By David Finoli
I know, I know. Spring training hasn’t even begun and we’re talking about the 25-man roster on opening day. While it’s true there will be many factors that will determine this such as injuries, those who are hot in Florida, and those who aren’t, I am going to pull out my crystal ball and take a shot at who I think that first 25-man roster will be.
First off, will there be any prospects that will be in Pittsburgh come the first week in April? On the first go through, other than Bae, my answer will be no. Below are the names on my anticipated list:
UT-Ji Hwan Bae
SU-Chase De Jong
On the 12-man bench, there aren’t many other options early on that could take a spot on the roster. Chris Owings was signed as a free agent in January and struggled last season with the Orioles. He is a non-roster invitee to Bradenton and, with a great spring, might be a possibility. Sure, there are rumors of Reynolds being traded but unless someone bowls them over with an offer, I don’t see that happening. Canaan Smith-Njigba or Tucupita Marcano could be options if he does get traded, not great options but options, nonetheless. Travis Swaggerty, the former first round pick, would also be a possibility but he has had a disappointing career to this point and might just be out of the plans for the future.
The starting rotation seems set with Contreras and Keller interchangeable at the top of the rotation and Brubaker and Hill at the three spots. Velasquez is not a sure thing at number five and Oviedo could be a possibility. With an exceptional spring this is where a prospect could possibly sneak in with Luis Ortiz, who was impressive in his short stint with the Bucs last season. More than likely though he will begin the season with Indianapolis to work on his control.
In the pen, Stephenson, Garcia or Underwood could sneak into the set-up roll, but I liked what I saw with De Jong last season and project him with Crowe in that roll behind Bednar. Yerry De Los Santos is a possibility in middle relief, but I like Oviedo which gives Pittsburgh another option in the starting rotation should they need it. Hernandez is the rule five pick out of the Dodger organization. The Bucs like his potential and will keep him on the roster rather than offer him back to LA.
What rookies might be on the way first to lead the Pirates into the future? If Endy Rodriguez can keep up his impressive play early on with the Indians, he could be first. Hedges and Plawecki are not top-level catchers, with Hedges being particularly poor offensively as a career .189 hitter and Rodriguez could be a huge step up here, at least on the offensive side.
Ortiz could be another that might be an early call up. His fastball is eyepopping, hitting triple digits at times, that his mixes with a fabulous slider. As I said earlier Pittsburgh would want him to work on his control first. He gave up 19 homers in 114 innings during his time in Altoona, not exactly a hitter’s park, so that is something that needs to be addressed.
If there is another prospect that might get an opportunity early on it would be Liover Peguero. He is aggressive at the plate and struck out 111 times with only a 5.6% walk rate and has been inconsistent in the field. The team really likes his skills both offensively and on defense and if he shows he’s learned to hit off-speed pitches and can be more patient he might be a step up over Bae or Joe.
Note: Next up, I will project what prospects will end up at what level.