Projecting Pirates' 25-man Opening Day roster

Starting pitching depth could allow Hurdle to be creative with bullpen

February 8th, 2018

PITTSBURGH -- In a radio interview last month, manager Clint Hurdle began looking forward to what he called "a new era of Pirates baseball." He wasn't exaggerating.

An outfield without . A rotation without . A roster with, at most, seven of the 25 players who were with the Pirates at PNC Park for the 2015 National League Wild Card Game.

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With so many new faces set to enter the Pirate City clubhouse in the coming days, projecting Pittsburgh's Opening Day roster is no simple task. It's further complicated by the number of free agents still available. But before Spring Training begins, here is our first shot at predicting which players will line up for the Pirates in Detroit on March 29.

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Catcher (2):,

Pretty straightforward, especially with Diaz out of options.

First base (1):Josh Bell

No questions here, either. This is Bell's job.

Second base (1):Josh Harrison

Harrison requested a trade if the Pirates don't intend to contend soon, but club management has insisted they will compete sooner than expected. Although they still could trade him, a logical landing spot came off the board when the Mets filled their infield need with .

Third base (2):,

Moran will get a chance to start. Ideally, Freese will back up him and Bell.

Shortstop (1):

This will be Mercer's fifth (and likely final) Opening Day start as the Pirates' shortstop.

Utility (3):, ,

Frazier and Rodriguez will be on the roster, but if the season began today, one of them might be starting in the outfield.

The last spot comes down to the switch-hitting Moroff and outfielder , as would be redundant with Freese as a right-handed-hitting corner infielder. Moroff gets the nod -- for now -- based on his versatility. The Pirates prefer to carry a backup option at shortstop, and it might have to be Moroff if Frazier or Rodriguez is a starting outfielder.

Outfield (3):, ,

Marte's in center. Polanco could play either corner, but he's better off in right. Pittsburgh could answer a lot of questions by signing or trading for a regular left fielder.

Top prospect needs another (healthy) trip through Triple-A Indianapolis after struggling last season. Nava, signed to a Minor League deal, will serve as a fourth outfielder if he makes the roster.

The Pirates have suggested that No. 23 prospect Luplow could spend more time in Triple-A, so unless he emerges as a full-time or platoon starter this spring, perhaps he'll play regularly in Indianapolis to begin the season rather than sitting on the Major League bench.

Rotation:, , Joe Musgrove, ,

In December, general manager Neal Huntington all but officially said the rotation would be Cole, Taillon, Nova, Kuhl and Williams. Trading Cole created an opening, which the Pirates expect Musgrove to fill. , and are also in the mix.

Musgrove headlines young group of newcomers

Bullpen:, , , , , Brault, Glasnow

Rivero, Kontos and Hudson are in. It seems likely that Feliz and Crick, a pair of hard-throwing right-handers, have an edge as recent trade acquisitions. They could use another lefty and a couple multi-inning relievers, so let's pencil in Brault, who has little else to prove as a Triple-A starter.

There are a bunch of candidates for the final spot. A.J. Schugel is out of options. and could be late-inning relievers someday. The Pirates clearly valued Josh Smoker enough to trade for him, Jack Leathersich enough to claim him and enough to take him in the Rule 5 Draft. Fellow Rule 5 pick Nick Burdi will be in the discussion when he's healthy.

They all have a chance, so this projection could change. But the Pirates have suggested their depth would allow Glasnow -- who still has top-of-the-rotation stuff -- to pitch in relief if he doesn't crack the Opening Day rotation. They won't learn if he's ready to realize his potential by watching him carve up more Triple-A lineups.