Published on February 26th, 2013 | by James Conley0
Pirates 2013 Spring Training Roster Shows Promise, Problems
The Pittsburgh Pirates have opened training camp for the 2013 season, and following consecutive years of stretch-run shortfalls will look to finally build the roster that breaks them out of their two-decade-long run of losing baseball.
By re-signing some key players and acquiring free agents over the offseason, the Pirates 2013 payroll figures to start north of $70 million, the highest Opening Day payroll in team history.
The Bucs are 2-1 in three Grapefruit League games so far. Here’s a look at the club’s 2013 spring training roster.
Pitchers (40-Man Roster)
Victor Black, A.J. Burnett, Jeanmar Gomez, Jason Grilli, Jared Hughes, Phil Irwin, Jeff Karstens, Chris Leroux, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, James McDonald, Kyle McPherson, Mark Melancon, Bryan Morris, Charlie Morton, Andy Oliver, Stolmy Pimentel, Wandy Rodriguez, Hunter Strickland, Tony Watson, Duke Welker, Justin Wilson
This is the group that will make or break the Pirates’ season. When the Bucs jumped out to good starts in 2011 and 2012, it was because their starting pitching performed above expectations.
In each year, the team plummeted as the rotation and bullpen were hit by inconsistency and injury.
For 2013, the Pirates will return a fairly veteran starting staff. A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and Jeff Karstens are veteran pitchers who figure to fill three of the five starting spots to open the year.
Should Karstens be pushed aside by Jeff Locke or Kyle McPherson, he’ll be equally serviceable in the bullpen while still able to provide spot starts or hold a consistent place in the rotation in case of injury to others.
The bullpen will also feature a new look, as former set-up man Jason Grilli takes Joel Hanrahan’s closer role, having signed a two-year contract extension this offseason. Mark Melancon, acquired in the Hanrahan trade, should slot in as the new 8th-inning setup man and has the potential to be a closer in the future.
Infielders (40-Man Roster)
Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes, Chase D’Arnaud, Josh Harrison, Garrett Jones, Jordy Mercer, Clint Robinson, Gaby Sanchez, Neil Walker, Russell Martin, Michael McKenry, Tony Sanchez
The Pirates will return their entire infield from last year while adding a new face behind the plate. Alvarez, Barmes, Walker and Jones/Sanchez all return from last year’s club, with bench players D’Arnaud, Harrison and Mercer reprising their backup roles as well.
Alvarez struggled at times last year but still hit 30 home runs for the first time in his career while batting at different spots in the line-up. This season, the Pirates are working to make Alvarez the everyday clean-up hitter, a spot where he can flourish if McCutchen and Jones can replicate the power numbers they posted last year as well. It’s been a while since the Pirates have had a fearsome middle of the order, but the group showed power for stretches last season, and mostly from young guys still finding their upside.
Behind the plate, the Pirates will hope Martin can help clean up a position that saw McKenry and aging veteran Rod Barajas struggle at the plate. Martin hit around .220 for the Yankees last season, but could find success in the NL Central like former teammate A.J. Burnett has done.
Martin’s two-year, $17 million contract is the richest free agent contract in Pirates history, beating out current Pirates Clint Barmes’ two-year deal.
Pittsburgh can’t make much of a splash in free agency, if Martin’s franchise-record deal is any indication. They’ll hope that roster continuity can be the cure for what ails them.
Outfielders (40-Man Roster)
Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Jose Tabata, Travis Snider
In the outfield, the Pirates have one bona fide All-Star, a first-year starter with the tools to become a bona fide All-Star and one big question mark in right field.
Andrew McCutchen will anchor the outfield once again, this time in the first season of his six-year, $51.5 million contract. It’s the second-largest contract in team history behind Jason Kendall’s six-year, $60 million extension, and could end up being the richest if the Pirates pick up McCutchen’s $14.75 million option the year after his deal expires.
McCutchen contended for the NL batting title last season and was in the MVP conversation before a late-season fade took him out of the running. As McCutchen goes, so go the Pirates.
In 2013, it appears McCutchen could have help on the way. Left fielder Starling Marte figures to become an everyday starter in 2013, and has the tools to be an even better player than McCutchen. Marte showed flashes of his incredible arm strength and range last season, and would be a center fielder if not for McCutchen holding the position already. If Marte can get his plate discipline in line with his power potential, the Pirates will finally have their top-of-the-order hitter whose speed will be augmented by, you know, actually getting on base.
The Pirates have more options than answers in right field, where Snider, Sands and Tabata each have a chance to “break out” and “make good on their potential,” but each has yet to prove that they are an everyday player.
The club has also invited 22 non-roster players to spring training, some as free agents and others as prospects looking to make the MLB roster.
Pitchers (Non-Roster Invitees)
Brooks Brown, Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Jose Contreras, Erik Cordier, Kris Johnson, Vin Mazzaro, Ryan Reid, Jonathan Sanchez, Kyle Waldrop, Mike Zagurski
Infielders (Non-Roster Invitees)
Ivan DeJesus, Jr., Jared Goedert, Matt Hague, Brad Hawpe, Anderson Hernandez, Brandon Inge, Lucas May, Ali Solis, Carlos Paulino
Outfielders (Non-Roster Invitees)
Darren Ford, Felix Pie
Among the non-roster folks, the most interesting names are the pitchers. Gerrit Cole figures to make the jump to the Majors by the middle of the season after playing just a handful of games at AAA Indianapolis last season. Taillon, too, is expected to continue his development this season and could be in AAA by the end of the year, mirroring Cole’s trajectory nicely.
Jose Contreras is a bit of a head-scratcher and Jonathan Sanchez could be a nice under-the-radar move if he can rediscover his old form. Other than that, the Pirates seem to have a solid starting order and rotation at the MLB level, something that hasn’t always been the case as the team underwent perpetual rebuilds.
Pittsburgh’s depth is better than ever this season, but more importantly, the everyday starters appear to be better than in years past. However, spring training is only just that. Looking good on paper in February is one thing. Playing well in July is another. Keeping the whole thing together for 162 games is the so-far elusive key to pushing the program forward.
The Pirates’ starters will be counted on to put it all together in 2013, and that means making a genuine push for the postseason while leaving .500 in the dust.
Without that improvement, no contract may be safe heading into 2014.