PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates on Saturday invited 13 of their top prospects and near-ready Minor Leaguers to big league Spring Training, a group headlined by first-time invitees Ke'Bryan Hayes and Will Craig.Hayes and Craig will report to Major League camp when the Pirates arrive in Bradenton, Fla., next month. They
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates on Saturday invited 13 of their top prospects and near-ready Minor Leaguers to big league Spring Training, a group headlined by first-time invitees Ke'Bryan Hayes and Will Craig.
Hayes and Craig will report to Major League camp when the Pirates arrive in Bradenton, Fla., next month. They will be joined by outfielder Bryan Reynolds; right-handers Tyler Eppler, Geoff Hartlieb, Alex McRae and Eduardo Vera; left-handers Elvis Escobar, Brandon Waddell and Blake Weiman; and catchers Jason Delay, Christian Kelley and Arden Pabst.
The Pirates announced their internal non-roster invitees a day after officially inviting Minor League free-agent signees Tyler Lyons, Roberto Gomez, Steven Baron and Patrick Kivlehan to big league camp.
Hayes, the Bucs' top position player prospect and MLB Pipeline's No. 48 overall prospect, will report to Pirate City's Major League clubhouse after being named Pittsburgh's Minor League Player of the Year in 2018. An elite defender at third base, Hayes slashed .293/.375/.444 with seven homers in 117 games for Double-A Altoona last season and should begin this year with Triple-A Indianapolis.
"He became a complete offensive player. It's starting to catch up with his defense now," Altoona manager Michael Ryan said late last season. "It was a lot of fun to watch him grow offensively."
Craig slugged 20 homers, drove in 102 runs and earned team MVP honors last season in Altoona. Now a full-time first baseman, Craig followed up that performance by batting .304 with a .947 OPS in the Arizona Fall League. Craig, the Pirates' first-round pick in 2016, is their No. 16 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
Reynolds, the Bucs' No. 8 prospect, will return to big league camp. Acquired from the Giants in the Andrew McCutchen trade, Reynolds overcame a fractured left hamate bone last year and hit .302/.381/.438 in 88 games with Altoona. The switch-hitter played all three outfield positions last season, then played both corner spots in the Arizona Fall League.
Eppler figures to be part of the Pirates' rotation depth again after posting a 3.59 ERA during his second season in Triple-A. Hartlieb put up a 3.24 ERA and 1.37 WHIP over 47 relief appearances for Altoona last year. McRae made his Major League debut last year and should return as a depth option capable of starting or pitching out of the bullpen.
Vera drew some interest before the Rule 5 Draft, but went unselected after going 11-5 with a 3.37 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 26 starts for Class A Advanced Bradenton and Altoona. Waddell, the Pirates' No. 24 prospect, was also not selected after reaching Triple-A last season. Waddell could make his debut this year if the Pirates need to call up a left-hander from Indianapolis.
Escobar and Weiman will be two of the more interesting, if unheralded, arms in Spring Training. The 24-year-old Escobar moved from the outfield to the mound last season and went a combined 4-2 with a 3.56 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings for Class A West Virginia and Altoona.
Weiman, 23, put together a 2.42 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with 77 strikeouts and only nine walks in 67 innings over 39 appearances last season as he climbed from West Virginia to Altoona. The lefty has been compared to former Pirates reliever Tony Watson.
"[Weiman] just competes. He has the stuff to go along with the competitiveness," Ryan said. "He throws very hard from the left side. He's got such a bright future."
Delay, Kelley and Pabst will provide necessary catching depth in big league camp. Kelley, a well-regarded defender, should advance to Triple-A this year after spending all of last season in Altoona. Delay, Pittsburgh's fourth-round pick in the 2017 Draft, played in Bradenton last year. Pabst hit a combined .264 with 10 homers and 36 RBIs in 66 games last year for Bradenton, Altoona and Indianapolis.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.