PITTSBURGH -- With their summer camp set to begin this week, the Pirates on Sunday announced their 60-man player pool for the upcoming season.
After players report for training camp on Wednesday, the Pirates will hold their first workout at PNC Park on Friday. Forty players will spend the next three weeks working out at PNC Park, while a second group of 19 players will follow shortly afterward at Altoona’s PNG Field, the Bucs’ alternate training site.
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The Pirates are “hopeful” that they’ll wrap up their training camp with a few exhibition games, general manager Ben Cherington said, but they’re awaiting official confirmation. Still, they believe they have enough time -- and the right personnel in place -- to get them ready for a long-awaited Opening Day on July 23 or 24.
“I like the energy, focus and excitement that we’re hearing from players about getting back here, getting back to work. That’s been evident throughout,” Cherington said. “We’re got a lot of young players in this group, both in Pittsburgh and Altoona. We’re really excited to see that group continue to grow, get better. We know that when we’re winning games in Pittsburgh, it’s going to be because that group of players is performing and continuing to find another level of performance.”
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Prospects in the player pool will only accrue service time if added to the active roster, giving the Pirates time to continue their development even if they don’t appear in any games this year. The Pirates will spend the next few weeks whittling down their camp roster to 30 players on Opening Day, then 28 after 14 days of the regular season, then 26 at the end of the season’s first month.
Here is a look at the Pirates’ player pool, starting with those who will work out at PNC Park before a quick dive into the prospects set to train in Altoona. Following the suspension of reliever Edgar Santana, the club still has one spot available to add another player to their pool.
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Catchers (3): Luke Maile, John Ryan Murphy, Jacob Stallings
Stallings is penciled in as the Pirates’ starter, and Maile is likely to be the backup on Opening Day. If they carry a third catcher, it will be Murphy. If not, Murphy will provide veteran depth in case of an injury.
Infielders (10): Josh Bell, Phillip Evans, Adam Frazier, Erik González, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Colin Moran, Kevin Newman, José Osuna, JT Riddle, Cole Tucker
Bell, Frazier and Newman are guaranteed to be in the lineup. Moran is the incumbent at third base, with González available as a more defense-oriented option there. Riddle’s versatility and experience will earn him a spot on the bench, and Osuna has a more certain spot with the designated hitter now in play.
Evans was a non-roster invitee this spring, but the Pirates like his defensive flexibility and the way he’s fit in with their roster. Whether he’ll crack the Opening Day roster remains to be seen, however.
It’s worth noting that Hayes and Tucker, who were technically optioned to Triple-A on March 20, are back in the mix. Hayes might not be the Opening Day third baseman, or even on the Opening Day roster, but this is seemingly another sign that he’s bound to be in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later.
“The group … that will be in Pittsburgh would be the group that we expect to get our Opening Day roster out of, and also guys who we certainly think could be in the mix over the course of the regular season,” Cherington said. “So we’re not making any decisions on Opening Day, but we felt like that was the right group to have in Pittsburgh.”
Outfielders (5): Socrates Brito, Jarrod Dyson, Guillermo Heredia, Gregory Polanco, Bryan Reynolds
In March, the Opening Day outfield would have been Reynolds-Dyson-Polanco. That still should be true, but it’s possible Polanco could see some time at DH as well. Heredia was locked in as the fourth outfielder from the moment he signed, while Brito could secure a spot on the bench depending on how the infield competition shakes out.
Pitchers (21): Steven Brault, JT Brubaker, Nick Burdi, Blake Cederlind, Kyle Crick, Miguel Del Pozo, Robbie Erlin, Michael Feliz, Geoff Hartlieb, Derek Holland, Clay Holmes, Keone Kela, Mitch Keller, Chad Kuhl, Joe Musgrove, Dovydas Neverauskas, Hector Noesi, Richard Rodríguez, Chris Stratton, Nik Turley, Trevor Williams
Musgrove, Williams, Keller, Holland and Brault are frontrunners for the five rotation spots, with Kuhl also a possibility now that the shortened season won’t have him bumping up against any innings limits he might have dealt with in his return from Tommy John surgery.
Brubaker, one of their top rotation depth options, and Cederlind, the hard-throwing relief prospect who turned heads this spring, will get another chance to work with the big league staff after being optioned to Triple-A in March.
The bullpen competition lost two members when Santana was suspended and right-hander Yacksel Ríos was outrighted off the Pirates’ 40-man roster on Sunday. It’s also notable that non-roster lefty relievers Del Pozo, Erlin and Turley remain in this group while Sam Howard is part of the Altoona group; at least one of them should earn a spot on Pittsburgh’s predominantly right-handed staff.
Kela, Crick, Rodríguez, Feliz and Burdi figure to form the core of the bullpen. Holmes and Stratton could claim two more spots. The rest of the competition depends somewhat on how many bullpen arms the Pirates carry on Opening Day.
Altoona camp (19): INF Ji-Hwan Bae, RHP Cody Bolton, INF Rodolfo Castro, INF Will Craig, INF Oneil Cruz, LHP Sam Howard, C Christian Kelley, RHP Max Kranick, OF Jason Martin, INF Mason Martin, RHP James Marvel, RHP Nick Mears, RHP Braeden Ogle, OF Jared Oliva, RHP Cody Ponce, RHP Yacksel Ríos, RHP Aaron Shortridge, OF Travis Swaggerty, C Andrew Susac
Bae, Bolton, Castro, Craig, Cruz, Kranick, Mason Martin, Oliva, Shortridge and Swaggerty are all among the Pirates’ top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. Mears is behind perhaps only Cederlind when it comes to Pirates relief prospects. Some of them, like Craig and Oliva, are closer to the Majors. Others, like Cruz and Swaggerty, are premium prospects who would benefit from additional development work.
The rest of this group is in place to provide Major League-ready depth. Susac and Kelley are their next-best options behind the plate. Jason Martin can play all three outfield spots. Howard, Marvel and Ríos have Major League experience on the mound, while Ponce reached Triple-A last season.
“We tried to look at the best combination of supporting our Major League team and providing some development opportunity for a handful of younger players who we felt would be ready and able to take advantage of the environment in Altoona,” Cherington said.
The Pirates mostly steered away from lower-level prospects or 2020 Draft picks, including the recently signed Nick Gonzales. Cherington said the Pirates are optimistic that there will be some sort of opportunity later this year for those players to continue their development in a more productive way.
“We have an important group of young pitchers that haven’t been quite at full season [leagues] yet. We remain hopeful there will be an opportunity to get them development and innings this year,” Cherington said. “And then in Nick’s case, and really with all of our Draft picks, we just feel like there’s a more effective way for that particular group to get introduced to professional baseball and the Pirates, and we remain hopeful there will be a way to do that in 2020.”
Injured (3): Chris Archer, Kevin Kramer, Jameson Taillon
All three will sit out the entire season, but it’s worth noting that Taillon -- who’s working his way back from his second Tommy John surgery -- still occupies a spot in the Pirates’ player pool. The right-hander is far enough along in his rehab, and important enough as a teammate, that Pittsburgh wants to see him continue working out with the team at PNC Park.
Archer and Kramer, who underwent season-ending surgeries while operations were suspended, are not part of the player pool, as they are not likely to take part in baseball activities until later in the summer.
According to MLB's Operating Manual, all players on a 40-man roster “that the Club anticipates participating” during the season will be part of the player pool, while the rest will be made up of non-40-man roster players under contract. Any 40-man-roster players who are not included in a player pool (for example, maybe a prospect who isn’t deemed ready for the Majors) will still be paid during the season.
No team will be allowed to exceed the limit of 60 players in its player pool at any time during camp or the regular season.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.