BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates have plenty of decisions to make this spring.Who's the shortstop? Is Jordan Lyles the fifth starter? Will the Pirates put two or three catchers on their Opening Day roster? How many pitchers do they want in their bullpen, and which ones can solidify the middle-relief
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates have plenty of decisions to make this spring.
Who's the shortstop? Is Jordan Lyles the fifth starter? Will the Pirates put two or three catchers on their Opening Day roster? How many pitchers do they want in their bullpen, and which ones can solidify the middle-relief group? How will they round out the bench? And what does Pittsburgh have in third baseman Jung Ho Kang?
The Pirates signed Kang because they believe he can make an impact despite missing most of the last two years. He should be on the Bucs' Opening Day roster for the first time since 2015. Who else might join him? Let's make a prediction before Spring Training gets started.
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Catcher (2):Francisco Cervelli, Elias Díaz
The debate here is whether the Pirates also should carry out-of-options catcher Jacob Stallings. If they do, they'll limit their flexibility on the bench. If they try to send Stallings down, they risk losing him on waivers -- and they don't have much Major League-ready depth behind him. For now, we'll tentatively say they stick with two catchers and find a way to keep Stallings in Triple-A.
First base (1): Josh Bell
The question is not whether the job belongs to him -- it does -- but if he can take a step forward.
Second base (1): Adam Frazier
No drama here, either. Frazier, a super-utility man who played his way into a regular role, will replace Josh Harrison, also a former super-utility man who played his way into a regular role.
Third base (2): Colin Moran, Kang
It's unclear how their playing time will be split, so this is definitely a position to watch this spring. Can Kang return to his 2015-16 form? Will Moran show more power at the plate and a quicker first step on defense?
Shortstop (2): Erik González, Kevin Newman
This might be the most scrutinized position in camp due to the Pirates' inactivity during the offseason. They seem to be confident in Gonzalez, particularly his defense, but maybe the rookie Newman can play well enough to earn the starting job.
Outfield (3): Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, Lonnie Chisenhall
The only questions here are about health. How will Chisenhall hold up after two years of injuries? And how soon will Gregory Polanco be ready to return to right field? They have added depth options on Minor League deals, most notably Melky Cabrera, who could earn an Opening Day job as a fourth outfielder.
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Utility (1): Pablo Reyes
The Pirates could go in a number of different directions here. The position may not exist if they carry Stallings as a third catcher or someone like Cabrera as a fourth outfielder. Kevin Kramer could get the nod due to his left-handed bat and ability to play three infield spots. José Osuna offers right-handed power potential and another corner infield/outfield option. Perhaps non-roster invitee Nick Franklin will earn a spot due to his experience and versatility.
But for now, we'll go with Reyes. The undersized super-utility man showed his upside last September, hitting better than expected while playing multiple positions. This roster prediction is working with a four-man bench, making Reyes' flexibility necessary. He can handle the outfield, perhaps as an occasional platoon option in right field, and back up at shortstop in an emergency.
Starting pitcher (5): Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove, Lyles
The first four spots aren't in question, unless there's an injury. The Pirates have pretty strongly indicated that Lyles has the inside track for the fifth spot, ahead of Nick Kingham and Steven Brault.
Relief pitcher (8): Felipe Vázquez, Keone Kela, Kyle Crick, Richard Rodríguez, Kingham, Francisco Liriano, Tyler Lyons, Nick Burdi
The Pirates haven't said if they're leaning toward a seven- or eight-man bullpen, but let's assume -- for now -- that they'll break camp with eight relievers like they did last year. The first four are easy. Kingham has an advantage because he's out of Minor League options, and there's precedent for a fifth-starter candidate (or two) to land in the bullpen.
Liriano has experience, great numbers against left-handers and opt-out clauses that might encourage the Pirates to give him a spot on the Opening Day roster. Lyons was promised a legitimate opportunity to make the Major League roster, and we'll say he gets a chance to prove himself in the big leagues again if everything goes well this spring.
Burdi must remain on the roster for the first 60 days of the season to shed his Rule 5 Draft restrictions, then he can be optioned to Triple-A. The Pirates have stuck with him for more than a year, so they might as well see how his power stuff plays in the big leagues.
Even an eight-man bullpen excludes a number of interesting arms. Right-hander Brandon Maurer has good stuff and plenty of big league experience. Brault stands to be affected the most by Pittsburgh's non-roster pickups if he doesn't make the rotation. Right-hander Michael Feliz was an Opening Day setup man last year, and righty Dovydas Neverauskas also broke camp in the bullpen in 2018.
So, in shorter form, what would that team look like?
Jung Ho Kang
Gregory Polanco (return TBD)
Chad Kuhl (Tommy John surgery, will return in 2020)
Edgar Santana (Tommy John surgery, will return in 2020
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.