By Jason Shetler
With Spring Training about to get underway in a few weeks, here are the non-roster invites the Pirates brought in this offseason from outside the organization.
A.J. Schugel: Twice this offseason, A.J. Schugel was claimed off waivers, once by the Seattle Mariners in December and the Pirates in January. Schugel was designated for assignment recently by the Bucs, but cleared waivers, and was still given a non-roster invite. He spent 2015 in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, posting a 4.84 ERA in 21 starts between AA Mobile and AAA Reno, and also made five relief appearances for the Dbacks. Schugel will begin this season pitching for AAA Indianapolis. He’ll most likely be used as reliever, if the Pirates were to call him up.
Antoan Richardson: The Pirates signed outfielder Antoan (pronounced Antawn) Richardson in December. The 32-year-old native of the Bahamas has spent 11 years playing in the minors, as well as two seasons in Independent ball. Richardson played in just 13 games last season for the Texas Rangers rookie club and AAA affiliate Round Rock where he had a .643 OPS. He’s had a couple of brief stints in the big leagues with the Atlanta Braves in 2011 and the New York Yankees in 2014. Richardson is organizational depth, and should be in AAA for all of 2016.
Cole Figueroa: Back in December, Cole Figueroa agreed to sign with the Pirates. The left-handed hitting infielder made his Major League debut in 2014 for the Tampa Bay Rays. Figueroa spent last year in the Yankees system, as he batted .292 along with a .713 OPS and striking out just 5.3% of the time in 121 games played. He also made eight plate appearances for the Yankees. With having one bench spot remaining, the Pirates could look at Figueroa as a potential option.
Curtis Partch: The Pirates signed Curtis Partch in November. The soon-to-be 29-year-old has some big league experience with the Cincinnati Reds in 2013 and 2014. Partch worked 63.2 innings last season for the San Francisco Giants AAA club Sacramento where he put up a 3.53 ERA with a very solid 11.5 K/9. His average fastball velocity is impressive at 95.3 mph. Partch should begin 2016 with Indianapolis, and at the very least could be a September call up.
Danny Ortiz: After spending his first seven seasons in the Minnesota Twins organization, Danny Ortiz signed on with the Pirates in November. The Puerto Rican born outfielder showed some good power last year with AAA Rochester, hitting 31 doubles and 17 homers. His on base percentage however left a lot to be desired at .295. Unless an injury occurs with one of the Pirates outfielders, Ortiz will probably spend the majority of 2016 with Indianapolis.
Ed Easley: The Pirates added to their catching depth by signing Ed Easley in January. The former first round compensation pick of the Dbacks in 2007 was in the St. Louis Cardinals system last season. Easley played in 88 games for AAA Memphis where he had a .345 on base. He threw out only 15% of baserunners, but he does a 30% caught stealing rate for his minor league career, so he appears to be a better defensive catcher than what he showed in 2015. Easley will serve as the backup catcher to Elias Diaz in Indianapolis.
Guido Knudson: Guido (pronounced Gee-do) Knudson was claimed off the waivers by the Pirates from the Detroit Tigers in November. The 26-year-old right-hander was released in January as a corresponding move for Trey Haley. The Pirates brought back Knudson on a minor league deal shortly after. He pitched in 59.2 innings last year for AAA Toledo, as he posted a 2.56 ERA with a 9.1 K/9 while also appearing in four games with the Tigers. Knudson should start out this season with Indianapolis.
Jim Fuller: The Pirates signed Jim Fuller in January. The 28-year-old left-hander pitched for the Oakland Athletics AA and AAA clubs Midland and Nashville in 2015 where he had a 5.23 ERA in 32 appearances. Fuller could begin this year for either Altoona or Indianapolis.
Jorge Rondon: After being DFA’d by the Baltimore Orioles to make space on the 40-man roster for Vance Worley, Jorge Rondon was claimed off waivers by the Pirates back in October. The Venezuelan born right-hander spent last season pitching for both the Rockies and Orioles where he made ten appearances. Most of his time was with their AAA affiliates Alburquerque and Norfolk, posting a 2.23 ERA with a WHIP of 0.97 in 35 appearances. Indianapolis will be the starting destination for Rondon in 2016.
Juan Diaz: The Pirates inked Juan Diaz in January. The 27-year-old infielder played in 110 games a year ago for the Miami Marlins AAA squad New Orleans where he hit .272 along with a .688 OPS. Diaz last appeared in the Majors with the Cleveland Indians in 2012. He’s likely to play all of 2016 with Indianapolis as a utility infielder.
Kelvin Marte: Kelvin Marte spent nine seasons in the Giants organization before signing on with the Pirates in January. The 5’9 southpaw pitched for AA Richmond last season, as he put up a 2.63 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP in 130 innings. Marte seems more like organizational depth, so it’s hard to say if he’ll pitch for Altoona or Indianapolis to begin 2016.
Robert Zarate: The Toronto Blue Jays signed Robert Zarate out of Venezuela back in 2006. From 2012 to 2014, he pitched over in Japan for the Hanshin Tigers and the Gunma Diamond Pegasus. Zarate came back to the States last offseason, as he signed with the Rays. In 40.1 innings pitched for AAA Durham, he had an ERA of 2.90 with a 1.09 WHIP and a solid 10.9 K/9. The Pirates could use another lefty arm in the bullpen, so perhaps Zarate could compete for a spot in Spring Training.
Trevor Williams: The most notable of all the non-roster invitees that the Pirates brought in this offseason is Trevor Williams. Prior to last year, Williams was rated a Top 10 prospect in the Marlins system by both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. In 131 innings for Jacksonville and New Orleans in 2015, he posted a 3.85 ERA, although his WHIP was on the high side at 1.41. After pitching guru Jim Benedict left the Pirates to join the Marlins in October, the Bucs acquired Williams from Miami as essentially compensation for losing Benedict. Williams participated in the Arizona Fall League. He also pitched in the AFL Fall Star Game where he showed a three pitch mix that included a 4-seam fastball, which topped out at 95 mph, a 92 mph 2-seam fastball, that had very good sink, and a slider. While we talk about Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon joining the Pirates at some point in 2016, Williams is certainly another starter who could find himself in Pittsburgh before this season is over.