Pirates Spring Training FAQ

February 18th, 2021

Baseball is back.

The Pirates’ pitchers and catchers reported on Wednesday, and even the rainy weather in Bradenton, Fla., couldn’t keep their spirits down.

“We’re back, and it’s baseball, and it’s something that I know I’ve been waiting for all winter long," manager Derek Shelton said.

Amid uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic and with a new direction for the club, what’s in store in this year’s edition of Spring Training? Here’s a quick FAQ to break it all down.

Given the pandemic, how is Spring Training going to be different this year?

It will certainly be unlike anything we’ve seen. Remember, we didn’t really see enhanced protocols last Spring Training, when the coronavirus was just beginning to spread in the U.S. There was normalcy, then sanitary measures and, finally, a total shutdown.

The new health and safety protocols affected the players before they took to the field, with a five-day quarantine period required upon arrival at camp. The Grapefruit League schedule was revised last week, with teams now playing in geographic pods to limit cross-state travel. Face-to-face meetings will be limited and spread out, and person-to-person interaction will be limited as well.

“This day is usually one of my favorite days of the year,” Shelton said ahead of the report date for pitchers and catchers, “because of the fact you're seeing people for the first time and you're able to give them a hug and talk to them, and now we're going to be a little bit distant and have meetings that way. So that's going to be a little bit of a challenge.”

The Pirates are allowing spectators at LECOM Park, but only at 25 percent capacity, with spring season-ticket holders having priority access.

What are the key roster/position battles to watch?

The biggest area in need of resolution is the middle infield. Adam Frazier seems to be a lock for most of the starts at second base if he isn’t traded before the spring ends. If he is, that would clear up the jam at shortstop, where Kevin Newman, Erik Gonzalez and Cole Tucker could all see time.

“Going in, it’s going to be a competition, and those three guys are going to have the opportunity,” Shelton said.

The top of the rotation is set, with some order of Steven Brault, Mitch Keller, Chad Kuhl and Tyler Anderson, who was signed to a one-year deal on Wednesday. The roles of fifth starter and next men up, however, are up for grabs. JT Brubaker (4.94 ERA) and Cody Ponce (3.18) had fine debuts in 2020, but that doesn’t mean the Pirates will shy away from giving other top prospects, such as Wil Crowe and Miguel Yajure, a look.

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The outfield doesn’t have as much of a logjam, but there are some decisions to be made there. Does Anthony Alford finally get consistent starting reps in center, or will Brian Goodwin make the team and try to re-create his numbers with the Angels?

“Gregory [Polanco] is going to get at-bats and [Bryan] Reynolds is going to get at-bats to start,” Shelton said. “From there, I think, we're going to have some healthy competition.”

When is the first Spring Training game?

The Pirates will make the short trek to Sarasota on Feb. 28 to face the Orioles at 1:05 p.m. ET.

How can I watch/listen/follow Spring Training games?

Broadcasting plans are still being finalized, but the expectation is that fans will be able to tune in for every game, either on AT&T SportsNet, on the radio or via webcast on Pirates.com.

Who are some prospects to keep an eye on in camp?

There are a lot, given the Pirates’ direction and acquisitions this offseason. Let’s look at the top “potentially here in 2021” and “for the future” options in the field and on the mound, then we’ll round out a few other options.

It’s about time for Oneil Cruz to make his first Major League splash. The No. 64 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, Cruz already shown flashes of his incredible raw power in a previous Spring Training. The 6-foot-7 shortstop will be competing for a spot in the crowded middle-infield mix, so it wouldn’t be a slight on him to send him to Triple-A to start the season.

Nick Gonzales has yet to make his pro debut, so he won’t break camp with the big league team. But the No. 43 prospect in MLB is definitely worth watching to see how his exceptional hitting ability fares against Major League and near-Major League pitching.

On the pitching side, it will be most interesting to see how Crowe performs. He was ranked the Nationals’ No. 3 prospect before he made his first three MLB starts, which did not fare well: 13 runs (11 earned) in 8 1/3 innings. After the Josh Bell trade, Crowe was ranked at No. 21 on the Pirates’ Top 30 list -- somewhat of a correction for his Major League struggles, but also for a stronger Pittsburgh system -- and he’ll have a chance to win the No. 5 spot if he can fare well this season.

However, Quinn Priester -- the No. 52 overall prospect -- is still the most intriguing pitching prospect, and this will be the first time he could face other top prospects and MLB talent. The 2019 first-rounder wowed at the alternate training site, and he’s working on a changeup that should only help his stock.

Honorable mentions: Liover Peguero, the club’s No. 5 prospect, who could be a shortstop of the future, and Cody Bolton, the No. 13 prospect, who faced his first hiccup at Double-A after rising quickly through the system.

When is Opening Day and who is the opponent?

The Pirates will travel to the North Side of Chicago to take on the Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 1. First pitch is scheduled for 2:20 p.m. ET.

Is the team planning to sell tickets to regular-season games?

The Pirates are still determining plans for admitting fans to regular-season games. Stay tuned.