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First Pitch: Breaking Down the Second Half Roster Decisions For the Pirates


The Pirates didn’t have the best first half, but it also wasn’t the worst. They’re just 1.5 games back from the second Wild Card spot, and finished strong against the Cardinals and the Cubs. They’ve dealt with injuries, but have a lot of key players returning after the break. They’ve got a wave of prospects arriving, adding even more depth to the team. We also haven’t even seen a few prospects, as the Indianapolis team is very deep this year.

When September rolls around, the Pirates will have a very good situation, with a lot of depth on their roster. But until then, they will have some difficult decisions to make, as they’ll have too much talent, and a limited amount of roster spots, especially with the bench and bullpen playing so well lately. Here is a breakdown of each position, and the roster crunch the Pirates are facing after the break. Some of these situations could be relieved with trades (especially in the rotation, dealing someone away to create space for the prospects), but rather than mentioning that over and over, I figured I’d cover it here.


The catching position has been a mess this year due to injuries, but that should improve in the second half. Francisco Cervelli could return shortly after the All-Star break, although the Pirates might carry three catchers for a short time, since Cervelli wouldn’t be ready to start on a daily basis. Chris Stewart will eventually return, leading them to make a decision on Erik Kratz and Eric Fryer. If they can keep one of them, Fryer should be the guy. Elias Diaz is also doing his rehab, and is getting close to returning. He will be catching nine innings by the end of the week. Things have been looking bad at times this year for the catching position, but it’s about to return to a position of strength, where the Pirates might lose some depth, and might have to make a difficult decision on Eric Fryer.

First Base

[Insert the John Jaso vs Josh Bell debate here.] I wrote about this on Sunday, and it appears the Pirates are going with Jaso for now. You’d have to wonder whether that would last if Jaso continues his offensive struggles from June. Also, they could work it so that they have an extra roster spot for Bell until about the middle of August. This would allow them to keep both, and give Bell a few starts in the process, allowing him to win the job.

Second Base

I don’t see the Pirates moving Josh Harrison off the position here. I do wonder if the success from Sean Rodriguez, and Adam Frazier providing a spark will have them considering chipping in to Harrison’s playing time. I don’t think it would be a significant amount, but just enough to give Harrison a break while you’ve got 1-2 other options who would be justified for playing time.


This is one area where the team is pretty set. There is no one who can challenge Jordy Mercer right now defensively, and no one who has the offense to make up for the defensive shortcomings. This might change in a year or two, when Kevin Newman arrives.

Third Base

I haven’t talked about the investigation on Jung Ho Kang, simply because I want to let the facts tell that story, whenever they come out. That said, if something happens where Kang can’t play, David Freese would be the obvious choice to take over here.


The Pirates are set in their outfield, although injuries and continued poor performance from Andrew McCutchen do raise some questions. Fortunately, they have Matt Joyce playing well. I don’t think they’ll bench McCutchen or cut into his playing time at all, so Joyce would be more as an injury replacement, rather than a guy who will see increased playing time.


This is going to be the biggest area where the Pirates need to make decisions. Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano are locks for the rotation. I know there are some that wish this wasn’t the case with Liriano, but realistically, the Pirates have almost $20 M remaining on his deal, and he has a good track record of recent success. They’re not giving up on him anytime soon.

Jon Niese and Jeff Locke are the other two Opening Day starters. Niese has struggled recently, and didn’t do himself any favors on Sunday. Locke has pitched well lately, and did a good job out of the bullpen on Sunday in long relief.

On the prospect side, they’ve got Jameson Taillon returning, plus Chad Kuhl, Tyler Glasnow, and Steven Brault as options. Taillon seems like a lock to be in the rotation. The other three would likely bump Niese first, then Locke. And while I’d love to see the prospects all up, I doubt the Pirates will go with too many of them at once. There is the chance they could go with a revolving door here, as there’s not a big need for a fifth starter until mid-August, which Alan Saunders wrote about today.

Between the off-days allowing them to get creative, the DL returns of Cole and Taillon, and the prospects all looking ready, the Pirates will have some interesting decisions to make here.


The bullpen is looking much improved lately. They’ve got Mark Melancon and Tony Watson in the late innings. Neftali Feliz has been good in the middle innings. Arquimedes Caminero has stepped up recently, and Juan Nicasio has been a good addition. A.J. Schugel has been a surprise in middle relief. That leaves one spot, which is currently held by the struggling Jared Hughes. If one of the starters gets demoted, then that could push Hughes to Indianapolis. There’s also the issue of Ryan Vogelsong eventually returning (which will now happen in early August). So there should be some additions to the bullpen just from the fallout of the rotation, at a time when almost all of the spots appear to be locked up.

**Prospect Watch: Stephen Tarpley Struggles With His Fastball Control. I had a live report on Tarpley, and will have a lot more on him later this week.

**Top Performers: Hanson, Garcia, Ramirez, Keller, Tarpley, Williams. Our weekly top performers, with reports on each player. Alen Hanson is quietly having a good month over the last month, which is a good sign.

**Pirates Notes: Second Half Rotation, Trade Deadline, Catchers Returning. Alan Saunders looks at some of the big stories after the break, including the rotation, trade deadline, and the catching situation.

**Elias Diaz Will Be Catching Full Games By the End of the Week. My rehab update on Elias Diaz, after talking to him on Sunday.

**Morning Report: Thoughts on the West Virginia Power. John Dreker breaks down the West Virginia Power.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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