Cherington talks Cruz, rotation, more in camp's first day

March 14th, 2022

BRADENTON, Fl. -- The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. Individuals donning black and yellow regalia roamed LECOM Park’s dirt and grass. Baseball, at long last, was back in Bradenton.

“First and foremost, we’re really excited to be back here and on the field,” said general manager Ben Cherington. “It’s important for the game, for our fans, but also for the Pirates to be back playing baseball.”

With the pomp and circumstance of baseball’s return out of the way, the Pirates' collective attention now shifts to the questions left lingering from this past winter, of which there are several.

“We’re confident we’ll be able to add to this team via free agency and/or trade over the course of Spring Training, over the course of these next two or three weeks,” Cherington said. “There are certainly areas of the team we’d like to add to.”

The question that will linger the heaviest these next couple weeks is whether is the Pirates’ shortstop come Opening Day.

Cruz, the No. 52 prospect per MLB Pipeline, dazzled in his brief cup of coffee with the Pirates last season. In his second career plate appearance, Cruz torched an RBI single with an exit velocity of 118.2 mph, the hardest ball hit by any Pirate since Statcast’s inception. If Cruz can do that only two hours into career, it’s hard not to imagine what he can do with consistent playing time. Still, Cherington was not rushing to hand over the reins.

Before taking over at shortstop, the Pirates may deem Cruz in need of seasoning. For all his physical tools, Cruz only played six games with Triple-A Indianapolis before leap-frogging to the show. Beginning the season with Indianapolis could also provide Cruz with an opportunity get time in the outfield, a subject that Cherington directly addressed.

"We’re just excited to see more of him,” Cherington said. “We’ll see him play short. I’d expect we’ll also see him maybe in some other spots, too. That was something we were planning to do last summer and got interrupted by injury.”

Along with Cruz, there’s also the matter of the starting rotation. Cherington noted that the Pirates would like to add to their staff, in general, but the specifics of the starting five is rather open ended.

Among the options, and are the likely locks with not being too far behind. Quintana signed a one-year deal with the Pirates to eat innings and provide mentorship. Crowe led the team in starts last year. Keller is the only starter from last season who was worth at least one fWAR (1.1). From there, the competition for the two remaining spots is up in the air.

Yes, the Pirates have a laundry list of options. Among them are , , Dillon Peters, Zach Thompson, Bryse Wilson and . Every member of that group started last season, but a spot in the rotation will be influence by performance this spring.

“That’s always going to be our primary focus, the guys who are already here and already Pirates. We’re encouraged by that group. There will be healthy competition for those rotation spots,” Cherington said. “If we can add to that group, we will. We’d like to, if we can. We need to see if anything lines up.”

Along with the rotation, Cherington also addressed the outfield. Bryan Reynolds’s starting spot in center field is safe, of course, but there is no clear and definitive lock for the corners. , who posted a 1.4 fWAR with the Pirates after being claimed off waivers in May, is a strong incumbent and has a strong chance to be there in the lineup card, either at left or right field, come season’s beginning.

“Outfield’s an area that everyone knows there’s going to be competition in camp,” Cherington said. “If we can add to that competition in a way that makes sense, that would be an interest.”

Worth noting

Cherington noted that and have yet to report for camp. Tsutsugo is currently in Japan, but he should report to camp sometime this week. Park tested positive for COVID-19, per Cherington, and is currently going through the necessary testing in South Korea to get down to Bradenton as quickly as possible.