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'Solidified' Bucs embrace Dickerson move

Pirates discuss impact of adding left fielder, who will join team next week after birth of son
MLB.com @adamdberry

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Corey Dickerson didn't join his new team on Friday. Nor was he with his old team, the Rays, at Charlotte Sports Park. Around the time on Thursday that Dickerson learned he'd been traded to the Pirates, his wife gave birth to a baby boy in Mississippi.

The Bucs are excited about the newest member of their family, too.

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Corey Dickerson didn't join his new team on Friday. Nor was he with his old team, the Rays, at Charlotte Sports Park. Around the time on Thursday that Dickerson learned he'd been traded to the Pirates, his wife gave birth to a baby boy in Mississippi.

The Bucs are excited about the newest member of their family, too.

View Full Game Coverage

Video: Rays trade Corey Dickerson to the Pirates

"We're a better team," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It makes everybody a little bit better. It makes that starting lineup a better lineup. It makes our bench a better bench, whatever five are on the bench that day. There's more depth. We added another level of depth to our team as well."

• Pirates Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

When he reports to Pirates camp, Dickerson will take over as Pittsburgh's primary left fielder. The acquisition cost the Pirates reliever Daniel Hudson, infield prospect Tristan Gray and $1 million, but it brought clarity to their outfield picture and added another powerful left-handed bat to their lineup.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"There was a question mark about what was going to go down and who's going to play where. That kind of solidified what we're going to do with the outfield," first baseman Josh Bell said. "Definitely excited to have that thunderous bat in the lineup, that overall presence in the lineup. Definitely excited for it."

The move was well-received throughout the Bucs' clubhouse. When David Freese found out on Saturday that Dickerson had been surprisingly designated for assignment by the Rays, he saw an opportunity for the Pirates to upgrade their roster.

"The guy can hit. He's going to help us," Freese said. "Throw him out in left. He's got some thump. Seems like he's got a little edge to him. We're all excited he's coming aboard."

Video: Pirates executive VP and GM on adding Corey Dickerson

Freese said it was important for the Pirates to "solidify" their regular lineup: catcher Francisco Cervelli, first baseman Bell, second baseman Josh Harrison, shortstop Jordy Mercer, third baseman Colin Moran and an outfield of Dickerson, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. The trickle-down effect also strengthens their bench, which now includes Freese, Sean Rodriguez, Adam Frazier, Elias Diaz and another spot that's up for grabs.

Is Dickerson MLB's best bad-ball hitter?

The move essentially cost Frazier a starting job, as he figured to receive a lot of playing time in left field. But the super-utility man had no complaints. Just the opposite, in fact.

"Big addition to our lineup, for sure. He's a power threat," Frazier said. "He's a great player, so I'm happy to have him. ... The first few days [of Spring Training], I was [practicing] exclusively in left. Back to infield action and just being ready to contribute like I have been this past year and a half."

A deep, talented bench is important for Hurdle as he rests and rotates players through the lineup. He tries to keep reserves sharp at the plate by giving them more frequent playing time, whether it's pinch-hitting appearances or occasional starts. Frazier, for instance, began last season in a reserve role and wound up accruing 454 plate appearances.

Video: MIL@PIT: Frazier belts a walk-off homer in the 9th

"Things happen. It feels like I started more than I came off the bench," Frazier said. "You've got to be ready. Anything can happen at any time. That's why we prepare each day, especially here in spring, to get ready for what might come."

The Pirates expect Dickerson to report to Spring Training on Monday, but they won't rush him away from his family.

"They already had their due date," Hurdle said, grinning. "I don't have a due date."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Corey Dickerson, Adam Frazier

Potential '18 callup Meadows takes healthy cuts

No. 2 prospect, who went 3-for-3 in opener, could make MLB debut if he can stay on field
MLB.com @adamdberry

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- For Austin Meadows, it's always been a question of health. There's little doubt the Pirates' top outfield prospect will produce when he's well enough to play, but can he stay on the field consistently enough to reach his potential?

He showed what he's capable of in the Pirates' Grapefruit League opener, going 3-for-3 with two doubles, two RBIs and a walk in a 6-3 loss to the Rays on Friday at Charlotte Sports Park.

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- For Austin Meadows, it's always been a question of health. There's little doubt the Pirates' top outfield prospect will produce when he's well enough to play, but can he stay on the field consistently enough to reach his potential?

He showed what he's capable of in the Pirates' Grapefruit League opener, going 3-for-3 with two doubles, two RBIs and a walk in a 6-3 loss to the Rays on Friday at Charlotte Sports Park.

View Full Game Coverage

• Pirates Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

"Austin had a nice day. It was good for him," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Three barrels. Drove in some runs. Swung the bat well. He looked good."

Video: Top Prospects: Austin Meadows, OF, Pirates

Meadows, the Pirates' No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, posted a .250/.311/.359 line in 72 games last year for Triple-A Indianapolis. His campaign was interrupted in June by a strained right hamstring and ended in September with an oblique strain, and the time he missed may also explain the dip in his production.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"It's tough for anyone. The more you're on the field, the more you can adjust to the game. That's just how it was last year," Meadows said. "Being able to build from that and learn from that, taking things away that didn't work, and just trying to move forward."

Despite those setbacks, Meadows is now a call away from the Majors. The Pirates added the lefty-swinging outfielder to their 40-man roster in November. After being drafted ninth overall in 2013, Meadows could make his big league debut as soon as this summer.

So the 22-year-old set out in the fall to get his body in the best possible shape. He worked over the offseason with Dr. Joel Seedman, a trainer in Atlanta, and focused on total-body lifts and mobility work. He wanted his work to be not only functional but repeatable -- a routine he could carry into the season.

So far, so good. When asked about his strong debut performance, Meadows pointed immediately to his physical condition.

"First thing's first. My body felt really good out there," Meadows said. "I felt healthy. I thought I was seeing the ball really well out there and things happened. It was a good first day."

In and out

The Pirates on Friday released outfielder Michael Saunders from the Minor League contract he signed on Wednesday, allowing him to sign a similar deal with the Royals.

When Saunders signed with Pittsburgh, he was told he would compete for the then-vacant starting job in left field. That position was filled with Thursday's acquisition of Corey Dickerson, blocking Saunders' path to a spot on the Opening Day roster.

'Solidified' Bucs embrace Dickerson move

General manager Neal Huntington spoke to Saunders on Friday and agreed to release the 31-year-old outfielder, an American League All-Star in 2016, so he could sign elsewhere and compete for a starting job. Barry Meister, Saunders' agent, told SBNation the Pirates "should be commended for their player-friendly, honest and transparent behavior."

Good start

The Pirates' first Grapefruit League start went to right-hander Tyler Eppler, a non-roster invitee likely to begin the season in Triple-A Indianapolis' rotation.

Eppler took a step back last year at Triple-A, posting a 4.89 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP, and he said that disappointment "kind of fueled the fire this offseason to get going." His first impression this year was a strong one, as he tossed two sharp innings Friday, striking out three while allowing only one hit on an efficient 26 pitches.

"He commanded his fastball to the glove side really well. He spun the ball very well with his cutter, his breaking ball," Hurdle said. "Good velocity. Good conviction. Really fun to watch."

Up next

The Pirates will face the Yankees at 1:05 p.m. ET on Saturday, the Bucs' Spring Training home opener at LECOM Park. Right-hander Nick Kingham is scheduled to start for Pittsburgh against New York's Domingo German. Also scheduled to pitch for the Bucs are prospect Clay Holmes, new relievers Michael Feliz and Kyle Crick, Rule 5 Draft pick Jordan Milbrath, lefty Jack Leathersich and non-roster righty Richard Rodriguez.

The game will be broadcast on Gameday Audio, KDKA-AM 1020 in Pittsburgh and on the Pirates Radio Network.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Austin Meadows

New No. 1 Keller leads Top 30 Prospects list

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

There was always the chance the window might close on the Pirates' run of success. That it happened in 2017 might have caught some by surprise.

Pirates Top 30 Prospects list

There was always the chance the window might close on the Pirates' run of success. That it happened in 2017 might have caught some by surprise.

Pirates Top 30 Prospects list

After back-to-back losing seasons, the Pirates' front office decided it was time to hit the reset button and they did it by trading the two biggest names on the big league roster: Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen. While Pirates fans may have lamented their departure, particularly McCutchen's, the deals did bring in four new members of the Top 30 and two other young big leaguers.

:: Team Top 30 Prospects lists ::

There's a distinct possibility that the team's starting third baseman (Colin Moran), a member of the rotation (Joe Musgrove) and a pair of hard-throwing relievers (Kyle Crick and Michael Feliz) will all come from those two trades.

For the Pirates to turn things around, they will once again have to rely on a farm system that helped them get where they were in the first place. It's not quite as robust as it was, but there are signs that things are headed in the right direction. A healthy 2018 from Austin Meadows would be a huge gain, especially with the Cutch-sized hole in PNC Park's outfield.

New No. 1 prospect Mitch Keller has established himself as one of the best right-handed pitching prospects in baseball and after reaching Double-A in 2017, dominating in the playoffs there and then in the Arizona Fall League, he may not be too far from joining a young rotation in Pittsburgh. There are others ready to contribute if called upon this season, although with slightly less ceiling and potential impact, but this could be an all hands on deck kind of year.

The real optimism lies just a step beyond those at the highest level, even though Altoona did win the Double-A Eastern League title in 2017. Former first-rounders Cole Tucker and Ke'Bryan Hayes should help form a nucleus to make Altoona a very strong contender again, with an eye on Pittsburgh in 2019.

And there's some good stuff brewing at the lower levels. The Pirates had done some of their best drafting going after high-end high school talent, but got away from that with college-heavy Drafts, at least at the top, in 2015 and '16. The organization went back to the prep ranks in 2017 in a big way, taking very interesting high school players -- two pitchers and two hitters -- all of whom landed in the new top 20.

Biggest jump/fall
Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2017 preseason list to the 2018 preseason list.

Jump: Lolo Sanchez, OF (2017: NR | 2018: 10)
Fall: Yeudy Garcia, RHP (2017: 14 | 2018: NR)

Best tools
Players are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. Players in parentheses have the same grade.

Hit: 60 - Austin Meadows
Power: 55 - Oneil Cruz (Conner Uselton)
Run: 60 - Cole Tucker (Meadows, Lolo Sanchez)
Arm: 65 - Uselton
Defense: 60 - Ke'Bryan Hayes
Fastball: 80 - Nick Burdi
Curveball: 55 - Mitch Keller (Shane Baz, Luis Escobar)
Slider: 65 - Burdi
Changeup: 55 - Nick Kingham (Taylor Hearn)
Control: 60 - Keller

How they were built
Draft: 20
International: 3
Trade: 6
Rule 5: 1

Breakdown by ETA
2018: 11
2019: 8
2020: 3
2021: 8

Breakdown by position
1B: 2
2B: 1
3B: 3
SS: 3
OF: 7
RHP: 11
LHP: 3

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates acquire All-Star OF Dickerson from Rays

Bucs likely find starting left fielder while dealing Hudson, Gray
MLB.com @adamdberry

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates answered a significant question in their outfield on Thursday by acquiring left fielder Corey Dickerson from the Rays in exchange for reliever Daniel Hudson, Minor League infielder Tristan Gray and $1 million, according to a source.

Dickerson will be Pittsburgh's primary left fielder, general manager Neal Huntington said, joining center fielder Starling Marte and right fielder Gregory Polanco in the Bucs' new-look outfield. Dickerson, 28, hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs in 150 games and made the American League All-Star team last season.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates answered a significant question in their outfield on Thursday by acquiring left fielder Corey Dickerson from the Rays in exchange for reliever Daniel Hudson, Minor League infielder Tristan Gray and $1 million, according to a source.

Dickerson will be Pittsburgh's primary left fielder, general manager Neal Huntington said, joining center fielder Starling Marte and right fielder Gregory Polanco in the Bucs' new-look outfield. Dickerson, 28, hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs in 150 games and made the American League All-Star team last season.

"Corey Dickerson adds a quality power threat to our lineup, as evidenced by his 60-plus extra-base hits and 20-plus home runs each of the last two seasons," general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement. "Corey is a driven player who will also add a quality presence to our clubhouse."

The Rays designated Dickerson for assignment on Saturday, and they had until Thursday to trade him. As soon as he became available, the Pirates took notice.

"We thought he would be a good fit for us," Huntington said.

Video: TB@NYY: Dickerson hammers a solo homer to right field

In return, Pittsburgh parted with Hudson, a potential setup man coming off an inconsistent season, along with Gray, who made his professional debut at second base and shortstop in Class A Short-Season ball. Huntington said the Pirates were reluctant to part with Hudson and Gray, their 13th-round Draft pick last year, but felt Dickerson was worth it.

Dickerson enjoyed a dominant first half last season, hitting .312/.355/.548 with 17 homers in 85 games, then slumped to a .241/.282/.408 slash line with 10 homers in 65 second-half games. Still, he is a proven left-handed hitter -- with a career 119 OPS+ -- and an experienced outfielder.

"We look forward to finding out how we can help him get closer to where he was in the first half," Huntington said. "Overall, a very productive player the last few years in the big leagues."

PNC Park's spacious left field may be a challenge for Dickerson, but the Pirates believe he can handle it. He has totaled minus-eight Defensive Runs Saved in his career. But he totaled two Outs Above Average last season, according to Statcast™, with identical 85 percent expected and actual catch rates. Huntington pointed to Dickerson's work last offseason, when he dropped 25 pounds, and cited reports that he's in even better shape this spring.

"We recognize it's a big left field. We've talked repeatedly about wanting two center fielders out there," Huntington said. "But we do think Corey's going to be able to come in and be an offensive weapon for us and play solid defense."

After hitting 51 homers over the past two years for Tampa Bay, Dickerson will add a jolt of left-handed power to a Pittsburgh lineup that ranked 29th in the Majors in home runs last season. The Pirates have added two potential left-handed power bats this offseason, even without signing a Major League free agent, by acquiring Dickerson on Thursday and third baseman Colin Moran from the Astros last month.

The move also bolsters Pittsburgh's bench, which will now include veteran infielder David Freese, super-utility men Sean Rodriguez and Adam Frazier and catcher Elias Diaz. The final spot could go to any number of candidates, including infielders Max Moroff and Jose Osuna and recently acquired outfielders Daniel Nava, Michael Saunders and Bryce Brentz.

"We feel we've given Clint [Hurdle] arguably one of the stronger benches we've had in a while, if not in our time here or his time here, with quality young players behind that in Triple-A," Huntington said.

By trading Hudson, the Pirates also cleared a spot in their crowded young bullpen. There could be as many as five jobs available behind closer Felipe Rivero and setup man George Kontos, and the list of candidates includes recent acquisitions Michael Feliz and Kyle Crick, starters Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow, out-of-options right-hander A.J. Schugel, Rule 5 Draft pick Jordan Milbrath, young relievers Dovydas Neverauskas and Edgar Santana and left-handers Josh Smoker and Jack Leathersich, among others.

"We felt that we were dealing from an area of strength," Huntington said. "The bullpen is the most volatile and most challenging part of a club to build, but we do feel like we have a number of arms that could pitch at the Major League level effectively and could pitch in meaningful roles."

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)

Although Dickerson faded in the second half of 2017 (10 homers, .690 OPS), he was an outstanding fantasy asset prior to the All-Star break (17 homers, .903 OPS) and could help mixed-league squads this year. Owners seeking power in the final rounds can take a chance on Dickerson, who could receive regular playing time for a retooling Pirates club that still has quality bats such as Marte, Polanco and Josh Bell.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays, Corey Dickerson

Bucs' chairman: Players' criticism 'correct, fair'

Nutting addresses state of organization, recent comments from Freese
MLB.com @adamdberry

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates chairman Bob Nutting on Thursday said some of the players' recent criticism of the organization was "correct and fair" and prioritized the return of a winning culture as they look to end a streak of two losing seasons this year.

In his annual Spring Training meeting with the media, Nutting answered questions for about 40 minutes regarding the state of the Pirates, their organizational philosophy and the January trades that sent out franchise icon Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates chairman Bob Nutting on Thursday said some of the players' recent criticism of the organization was "correct and fair" and prioritized the return of a winning culture as they look to end a streak of two losing seasons this year.

In his annual Spring Training meeting with the media, Nutting answered questions for about 40 minutes regarding the state of the Pirates, their organizational philosophy and the January trades that sent out franchise icon Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.

Nutting has spent the week at Pirate City, watching the club's workouts and interacting with players on the field in an effort to be more visible and accessible in what he called a "challenging year." He likes what he's seen so far.

Video: Freese discusses Pirates trading McCutchen, Cole

"I really am encouraged," Nutting said. "I really do think that that winning culture that we all are talking about -- you're hearing it from the players; now, you're hearing it from the coaching staff, you're certainly hearing it from the front office and from me -- is an important part of what this year's going to be about, an important part of what Spring Training's going to be about. And when you see the guys out there working, I believe they're embracing it and leading it."

Nutting acknowledged recent comments made by Freese, who stated the team needs a greater "demand to win," and Josh Harrison, who requested a trade if the club's actions do not reflect their stated desire to contend the next two years.

"I think they're helping to build what we need to do, which is put the most important things up front to make sure we do have that winning culture, to make sure that we have the right tone in the clubhouse, that they're focused on the right work," Nutting said. "I think some of the comments that were made were correct. If you look at the culture that we had in '13, '14, '15, we weren't focused on external challenges. We weren't focused on payroll issues. We were focused on how we go out every day and win baseball games. … I think you have a young group of players that have a lot that they want to prove and a lot that they can show to the fans in Pittsburgh."

Video: Hurdle on Freese's comments, Pirates' culture

Nutting said he can "appreciate and respect" Pirates players' and fans' response to their offseason moves, but he believes they were made to improve the organization as they brought in young talent -- including four players who could play major roles in Pittsburgh this season. Nutting was the last person to agree to trade McCutchen, and he said he was convinced by the "deep, absolute conviction by the entire baseball operations team."

He also agreed with general manager Neal Huntington's message that the Pirates did not need to engage in a full tear-down and "rebuilding" process. For the Cubs and Astros, an aggressive rebuild ended with a World Series championship. But the Pirates maintain an organizational belief that they can compete every season, even in a small market, and avoid the up-and-down cycle.

"I deeply believe that we are taking the effective steps to move us toward both a winning culture, winning talent and a winning team in Pittsburgh. That's our sole focus," Nutting said. "The way we can honor those fans' anger and concern is by performing. That's where we need to put our focus."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Dark-horse candidates vying to make roster

MLB.com @adamdberry

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates' Grapefruit League season begins on Friday, when they travel south to face the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. Before the Bucs take the field in Detroit on Opening Day, Pittsburgh's front office has a handful of decisions to make.

The rotation is seemingly set: Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove. The lineup is pretty well set, too, assuming new acquisition Corey Dickerson starts in left field and Josh Harrison isn't traded. That also bolsters the bench, which now includes infielder David Freese, catcher Elias Diaz and super-utility men Sean Rodriguez and Adam Frazier. In the bullpen, lock in Felipe Rivero and George Kontos.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates' Grapefruit League season begins on Friday, when they travel south to face the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. Before the Bucs take the field in Detroit on Opening Day, Pittsburgh's front office has a handful of decisions to make.

The rotation is seemingly set: Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove. The lineup is pretty well set, too, assuming new acquisition Corey Dickerson starts in left field and Josh Harrison isn't traded. That also bolsters the bench, which now includes infielder David Freese, catcher Elias Diaz and super-utility men Sean Rodriguez and Adam Frazier. In the bullpen, lock in Felipe Rivero and George Kontos.

Pirates acquire All-Star OF Dickerson from Rays

Beyond that, the competition is on. The last bench spot could go to one of the outfielders in camp, or perhaps they'll make room for infielder Max Moroff and use Frazier and Rodriguez in the outfield more frequently. They have about two bullpens' worth of relief options, some of them more experienced than others, and trading Daniel Hudson for Dickerson created yet another opening.

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

Before the games begin, let's take a look at a few dark-horse candidates to make the Opening Day roster.

Jordan Luplow Luplow wasn't so much a dark-horse candidate as he was an obvious pick two weeks ago. Since then, the Pirates have acquired Dickerson, signed veteran outfielders Daniel Nava and Michael Saunders to Minor League contracts and traded for Bryce Brentz, a right-handed-hitting corner outfielder with some pop and no Minor League options remaining.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

The Pirates have said Luplow, 24, could benefit from more time in Triple-A after making his Major League debut last season. Without a starting job available, it seems likely they will send him to Indianapolis to receive regular at-bats. But if he shows he's ready to carry last year's Minor League success into the Majors, perhaps he could earn a spot over the more experienced Nava, Saunders and Brentz. If so, he could back up the pair of left-handed-hitting outfielders manning the corner spots.

Jordan Milbrath: Milbrath is a Rule 5 Draft pick, so the Pirates have to put him on the Opening Day roster or run him through waivers, then offer him back to the Indians. (They also could work out a trade with Cleveland to acquire his full rights, allowing them to option him without consequence.)

But what if Milbrath shows his sidearm delivery and high-octane fastball will produce uncomfortable at-bats and outrageous ground-ball numbers like they did in the Minors last season? In that case, the Bucs would have an interesting reliever on their hands.

It's a challenge to keep a Rule 5 Draft pick in the Majors all season, however. And the Pirates have plenty of worthy pitchers who merit a look in the bullpen, including new acquisitions Michael Feliz and Kyle Crick and starters Tyler Glasnow and Steven Brault.

Video: Berry on Smoker's chances to make Pirates' bullpen

Josh Smoker: The Pirates clearly liked Smoker enough to acquire him from the Mets. He's a hard-throwing lefty with MLB experience and strikeout stuff, but he'll have to show improved command and cut down on home runs, while remaining flexible enough to pitch in a multi-inning role, if necessary.

It seems more likely the Pirates will make Brault their second lefty reliever out of camp. Smoker has options remaining, so he could be sent down. But what if Brault cracks the rotation or they decide to carry three lefties? Smoker could be the answer.

A.J. Schugel: It's probably not fair to characterize Schugel as a dark horse, but he often feels like the forgotten man in the Pirates' bullpen. That perception isn't entirely fair, as the right-hander owns a 3.00 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP and 73 strikeouts in 84 innings over 68 appearances for Pittsburgh over the past two seasons.

He does a lot of things the Pirates like. He has MLB experience, can pitch multiple innings, has shown the ability to induce ground-ball outs in tight jams and throws a nasty changeup.

Schugel is also out of options, so the Pirates would risk losing him if they tried to sneak him through waivers. But for Schugel to make the roster, the Pirates would have to prioritize keeping him over giving work to younger pitchers like Crick, Feliz, Brault, Glasnow, Milbrath, Dovydas Neverauskas and Edgar Santana. They are probably better equipped to retain him and find spots for those young arms, however, given the vacancy created by Hudson's departure.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates

'Clean slate' for Crick as he begins Bucs' tenure

Acquired from SF in Cutch trade, righty may serve as Rivero's setup man
MLB.com @adamdberry

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Four years ago, 21-year-old Kyle Crick reported to his first big league Spring Training camp with the Giants. Beside him, in the neighboring locker: George Kontos.

A few weeks ago, 25-year-old Crick reported to his first Spring Training camp with the Pirates. Beside him, in the neighboring locker: Kontos.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Four years ago, 21-year-old Kyle Crick reported to his first big league Spring Training camp with the Giants. Beside him, in the neighboring locker: George Kontos.

A few weeks ago, 25-year-old Crick reported to his first Spring Training camp with the Pirates. Beside him, in the neighboring locker: Kontos.

Pirates Spring Training information

"Not much has changed," Crick said, smiling.

Well, much has changed. The right-hander is no longer a highly touted starting-pitching prospect. He's a hard-throwing reliever with 30 games of Major League experience. And as part of Pittsburgh's return for Andrew McCutchen, Crick has made the change from black and orange to black and gold.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

The news came as a surprise at first, Crick said. After working out on the morning of Jan. 15, he noticed a missed call from Giants general manager Bobby Evans. They'd spoken the week before, so that struck him as odd. When Crick called back, Evans said he was deep into trade talks with the Pirates and Crick was involved.

Evans didn't initially say who was on the other side of the deal, though. That news was also a surprise.

"I think if there's someone you want to be traded for, it's probably Cutch," Crick said. "I was excited. I'm sure [outfield prospect Bryan] Reynolds was as well, just to be in the same talks as Cutch. As soon as I found out it was for Cutch, it was all good from there.

"It's a great atmosphere here. It's a lot of young dudes. It's a lot of youth. That's good, man. Everyone's got high energy. Everyone's strong. That's nice."

Now, Crick can crack Pittsburgh's Opening Day bullpen. The Pirates view him as a potential setup man for closer Felipe Rivero, but it's possible he could begin the season as a more versatile reliever capable of pitching multiple innings.

Video: LAD@SF: Crick whiffs Puig to end the top of the 5th

"Kyle's got an explosive fastball. The breaking ball can gets swings and misses. So there's two weapons to work out of a Major League bullpen," GM Neal Huntington said. "Build on the success that he had a year ago, come in here and compete to make our club."

Crick's path to this point wasn't entirely linear, as he struggled with his command and stalled out for three years at Double-A Richmond. Five years after the Giants made him the 49th overall pick in the 2011 Draft, Crick's confidence was shaken.

Last spring, Crick entered camp as a full-time reliever and heard from Evans that he had a legitimate chance to help the Giants' bullpen. He finally moved up to Triple-A, where he totaled 39 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings and averaged a career-best four walks per nine innings. His confidence returned.

"Baseball was more fun in Triple-A because I was out of Double-A, finally," he said. "I was out of the hole."

The Giants called up Crick in late June and never sent him back down. He trusted his stuff on the mound -- including a fastball that averaged 95.5 mph, according to Statcast™ -- and Buster Posey behind the plate. Overall, Crick posted a 3.06 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 32 1/3 innings over 30 appearances.

But with an opportunity to take on a greater role in the bullpen, Crick is welcoming the change of scenery.

"It's a clean slate. I think that'll be nice," Crick said. "Nobody knows anyone's history here. Nobody knows what I did in High [Class] A or Double-A or my '16 struggles. That's fine. All that's in the past, anyway. Just kind of building for the present and future now."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Kyle Crick

Bucs bonding at 'breakfast club'

Pirates pitchers get together every morning to eat, talk
MLB.com @adamdberry

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Every morning, a row of lockers in the Pirate City clubhouse stands unoccupied. Then all at once into the room walk Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, Tyler Glasnow and a handful of other pitchers. It's not a coincidence of timing.

"That's on purpose. We're doing a little breakfast club every morning," Taillon said. "We just sit down and eat breakfast together."

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Every morning, a row of lockers in the Pirate City clubhouse stands unoccupied. Then all at once into the room walk Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, Tyler Glasnow and a handful of other pitchers. It's not a coincidence of timing.

"That's on purpose. We're doing a little breakfast club every morning," Taillon said. "We just sit down and eat breakfast together."

It's an inclusive group -- everyone's invited -- but most of the usual members are young starters. It's nothing complicated, nothing too secretive. They just eat -- and talk -- for about 30 or 45 minutes each morning.

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They'll chat about whatever is on their minds, and with nearly everyone involved between 24 and 26 years old, they have plenty in common. It might be movies -- most recently "Black Panther" -- or whatever Brault and Williams have planned for their podcast. The conversation often turns to their experiences in baseball, shared or otherwise. Most of them have either recently established themselves in the Majors or hope to do so this year.

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Without Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, the Pirates are building around more experienced players like Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Josh Harrison and Francisco Cervelli. But the key to their success may be the development of their young core, particularly the pitching staff.

"We're all ready to take a step together," Taillon said. "We all get along, genuinely enjoy each other's company. We like to push each other, talking baseball. There's a cool energy here.

"We're taking more ownership in our careers and pushing each other. There's a different sort of energy, at least with the younger guys now, kind of stepping up and maybe taking the spotlight a bit because we have to."

Video: Outlook: Taillon could break out with better fortune

A friend in the Cardinals system told Williams that Adam Wainwright often gathers St. Louis' pitchers together in the morning during Spring Training so that they can spend the entire day together as one unit. It's not an easy task with so many players operating on different schedules, but the Pirates have tried to find ways to work together as often as possible.

On Tuesday morning, Williams stopped by his locker after working out in the gym with other pitchers. Ivan Nova, the veteran of the group at 31, has been running outside with his fellow starters this spring. And then there's the breakfast club, which most often consists of Taillon, Musgrove, Brault, Williams, Kuhl, Glasnow, Clay Holmes, Nick Kingham and A.J. Schugel.

"We're not having profound conversations, like, 'Joe, what did you do on a 2-2 pitch in Game 6 of the World Series?'" Williams said, referring to Musgrove's postseason experience with the Astros. "We talk about stuff like that, but we're just talking and hanging out and building relationships."

Video: Brault, Williams show flair as podcast hosts

Manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage often say they can't effectively coach if trust hasn't been established on both sides. The same statement applies within the clubhouse as players, some of them competing for the same jobs, praise and constructively criticize each other.

"It's the whole iron-sharpens-iron thing. That's what we're trying to emulate," Williams said. "When we have that collective, cohesive group that is sharpening each other, we need to be able to trust each other and be real."

And that process begins each morning in the Pirate City cafeteria.

"That all starts out with a relationship. You become friends, then you can dive into that stuff," Taillon said. "I would take criticism a lot better from someone I've eaten breakfast with. I know it's coming from a good place. They have my trust."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams

Pirates nab Brentz from Red Sox for cash

Outfielder slugged 31 home runs in Triple-A in 2017
MLB.com @adamdberry

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates added another player to their outfield competition on Tuesday afternoon by acquiring Bryce Brentz from the Red Sox.

Pittsburgh traded cash to Boston for Brentz, a 29-year-old who hit 31 home runs for Triple-A Pawtucket last season. Brentz made his Major League debut for the Red Sox against the Pirates in 2014 -- his first hit was a double off Francisco Liriano -- and played 25 games in '16, posting an overall .287/.311/.379 line with one homer in 90 career MLB plate appearances.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates added another player to their outfield competition on Tuesday afternoon by acquiring Bryce Brentz from the Red Sox.

Pittsburgh traded cash to Boston for Brentz, a 29-year-old who hit 31 home runs for Triple-A Pawtucket last season. Brentz made his Major League debut for the Red Sox against the Pirates in 2014 -- his first hit was a double off Francisco Liriano -- and played 25 games in '16, posting an overall .287/.311/.379 line with one homer in 90 career MLB plate appearances.

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Brentz spent all of last season in Triple-A, where he slashed .271/.334/.529 while setting a career high in homers and driving in 85 runs. He recently became expendable for the Red Sox, who needed to clear a 40-man roster spot to fit free-agent signing J.D. Martinez.

Brentz, a first-round Draft pick in 2010, was out of options last spring and didn't make the Red Sox's Opening Day roster, but Boston was able to designate him for assignment and keep him in the Minors when he went unclaimed. Before the Red Sox agreed to a deal with Martinez, Brentz figured to make the roster as a reserve outfielder.

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It's unclear what role Brentz might serve for Pittsburgh, if he makes the Opening Day roster, but as a right-handed hitter who has played left and right field, he could share time with the lefty-swinging Adam Frazier in left or back up Gregory Polanco in right. Brentz posted a .279/.380/.577 line against left-handers in Triple-A last season.

"We felt he made some strides last year, particularly when it comes to left-handed pitching," Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said in November.

To make room for Brentz on the 40-man roster, the Pirates placed rehabbing Rule 5 Draft pick Nick Burdi (Tommy John surgery) on the 60-day disabled list.

Around the horn
??? Outfielder Daniel Nava was held out of Tuesday's workout due to lower back discomfort, the Pirates announced. He is being treated and evaluated by the club's training staff. Nava, who turns 35 on Thursday, missed time during the second half of last season while recovering from a lower back strain. A non-roster invitee, Nava has been viewed as a favorite to lock down a reserve role on the Opening Day roster.

??? Right-hander Daniel Hudson (sprained right ankle) pitched in the bullpen during Tuesday's workout after missing each of his scheduled throwing sessions last week. He worked alongside non-roster right-hander Bo Schultz, who is less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery.

??? Manager Clint Hurdle said there has been "no decision made" regarding where outfielder Jordan Luplow will start the season, but the 24-year-old will have a chance to secure a spot on the Opening Day roster after making his Major League debut last season.

"The opportunity [for Luplow] to make the club in Spring Training is real," Hurdle said. "Depending on the personnel we have here, if it doesn't happen, there will be an opportunity to gain more at-bats. ??? We saw some consistent development at every level."

Luplow began last year in Minor League camp and stormed through Double-A and Triple-A, slashing a combined .302/.381/.527 with 23 home runs in 470 plate appearances. Given his success and the Pirates' dearth of outfielders, Luplow was called up in late July of 2017 and again in late August. He hit just .205 with a .660 OPS for Pittsburgh at the Major League level last season.

Luplow, also a right-handed hitter, could be the player most directly affected by the acquisition of Brentz, if the newly acquired outfielder winds up breaking camp with the Pirates.

??? After Tuesday's workout, Pirates Charities hosted a Miracle League Fantasy Camp for children with special needs at the Miracle League of Manasota Field. Among those in attendance: Pirates chairman Bob Nutting, team president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington, front-office staff, coaches and players. The Pirates donated $22,000 last year through the Pirates Charities Miracle League initiative to assist with the resurfacing of the Manasota field.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Bryce Brentz

Musgrove says shoulder discomfort is minor

Bucs being cautious with righty after World Series run with Astros
MLB.com @adamdberry

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates right-hander Joe Musgrove did not throw his scheduled live batting practice session on Sunday due to right shoulder discomfort, but he believes it is only a minor issue.

Musgrove said he felt his shoulder "acting up" while warming up in the bullpen on Sunday, then cut short his throwing for the day. The Pirates updated his status on Monday and said the training staff "will continue to evaluate and treat Joe to determine his status."

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates right-hander Joe Musgrove did not throw his scheduled live batting practice session on Sunday due to right shoulder discomfort, but he believes it is only a minor issue.

Musgrove said he felt his shoulder "acting up" while warming up in the bullpen on Sunday, then cut short his throwing for the day. The Pirates updated his status on Monday and said the training staff "will continue to evaluate and treat Joe to determine his status."

"I probably could have stuck it out and gutted through [Sunday], but it's Feb. 19," Musgrove said on Monday morning. "What's the point of doing that? This is nothing more than just a little precautionary rest."

Musgrove said he could throw when his next turn to do so presents itself this week. Before Spring Training began, Musgrove said, team trainers advised they will be cautious with him following the Astros' run to the World Series and the resulting shorter-than-usual offseason.

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"With me playing later into the year last year and that being my first experience playing that late, that was also my first time going through an offseason that short and trying to gauge when to get fired back up again and how to go about the rest process," Musgrove said. "Coming into camp, they said, 'If there's any issues that pop up, please let us know.'"

Musgrove, 25, spent a little more than two weeks on the disabled list last season due to right shoulder discomfort. He stressed that this soreness was not serious, however, noting that he still has full range of motion and that it could just be the initial impact of Spring Training's every-other-day bullpen sessions catching up to him.

"There's no need to push it this early on," Musgrove said. "I don't see it being anything that's going to keep me off the field very long."

Tweet from @adamdberry: Joe Musgrove, Steven Brault, AJ Schugel and Jameson Taillon in the bullpen pic.twitter.com/8yzZ171CJp

Line 'em up
Manager Clint Hurdle, the coaching staff and the analytics team have been sketching out potential lineups in advance of Friday's Grapefruit League opener against the Rays. Previously, Hurdle has pointed to the preferred model in which a team's best hitters bat second and fourth, with high on-base percentage hitters in the No. 1 and No. 3 spots.

It seems likely the Pirates will try a variety of different looks in Spring Training, especially as they shuffle their veterans in and out of the lineup and look to replace Andrew McCutchen in the middle of the order. They must also find the ideal spots for Adam Frazier (a potential leadoff man if he starts in left field), Starling Marte (who hit leadoff, second and sixth last season) and Josh Harrison (who started everywhere but the cleanup spot last year).

First baseman Josh Bell started a team-high 72 games in the No. 4 hole last season. Will he remain there or move up to McCutchen's former No. 3 spot?

"Stability in the middle of your lineup is something you look for," Hurdle said. "He'll be hitting in a productive situation in the lineup. Fourth is a possibility. He handled it very, very well for a first-year guy."

Video: Hurdle on Bell batting cleaup, stabilizing lineup

Around the horn
• General manager Neal Huntington reiterated on Monday that Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow are "absolutely" options for the Opening Day bullpen if they don't crack the rotation. Currently, the Pirates have Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams and Musgrove penciled in as their five starters.

Daniel Nava, a veteran in camp on a Minor League contract, worked alongside Bell at first base during Monday's early defensive drills. Nava is a more experienced corner outfielder and likely will be the Bucs' fourth outfielder if he makes the roster, but he also has played 53 games at first in the Majors.

• While David Freese and Colin Moran worked at third base on Field 1 during defensive drills, Jose Osuna lined up there along with non-roster invitee Pablo Reyes on Field 4. Osuna, primarily a first baseman/corner outfielder, played third base over the winter and will continue to work there this spring.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Joe Musgrove

Bucs 'in this together with one vision, one goal'

MLB.com @adamdberry

BRADENTON, Fla. -- After a few days dominated by discussion of the past two years and last month's trades, the Pirates officially moved forward with their first full-squad workout of Spring Training on a warm Monday morning at the Pirate City complex.

Before the players and coaches took the field, however, they met with chairman Bob Nutting and manager Clint Hurdle. Although this spring is the beginning of what Hurdle has called a "new era" for the Bucs, Nutting's annual address hit on a number of familiar themes.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- After a few days dominated by discussion of the past two years and last month's trades, the Pirates officially moved forward with their first full-squad workout of Spring Training on a warm Monday morning at the Pirate City complex.

Before the players and coaches took the field, however, they met with chairman Bob Nutting and manager Clint Hurdle. Although this spring is the beginning of what Hurdle has called a "new era" for the Bucs, Nutting's annual address hit on a number of familiar themes.

Top 30 Bucs prospects

"Bob's message to the team was, in my hearing, similar to the message he's given in the past: 'We're here to win,'" general manager Neal Huntington said. "We're here to bring World Series championship No. 6 back to Pittsburgh. We're here to help these guys be great. We're here to help provide them with resources and help them do their jobs to the very best of their ability. We're all in this thing together with one vision, one goal."

On Friday, David Freese questioned the fire in the Pirates clubhouse's -- the "demand to win," as he put it -- over the past two years. On Sunday, Josh Harrison reiterated his desire to be traded if Pittsburgh won't contend over the next two seasons. On Monday, they both took the field along with the other 62 players in camp.

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"If this is the club we choose our 25 to head north from, we believe in this group," Huntington said. "We believe in our options around the diamond. We believe in our depth. That doesn't ever stop us from looking to get better."

Before live batting practice, which pits the Pirates' hitters against their pitchers, there was baserunning practice with guidance from coach Kimera Bartee. Hurdle pointed to the Bucs' baserunning as an "area of angst" last season and, thus, an aspect of their game they'll aim to improve this year.

"We need to be smart. We need to be aggressive," Hurdle said. "Unpredictability would help us a lot this year in everything we do."

Then they split up for defensive drills. On Field 1, the infield was a window into the Pirates' present and future. Freese and new acquisition Colin Moran at third base. Jordy Mercer and No. 7 prospect Cole Tucker at shortstop. Harrison and No. 11 prospect Kevin Kramer at second. Josh Bell and veteran Daniel Nava at first.

Tweet from @Pirates: Hey, @cotuck 👋 pic.twitter.com/jvaaoeSukh

In the outfield: Gregory Polanco in right and Starling Marte in center, with Adam Frazier and Jordan Luplow together in left. It's not advisable to read too much into where players line up on the first day of full, organized workouts. But Frazier and Luplow could be part of the Pirates' solution in left field this season -- at least, perhaps, until prospect Austin Meadows is ready.

Meadows manned left over on Field 4, where he was joined by a pair of outfield prospects -- Jason Martin and Bryan Reynolds -- acquired in the Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen trades. Those were the moves that defined Pittsburgh's offseason, marked the transition from one era to the next and sparked conversation in the clubhouse about the team's direction.

Tweet from @Pirates: Early morning cage work. pic.twitter.com/KBdjTMXLn5

As the Pirates move forward, there will be more questions with further discussion about what went wrong the past two seasons and how they can fix it. But the Pirates are optimistic about the squad they saw together for the first time on Monday morning.

"We think we've got depth. We think we've got upside with young players," Huntington said. "We think we've got some veterans that are capable of bounce-back [seasons]. ... Now, we need to go make it happen."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

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