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Starting 9: Minor league options can lead to March roster madness |

Starting 9: Minor league options can lead to March roster madness

Travis Sawchik
| Saturday, March 21, 2015 9:27 p.m
Vance Worley

March (roster) Madness

1) Don’t be surprised if John Holdzkom begins the year in Triple-A, and if he does it will have nothing to do with his spring performance. (Also keep in mind Holdzkom has all of nine innings of major league experience). The hard-throwing Arquimedes Caminero, acquired from the Marlins this offseason, is out of options and is perhaps pitching too well for the Pirates to risk losing.

Caminero always has thrown hard and missed bats …

Year | Avg. fastball velocity (PITCHf/x) | Swinging strike Pct.

201395.4 mph9.8%

201495.5 mph15.8%

… but now he’s throwing strikes this spring.

Caminero entered Friday with 12 strikeouts and just one walk this spring in eight innings. Against the Yankees earlier this month, he struck out the side by generating a whopping eight swings and misses. Scouts are buzzing about Caminero.

2) In addition to a crowded bullpen, there is one vacant bench spot on the Pirates roster but it is almost certainly going to go to a left-handed bat. What’s working against Jose Tabata, who has made an effective swing adjustment this spring to better lift the ball, is he’s right-handed and the four bench locks: Jung Ho Kang, Chris Stewart (or Tony Sanchez), Sean Rodriguez and Corey Hart are right handed.

3) If the Pirates prefer left-handed power, Andrew Lambo will be the choice as 25th man, though his bat has been cool for a second straight spring. If the Pirates prefer on-base skills, Jaff Decker is a sleeper candidate. Decker has an excellent eye and an astounding 16.4 percent walk rate for his minor league career. He also has an outstanding throwing arm.

4) The Pirates likely are prioritizing bat over glove with the 25th spot as Rodriguez can play every outfield position, and actually began in the outfield as an amateur. Hart might test his knees in the outfielder later this month.

Marte par-tay

5) Starling Marte is perhaps underappreciated nationally but that could change this season as Marte has picked up where he left off in the second half, blistering everything thrown his way.

6) Marte has consistently hit in the fifth spot this spring and while Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has yet to publicly commit to that being his opening day lineup position, Hurdle has said he looks at Marte as more of a “run producer” than a “run creator.”

7) Marte produced like a middle of the order bat, like another potential MVP candidate, after June last season. In the second half, Marte made a mechanical change in widening his stance, and a mental one in trying to eliminate half the plate on each pitch offering. He began to strike out at a below-average rate and hit with above-average power.

Marte’s second half:

PA: 182

AVG: .348

OPS: .975

K rate: 18.0%

HR/FB: 18.4% (league average was 9.5%)

8) Pirates general manager Neal Huntington also is on board with the concept of moving Marte down in the lineup.

“We always envisioned he would end up toward the middle of the lineup,” Huntington said.

Move McCutchen?

9) Perhaps Marte isn’t the only Pirates hitter who should move in the batting order. The third spot in the batting order has traditionally been reserved for a club’s best hitter. But data-based research has shown the third spot is not among the three most ideal batting positions, rather, the fifth or sixth is most optimal. Why? The third hitter comes to bat with two outs and no one on more than another other spot in an order.

Some clubs have moved their best hitter to the No. 2 spot like the Angles with Mike Trout. Perhaps the analytical-friendly Pirates should consider a similar move with McCutchen.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

Categories: Pirates
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