By Jason Shetler
Entering Spring Training of last year, the main focus was on who would be the Pirates fifth starter in the rotation. Tyler Glasnow beat out Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault and Trevor Williams. However, Williams did make the Opening Day roster as a long reliever in the bullpen. Alen Hanson and Phil Gosselin each received bench spots, with Jose Osuna coming very close to making it, despite no prior big league experience. Now that pitchers and catchers have officially reported, here is a preview of this year’s Spring Training battles.
Bench: With the acquisition of Colin Moran in the Gerrit Cole deal, David Freese goes from starting third baseman back to reserve player. Sean Rodriguez is in the second year of his two-year deal that he signed with the Atlanta Braves last offseason and will be the Pirates super utility man. Elias Diaz is expected to be the backup catcher to Francisco Cervelli. Max Moroff has the inside track as a reserve infielder, while Chris Bostick appears to have an outside shot, should Moroff falter. Jordan Luplow is a candidate to be the Pirates fourth outfielder, although with the recent signing of Daniel Nava, it’s likely that Luplow begins the season for AAA Indianapolis, unless he has a really impressive showing. While Jose Osuna nearly made the club last year, it won’t be as clear cut this time around, since they already have Freese and Rodriguez as backup options at first base to Josh Bell, as well as Nava probably being the reserve outfielder. Osuna would more than likely start out 2018 with Indianapolis to not only get everyday at-bats there, but to also continue getting reps at third base, like he had been during his time in Venezuela this offseason playing Winter Ball.
Bullpen: Felipe Rivero, George Kontos and Daniel Hudson return to the Pirates bullpen this season. Kyle Crick and Michael Feliz should be penciled in, as both were obtained in the Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole trades respectively. With two spots in the bullpen remaining, there are several candidates looking to claim those spots. A.J. Schugel pitched well with the Bucs in 2017 and would seemingly have an inside track to one of those slots. Dovydas Neverauskas and Edgar Santana made their debuts last season, with each displaying potential as quality relief arms. Outside of Rivero, the Pirates have three lefty pitchers in Steven Brault, Jack Leathersich and Josh Smoker. Brault is the favorite in that group of southpaws. Rule 5 pickup Jordan Milbrath could be a darkhorse and should be given a really good look, much like Tyler Webb got a year ago. Perhaps the most intriguing pitcher vying to win a spot is Tyler Glasnow. The Pirates rotation is slated to be Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl and newly acquired Joe Musgrove, so Glasnow will look to make it in a long relief role. Deep down, the Pirates would like for Glasnow to break the Opening Day roster, especially since he has nothing else to prove in the minors.