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Tucker, Martin highlight Pirates' latest spring cuts

Fifth spot in rotation, starting spots on left side of infield remain up for grabs
@adamdberry
March 12, 2019

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates made another round of Spring Training roster cuts on Tuesday morning, but their toughest decisions are still ahead of them. Pittsburgh optioned shortstop Cole Tucker, outfielder Jason Martin and right-handers Jesus Liranzo and Aaron Slegers to Triple-A Indianapolis while also reassigning non-roster right-hander Alex McRae

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates made another round of Spring Training roster cuts on Tuesday morning, but their toughest decisions are still ahead of them.

Pittsburgh optioned shortstop Cole Tucker, outfielder Jason Martin and right-handers Jesus Liranzo and Aaron Slegers to Triple-A Indianapolis while also reassigning non-roster right-hander Alex McRae to Minor League camp.

This wave of moves was partially motivated by a roster deadline. Any player on the 40-man roster who is injured after this point of Spring Training must be placed on the Major League injured list, meaning they would accrue service time.

Tucker, the Pirates’ No. 5 prospect, went 7-for-18 with two homers in 12 games this spring. Last year, he turned a corner in the second half for the Double-A Altoona Curve and followed that up with an excellent Arizona Fall League season. The Bucs were pleased to see Tucker build on that this spring.

“He’s driving the ball. He’s drawing his walks. He can still steal bases, which is a weapon for him,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “Offensively, it’s continuing to dive into that power that he does have. Defensively, it’s just making the plays that he’s supposed to make. He can range. He can throw. Just refining his skills.”

Tucker was in big league camp last year, yet this spring felt different. The Pirates have a pair of shortstop options in Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman, but Tucker left LECOM Park on Tuesday knowing he might get the chance to play in Pittsburgh this season.

“Last year, it felt like I was here and I deserved to be here and it was a really cool honor that I got to be here. This year, it feels like this is where I’m supposed to be and where I feel comfortable,” Tucker said. “I definitely have more of a sense of belonging and that I can make an impact on this team this year.”

Martin also made a positive impression, showing off his power and speed as he hit .304 with a 1.043 OPS and two steals in 12 games. Martin will get a lot of playing time in center field when he returns to Triple-A, but he can also play in left.

“A lot more comfort this year, especially after being traded and [last year] being my first big league camp as well,” Martin said. “The second time around, having a year to kind of learn [from] everybody and play with a lot of these guys in Altoona and Indy, I feel a lot more comfortable this year.”

Liranzo, Slegers and McRae will be part of the Pirates’ MLB-ready pitching depth in Indianapolis.

There are now 49 active players in camp, including 17 non-roster players. Here is a quick look at a few of the biggest questions management must answer before Opening Day.

Shortstop: Who’s the starter, Gonzalez or Newman? And if it’s Gonzalez, does Newman fit on the big league roster? If Newman doesn’t crack the big league club, is Pablo Reyes the Pirates' backup shortstop? They will spend a lot of time evaluating those questions during their final two weeks in Florida.

Third base: This one is pretty straightforward. Will Jung Ho Kang or Colin Moran win the starting job?

Bench: How do those first two position battles affect the Bucs' bench? Assume that Jacob Stallings will make it as a backup catcher as long as Elias Diaz is sidelined, then add Kang or Moran to solidify another spot. That likely leaves three spots open unless they decide to carry eight relievers. Who’s the backup shortstop? Will Melky Cabrera make it as a fourth outfielder, or do they need someone who can cover center field in an emergency? Do Jose Osuna or Kevin Kramer fit? Will they be influenced by the play of non-roster outfielders JB Shuck and Patrick Kivlehan this spring?

Fifth starter: Huntington reiterated that Jordan Lyles has the “inside track” over Nick Kingham, Steven Brault and Rookie Davis. Will Lyles keep his hold on the job? How will that affect the other candidates?

Bullpen: There are a bunch of candidates most likely competing for three spots in front of Felipe Vazquez, Keone Kela, Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez. Lefties Tyler Lyons, Francisco Liriano and Brault all have a chance to make it. The Pirates prefer to see players earn a spot, not be given one, but the status of right-handers Nick Burdi (Rule 5 Draft restrictions) and Kingham (out of options) might give them an advantage.

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