The Pirates Have Almost No Position Battles Lined Up For Spring Training

This morning I uploaded the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Spring Training tracker. We have that resource on the site every year, allowing you to keep track of who has been invited to Spring Training, and their chances of making the team. The tracker also shows who is still remaining in camp once things kick off and cuts begin.

As for this year’s tracker? It’s kind of boring. The Pirates have almost no position battles this Spring. Their starting lineup is set. Their bench is set. The rotation has four spots, with two out-of-options pitchers competing for the final spot. One of those two will go to the bullpen, leaving two more spots for three likely pitchers. On paper, there’s not much suspense heading into camp.

The starting lineup will return a lot of the 2014 starters. The key differences are that Pedro Alvarez will take over first base, and Francisco Cervelli replaces Russell Martin behind the plate. The bench looks set with a lot of Plan B options for the starting lineup. Corey Hart will platoon at first base and could be a backup plan for Alvarez. Sean Rodriguez will be a super utility player. Chris Stewart returns as the backup catcher. Travis Snider will be the fourth outfielder, and could be a backup if one of the outfielders gets hurt, or if Gregory Polanco struggles. And when Jung-Ho Kang is signed, he will be expected to take a utility infield role.

Most of the other position players have options, which means the Pirates can send them to Triple-A with ease. The exception is Pedro Florimon, who is a strong defensive shortstop and is out of options. The Pirates could option Kang to the minors at the start of the year, giving him time to adjust to the U.S., and that would also allow them to keep Florimon on the roster. But eventually, they’d have to make a decision. The fact that they have Gustavo Nunez and Gift Ngoepe in the upper levels — both strong defensive shortstops themselves — means they could possibly take a chance on putting Florimon through waivers.

The rotation looks mostly set, with Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, and Charlie Morton expected to take the first four spots on Opening Day. The fifth spot will be a battle between Jeff Locke and Vance Worley, who are both out of options. If Charlie Morton can’t return on Opening Day, then the Pirates won’t have to make a decision right away with Locke and Worley. However, based on the reports on Morton’s status this off-season, it seems a decision will come sooner, rather than later, and Morton could likely be ready on Opening Day.

Whoever loses the fifth starter battle will get a spot in the bullpen, joining Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, and Antonio Bastardo. I’m putting Radhames Liz as a lock for the bullpen, since I don’t think the Pirates would have signed him to a guaranteed deal if he wasn’t going to make the team. That leaves two remaining spots for three likely pitchers. In a previous version of this article I wrote that Jared Hughes and Stolmy Pimentel were both out of options. I mis-calculated the options for Hughes, who has one remaining. I’ve got those two, plus John Holdzkom, for the final two spots, and I think Holdzkom has the inside track due to his stuff and performance last year. That means the Pirates will have a choice between optioning Hughes — who had a better season and is projected to make $1.1 M — or designating Pimentel for assignment and potentially losing him for nothing while never really giving him a real shot to see what he can do. The rest of the pitchers in camp have options, making their decisions easy.

All of this is on paper, and doesn’t factor in potential injuries that could crop up in Spring Training. An injury to the starting lineup would likely be filled by a bench player, making room for someone like Pedro Florimon or Justin Sellers. An injury in the rotation would allow Locke and Worley to make the team as starters, and any further injuries would result in someone like Brandon Cumpton coming up for a short time.

That’s about the only way I see most of the invited players making the team. There won’t be any situations like last year at first base, where an NRI guy like Travis Ishikawa has a chance to win a job in camp. This year, the roster looks pretty much set.

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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Some say Kangs league level is equal to AA, lets say for talking purposes the Korean league is on a par with AA baseball. Kangs numbers are better than Alvarez’s numbers were in AA and very close to Kris Bryants numbers in AA, I realize Bryant is younger and Alvarez was younger when he was in AA. How much age factors in I do not know.
Alvarez-333/419/590-13-Home runs-AA
Bryant-355/458/702-27 Home runs between A-AA
Kang-356/459/739-40 Home runs


Exactly! I think people are under valuing him because he wasn’t paid the big money the Cuban players have been getting. If Korea is equal to double A then Kang would be the best double A player out there. I think he is going to hit and surprise people.
For those saying send him to triple A, I do not think it happens unless he is over matched in spring training. I think this is going to be a position battle between him and Mercer. Sorry but Mercer is nothing special and Kang may just beat him out.


Lambo will beat out Snider for the 25th man – he’s more flexible, better price, and he has a better bat. We’ll need to trade Snider so we have enough batting practice balls for the year


Ha ha….you are out of your mind. Next fairy tale please.


Tim, are you sure Hughes is out of options? I was pretty sure he had one left. He was added to the 40-man for his Sept. call-up in 2011, so no options used there. He was optioned in 2012 for only a couple days, so that doesn’t count. Options used in 2013 and 2014 should leave him with one left. Am I missing something?


Thanks. Seems obvious that Hughes will be the odd man out then, if it comes to that. I don’t think it will, though. Huntington has said that he thinks Morton’s TJS was partially the result of him rushing back from his first hip surgery, so Morton will probably start the year on the DL.


Worley is a lock to make the rotation. Hughes and Kang are locks to make the 25 man roster. Excessive injury is the only way Pimentel makes the opening day roster.


IMO, if Kang starts in AAA, the Pirates made a bad deal.


I seriously doubt this will happen, unless Kang has a horrible spring.


I seriously doubt he doesn’t start in Triple A. He’s gotta play everyday so they can find out if they think he can make the jump to the Majors or if he can start if somebody gets hurt. I think it’s possible Walker is traded during the year depending on how Kang develops. Puig played 60 games in the minors first.


Puig was 21. Kang will be 28 on April 5. If he needs time in the minors, they’ve wasted their money.


So we have one article today that says Kang would be worth the money at less than even one win per seaosn, and another contributor saying that the Pirates will have wasted their money by giving him a taste of AAA.

Clear as mud.

Lukas Sutton

Well, the team actually doesnt have to “find out what he is” if they dont see him as a starter they could see value off the bench. Puig played games in the minors, but if PIT sees Kang as solid enough to help the team from the bench they likely will use him there.




I, myself, considered Kang playing a 2-to-5 weeks in AAA while things shook out at the MLB level. Beyond spring training, it may also be an opportunity to get reps at multiple positions while acclimating himself to pitching more advanced than the KBO. I cannot see Kang spending more than 5 weeks in AAA since the Bucs spent 9MM (5 posting fee/4 salary) on him this year.


I think this would be the wise course. Let him learn to hit AAA pitching before trying on the big boy pants. And they can evaluate his ability to handle SS down there with no risk.

Of course, he could end up hitting .450 in ST with an .800 Slg. But that would be a really good problem to have,

On another note, once Kang is officially in the fold, why not try to trade Florimon for a lower-level glove-first SS? That would be better than losing him on waivers. The same goes with Stolmy. There are a half-dozen teams looking for bullpen depth and he would be an awfully good item to some of them. Heck, he could probably start for the Rockies.


I find it very unlikely that they will subject a guy like Kang (superstar in his country) to bus rides in AAA so they can keep a no-hit glove SS on the roster. Maybe Kang has a very bad spring training then maybe it happens, but starting him in AAA doesn’t seem like a good idea when handling this transition.

Scott Kliesen

If he can put his bat where his mouth is, he’ll be starting the season in Pitt.


Just for conversation sake…why should the Pirates care?

And how easy of a transition will it be to the American game getting one start a week while coming in to face fireballing relievers as a pinch hitter?


Well I think the primary issue would be that the team would like to sign international free agents again in the future and these guys aren’t coming here to play in AAA. The secondary factor would be to protect your investment to get the best return, ie. don’t tick him off.

The transition won’t be easy, but he has seen 90+ heat and the KBO is compared to AA level, so its not a super huge jump.

Lukas Sutton

“They arent coming to play AAA” but reality is some of them do play minor league ball. Puig saw minor league time as teams were wanting to see him transition to a new level of play without throwing him to the fire. For a guy doing something pretty rare coming from a league that is not known for being ML quality, im not sure they should expect to be ML players from day 1. In fact, a few articles have said Kang would appreciate the Pirates giving him time as he adjusts.


Puig is a totally different situation, see above. Big ticket Asian professionals are not coming to play in AAA.

Lukas Sutton

Sorry, thats kinda dumb. You used Asia while not admitting South Korea level of play is much different than Japan or China while also acting like big ticket Asian players are at a better level than Latin America. Any player coming from Latin America with a decent to big reputation is going to have more immediate expectations than Kang trying to so something nearly no other person in his spot has done. Kang isnt a sure thing and isnt being given starting spots.


So your worry is that starting Kang in AAA, for only a matter of weeks, will sour the Pittsburgh Pirates potential for signing additional “big ticket Asian professionals”.

Yeah. Got it.


Yep, Jung-ho Kang cost the Pirates $21 million to play in AAA. He is coming to sign that deal to play for the Pirates, what you are suggesting is bait and switch.


You really, reallly have trouble understanding time, don’t you?


and here comes the insults, nothing screams “winning a debate” like this.


Excuse me while I daydream about the glamorous, high profile life of a MLB bench player.


let me help, private charter flights, full concierge, elaborate per diem, private transport, full support staff that handles everything from your locker to your equipment, millions of cheering fans (20-30,000 nightly).


Are you familiar with Erisbel Arruebuena and Alex Guerrero? I think you may be overstating your first point a bit.

As for your second point, that would be a reason for him to spend a couple weeks in AAA, at least as far as I see it. I think only the wildest of optimistic projections would have him stepping right into the big league game on Day 1 as a contributor. This is a guy obviously used to playing everyday, moving up to much better competition, in a completely foreign culture, and being asked to adjust while only getting, what, 20 AB per week as a bench player?

Really don’t see the harm in allowing him to play everyday for a few weeks, at least.


you really like to argue don’t you?

1) Those are both Cuban imports, totally different situation both politically and in readiness. Those guys have to defect, not play in a league for 1-2 years, then get cleared, then get signed. They have little control over their situation at any point. Try some examples of superstar Asian players who have come over at this cost. These guys are coming here to play MLB, not MiLB.

2) He is 27 years old, what is the point of him beating up AAA stuff? Its not like he is a developmental prospect, he is what he is. He has 3500+ plate appearances against essentially AA pitching which includes some AAAA types that leave the states to pitch there. Its not like they are playing some radially different version of baseball in korea. Having him hop on a bus and tour the International League isn’t going to help his transition any better than having him in a big league club house with MLB level support.

3) You don’t see the harm because you are not a superstar player with an ego and confidence to match. The only way he is going to AAA is if he just gets smoked in ST, which I really doubt will happen. He isn’t being sent to AAA so they can keep waiver wire fodder like Pedro Florimon, which is what my whole comment was about.


Would you rather have everyone pat you on the back and agree with everything you say? Sheesh.


No, but you started this whole mess for nothing but folly. Do you really believe Pedro Florimon breaks camp with the Pirates?


Well that’s not a giant straw man or anything.


You may need to look up the definition of strawman. The entire post (read sentence 1) was to disagree with Tim saying that the Pirates could send Kang to AAA in order to keep Florimon. That is the direct point of contention. You agree that that is dumb, but picked at my assertion that AAA would not be suitable. You shifted the argument away from Florimon/Kang to Kang alone.

Lukas Sutton

The point of AAA is that it’d be the highest level of competition he faced. You present this as if he is a solid prospect with relatively minor issues in his game. In fact, most scouts admit there is a ton of unknown with this guy. So maybe its not a terrible idea to say “rather than having you experience some degree of culture shock and moving to an entirely new country while ALSO seeing a big upgrade in talent level and adjusting to MLB, we let you work through the changes in AAA while getting time to get comfortable with all the new that is happening.


Yeah so rather than live like a star (which he is used to) in MLB, go down to AAA and slum it up, that will ease your transition completely. I’ll say it again, the only way you get buy-in for Kang in AAA is if he fails completely this spring. It isn’t going to happen in order to retain Pedro Florimon.

Lukas Sutton

Live like a star sounds neat, except that it comes with vastly increased media attention. My point was it isnt easy to show up to the majors, see vastly increased talent across from you all while also dealing with a different country, a language issue in terms of everyday English use, and not see starting playing time while trying to adjust. It eases the pressure on him by putting him in AAA to adjust to the game and culture and bringing him up after a month of him showing he can hit AAA stuff.


concur… and it was probably part of the contract.


From what I’ve read, I could be wrong, it doesn’t seem Morton is going to be ready for Opening Day.

I don’t view Mazzaro and Hughes as equivalents, and I don’t think Hughes salary will be a deterrent to teams claiming him.

Monsoon Harvard

Morton should not be active for the first month if you ask me. He proved that he was best used that way from his last hip operation. He had his best season that year (2013). Giving him an extra month to get ready made a big difference in how he held up throughout the rest of the season.


Morton’s 2013 and 2014 seasons were equally good. In 2014, he had a better K rate, a better K:BB ratio, a better WHIP, and more first pitch strikes. Depending on which model you use, their FIP or expected ERA’s were about the same in the two years. The only metric that was better in 2013 was a higher ground ball rate.


I’ve also read he won’t be in the Opening Day rotation, but the language seemed somewhat vague. Pretty sure the rotation can run on 5 days rest for like three weeks without using a 5th starter, which could open the door for an actual battle between Locke and Worley.

As for Hughes, I think the beginning of the year would be the time to try to get him through waivers, if at all. He’s a groundball specialist with shaky control making a million bucks as a middle reliever. Not exactly the kind of profile I see a ton of teams jumping all over coming out of spring training, when most bullpens are set. Only takes one, though.


I think depends upon who is getting a spot over Hughes. He isn’t ever going to be rated well by FIP, don’t completely agree with the spotty command characterization, I think he is a useful reliever.

Though below, Wilber believes Hughes has an option left, so my point might be moot.


Never mind, completely fair to not like Hughes’s control, I was mis-remembering something. Walks were okay outside last season, but man does he not throw much in the zone.

Sean Epstein

Tim. What do you envision the Pirates doing with Lambo? Will he simply be AAA depth? Do the Pirates still view him as a potential everyday player? While it seems he has been around forever, he is only 26 and won’t be 27 til August. Certainly does not seem like there is a roster spot for him (barring injury) coming out of spring training.


The odds of him turning into anything tangible is low.

If he played average defense in the OF like Snider I’d be higher on him but he’s a below average OFer and a WAY below average 1B.


IMO, the starting infield positions will be a fight, If I was a starter for the Pirates in the infield, I would not go to camp thinking a job was mine. I also can’t get over the lack of love for Worley, all he was in 2014 was one of the best starters they had, what did they do, suddenly come up with a bunch of Bob Gibsons. Hughes was their only true stopper out of the pen last year, why wouldn’t he have the team made this year? Pimentel is purely projection, he did nothing last year to warrant keeping him over anyone mentioned. Holtzkom can go down and Liz will have to show something in ST if he wants to win a job.

Monsoon Harvard

True on all your points. Hughes, Worley are both under-appreciated and getting short-shrifted by Tim in my opinion, considering their work, necessity and value to the team last year.

And Pimentel looks to be the obvious guy out here, not even in the same league as the other two.


I think Hughes should be a lock for this pen. He came into many tough situations last season and got out of many. He’s never going to be a closer, but as a middle reliever it’s tough to beat. Holdzkom should go down unless Stolmy really sucks in ST. No reason to risk losing players like Stolmy and Hughes before the season starts unless they are truly horrendous.

Also agree about Worley. The dude can pitch, and should be the #4 in this rotation, ahead of Charlie and Locke, although I understand why Charlie is a lock for the starting 5. Put Locke in the pen and see if that works for him, might find he’s a great reliever.

William Wallace

I cannot believe that spring training may be boring. I remember when I saw Jeromy Burnitz in ’06 was a real piece of work at that Spring Training. Here is hoping that these guys stay hungry.


I think it may be better for them to be able to focus more on guys just getting reps and preparing for the season, without Hurdle having to take extended looks at guys like Garrett Atkins and Michael Martinez. That may be why they’ve brought in Jamey Carroll and Kevin Young. They can get in a lot of work with players who are actually going to play for the Bucs this year.


Well done, Tim. Won’t find a better Spring Training preview in either of the local papers.


Inadvertently damned with faint praise….


Ha, fair point.

Ron Loreski

If Kang does in fact start the year at AAA, I think it’s more likely that Andrew Lambo takes the last bench spot over Florimon. Rodriguez and Harrison can serve as backup shortstop options until Kang is ready to come up.

DG Lewis

“There won’t be any situations like last year at first base, where an NRI
guy like Travis Ishikawa has a chance to win a job in camp.”

And there was much rejoicing.


(Muted hurrahs)


Didn’t that guy end up winning the World Series?

Ron Loreski

He certainly won the pennant.

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