The homestretch is upon us. Who is making the team?
Making the opening day roster is a mostly symbolic distinction. That 25 man roster will only last a couple games before the first injury or demotion, and some of those promotions will undoubtedly do better than someone else who broke camp with the big team.
Still, there is only one week of spring training games left on the docket before opening day, so it’s only natural to wonder which 25 players will stand on the third base line and hear their name called in Cincinnati in 12 days. Here’s my humble prediction.
Locks to make the team:
SP Jameson Taillon
SP Chris Archer
SP Trevor Williams
SP Joe Musgrove
P Jordan Lyles
P Nick Kingham
RP Felipe Rivero
RP Keone Kela
RP Kyle Crick
RP Richard Rodriguez
C Francisco Cervelli
1B Josh Bell
2B Adam Frazier
SS Erik Gonzalez
SS Kevin Newman
3B Colin Moran
3B Jung-Ho Kang
LF Corey Dickerson
CF Starling Marte
RF Lonnie Chisenhall
Injury List: C Elias Diaz, RF Gregory Polanco, SP Chad Kuhl, RP Edgar Santana
No real surprises here. Kingham is probably the closest to being on the fringe, but he is out of options and the Pirates are not going to DFA him out of spring.
Backup Catcher: Jacob Stallings
Diaz has just started light baseball activities after being sidelined with an illness this spring. Stallings is a capable backup, so it doesn’t make sense to rush Diaz back if it could slow him down all season. Stallings makes the team, but it will be interesting to see what the Pirates do once Diaz is ready. Will they roll with three catchers or try to sneak Stallings through waivers?
Fifth Starter: Jordan Lyles
Neal Huntington told reporters this week Lyles entered camp as the favorite for the fifth starter job and that Kingham and Steven Brault have not done enough to “take it away from him.” Kingham makes the team as the inning eater, but Brault gets optioned to AAA, giving the Bucs a good insurance plan in the event someone gets hurt.
Bench: OF Melky Cabrera and UTL Pablo Reyes
Lonnie Chisenhall has an extensive injury history and has a poor track record against left-handed pitching. Cabrera may not be the impact player he once was, but he’s a good insurance plan until Gregory Polanco returns. He also has done well against southpaws, recording an .818 OPS and 119 wRC+ against lefties the last three seasons. Going 11/33 (.333) at the dish this spring certainly helped his case, too.
Reyes is the 25th guy on the team. He got a good long look this spring, and he excelled, slashing .286/.355/.571 with a pair of homers. He provides some much needed depth at second base and center field and can be used as a pinch-runner late in games. The Pirates broke camp last year with eight relievers, and Reyes is probably going to be the one left at the altar if they go that route again since he has minor league options remaining. If he does draw the short straw and starts in AAA, expect him to be one of the first position players to be called-up.
Bullpen: LHP Francisco Liriano, RHP Nick Burdi
Nick Burdi had the best spring out of any reliever in Pirates camp. His fastball is sitting comfortably in the upper-90s, the breaking ball has life and he is torching batters, fanning 11 of his 26 batters faced (42.3%). While Dovydas Neverauskas and Michael Feliz were parts of the 2018 opening day bullpen, they both have a minor league option remaining. If Burdi doesn’t make the team, the Rule 5 pick would need to be returned to the Twins. He needed to have a good spring to cement his spot, and he ended up having a great one.
Liriano looked good this spring...with one very notable exception. His four walk, no outs recorded outing on Mar. 10 distorts what had been a good spring for the 35 year old lefty, and one bad appearance shouldn’t keep him off the team. It certainly helps Liriano’s case that Tyler Lyons and Brault struggled as well, giving him a more clear path to the roster.