health-wise, though, so Solis' odds are probably limited.
Ivan de Jesus, Jr., IF: Since he lost a step after suffering a broken leg in 2009, de Jesus is no longer really a shortstop. He plays mainly second now, but could serve as a utility infielder. He’s had a solid bat in the minors, with a .771 career OPS in AAA (most of it, though, at the hitter's haven in Albuquerque). He hasn’t hit anything in the majors, but that’s in just 80 plate appearances. With the Pirates’ infield reserve options looking less than inspiring, de Jesus may have the best chance of any NRI, pitcher or hitter, to make the team out of camp.
Jared Goedert, IF/OF: More of a corner player than middle infielder, Goedert hasn’t played second since 2009 and has never played short. Most of his time has come at third. He’s been a good hitter throughout most of his minor league career, with a 270/341/494 line in AAA, but has never played in the majors. With the Pirates overloaded at first and the outfield corners, Goedert’s best chance of seeing Pittsburgh would probably be an injury to Pedro Alvarez.
Matt Hague, 1B: Hague needs no introduction. After a mediocre 2012 season in AAA, he needs to boost his offensive game a couple notches to maneuver his way through the many 1B options. It doesn’t help that he’s never been a lefty masher.
Brad Hawpe, 1B/OF: First they tried Garrett Atkins, now Hawpe. After collapsing in 2011, Hawpe found himself all the way down in AA with Texas last year, and didn’t do much there besides drawing walks. He was released in June at his own request and didn’t play again. He’s probably going to have to go to AAA and show he’s turned things around before getting a chance in the majors.
Anderson Hernandez , IF: This is Hernandez’ second straight NRI appearance with the Pirates. Last year he seemed like a decent candidate to make the team as a utility infielder, but he didn’t last long in major league camp. After he posted a .629 OPS at Indianapolis, it’s hard to see him having any realistic chance this year, especially with de Jesus around. Like de Jesus, he’s more of a second baseman than a shortstop now, but de Jesus has a much better bat.
Darren Ford, OF: When he was in class A, Ford looked like a solid prospect, but he hasn’t hit well since he got to AA. His .711 OPS last year with Seattle’s AAA affiliate is his best showing in the three years since he reached the upper levels. Now 27, he also doesn’t seem to have the blazing speed he had in his early 20s, although he can still play center. He’s made only 16 plate appearances in the majors. It’d probably take a raft of injuries to get him to Pittsburgh.
Felix Pie, OF: Pie was ranked among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects for five straight seasons, but he now faces an uphill struggle to make the Pirates’ roster. He actually had back-to-back decent-ish seasons for the Orioles in 2009-10 (OPS+ of 98 and 95), but he collapsed in 2011 before spending all of 2012 in AAA, where he posted an uninspiring OPS of .797. In most years Pie would have a good chance of making the team, especially given his ability to play all the outfield positions, but now he has to worry about Jose Tabata and Alex Presley, who’ll probably be fighting for backup spots. The fact that Starling Marte can easily move over to center if needed doesn’t help Pie, either.
The only one of these guys I can see having a realistic chance of making the team out of camp is de Jesus, and he may actually have decent odds.