Spring training is nearing the halfway point. Which players are pulling ahead and who are falling behind?
Hayes hit a walk-off grand slam on Feb. 24 and the hype train hasn’t slowed down since. The Pirates’ top position player prospect may be better known for his glove, but his bat is stealing the show this spring, recording two homers and three doubles in 12 at-bats. Hayes has yet to reach AAA and has no chance of making the opening day roster, but if this spring is a sign that he added some pop to his elite defense, we’ll see him in Pittsburgh soon enough.
This is Kang’s first spring training since his rookie season in 2015, and so far, so good. After struggling in the Dominican in 2017 and in AAA in 2018, he’s excelled out of the gate this year, launching three home runs and playing solid defense at the hot corner. The Pirates desperately need an impact player in the infield, and Kang is making his case for a starting job.
The Pirates don’t have much outfield depth in the farm system at the moment, so Martin is an important minor leaguer. The fourth piece in the Gerrit Cole deal tore up AA Altoona last season but struggled in AAA Indianapolis, so this spring is a chance for him to earn some confidence from fans, coaches and the front office. He’s done that so far, clubbing a pair of homers and swiping two bags. Not too shabby.
Polanco hasn’t played in a game yet, but he’s definitely been one of the biggest winners this spring. His recovery is going well, and he’s already doing some long tossing from 110-115 feet. He may even get a couple at-bats before camp breaks. While the rumors of him being ready for opening day have been shut down, it looks like we’ll be seeing him in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later.
The 25th roster spot is truly up in the air for the Pirates. They could go with an eighth reliever or a third catcher, but Reyes is making his case for being their super utility guy. The Pirates have given him plenty of playing time to prove himself, and he has excelled, going 5-15 with two doubles and two home runs. He’s looked fine in the field, too, playing center field, second base and shortstop. Reyes has options remaining, so he needs to really outplay the other bench options in camp to make the team. If he keeps playing like this, he’ll force the club’s hand.
5th Starter Contenders
The Pirates are putting a lot of stock in the simulated games Jordan Lyles, Nick Kingham and Steven Brault pitch this spring. That’s good for them, because they haven’t done well between the chalk lines. Brault has walked four in 3 IP, Lyles has allowed eight hits in his two outings, and Kingham has surrendered five runs and made an error in 5 innings of work. Mitch Keller may not be in the fifth starter mix right now, but he’s been hit hard in his two outings, too. Spring training stats can be deceiving, but it’s hard to feel optimistic about these guys at the moment.
Chisenhall has been a solid middle of the order bat the last two years...whenever he’s healthy. He started well this spring, but was removed from play on Mar. 2 with “general lower extremity tightness.” The Pirates need him to stay on the field until Polanco returns.
Maurer, Francisco Liriano and Tyler Lyons were all brought in on minor league deals this offseason to compete for one- or at most two- bullpen job(s). While Liriano has looked good and Lyons ok, Maurer has struggled, allowing four runs in his two outings. Granted, three of those runs were unearned and one poor outing shouldn’t keep him off the team, but it’s a bad look for a potential reclamation project.
Moran’s future with the Pirates is being threatened by Hayes and his present job is being threatened by Kang. He hasn’t risen to his competition’s challenge yet, going 1-11 at the plate and making a throwing error in the field. Moran needs to put his foot down before being passed by the competition that’s breathing down his neck.
Why haven’t any of these games been broadcast on TV or available to stream in Pittsburgh? Tomorrow, AT&T SportsNet will be broadcasting the second hour of the Rich Eisen Show at 1:05 p.m. instead of the Pirates game. Tough break for us and terrible marketing by the MLB.