When the Pirates claimed Ben Gamel off waivers earlier in May, they desperately needed bodies in the outfield after failed experiments in Dustin Fowler and Anthony Alford. At the time, then left fielder Bryan Reynolds was day to day with lower body soreness and Gregory Polanco was sent to the 10-day IL.
Now with five outfield players on the roster (Gamel, Reynolds, Polanco, Troy Stokes Jr. and Ka’ai Tom), general manager Ben Cherington believes that this group provides the best opportunity for success.
“What we have attempted to do in some of the more recent changes is just to make sure that we have as many options for [manager Derek Shelton] as we possibly can so that we're not asking too much of any one player and potentially risking further injury,” said Cherington. “As much as we kind of have gone through the ‘when it rains it storms’ period, we'd like that storm to end as quickly as possible and not continue. One of the ways it might continue is if we just don't have enough options.”
While there is no “magic date” or a specific answer to when Pittsburgh’s outfield will be set, both Cherington and Shelton believe the more depth on the roster, the less players risk injury with overuse and “doing more than they should.”
Cherington is optimistic about the return of some players from the injured list, including Ke’Bryan Hayes. Though no formal rehab assignment has been confirmed, Hayes is progressing well.
“We’ve got some calendars, kind of in pencil,” said Cherington on Hayes’ left wrist injury. “We just have to be mindful that it's been long enough now since the first couple days of April that we [have] got to build the whole body back up -- the whole player. It’s not just the wrist. We’ve got to make sure that all of him is ready to play Major League games again.”
On Thursday, starting pitcher Chad Kuhl pitched in a two-inning simulated game. Kuhl has been on the injured list since May 5 with right shoulder discomfort. His skipper called the outing an important and really good first step.
“Fastball looks good," Shelton said. "He threw a couple of good changeups, a couple of really good sliders. … How he looks today is really important, [but] how he feels tomorrow is going to be the most important thing for us, in terms of building back up to starting.”
Cherington on Minor Leagues
“We're generally pretty encouraged by the early results,” said Cherington of the Minor League output thus far. “We've had some good individual performances. Not perfect, but a lot of good ones and, knock on wood, [everyone is] relatively healthy so far.”
One name that stands out to the GM is Roansy Contreras. The righty has yet to allow a run in two starts with Double-A Altoona over eleven innings.
“We saw that as a young pitcher with the Yankees, he just had a good feel for moving his breaking ball around, depending on the count,” said Cherington of the team’s No. 20 prospect. “We also liked and still like the athleticism and how he moves. A combination of that and feel for moving the ball in and out, the velocity and the stuff creeping up a little bit -- it’s a good combination. He’s been on a nice roll so far. Exciting to see.”
Contreras, who joined the Pirates in the Jameson Taillon trade in the offseason, has shown major promise to move through the ranks, but the Pirates want to ensure they are being aggressive without rushing progress. The goal with Contreras and other Minor League players is to put them in a spot to be challenged without overwhelming them. With a mostly full Minor League season, the Pirates expect to begin conversations regarding Minor League movement in several weeks.