Pirates spring training preview: 5 things to know
Five things to know as the Pirates open spring training:
Shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday, more than three dozen Pirates pitchers and catchers will assemble on Field 1 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. After some “activation” stretching and loss toss, they’ll break into groups for the first workout of spring training camp.
Sixty-four players, including 24 nonroster invitees, are expected to be in place for the first full-squad workout Friday.
Grapefruit League games start Feb. 25. The Pirates’ 34-game preseason schedule begins with two split-squad games and ends with a pair of scrimmages against the Toronto Blue Jays in Montreal.
Major league camps are a few days longer this year because of the World Baseball Classic, which runs March 6-22.
The Pirates will open the regular season April 3 against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Starting lineup is already set
Position battles? Not this year. Much of the roster appeared to be set weeks ago.
General manager Neal Huntington mulled trade offers for Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison (and Huntington remains willing to deal either player), but didn’t pull off a move. First baseman Josh Bell, who will miss the beginning of spring training as he recovers from knee surgery, will embark on his first year as an everyday player in the big leagues.
Third baseman Jung Ho Kang will miss at least the first week or two of camp because of his pending court case in South Korea on DUI charges. It’s not yet clear whether Kang will be with the Pirates for the start of the regular season.
Four of the five bench spots are easy to predict. David Freese, Chris Stewart and John Jaso are locks. Adam Frazier was groomed to replace super utilityman Sean Rodriguez.
The final bench spot could go to either speedy infielder Alen Hanson (who is out of minor league options) or veteran utility infielder Phil Gosselin, who was acquired Friday.
Not much pitching intrigue, either
Re-signing Ivan Nova shored up the front of the rotation. There’s a competition among Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault, Trevor Williams and Tyler Glasnow for the No. 5 starter job. The front-runner might be to Hutchison, who was the Blue Jays’ opening day starter in 2015.
Adding Daniel Hudson provided depth for the back end of the bullpen. If Rule 5 pickup Tyler Webb sticks, the Pirates could be looking at a pen with at least four lefty relievers — which could trigger a trade of either closer Tony Watson or Antonio Bastardo.
A week ago, the Pirates announced McCutchen will move to right field, Starling Marte will take over in center, and Gregory Polanco will play in left. However, each of those outfielders will play in the WBC, so they potentially will miss a big portion of Pirates camp. Polanco and Marte will be at LECOM Park on March 8 as visiting players when the Pirates face the Dominican Republic.
Having the entire starting outfield out of the mix for a while will free up lots of playing time for top prospect Austin Meadows and minor leaguers Jose Osuna and Barrett Barnes. Frazier and nonroster invitee Eury Perez also will get time in the outfield.
Revamped coaching staff
Manager Clint Hurdle’s staff has three newcomers: bench coach Tom Prince, first-base coach Kimera Bartee and third-base coach Joey Cora.
Cora and Bartee will try to get more production out of the running game, an area where the Pirates struggled last season. The club made the third-most outs at home plate in the National League, second-most outs at third base and were last in taking extra bases on singles and doubles.
Prince has spent 23 years in the Pirates organization as a player, minor league manager and field coordinator. He’s considered a top candidate to be the successor to Hurdle, who is signed through 2017 with a club option for next year.
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.