With Spring Training upon us, I'd like to take a very early shot at guessing who will make the Pirates' roster out of camp. This time I'll look only at position players; we'll discuss the pitchers later. Feel free to add your own guesses in the comments.
TOTAL = 9
That's nine roster spots that are pretty well covered. A quick glance through those nine shows a few obvious holes: a first baseman, a spare outfielder, and a utility infielder.
The first baseman will probably be Jeff Clement; he'd have to completely bomb Spring Training and reveal himself as a completely incapable first baseman to not get the job. That Clement could reveal himself to be totally incompetent certainly is a possibility, given his inexperience at the position, but I think the Pirates really will bend over backwards to give him the job. Garrett Jones could play either first or right field, and the Bucs would probably be better defensively with Jones at first and someone else in right, but after Jones there's really no one else at either position who has Clement's upside who should be in immediate competition for a starting job. Jose Tabata certainly has upside, but he probably should start at Indianapolis. John Raynor and Brandon Jones might have some, but they're coming off weak years at Class AAA. And Brandon Moss and Steve Pearce pretty clearly aren't starting players at this point. So Clement makes the 25-man.
Filling the spare outfielder spot is tricky. Pearce makes some sense in that Clement, Garrett Jones and Church are all lefties, and Pearce has some hitting ability from the right side. He's not a great defensive outfielder, however, and the Pirates don't seem to like him much. Brandon Jones could make the team with a strong spring, but that's unlikely; he's similar to Moss in many ways, but unlike Moss he has an option left. Jon Van Every, acquired last year from the Red Sox organization, can hit a little and can play center, but he's coming off knee surgery, he strikes out a ton, and I haven't seen much evidence the Pirates are taking him seriously. Raynor showed a broad base of tools in the Marlins organization, and I do think he'll get an honest shot at a job, but with his uninspiring performance in AAA last year, my best guess is that the he's not at the top of the Pirates' list of priorities.
That leaves Moss and Delwyn Young, both of whom are out of options. Young is probably the better hitter and, I suppose, has the advantage of being able to pretend to play second base, but Moss is far better defensively. The problem for Moss is that the Pirates already have a lefty bench outfielder who's good defensively in Ryan Church. Moss is probably the more valuable player overall, and probably the one I'd keep, but I think the Pirates will probably go with Young. If the Bucs end up trading a middle infielder this summer, Young might come in handy. So let's say he makes the 25-man.
As for a spare infielder, Bobby Crosby is a relatively easy choice. The Pirates signed him to a major-league contract, and they have a question mark at shortstop in Cedeno. The other option would be Ramon Vazquez, who was disappointing last season.
That makes twelve position players, and the Pirates will probably keep thirteen. There is every indication so far that number thirteen will be Vazquez. That's a mistake--the Bucs don't need two utility infielders on their bench, particularly when they also have Young, and there's really no upside in keeping Vazquez around. If I were in charge, my choice might actually be to keep Pearce as a decent lefty-killer off the bench, but I think good cases could also be made for Moss or Raynor. Neil Walker could figure in here as well--he has some defensive value, and the Pirates haven't opened a place to play for him at Indianapolis yet. I think the Pirates will come to their senses at some point and dump Vazquez, but I'm not sure who will take the spot in his place. Right now Moss and Raynor are the most obvious options, but I wouldn't be surprised to see another move between now and then that might clarify things. Given the choice now, though, I'll guess that the righty Raynor goes north, since Church is left-handed and Young hits better from the left side.
It's also possible the Pirates break camp with fourteen position players, given that they have a bunch of days off in April and probably therefore won't need to start the year with twelve pitchers. Then again, it seems like we say that every year and it never happens.
Here's my best guess, then:
POSITION PLAYERS (13)
C Ryan Doumit
C Jason Jaramillo
1B Jeff Clement
2B Akinori Iwamura
SS Ronny Cedeno
SS Bobby Crosby
3B Andy LaRoche
OF Andrew McCutchen
OF Garrett Jones
OF Lastings Milledge
OF Ryan Church
OF John Raynor
UT Delwyn Young