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Pirates spring training relievers: Who are these guys?

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Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

The competition for bullpen jobs looks like it could be fierce. That’s all the more true considering that Clint Hurdle has apparently said Tyler Glasnow isn’t going back to Indianapolis but will open the season in the same role that Trevor Williams did last year. If George Kontos and Daniel Hudson are still around, which seems highly likely, they’ll be locks for some role or other, which would leave only three jobs for a zillion relievers.

The only guy I’m not to cover here (I already covered Glasnow and Steve Brault with the starters) is the Nightmare. Note that several players listed below will be unavailable at the start of the season. Lefties are indicated by *.

Previous installments:

Catchers
Infielders
Outfielders
Starting Pitchers

Nick Burdi (No. 57): Burdi has outstanding stuff and a history of modest command issues. He was making great progress in AA last year when Tommy John surgery hit. A Rule 5 pick, he’s not expected to be available until mid-season. He’ll probably do a 30-day minor league rehab, then join the Pirates. He has to spend 90 days in the majors to satisfy the Rule 5 requirements. If he’s short of that total, the requirement carries over to the following year, which shouldn’t be a major hurdle. His upside is such that the Pirates will probably go to great lengths to keep him.

Chance of contributing in 2018: High

Kyle Crick (No. 30): Crick is similar to Burdi — great stuff with command issues -- except he’s battled the command issues for much longer and isn’t coming off an injury. He’s done much better since moving to the bullpen and showed promise in a 32-inning trial in the majors last year. He still has an option left, but it’s going to look pretty bad if nobody from the McCutchen trade opens the season in the majors.

Chance of contributing in 2018: High

Michael Feliz (No. 45): Yet another reliever with great stuff and questionable command, Feliz may have a higher upside than Burdi or Crick, at least judging from his extremely high K rates. He has nearly two years of major league experience, but has had significant gopher ball problems at that level. Feliz had some shoulder soreness that probably contributed to his weak major league numbers in 2017. He also has an option left, but should be a favorite to win a role coming out of spring training.

Chance of contributing in 2018: High

Yeudy Garcia (No. 80): Garcia was one of the Pirates’ top pitching prospects two years ago, but he’s struggled since then to overcome shoulder issues, lost velocity and command problems. By the beginning of 2017, he was sitting in the low-90s as a starter, but after a move to the bullpen he worked his way back to the mid-90s by the end of the year and was supposedly reaching the upper-90s in his last playoff appearance. He has a good slider, but the command problems still need work. Garcia’s not on the 40-man roster and wasn’t selected in the Rule 5 draft in December. He’ll probably head back to Altoona initially, unless the Pirates see a lot of progress with his command in the spring.

Chance of contributing in 2018: Low

Daniel Hudson (No. 41): Hudson had a solid season in 2017 apart from a terrible April and a shaky September. He didn’t at any point, though, look like the setup man the Pirates hoped he’d be. For one thing, he had control problems throughout the season. I really think the Pirates should move on, not because he’s terrible but because they have a lot of other guys who at least have the potential to be legitimate, late-inning relievers. It’d be better to find out about them this year than next, when the Pirates may have a better chance of winning something. They ought to be able to trade Hudson, but they’d have to pick up nearly all of his $5.5M salary. If he’s still around, he’ll be on the team.

Chance of contributing in 2018: High

Tyler Jones (No. 57): Jones hasn’t pitched in the majors and didn’t even reach AAA until 2017, at age 27. He has a mid-90s fastball and a good slider, and has always had high K rates. He hasn’t had significant control problems, but he has gotten hit harder than you’d expect from a guy who misses a lot of bats. He’s on a minor league deal and figures to provide depth in AAA.

Chance of contributing in 2018: Low

George Kontos (No. 70): Kontos got great results after the Pirates picked him up last year on a straight waiver claim, but it was only in 15 outings. In 300 career games with the Giants, he’d been more of a solid reliever — career xFIP close to 4.00 — than anything else. For some reason, his K rate has had some extreme ups and downs, anywhere from 5.4 K/9 to 9.5. Happily, the 9.5 came in 2017. He isn’t overpowering, but instead relies heavily on a cutter. Kontos will be on the team in 2018 and seems likely to be the primary setup man, at least at first.

Chance of contributing in 2018: High

Jack Leathersich* (No. 52): Leathersich is yet another reliever who has a history of missing bats — a whole lot of them — but also control problems. He only throws in the low-90s but has great movement, which obviously is a double-edged sword. He’s had reverse platoon splits, sometimes large ones, in AAA, so he doesn’t look like a prospective LOOGY, which is just as well considering that Clint Hurdle doesn’t use LOOGYs. Leathersich will probably be competing with Josh Smoker and Steve Brault for a spot as the lone lefty apart from the Nightmare, although it’s probably not a given that the Pirates will carry another lefty reliever. He has one option left.

Chance of contributing in 2018: High

Damien Magnifico (No. 64): The Pirates picked Magnifico up in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, which means he doesn’t have to make the roster. He’s reached the majors briefly several times, but the fact that his last team, the Angels, didn’t even bother putting him on their AAA roster says a lot. Magnifico was throwing 100 mph in college back when it was rare, but he’s never had a good second pitch and has a high-effort delivery that’s led to control problems. He’s generally had high groundball rates but not high K rates. He’ll be a project for the Pirates, but they evidently saw enough to extend him an NRI.

Chance of contributing in 2018: Low

Brett McKinney (No. 78): McKinney’s been a solid reliever for the Pirates for five years without getting on the prospect map. He throws in the low-90s and relies on a cutter. He had one of his better years at Indianapolis last year and pitched well in a number of three- and four-inning outings. He’s not on the roster and figures to return to Indy to provide bullpen depth.

Chance of contributing in 2018: Low

Jordan Milbrath (No. 51): The Pirates picked Milbrath up with their own Rule 5 selection (they traded for Burdi). He moved to the bullpen in 2016 after an uninspiring track record as a starter, then in 2017 he dropped down to sidearm and produced a very high groundball rate. He also reaches the upper-90s. Milbrath has had good K rates and some control problems as a reliever. He hasn’t pitched above AA and has logged only 32 innings even there, so it’s far from a given that he’ll stick.

Chance of contributing in 2018: Moderate

Dovydas Neverauskas (No. 66): Neverauskas throws plenty hard, but gets remarkably few swings and misses, which raises questions about his secondary stuff. He did passably in brief time in the majors last year, but the Pirates are probably going to want him to get more time in AAA.

Chance of contributing in 2018: High

Richard Rodriguez (No. 48): Although he’s thrown fewer than six innings in the majors, Rodriguez is arguably the most interesting of the minor league veterans the Pirates signed for 2018. He has decent velocity and a good curve, and has usually had good K rates with good control. He’s probably going to need some injuries to reach the majors.

Chance of contributing in 2018: Moderate

Edgar Santana (No. 37): Santana is in pretty much the same boat as Neverauskas, probably needing a little more time in AAA while looking to compete with a lot of new acquisitions. He has better secondary stuff than Neverauskas, but his command is a little weaker, which showed during his limited trial with the Pirates in 2017. Santana still has very limited experience: barely over 200 innings as a pro.

Chance of contributing in 2018: High

A.J. Schugel (No. 31): Schugel recovered from shoulder problems that hampered him early in the 2017 season to spend the second half in the majors. He had a low ERA with the Pirates, but his peripherals were much less impressive and he had a terrible time keeping inherited runners off the board. He has no options left, so the Pirates will probably be making a decision in spring training about his future with the team. If he’s still around when the season starts, he’ll probably be in a middle relief role.

Chance of contributing in 2018: High

Bo Schultz (No. 35): Schultz is coming off Tommy John surgery, but he may be ready at the beginning of the season or soon after that. He has nearly 70 innings of major league experience, but is on a minor league contract. He has good velocity and gets a lot of grounders, but doesn’t miss bats. He’ll probably be a depth option in AAA.

Chance of contributing in 2018: Low

Josh Smoker* (No. 53): Smoker is yet another reliever with great stuff who’s trying to get things together in the bullpen. In his case, though, the issue wasn’t lack of command; it was a torn rotator cuff and torn labrum that led to surgery and a big drop in velocity. He’s back into the mid-90s now and missing plenty of bats, but otherwise he hasn’t had especially good numbers with the Mets the last two years. Surprisingly, for a guy who’s 29 now, he has two options left.

Chance of contributing in 2018: High

John Stilson (No. 60): Stilson is one of the countless pitchers who wasn’t making it as a starter, then saw a jump in velocity — to the mid-90s in his case — after a move to the bullpen. He’s spent the last two years making his way back gradually from 2014 labrum surgery and had a solid, but not overwhelming, season in AAA in 2017. He’s 27 now and has never been on a 40-man roster.

Chance of contributing in 2018: Low

Nik Turley* (No. 53?): Turley’s had a lot of ups and downs in his career, even ending up in independent ball in 2016. He made a comeback in the Twins’ system in 2017, initially as a reliever in AA and then in a swing role in AAA and, briefly and not successfully, the majors. Like so many pitchers, he throws a lot harder — in his case reaching the mid-90s — out of the pen. When they picked him up via waivers, I don’t know what the Pirates had planned. Most likely it was to give him a shot at a bullpen role. He’s out of options. He’s also out, period, as he got suspended for 80 games after a positive test for a PED. He won’t count against the 40-man roster limit, but when he comes back the Pirates could try to get him through waivers.

Chance of contributing in 2018: Low