The Pirates on Monday announced the plans for their alternate training site, where their Minor Leaguers will work while their season is on hold until May.
The club will utilize Heinz Field, home of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, as its clubhouse during the month of April. When the Pirates are on the road, PNC Park will be the workout site, while Charles L. Cost Field on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh will be used when the big league club is at home.
“The Pirates organization is extremely thankful to both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh for allowing our players and staff to use their first-class facilities during the first month of the season,” general manager Ben Cherington said in a statement. “It is a great example of the unique bond each of the professional teams and Pitt share with each other, and part of what makes Pittsburgh such a special place.”
Cherington said the move will allow for quicker movement for roster changes between the alternate site and the big league club, and it gives the Pirates an upgrade in facilities for their Minor Leaguers.
“Especially not knowing if the alt site is going to extend past April, we wanted to keep it in Pittsburgh, if we could,” Cherington said.
Last season, the Pirates used Peoples Natural Gas Field, the home of Double-A affiliate Altoona Curve, as their alternate training site. Cherington said the change in location has nothing to do with Altoona; in fact, he said the move allows the operations staff at Altoona to prepare the ballpark for what they hope will be a return to action in May.
The Pirates made a series of roster cuts Monday with big implications for the Opening Day roster, which they plan to announce in the coming 24 hours, per Cherington.
Before Monday’s 5-3 loss to the Twins, right-handed reliever Geoff Hartlieb was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis, while outfielder Brian Goodwin, infielder Wilmer Difo and right-hander Steven Wright were reassigned to Minor League camp. The latter three are MLB veterans, but they were on Minor League contracts.
Goodwin was one of the key players in the competition for the starting job in center field, as well as the fourth outfielder role. Anthony Alford, who sustained a right elbow fracture last season, was seen as the leading candidate to start in center, and this move signals that will be the case.
When Dustin Fowler was acquired from the A’s for cash considerations during the first week of spring games, it made the path forward more difficult for Goodwin. Fowler is out of options, so a decision to send him to Triple-A would require a trip through the waiver wire. So despite Goodwin (.688 OPS in 14 games) outpacing Fowler (.531 OPS in 12 games) at the plate, the Pirates opted for the former Top 100 prospect.
Shreve’s reassignment signals that Sam Howard, who recorded a 2.45 ERA in camp, will likely crack the roster as the Pirates’ left-handed option. De Jong, who has made five spring appearances (three starts), will likely be one of the first options up to provide bulk appearances. He allowed just three runs in 14 1/3 innings.
Shelton also confirmed that Michael Perez would be the Pirates’ backup catcher behind Jacob Stallings. Whether that means Tony Wolters will start the year on the roster, on the taxi squad or at the alternate site is yet to be seen.
The news on Brault came as no surprise, as director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said on Wednesday that the left-hander would not throw for a month and it would be “at best” 10 weeks before he sees game action.
Ponce’s situation had been much less clear until Monday. Cherington said that early in March, Ponce threw an outing on the back fields, and the right-hander said something “just didn’t feel right” in his forearm. The Pirates chose to take an abundance of caution with Ponce, who has stayed active but is not throwing off a mound yet.
“He’s been throwing -- he never stopped throwing -- but we've been going slow,” Cherington said. “He’s been off the mound. He threw another side today. But he's not ready for the season.”
The Pirates will close out their Grapefruit League slate with another game against the Twins on Tuesday, when JT Brubaker will make his final start of the spring. Steven Wright and Sean Poppen are also listed on Pittsburgh’s slated pitching order, and Matt Shoemaker will pitch for Minnesota. The action at Hammond Stadium will kick off at 12:05 p.m. ET, and the action will be shown live via a webcast on Pirates.com.