Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Season Preview: Bench

After a series of roster moves on Wednesday afternoon, prior to the club’s workout at PNC Park, the Pirates bench has become clear.

The Pirates have decided to carry an extra bat to start the season, rather than an extra arm in the pen. Matt Hague, Josh Harrison and Yamaico Navarro all made the club on the bench.

Last seasons bench consisted of players such as Matt Diaz, Jason Jaramillo, Xavier Paul and Brandon Wood. The Pirates 2012 bench appears to be much stronger, proving a good mix of young players, veterans, versatility, and some pop in the bats.

Bench: Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Casey McGehee, Michael McKenry, Nate McLouth, Yamaico Navarro.

Only Harrison and McKenry return to the club from 2011. The rest of the bench is made up of: Hague, who has shown some power this spring — belting out seven long balls over 55 at-bats, McGehee, who the club acquired from the Brewers to platoon at first with Garrett Jones, McLouth, who is returning to Pittsburgh, the place he won a Gold Glove and hit 26 bombs during his 2008 season, and Navarro, who can play both the infield and outfield.

Matt Hague

Matt Hague (infielder)

Hague, 26, has arguably had the best spring of any player for the Pirates. He finished with a .400/.400/.800 line with seven homers in 55 at-bats.

The 26-year-old, who is in his first big league spring training camp, entered Tuesday’s game action with tied with the league-lead in homers this spring with seven. Hague primarily plays first base, but can also play third and was getting reps in the outfield this spring.

“The moment I try and do too much, that’s when I find myself in trouble,” Hague said. “I’m really just trying to have my focus as narrow as I can. Just getting a good pitch, and letting my hands work. Whenever I try and do too much, my hands don’t get involved. I’ve been working on a lot of early work with [Hitting Coach Gregg] Richie and a lot of the coaches. Just trying to really activate my hands, and its been working.”

Hague attributes a small adjustment in his swing and a different mental approach to his success this spring.

“I’ve always had just little higher hands and kind of just lowered them to a better hitting spot,” Hague said. “Just to really get them going, don’t cheat myself just trying to get a hit. Really just try and drive it. I think a lot of its been working with the mentality of hitting and not settling for less. Just try and drive it.”

Hague led the International League in hits (165), games (141) and at-bats (534) during his first season at Triple-A Indianapolis. Hague also set career highs in hits and doubles (37) while finishing with a .309 clip and 12 home runs.

Josh Harrison (infielder)

Harrison, 24, hit for a .341/.400/.545 line in 44 at-bats with a team-leading seven doubles over 24 games this spring.

Harrison has bounced all over the diamond this spring in order to become a super utility player for the club. He has played third, second, short and left field during Grapefruit League action this spring. While he hasn’t played short regularly since college in Cincinnati, Ohio, Harrison said he’s feeling comfort there after all the hard work he’s been putting in over the offseason and this spring.

“He’s making progress,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said of Harrison at short. “There have been a couple balls that have challenged him, throws, a part of it. Just re-acclimating himself to that part of the diamond. He played there a long time ago, but we started the process early with [work at the] Instructional League. We [feed] him all the innings we can feed him this spring…It’s just the comfort, and the repetition, the experience of getting out there. The kids not going to get out worked. He’s not going to be out prepared now. The effort and attitude is good. You’re going to pull for him. We’ll keep trying to find him innings, and see if he can find that balance that we’d like to be able to see the guy that we have backing up [Clint] Barmes can bring to the table.”

“If the long-range goal is for Josh to be a super utility guy, that’s something I have every confidence he’ll be able to pull off,” Hurdle said.

Harrison hit for a .272/.281/.374 line with 13 doubles over 65 games with Pittsburgh last season.

Casey McGehee (infielder)

McGehee, 29, hit .298/.365/.474 line in 57 at-bats, with seven doubles and a homer over 22 games this spring.

McGehee was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in December for reliever Jose Veras. He is expected to be a part of a platoon at first base along with Garrett Jones. McGehee will face left-handed starters at first base, and is also expected to serve as a backup option at third.

The 29-year-old is looking to bounce back from what he referred to as a “nightmare season”. McGehee hit just .223 with 13 homers and a .626 OPS over 155 games with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011. After losing 20-25 pounds over the offseason, McGehee said he feels stronger and faster than he has in a long time.

McGehee has spent the past three seasons with the Brewers. During the 2009 season, he finished with a .301/.360/.499 line and 16 home runs in 355 at-bats. He finished fifth in the Rookie-of-the-Year voting. He followed that season with a .285/.337/.464 line and 23 homers in 610 at-bats, being named Milwaukee’s Most Valuable Player.

Michael McKenry (catcher)

McKenry, 27, hit for a .222/.263/.306 line in 36 at-bats over 17 games this spring.

The 27-year-old appeared in 58 games with Pittsburgh last season where he hit for a .222/.276/.322 line in 180 at-bats. McKenry was acquired from the Boston Red Sox’s Triple-A Pawtucket in June of last season after the club took multiple hits with their starting catchers getting injured.

This spring training has been a different experience for McKenry. He went into camp prior to the 2011 season with the Colorado Rockies, and was traded to Boston before camp ended. This year, McKenry entered spring familiar with the club he caught 58 games for. He will be the backup catcher to Rod Barajas.

“Its been nice because there hasn’t been any panic or any urgency,” McKenry said how this spring training was different from the year prior. “Just getting an opportunity. [Pirates Manager Clint] Hurdle has done a good job. We made some adjustments with my swing. We made some adjustments with my catching. It’s been an opportunity to work on them instead of panicking all the time. Just worrying about having quality at-bats, and not worrying about the result right now is nice.”

Nate McLouth (outfielder)

McLouth, 30, hit for a .362/.464/.574 line in 47 at-bats this spring.

Over the offseason, McLouth signed with the Pirates to a one-year deal, reuniting with the team that not only drafted him, but where he found success.

“I’m happy to be back,” McLouth said. “It’s a place that I played a lot of years, I kind of grew up here, came out of high school. I was here my whole career until 2009. It’s great to be back.”

Since getting traded to the Atlanta Braves in July of 2009, McLouth hasn’t played like the All-Star center fielder and Gold Glove winner that Pittsburgh saw during the 2008 season. After several trips to the disabled list last season and having to undergo sports hernia surgery in August, McLouth played in just 81 games with the Braves last season. Looking to bounce back, McLouth hit for a .228/.344/.333 line with four homers in 267 at-bats during the 2011 season.

Yamaico Navarro

Navarro, 24, hit for a .310/.365/.414 line in 58 at-bats, with a double, triple, and a homer over 26 games this spring.

Over the offseason, the Pirates made a trade for Navarro from the Kansas City Royals in return for hard throwing righty prospect Brooks Pounders and international minor leaguer Diego Goris.

The 24-year-old has made appearances at third, short, second, right and left field during Grapefruit League action.

“Versatility is always a plus on your bench,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “To have guys that are able to do more than just give a guy a day off when they come in. The fact that you can move them around in-game if you’ve got them in, double switch. You’ve got more opportunities in different spots to utilize them. Stretch out your lineup. In game strategies late…He’s handled himself very professional since he’s been here.”

Navarro hit for a .264/.344/.436 line with 11 doubles and seven home runs in 220 at-bats over 59 games in 2011 between Triple-A Pawtucket (Red Sox) and Triple-A Omaha (Royals). He also hit for a .250/.303/.350 line in 60 at-bats over 22 Major League games — 16 with Boston and six with Kansas City.

Pirates Prospects

by Tim Williams

Typically the Pirates’ bench is made up of veteran players, with the prospects ready to step in at the Triple-A level. This year is different. In previous years guys like Nick Evans and Anderson Hernandez would have been on the major league roster, while guys like Hague, Navarro, and Harrison would be in Triple-A. That’s a strategy I’ve never liked, and I think it’s a good thing that the situation is reversed this year.

As far as bench prospects, the Pirates do have a few in Triple-A. Eric Fryer provides the team with catching depth, capable of taking over if there’s an injury to either Rod Barajas or Michael McKenry. Fryer needs to work on his hitting at the Triple-A level some more, but has the defense to be a strong backup.

Gorkys Hernandez has the upside of a fourth outfielder, unless he can find a way to be more than a singles hitter. Hernandez has strong defense, arguably the best in the system, and could arrive in the majors at some point this year if something happens with Nate McLouth, or one of the starting outfielders.

Indianapolis has two middle infielders who could also make the jump to the majors this year. Chase d’Arnaud spent some time in Pittsburgh last year, while Jordy Mercer has never played higher than Triple-A. Both will get regular playing time at Indianapolis. With Harrison and Navarro in the majors, it’s unlikely either would get the call. They’re more likely to be used as September call-ups.

Most of the bench depth will come from guys who aren’t technically prospects, such as Nick Evans, Jake Fox, Jeff Clement, and Brandon Boggs.

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Brian Bernard

Kristy (and/or Tim – it’s in the article) I think this may be my favorite bench the team has had in YEARS. First reason why, is because they really earned their way onto the roster – all of them are the best of the rest, and I’m pretty sure that’s what you want on your team – right?
Additionally, the flexibility they provide along with the fact most of them still have something to prove talent wise are some real good reasons to like the group.
Something that wasn’t mentioned is a small concern, the fact that only one left handed hitter is on the bench with all those power righties in bullpens these days. I think the team is actually lucky though to have a former All-star centerfielder, a Brewers MLB Team MVP, and MLB’s 2012 spring training HR champ, and the FORT on their pine. Really cool, as far as I’m concerned. 
I haven’t had season tickets (10 game pack) for five years, but I picked up another set a few days ago… This team may not be a playoff team yet, but – I like ’em and I think it’s going to be a pretty good group of guys to root for this year.
GO BUCS!!!!!!!!!!

Richard Ya'Zhynka

I like Navarro’s minor league numbers. He hit for some power, had about 15 steals per season, and has a decent walk rate. Is he adequate defensively at shortstop?

Richard Ya'Zhynka

Tim, Why do you prefer the strategy of having players like Hague and Navarro (“prospects”) on the bench rather than players like Nick Evans and Anderson Hernandez? Some would say that the “prospects” are better off getting regular at-bats at AAA.

I believe that Hague and Navarro have done all they need to do at AAA, but I do understand the desire to get them regular at-bats. On the other hand, there does come a time when a prospect has to prove himself as a major league spot starter and pinch hitter.

Ian Rothermund

I have to say I’m quite pleased with the choices they made.  Nice move putting Leroux on the 60-day.  This way he circumvents the waiver wire, so by then there might be a slot open for him, or they can waive him at that point.

Personally after this Spring, I’m not sure there was really any risk of losing him.  We’ll see though.

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