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Pirates’ roster battles so far

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MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at Atlanta Braves Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s roughly halfway through spring training and the Pirates have a lot of players fighting for very few openings. It looks like Joe Musgrove is on track to open the season in the rotation, so that’s set. That leaves the bench and bullpen.

With the bench, Adam Frazier, Sean Rodriguez, David Freese and Elias Diaz are set, so there’s only one spot open. I don’t think that spot’s really open, either. Their biggest need is a right-handed hitting outfielder, of which they have two: Jordan Luplow and Bryce Brentz. Luplow has options left, three in fact, and Brentz has none, so it’s not hard to guess how that’s going to come out.

Neither outfielder is doing himself any favors this spring. Brentz is hitting 200/314/300 with one HR and ten Ks in 30 ABs. Luplow is hitting 120/111/360 with two HRs and no walks in 25 ABs. He at least has only four whiffs.

Naturally, the other theoretical candidates for bench spots are mostly doing well. This is great for fans who love to have something to scream about (Will Craig is batting 1.000 but SUPER TWO!!!!!!), but on planet earth a couple dozen spring innings or at-bats are literally meaningless, except in extreme situations, like aging players who may or may not have something left, or pitchers who just can’t find the plate. But for what it’s worth, Jose Osuna is having a big spring, hitting 333/400/704 with three HRs. Max Moroff is also doing well, hitting 273/333/545, with four of his six hits going for extra bases and only three whiffs in 22 ABs, which is remarkable for him. Chris Bostick, on the other hand, is hitting just .138.

The bullpen situation is very similar. Realistically, I think only one spot is open. Felipe Rivero, George Kontos and Michael Feliz are certainly locks. The Pirates have also made it pretty clear that they’re going to carry Tyler Glasnow and Steven Brault as relievers rather than send them back to a level they’ve already mastered. That leaves two openings and Kevin Seagrist will almost certainly get one. Siegrist is on a minor league deal, but he has two opt-out dates that, as far as I know, aren’t known. One of them almost certainly will come about late in spring training. Siegrist hasn’t hurt himself so far, allowing one hit and no walks, while fanning five, in two innings.

One reliever who seemingly had a good shot, lefty Jack Leathersich, already pitched himself to the minors by walking six in just four and two-thirds innings. I also don’t think Dovydas Neverauskas and Edgar Santana ever had a very good chance. Each has two options left and probably could use more experience. Santana has pitched very well; just four hits and no walks, with five Ks, in six and two-thirds innings. (Keep in mind that we don’t what they’ve been doing, or will do, in minor league games. Kontos and Trevor Williams, for instance, both pitched at Pirate City today.) Neverauskas has been much less effective, giving up seven runs on eight hits, including two HRs, and three walks, with seven Ks, in seven innings.

Two other pitchers have to make the team, sort of. A.J. Schugel is out of options, but he’s been sidelined with a sore shoulder since his first outing and could start the season on the disabled list. Jordan Milbrath is a Rule 5 pick, but doesn’t look like he’s ready for the majors. He’s allowed eight hits and seven walks in just five and a third innings. It’s hard to hide a pitcher in the back of the bullpen when his control is so poor that you can’t count on him to get through a mopup inning without somebody having to relieve him. I don’t see the Pirates retaining Milbrath unless they can work out a trade with Cleveland.

Some dark horse could emerge, but realistically the top candidates appear to be Kyle Crick and lefty Josh Smoker. Smoker has pitched the better of the two, giving up just one hit and one walk in five innings, while fanning five. Crick has a 5.87 ERA, but his other numbers are fine: seven hits, two walks and six Ks in seven and two-thirds innings. Crick has one option, Smoker two.

A couple factors could favor Crick. One is the fact that, if he doesn’t make the team, the Pirates will have nobody from the Andrew McCutchen trade on the opening day roster. Another is that Smoker and Siegrist are both lefties, but that shouldn’t matter; both have been a little more effective against right-handed hitters. In the end, Crick and Smoker are both highly likely to appear in the majors regardless of who makes the opening day roster, so you can argue that it really doesn’t matter much.