Spring training is officially over, so all that’s left is to see who will be heading to Cincinnati.
We already know Francisco Liriano and Melky Cabrera are making the team, and it’s pretty clear Jacob Stallings and Nick Kingham are coming along too, even if it has not been formally announced.
That means there are two spots in question, and at least one of them is going to be a reliever. These are the pros and cons of those still competing.
LHP Steven Brault
Pros: Brault had a rough start against the Yankees on Feb. 28, but that was his lone blemish in an otherwise good spring. He is the only southpaw on the 40 man roster besides Felipe Vazquez and the soon to be added Liriano, and he has good career numbers against lefties. If the Pirates are looking for another inning eater to help the staff in the early weeks of the season, Brault is their guy.
Cons: The Pirates’ bullpen already has Kingham as the long man and Liriano as the lefty. Brault would just be redundant for both roles. He has one option year remaining, so the Pirates could keep him as starter depth in AAA.
RHP Nick Burdi
Pros: Burdi had arguably the best spring out of any Pirate reliever. His fastball is sitting comfortably in the high 90s and he struck out 13 of his 35 batters faced (37.1%). If the Pirates needed any extra motivation to send him north, the Rule 5 pick needs to make the team or be returned to Minnesota. It seems like a no-brainer for the Pirates.
Cons: Burdi’s stats may be deceiving. There is obviously some small sample size in play, but he also didn’t face the best competition. According to Baseball-Reference’s Opponent Quality stat, his average batter faced had a quality rating of 6.1, or roughly between a High A and AA player. Only two pitchers logged at least 9 IP this spring with a worse Opponent Quality rating. Striking out batters at that level does not necessarily mean he can handle major league hitters.
RHP Dovydas Neverauskas
Pros: Ignore the ERA. Neverauskas did some of the best pitching of his career this spring, striking out 10 with no walks or home runs allowed in 6.1 IP. The fastball has life and the curveball spins. If he has finally put it all together, he could be a force.
Cons: Unfortunately for Neverauskas, his dud 2018 casts storm clouds over his prospect of making the team. He has one option year left, so there’s no pressure for him to break camp with the big team. He’ll get another chance in 2019, but he might have to wait for it.
INF/OF Jose Osuna
Pros: The Pirates will take power wherever they can find it, and Osuna does provide a little pop. His .834 OPS against lefties last season is the second best out of any returning Pirate (min. 50 PAs). His defense isn’t particularly a strong suit, but he can play both corner infield and corner outfield positions.
Cons: Was there any player who had a quieter spring than Osuna? Originally, it looked like he could be Lonnie Chisenhall’s platoon partner in right field, but he lost the gig to the outsider Cabrera. With Colin Moran now playing first base, it doesn’t look like Osuna has a place on this team. To add insult to injury, he had to exit early Sunday with side discomfort.
INF/OF Pablo Reyes
Pros: Reyes tore up the Grapefruit League, slashing .313/.365/.500 in 53 plate appearances. He can play every position besides pitcher, catcher and first base, and his speed makes him a good late inning pinch runner. He turned heads last September and made the most of his opportunity this spring.
Cons: Do teams really need a utilityman at the start of the season? Reyes would be the presumed third stringer in the corner outfields, second, shortstop and third base. With Moran and Cabrera likely being the first choices to pinch-hit off the bench, it doesn’t look like there’s much playing time available for him. He has options remaining, so stashing him in AAA until someone gets hurt is a possibility.
RHP Brandon Maurer/LHP Tyler Lyons
Pros: Lyons and Maurer were both solid relievers a couple years ago before imploding in 2018. The Pirates felt comfortable enough to offer both minor league contracts, and they did pretty well. Maurer posted a 3.18 ERA in his six outings this spring, and while Lyons has to wear two bad outings in mid-March, he still finished with a respectable 3.46 FIP.
Cons: But did they really do enough to kick someone else off the 40 man roster? Even if the Pirates opt to go with an eight man bullpen, Brault, Burdi and Neverauskas are probably still ahead of them on the depth chart. They could get another shot with the Bucs if they were to accept assignments to AAA Indianapolis, but there’s no guarantee either veteran would want to do that.
OF Patrick Kivlehan/J.B. Shuck
Pros: Schuck hit really well and Kivlehan showed off his defensive versatility.
Cons: Both were always very long shots of making the team. Their best path to the majors in 2019 is to accept a minor league assignment with the Pirates or another club, play well in AAA and earn a midseason promotion.