First Pitch: The Upper Level Roster Crunch that Might Give Way This Week

I’ve been finishing up the profiles in the 2015 Prospect Guide over the last week, getting ready to send the book to the publisher on Friday. In the process, I’ve noticed a bit of a roster crunch in the upper levels when it comes to first base. The Pirates currently have more first base and outfield options than they have positions in Altoona and Indianapolis. A few of the prospects who will play in the upper levels are Rule 5 eligible on Thursday. And with the news that the Sean Rodriguez deal will be completed on Thursday with a Rule 5 eligible guy likely going the other way, I can’t help but wonder if one of these extra guys might be on the move by the end of the week. Here is the rundown of each position.

First Base

Indianapolis: Stetson Allie, Andrew Lambo

Altoona: Josh Bell, Jose Osuna

Bell should get time at first base in Altoona, while Osuna is expected to move up from Bradenton, especially with Edwin Espinal moving to Bradenton. Osuna could get time as a designated hitter, or play in left field to get regular playing time. He doesn’t have a future in left field, but that gives him potential at-bats.

Bell and Osuna should push Allie to Indianapolis, despite strikeout issues and a low average in Altoona. Andrew Lambo could also factor into the first base role, since the outfield projects to be crowded. Designated hitter isn’t really an option, since that will probably be taken by either Elias Diaz or Tony Sanchez, depending on which hitter isn’t catching that day. As for the outfield…


Indianapolis: Mel Rojas, Gorkys Hernandez, Jaff Decker

Altoona: Keon Broxton, Willy Garcia

The Pirates currently have Rojas, Hernandez, and Decker projected for their outfield, with Broxton and Garcia pushing from Altoona. Of the two, Broxton looks to be more likely to make the jump to Indianapolis. There’s not really room for Lambo in the outfield, and there’s not room for him and Allie at first base/DH due to the catching situation.

Possible Solutions

As I mentioned above, Osuna could move to a different position or play DH, which would allow everyone to get playing time in Altoona. As for Indianapolis, if the Pirates decide to carry five outfielders (which means no first base platoon), they could call up one of Decker, Lambo, or Rojas and everyone else would have a spot.

This is just speculation, but it seems like the easiest solution would be to deal one of the Rule 5 guys from this crunch. There are more options than roster spots, and none of the Rule 5 eligible players are close to untouchable. I had Osuna, Allie, Rojas, and Broxton as guys who were notable from the eligible players in the draft. Osuna and Allie are limited to first base, and are behind Bell on the depth chart. Rojas and Broxton have fourth outfield upside, which is the same upside as Hernandez and Decker. These are the types of guys you deal to get an upgrade at the Major League level.

We’ll see how it plays out on Thursday, but as I was writing those profiles over the last week, I couldn’t help but think that something has got to give with the playing time for all of the above players.

Links and Notes

**The Prospect Guide will be sent to the publisher on Friday, and will be released at some point next week. In order to guarantee that your copy goes out in the first shipment, your order needs to be placed by Friday morning. You can pre-order the book here.

**Notes: Trade Targets, Lindblom Role, Liz Deal Holdup, Completing the Rodriguez Deal

**Pirates Claim RHP Josh Lindblom From the Athletics, Outright Angel Sanchez

**Pirates Add Kevin Young and Grady Little to the Front Office

**Jon Lester Nearing the Finish Line, Which Would Open Up the Starting Pitching Market

**Pirates Rumored to Be Interested in Francisco Liriano For Just Three Years

**Winter Leagues: Joely Rodriguez Loses Shutout Streak in Third Start

**Pirates Have One Specific Need Heading into the Winter Meetings

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Scott Kliesen

I don’t view having too many players for too few spots as a problem of any consequence. Conversely, I see it as a positive in that the competition will stimulate some of these guys to excel more than they would if they knew coming into ST their spot was secure.
As evidence of this I submit what Tony Sanchez wrote on Twitter the other day from somewhere in the Dominican Republic, “If you don’t like getting death threats from the hometown fans, play better.”
Pretty extreme, but illustrative of my point.


Tim, very curious what you do with a situation like Liz with your deadline to submit to the publisher… do you treat it as a done deal?


haha yep, that makes sense.


Liz is not a prospect. He exceeded his rookie status limits in 2008. Therefore not relevant to the book.


Why would Decker get playing time over Lambo in the outfield? Both LH corner OFs – Decker has a better arm, and is one year younger, but didn’t even have a 750 OPS at Indy last year. Also, I would hope the Pirates prioritize what’s best for Garcia’s development over playing time for Decker and Gorkys, who are both barely prospects at this point.


Jaff Decker and Gorkys Hernandez? Doesn’t exactly scream excellent depth at AAA to me


You had better get up to speed if you don’t think those players provide excellent depth at AAA.


So true.

Especially when you factor in Tabata. With the lack of offense around the game, how many clubs do you think can say they have a 5th outfielder stashed in AAA with Major League average production over 1500 big league at bats?


Players at AAA that can play in the majors are excellent depth, they are not on the 25 man because the Pirates have 5 outfielders ahead of them, but regardless they can spot start in the majors and that is what depth does. If the Pirates had Ishikawa back, he would be AAA depth , but instead he started a WS as a left fielder for the Giants.


I don’t think any of the players mentioned are untouchables, so IMO, they can be moved if a deal presents itself anytime. If we are talking about Taillon, Glasnow or Bell that would be a different story. Rojas might be gone by the end of the week, but until then he could be traded I believe. Rojas is one guy I have to believe they have tried to trade and did not get any takers, makes sense rather than lose him in the Rule 5.


What about Jose Tabata? It would seem he would also be part of the Indy logjam.


I am sure they would like to trade him, but when they moved him to AAA, they totally devalued him, as Huntington said, he should never have given in and brought Polanco up when he did. So far it hurt Polanco and Tabata both.


When did Huntington say that?
I missed it…
Give in to who?
Not much of a GM if he “gives in” to fan or media pressure is he?

Lukas Sutton

Pretty confident he never said that, particularly since the most obvious thing about NH as a GM is that he really truly does not care what the public perception of his moves are. He made pretty badly received moves with AJ, Liriano, Volquez, and even trading guys like Hanrahan. A GM that caved to fan pressure would have signed Loney and avoided both Liriano and Volquez.


Give him a third base glove! He might be terrible there, but who cares, its not like it would mess up his career… Seriously though, not worried about getting Tabata playing time.


I was referring to the article Tim wrote. Tabata will be called up before Gorkys or Jaff, so I would argue that it is more important for him to get ABs than those two. I know everyone wants to dump on Tabata while he is down, but he is a likely option as our fifth outfielder next season.


That’s actually a really good point.


Maybe it is just that I am a bit impatient. But I don’t understand what value guys like Lambo, Allie, Rojas, Broxton and even Garcia have to the Pirates – they apparently have no future on the MLB roster and are of little or no trade value. So we have a team that won’t spend on payroll and won’t “spend” it’s prospects to get better. 35 years and counting.


Andrew Lambo is a potential replacement for Pedro (or a candidate to replace Pedro) if the latter struggles at 1b or if he is traded because it is thought Pedro can’t be re-signed given that Boras is his agent (especially if Bell is not ready or if Bell is traded in the meantime). I imagine you would have felt better about the shot Lambo likely would have been given by the Pirates in 2014 but for Lambo’s untimely thumb injury. Given that injury, Lambo’s numbers at AAA in 2014 are all the more impressive. Hopefully, Lambo will be healthy this year and he will regain a little power compared to 2014. He’s still relatively young at 26.


Hope you are right – my fear is that he has been relegated to AAAA no mans land


Not an unreasonable concern on your part. Lambo’s numbers the last two years in the minors are comparable to Moss’ minor league numbers – I’m not saying Lambo is necessarily Brandon Moss, but the equivalent production is at least relevant. I’m hoping Lambo gets a chance one way or another with the Pirates, or if they decide to trade him, that they get a reasonable return given that he has performed about as well as any Pirate minor leaguer recently.


Or if Pedro gets hurt again as happened in 2014.

Lukas Sutton

Kindly explain your logic of “wont spend on payroll” now. Wont spend on payroll….except to sign Liriano and AJ and pursue Volquez again. You are living in 4 years ago land. We have a team placing itself near the favorite for the division.


I just checked Tim’s payroll projection – the Liriano contract has not been added – but if you take what Tim has and add $13M you end up with PROJECTED payroll at this point of around $70M. That will very likely be the LOWEST in the NL Central. Even if they do a $10M a year deal for Volquez – which might not be needed/a good use of funds at this point you are “only” at $80M – and still last in the division.

I just did not express my frustration well. Let’s try it this way. I think Andrew Lambo has been badly used by the Pirates – not given a fair shake – others say – nope one and done – bad spring training and you are out!

But if he is not part of the plan why is he still on the roster – maybe he only gets you a low level prospect – but move him and free up the need ABs at AAA and AA – let Bell have a chance to prove he can be a first baseman – AND stay healthy for a full season. If he can’t – then HE needs to be moved on. The Bucs have invested a lot in Latin America – keep adding those raw materials – but if you have guys like Tony Sanchez, Rojas and Allie and Lambo they either are part of the future – or need to be moved on some way.

And yes I understand that the teams in the minor league system need to try and draw fans and win – BUT that is not inconsistent with moving guys through the system based on the MLB team needs and what is the plan for using them-if there is one.

Stockpiling AAAA players like Hague and D’Arnaud just to name a couple does nothing to break the 35 year streak

Lukas Sutton

You are dead wrong with the projection being 70 million with Liriano. Either you willingly dont care to be factual or misunderstood the source. Tim had projected payroll at 72 million after the AJ signing. So 72+13=85. If you follow anyone that speaks on the Pirates and their projected payroll, this signing now places them above 80 million with normal arb increases. But its cool, because before this the complaint was “they dont spend enough on quality guys” so now its “the overall payroll should be higher”.

If Andrew Lambo is the worst of the Pirates issues, we have a damn good team. Fair enough to think Lambo is a ML quality option, but he is blocked in the OF and Pedro has more upside. Sad, but true. Stockpiling names like Hague and D’Arnaud allows the team to field AAA teams so they can have a functioning minor league system. If the Pirates do sign Volquez, they will have an opening day payroll near or above 90 million. Please, try to hate on that.


We can revisit this once Tim updates his projection – I read it differently – but he will update soon enough.
I think Tim’s 72 included adding one or two starters – probably at less cost than Liriano. But let’s see what the update looks like.

Lukas Sutton

Huntington said that teams that have players that the Pirates are interested in want MLB talent that is on the roster in return, not prospects. That does not mean they can’t/won’t end up dealing prospects somewhere. He said one of the strategies they would like to use is to get a talent that is in their final year before FA, did not say what talent, but it is know that the Pirates were interested in Samardzija and Danks. The Pirates found out last summer trading prospects is not as easy as it sounds. So from what he said it appears to me that they have tried to trade some of this log jam.


The value that AAAA players with little trade value are to the Pirates’ organization is that they fill out minor league rosters with players that can help minor league teams win games, which attracts fans, which leads to profitable affiliate enterprises. If the entire minor league organization with all of the multiple levels produces two to three players that make the MLB ball club each year it is doing an outstanding job. That means on average each level has only two to three players that really have a future with the Pirates. But obviously each level has to employ twenty five or so players on the roster to be able to field a team, 22 or so of which won’t likely ever make the Pirates. The Pirates need to manage their whole system with the best interests of their affiliates in mind so they retain good working relationships with the affiliates to make possible the renewal of contracts that are in the best interests of both sides. So retaining players who are good for their level, but may never advance is necessary to make the whole system work. Make sense?


Great explanation.


Your logic is the issue, not your patience.


Please go away – you add no value and troll over on the Asylum
Your comment on how to allocate ABs at AAA and AA miss the point.
I could care less about those teams winning – or having positions filled.
ALL that matters is to have this organization focused on breaking the
35 year streak – and if you won’t spend $100M or more on payroll why
would you hold on to guys who you feel have no major league future
– trade them or replace them with players with potential – not the Dackers
and Morels that have been added recently


I don’t even know what “the Asylum” means. Sweet meltdown, though.

Chris Hale

Your clueless it seems


You are writing off 22 and 23 year old prospects coming off successful seasons at AA. You are writing off guys successful in AAA that are simply blocked. It’s ridiculous. I’ll grant you Decker.

The Pirates DO invest heavily in the farm system under Huntington – that the team’s over spending on prospects like Bell ($5mil) compelled the MLB to implement a draft spending cap and other signings like Heredia ($2 mil) that motivated the MLB to implement an international pool. You are ignoring that this IS a very highly rated farm system – not every player in the minors can be a blue chipper. Many of us are frustrated with money, but that ire isn’t directed at the Indy squad. What should the team do? Sign a bunch of Cubans and stick them in AAA?


I am frustrated with money, they spend far too much. Cano at over 200mil and carrying Josh Harrison stats? WOW, Arb cases for players that suck getting raises? When will the owners wake up? I guess I am frustrated because the price of doing business is out of control. No way the Pirates should not be able to compete for any player in the world.
Topic for another day I guess.

dr dng

Here is how I think some of this will be resolved….
Someone is going to take Rojas in Rule 5.


Rojas seems like somebody who could stick on a major league roster for a full season. I agree that he will be selected in the Rule 5 draft.


Nice topic.

Even without a trade, there still seems to be plenty of at bats to go around. Figuring about 600 PA per position, Indy has roughly 1800 PA to spread around four outfielders and 1800 PA to spread around four C/1B/DH players with Lambo getting time in each group. Each guy could see over 500 PA before a single injury factors in, which inevitably will happen.

Also not sure what Tony Sanchez has done to deserve DH at bats over Allie and Lambo, but that’s for the team to answer.


If Lambo is truly in the future plans for 1B he’ll get the 1B reps because he’s a hack there currently. If Allie or Sanchez steal reps from him then he’ll be a AAAAer or traded.


That’s not how it works.


Trying to think of who the Rays would want. They’re big on platoons so Allie and Osuna might interest them.

This might be the perfect time to trade Allie. He might never figure it out but still has value currently.


Do you think either Osuna or Espinal can (will) evolve into legit 1stbase prospects ?


Tim , if you were GM , how would you resolve this situation ? I have to imagine since you wrote this article , that you have a theory or theories in your head how to best handle this surplus.

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