By Jason Shetler
The biggest storyline for Spring Training 2017 with the Pirates is of course who will be the fifth starter in their rotation. Another area that has yet to be decided as well is in the bullpen. As of right now, the guaranteed relievers are Tony Watson, Felipe Rivero, Daniel Hudson, Antonio Bastardo and Juan Nicasio. Some of the other candidates competing for spots are Jared Hughes, who is now reportedly on the trade block, A.J. Schugel, Wade LeBlanc and Tyler Webb. Perhaps the most intriguing out of the group is Webb.
The Pirates didn’t make many significant moves this past offseason. Out of the few moves they made, one came as a surprise, as they selected Tyler Webb from the New York Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft during the Winter Meetings. This marked the first time since 2011 that the Bucs chose a player in the Major League portion of the draft.
Webb was a tenth round selection of the Yankees in the 2013 MLB Draft. The 26-year-old southpaw is coming off a very good season, in which he posted a 3.59 ERA, a Fielding Independent Pitching of 2.76 and a 10.2 K/9 in 72.2 innings of work with the Yanks AAA club Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Although Webb isn’t a hard throwing lefty, his ability to rack up strikeouts are based on deception and being 6’6 to where he can throw his pitches on a downward plane.
Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle has a reputation of favoring veteran players, which would be an advantage for both Hughes and LeBlanc. GM Neal Huntington however did give some praise to Webb on his radio show Sunday by saying that he doesn’t allow much hard contact and can get lots of awkward swings. If Webb doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, then he would have to return to the Yankees, the team in which he was selected from. However, I think it would be a wise move for Huntington to work out a deal with the Yankees, so that Webb can remain in the organization, much like he did with Evan Meek in 2008. In the event of an injury or someone faltering, Webb would be an intriguing depth option, with his ability to strikeout batters as a left-hander, as well as being able to pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen if necessary.