PITTSBURGH -- On the first day of Summer Camp workouts, Pirates manager Derek Shelton said the buzzword of camp would be “adjustments.” That might as well apply to the Bucs' roster management this season, too.
The Pirates announced their Opening Day roster on Thursday after adjusting to injuries and players testing positive for COVID-19 throughout the last three weeks of workouts. There were not many major surprises, in part because the Bucs only had 31 active and healthy players on their PNC Park Summer Camp roster heading into Wednesday’s 5-3 exhibition loss to Cleveland.
Officially, the Pirates selected the contracts of utility man Phillip Evans , starter Derek Holland and reliever Nik Turley while recalling right-hander JT Brubaker, outfielder Jason Martin and shortstop/outfielder Cole Tucker. The addition of Martin was somewhat unexpected because he was initially assigned to the club’s alternate training site, but Pittsburgh needs another outfielder while Gregory Polanco is unavailable.
The club also placed utility man JT Riddle on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Monday, with a strained right abdomen. Catcher Luke Maile, who underwent season-ending surgery last week, was placed on the 45-day injured list with a fractured right index finger.
To provide emergency depth behind the plate, the Bucs added catcher Andrew Susac to the taxi squad for their season-opening series in St. Louis.
The Pirates’ roster will change over time. The club will likely get Polanco back relatively early in the season, as he posted on Instagram on Wednesday that he tested negative for COVID-19 a week after testing positive. The Bucs should get closer Keone Kela back at some point, too, as he’s tested positive over the last month.
In two weeks, Pittsburgh will have to trim this roster down to 28 players. Two weeks after that, the club will send two more players to its alternate training site in Altoona, Pa.
“It’s been fun to work through it with Shelty, our coaches and the rest of the baseball operations group because we're talking about baseball when we're talking about roster decisions,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “And in the last few months, there's been a lot of time where we haven't necessarily been talking about baseball. So we welcome those conversations.”
Here’s a look at the roster heading to Busch Stadium on Friday.
The Pirates' plans at catcher got thrown a last-minute curveball with the news that Maile will be out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured right index finger last week.
That bumped Murphy one spot up the depth chart as the first backup, with Susac likely to be on every road trip as part of the three-man taxi squad. The only other catcher in their secondary camp is Christian Kelley.
First base: Josh Bell
The only question is how many games Bell will start here and how many he will start as the designated hitter, opening the door for Colin Moran or José Osuna at first base.
Second base: Adam Frazier
The 2019 Gold Glove Award finalist is going to play a lot at second and spend a little time as the DH. He’ll have backups from the group of utility infielders, but the '19 team leader in games played won’t be out of the lineup often.
Shortstop: Kevin Newman
He’s clearly the starting shortstop and almost certainly the everyday leadoff hitter. He earned both titles last year.
Third base: Colin Moran
Whatever chance prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes had of jumping into the Opening Day lineup evaporated with his extended absence from camp following a positive COVID-19 test. The Pirates seemingly intend to move forward with Moran as their primary third baseman, though he’ll also bounce over to first base when Bell is the DH, and he’ll rotate through the DH spot himself. That opens the door for a handful of utility players, including Osuna and Erik González, to spend time at third this year.
What happens while Polanco is sidelined by the coronavirus? We’ll see. Cherington said the Pirates “certainly hope and expect Polanco is back sooner rather than later,” but he couldn’t provide a timeline for his return.
In the meantime, Heredia might become the starting right fielder. Cole Tucker started there on Wednesday night, and the Bucs are clearly looking for ways to get the former first-round Draft pick in their lineup.
Most likely, the Pirates will mix and match in right field while keeping Reynolds and Dyson in left and center, respectively. Heredia could also see time in center, particularly against left-handed pitchers. Over the last few days, utility players like Phillip Evans, Tucker and Osuna have worked out in right field. Martin seems like more of a speed-and-defense option off the bench who will likely return to Altoona when Polanco returns, and the Bucs chose to carry Martin -- who was already on their 40-man roster -- rather than non-roster invitee Socrates Brito.
Riddle’s injury allowed all four of these players to break camp on the roster.
Osuna can play first, third, left, right and DH. González has moved around second, third and shortstop. Tucker can play up the middle and in the outfield.
Evans can play all around the infield, and he’s bounced out to right field in intrasquad games. He hit well in Spring Training and Summer Camp, and the Pirates seem to love the defensive versatility he provides.
“From both a team and individual development perspective, I would say versatility is and will continue to be important,” Cherington said.
Musgrove will start on Opening Day, followed by Williams and Keller. Holland will start one of the Bucs’ first two home games, while Brault and Kuhl are set to create a tandem-starter duo to fill the last spot in the rotation. That fifth spot could evolve as the season goes on.
Kela is undoubtedly Pittsburgh’s closer and top reliever, and his indefinite absence creates a lot of questions in the bullpen.
Crick, Rodríguez and Feliz will work in high-leverage roles. Everyone in camp is excited about what they’ve seen from Burdi. Stratton will likely serve in a variety of roles. The Bucs believe their new pitching strategy will unlock the potential of Holmes and Neverauskas. And they’ve been confident in the veteran lefty Erlin since signing him to a Minor League deal.
Turley had a strong spring, and they needed another lefty. Brubaker adds depth, and by keeping him around, the Pirates will have an emergency starter on hand as well. His best role likely comes as stretched-out rotation depth at their alternate training site, but for now, he’s one of their best options for multi-inning relief work.
It’s worth noting that relief prospect Blake Cederlind, who tested positive for COVID-19 early in camp, was cleared to return to practice and Pittsburgh sent him to its alternate training site on Thursday. Cederlind could be part of their bullpen later this season.
Injured list: Jameson Taillon (out for season), Chris Archer (out for season), Kevin Kramer (out for season), Luke Maile (out for season), Keone Kela (COVID-19), Gregory Polanco (COVID-19), JT Riddle (10-day IL, right abdomen strain)
Restricted list: Edgar Santana (suspension)