If you think this list looks a little thin, I agree. That's almost certainly a testament to the depth the Pirates have built up, especially among starting pitchers, as well as their success in re-shaping their bench during the off-season. The pitchers tend more toward fliers on guys who were good prospects back in the day, and position players from the Pirates' own system with some tools who didn't make the 40-man roster or get selected in the Rule 5 draft.
In all likelihood, there will be a few additions before the Pirates hold their first full workout on February 24. There are usually a few free agents still around in February who've held out for major league deals and end up signing minor league contracts, as well as others who are recovering from injuries. Jake Elmore will probably be added if he gets past the Blue Jays on waivers and gets outrighted to AAA. The Pirates may also bring in a couple more minor league catchers because they always need legions of catchers in camp.
Here's the list as it stands now:
Collin Balester, RHP: Drafted way back when by the Expos, Balester was well regarded as a prospect for several years, although his performance never entirely bore that out. He struggled in a string of MLB opportunities, then finally had Tommy John surgery in 2013. He spent 2014 rehabbing while under contract to the Pirates and is now returning for 2015, which probably was the plan all along. He figures to pitch in relief in AA or AAA while he tries to show he’s healthy and effective, something he hasn’t really been since 2007.
Jeremy Bleich, LHP: A supplemental first round pick of the Yankees in 2008 (the same year they drafted Gerrit Cole out of high school), Bleich ran into shoulder problems in 2010 that led to labrum surgery. He doesn’t appear to have gotten healthy until 2014, when he pitched well in relief in AA but struggled badly in AAA. He’s a finesse lefty, but has had control problems. Like Balester, he’s probably more of a rehab project than depth. He’s seems more of a candidate to start than Balester, either in AA or AAA.
Wilfredo Boscan, RHP: A finesse righty, Boscan was a groundball pitcher in the low minors with the Rangers and had a lot of success there, but didn’t transition well to the upper minors and lost his groundball tendencies. He hasn’t pitched in the majors and seems better suited to soaking up innings in AA than serving as AAA depth. He was a starter through 2011 and has been a swing man since, so he could start or relieve.
Tyler Glasnow, RHP: This will be a chance for Glasnow to get a taste of life with the big club. He’s probably ticketed for AA.
Deolis Guerra, RHP: A major part of the Twins’ return for Johan Santana, Guerra collapsed the moment he left the Mets for the Minnesota organization, losing velocity and effectiveness. He recovered briefly as a reliever, but struggled in 2012 and 2014, and missed 2013 due to a blood clot in his arm. He’s never reached the majors. Like Balester and Bleich, Guerra is probably a flier, a guy the Pirates hope they can straighten out, rather than a guy who could be called up in a pinch. He figures to be in the AAA bullpen.
Charlie Leesman, LHP: Leesman is a lefty sinkerballer who’s had high groundball rates in the minors. He’s pitched more decently than well in AAA and has pitched briefly, and very badly, in the majors. He’s probably a depth guy, most likely deep depth behind Brandon Cumpton and Casey Sadler, and will probably be in the AAA rotation if there’s room.
Brad Lincoln, RHP: The former fourth overall pick was pitching well in relief when the Pirates traded him for Travis Snider in 2012, but things went south after that. He lost the strike zone in 2013 and ended up in AAA. There’s no indication that his issues were health-related and his velocity didn’t decline. He spent most of 2014 in the Phillies’ AAA rotation and pitched poorly. It hasn’t been all that long since he was effective in relief, so with a little tinkering he may have a better chance of reaching the majors than any of the other NRI relievers.
Clayton Richard, LHP: This year’s version of Vance Worley, Richard had several solid seasons as a starter with the Padres, but had two shoulder surgeries in 2013 and spent 2014 recovering. The shoulder issues may date from 2011, when he missed part of the season due to a sprain. He’s a mild groundball pitcher. Richard does not have enough service time to qualify for the automatic, opening day opt-out available to players with six years in the majors who are on minor league contracts. Most likely, he’ll go to AAA to show he’s healthy, as Worley did, and be available in case of an opening.
Adrian Sampson, RHP: Like Glasnow, Sampson will get a chance to hang out with the major league club in the spring. He’s thrown only 19 uneven innings in AAA, so he’ll probably be slated to spend most or all of the season there.
Angel Sanchez, RHP: Briefly considered a strong prospect when he was with the Dodgers, Sanchez has struggled at the AA level. He was claimed three times off waivers in 2014, the last by the Pirates. (Somehow, he never got claimed by Toronto.) He didn’t pitch well for Altoona late in the year and was outrighted after the season. He’ll most likely head back to AA in 2015. Sanchez is a long way from having the potential to help in the majors.
Blake Wood, RHP: Wood features a mid-90s fastball, but he’s had back and Tommy John surgery, and hasn't had a consistent delivery. He pitched decently for the Royals in 2011, but missed 2012 due to the TJ surgery and has struggled to throw strikes since then. Like Lincoln, if he can get off to a good start in AAA he probably has some chance of helping in the majors.
Sebastian Valle, C: One of the Phillies’ better prospects for several years, Valle was undone at the AAA level by his tendency to swing at, and try to pull, everything. Still, he’s only 25 and is a solid defender, and catching prospects often develop late. He figures to share the AAA catching duties in some configuration with Elias Diaz and Tony Sanchez, and could conceivably pass Sanchez on the depth chart. Diaz doesn’t figure to be ready for the majors until later in the season, at the earliest, so with Francisco Cervelli a significant health risk, it’s not inconceivable that Valle could reach Pittsburgh.
Stetson Allie, 1B: The Pirates didn’t add Allie to the 40-man roster, but they’ll give him some time with the big club in the spring. The interesting question is whether they’ll send him to Indianapolis or back to Altoona. (Fun fact: As a pitcher, Allie was listed as 6’4". As a hitter he’s now 6’2".)
Brent Morel, 3B: Morel was outrighted after last season, in which he saw limited time in the majors. His hitting has collapsed over the last several years and he lacks experience at positions other than third, so it’s hard to see him as useful at the major league level. The Pirates nevertheless seem to view him as a viable depth option, for reasons unknown.
Gift Ngoepe, MI: Like Allie, Ngoepe was one of several Altoona players who were borderline candidates for the 40-man roster but weren’t added or selected in the Rule 5 draft. He’ll get some time with the team in the spring, but he’s facing a long line of utility infield candidates behind Sean Rodriguez and Jung-Ho Kang. It may help his chances if the team is unable to slip Pedro Florimon, who’s out of options, through waivers.
Gustavo Nunez, MI: One of the players potentially in Ngoepe’s path is Nunez, a good-glove, weak-bat shortstop whom the Pirates selected in the Rule 5 draft in 2012. He missed that season with an ankle injury, hit nothing at all in AAA for Detroit in limited playing time in 2013, then hit well in AA in 2014 with the Braves. Nunez has limited experience above AA, so it’s not clear where he’d rank on the depth chart in relation to Ngoepe. As with Ngoepe, it’d help his chances if Florimon was gone. Both he and Ngoepe could see time in AA or AAA, or both.
Deibinson Romero, 3B: Romero was a decent-ish prospect with the Twins who’s shown good plate discipline and a little power. He’s never reached the majors. If for no other reason than the fact that he hasn’t yet proven he can’t hit major league pitching, he’s more intriguing as a depth guy than Morel, but the Pirates are liable to place a greater value on Morel’s major league experience, without regard to its poor quality.
Keon Broxton, OF: Another of the Altoona players who didn’t make the 40-man roster, Broxton can play anywhere in the outfield, but he’s struggled with the strike zone. He had an excellent season for Altoona in 2014, but the fact that he went unselected in the Rule 5 draft shows that scouts still don’t believe in his bat. He seems potentially useful as a fifth outfielder due to his speed and glove, which are outstanding. As with Allie and Ngoepe, it’ll be interesting to see whether the Pirates send him to AAA or back to AA.
Gorkys Hernandez, OF: The former Pirate has fallen on hard times the last two years. He had an unimpressive season in AAA in 2013, then struggled so badly there in 2014 that he got released and ended up in Mexico. Given the struggles Hernandez has had, Broxton seems like the better candidate for Indianapolis rather than Altoona. It’s very hard to see Hernandez getting a callup over Broxton or Mel Rojas, unless it was for a very brief time, since he could be added to the 40-man roster and then dropped with nothing lost.
Mel Rojas, Jr., OF: Rojas is in the same boat as Allie, Broxton and Ngoepe, although unlike the others Rojas reached AAA last year and hit decently there. As with the others, it says something that he wasn’t selected in the Rule 5 draft. Rojas can play center in a pinch and has gradually improved with the bat. He’ll likely be a depth option in AAA, but his chances of a callup will be hindered by . . .
Jose Tabata, OF: If the Pirates have learned one thing, it’s that they can add Tabata to the roster and remove him with impunity, thanks to the two years and roughly $9M in guaranteed money that remain on his contract. Even Toronto won’t claim him. He could could easily see Pittsburgh again in the event of an injury or continued struggles from Gregory Polanco.