BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates made seven more cuts from big league camp today, trimming their roster to 35 active players in camp. The roster also came into focus a bit, with Neal Huntington announcing that Matt Joyce will make the Opening Day roster.
The deadline for the Pirates to make a decision on Joyce is noon today. They don’t have to make a move today, but have to make a commitment to add him to their active roster. They made that commitment, and will make a corresponding 40-man roster move later this week, possibly on Sunday.
“We see him as a left-handed bat off the bench who can play left or right field when Clint chooses to rest one of our outfielders or in case of injury,” Huntington said. “Veteran, commands the strike zone, gives us quality, professional at-bats. He’s coming off a tough year, went to the Dominican Republic to work his way back, showed us some things over the course of camp. Two years ago and three years ago was a very good player. Left-handed bat who can fill in if needed in the outfield.”
Joyce has seen his power production drop in recent years, although his walk rate has stayed strong. That might be one of the things the Pirates find the most appealing, as they’ve put a big focus on getting on base this year. Joyce noted that his goal as a hitter is “just don’t get out”. As for today’s decision, Joyce was excited by the news.
“It’s pretty huge,” Joyce said. “It’s tough to ride the roller coaster sometimes, and especially this game, the ups and downs that come along with it. Definitely through my career, I’ve experienced both. … It’s very satisfying, knowing how much hard work that I put in, and going over to the Dominican for five weeks, and putting in the at-bats, and grinding out, putting in the time and effort to work outside the field and in the off-season. To come in Spring Training and show up every day just with that goal in mind. To work your butt off, and to have that satisfying statement that you’re a Buc and you made the team is such a great feeling.”
With Joyce making the team, the Pirates now have four of their five bench spots locked up. The final spot could go to either Jason Rogers or Cole Figueroa. Technically, Pedro Florimon is still in the mix, although I see him as a guy who is likely to be designated for assignment by the end of camp to make room on the 40-man roster for guys like Joyce.
Jeff Locke Makes the Rotation
Neal Huntington said last week that the final two spots in the rotation would be an open competition between Jeff Locke, Ryan Vogelsong, and Juan Nicasio. Today he said that Locke will definitely be in the rotation, and that he may have misspoke in his comments before.
“I probably misspoke when I talked about it being a competition,” Huntington said. “It’s not a competition based purely on Spring Training results. It’s what we see, how we see this group coming together, and Jeff’s done a lot of good things for us.”
Huntington said that the decision with Locke was made based on some of his past results, along with the adjustments he’s made this spring.
“I know he’s an easy punching bag in certain circles, but Jeff’s been a very solid Major League pitcher for us and we think there’s more to come, especially as he starts to use his arm side more,” Huntington said. “It’s going to open up the changeup better. It’s going to open up the inner half. He’s made some quality adjustments with that this spring and thrown some great pitches. The delivery adjustment is becoming more routine for him and he’s having to think about it less. When we get that delivery locked in, we get him using both halves, we get him using all three pitches, we’re going to have a very good pitcher on our hands.”
The most notable thing about Locke this year is that he changed his delivery, simplifying it to try and get better command of his pitches. That’s still a work in progress, although Locke will make his final start today to try and work some things out before the season starts.
“He’s still trying to figure out the exact timing,” Huntington said. “He is a very good athlete and he’s able to do some things. Our goal is to get him to a point where he’s competing and not trying to work on the delivery. He’ll get an outing in the Minor Leagues and get stretched out and ready to go.”
The biggest issue with Locke in the past has been his consistency. He’s been great in the first half, and has struggled in the second half each year. The Pirates made this decision because they felt they can get more consistency out of him this year.
“Jeff’s had his ups and downs, but we believe that this is a big year for him and we can help him take a step forward and have more ups and fewer downs,” Huntington said.
As for the rest of the rotation, Juan Nicasio is still without an exact role, and it appears that there will be a competition between him and Ryan Vogelsong for the final spot. However, as noted above, that competition might not be entirely based on spring results.
“We’re still working through that one, as far as the ultimate configuration that puts our strongest 12 out there,” Huntington said. “That’s a part of the bullpen question and the rotation question. How do they complement each other, how do they fit? We feel very comfortable with either Ryan or Juan in the rotation. We also feel comfortable with either one of them in the bullpen. It’s a matter of how do we put this puzzle together outside of just that one spot in that vacuum.”
As I’ve noted, I think Nicasio should be in the rotation, not because of his results this spring, but because of his stuff. I also haven’t been favorable on the Vogelsong signing, as I think a contending team could have gone with someone who had more upside. We’ll see how the decision plays out later this week with the final rotation spot.
Still No Word on Cory Luebke
Huntington said that Cory Luebke’s opt-out deadline isn’t today, and said that the Pirates still have time to make a decision.
“Cory has an out at some point this spring,” Huntington said. “There’s a sequence of events that happen based on what we inform him, whether he’s going to make the club or he’s not going to make the club. If he’s not going to make the club, there’s a sequence of events that take place. It’s a little bit convoluted, but we’ll have to make a decision here in the coming days.”
Previously, everyone was competing for one bullpen spot, and if Luebke made the team, it would mean he’d take the final spot. However, it’s now looking like Jared Hughes will start the season on the disabled list.
“Very likely, as we sit here today,” Huntington said on Hughes going to the DL. “You want to leave every opportunity in the world, but you look at the calendar and realize dates are clicking away. It’s been a while since he’s thrown. He’s feeling better. It’s a long season and Jared’s been an integral part of the bullpen for a number of years. We want to make sure we put him in a position to make sure he helps us win a lot of games this year, not just focused on April 3 or April 5. The reality is, it’s going to be very difficult for him to open the season on the active roster. We’ll take the time we need to take to get him 100 percent healthy.”
The other active relievers in camp, aside from Luebke, are Kyle Lobstein, Jim Fuller, A.J. Schugel, and Jorge Rondon. Of that group, only Lobstein is on the 40-man roster.
**Huntington indicated that the final roster decisions could come in Indianapolis on Saturday, as the team waits out all of their options.
“Clint reminds me that he’s been that guy that gets released on Opening Day, as a matter of fact. That’s real. It’s easy for me to sit in an office and become task oriented, and think about ‘Well, this is what we need to do.’ Clint reminds me of the human analytic, and the human element of it all the time. But unfortunately there are some decisions that we probably will — as we’ve done in the past in Philadelphia, as we’ve done in the past when we’ve broken camp — there will be some decisions that are awfully late, and maybe some in Indianapolis.”
**Rob Scahill was the most notable guy cut from the bullpen today, which is interesting since there could be two spots up for grabs in the final week, and Scahill is one of the few guys remaining who was on the 40-man roster.
“With Rob, he’s got quality major league stuff, it’s just the application and being aggressive and using both halves of the plate and maybe simplifying his approach a little bit. I think Rob will help us again at some point earlier than later this season.”
**Jung-ho Kang played five innings on the field yesterday, and Huntington said that the plan was adding one variable at a time with his rehab, making it as simplified as possible.
“Yesterday was defense. He felt good. Our guys are talking about, continued movements are better, the explosiveness is coming back, the strength is coming back, whether it’s in the batter’s box, whether it’s defensively, whether it’s running. So all very, very positive signs.”
The Pirates will be conservative with his return, and the line all along was that he could return in mid-to-late April. He’s still not to the point where he can run the bases in a game, which is one of the final things he needs to add before he’s ready.
**Gregory Polanco has been day-to-day lately, and Huntington confirmed that this is still his status. However, it doesn’t sound like he will be out for long, and they’re only being cautious with him at the end of camp.
“We’re going to look forward to getting him back out there when we’re in that point in camp where he’s had a lot of at-bats, and is it better to give him the rest and knock this out, or better to get him out there and give him a few more at-bats. At this point we’re still erring on the side of it’s probably better to just try to knock this thing out, and get whatever soreness he’s got in there out.”
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.