Note: This article is something I've also written in each of the last two years, and while it's likely nobody really read it, it's been something I've been proud of. I've been working on this about since the new year started, so I hope whoever reads it enjoys it.
Each spring in Major League Baseball, Spring Training brings a fresh start to many players around the league. That includes a club's non-roster invitees, the players not on a 40 man roster who are invited to big league camp on a minor league contract. Here's a breakdown of each one of those players that the Pirates are bringing into camp this season. The article shows some basic information on each player, such as the jersey numbers they are wearing in camp and statistics from last season and previous seasons, and a prediction on where he will end up in 2016.
Prediction: extended spring training, then Indianapolis bullpen if all goes well. Shouldn't be more than a September call up this year.
RHP Wilfredo Boscan (69): Boscan, brought in as a non roster invitee in last year's spring training, had an impressive season with AAA Indianapolis last year as a starter, going 10-3 with a 3.07 ERA in 25 games (23 starts). A 1.38 WHIP, 0.2 HR9 and 6.1 K/9 were some impressive stats from his season, and it's likely Boscan will be ready for another season in Indianapolis. He was called up on three separate occasions in 2015, but never got to make his Major League debut.
Prediction: Indianapolis swingman. Could start some games to help limit innings of Glasnow/Taillon, or be a full time rotation candidate.
LHP Steven Brault (65): Acquired in the then widely criticized but now absolutely brilliant looking Travis Snider trade with Baltimore last winter, the lefty had a successful first season in the Pirates system, splitting his time between high-A Bradenton (13 starts, 4-1, 3.02 ERA) and AA Altoona (9-3, 2.00 ERA in 15 starts). He'll use the experience in big league camp to keep building on his progress and see if he has a future in the Pirates rotation in the coming years.
Prediction: Possibly starts the season in Indianapolis, but also could start in Altoona until someone is injured or called up from AAA. He certainly will spend significant time in Indy to target a 2017 debut.
IF Juan Diaz (77): A depth infield piece who spent part of the 2012 season in the majors with Cleveland, the 27 year old has spent the past three seasons in AAA, the most recent two with the New Orleans Zephyrs in the Miami Marlins organization. Diaz hit .272/.315/.373 with 5 home runs and 35 RBIs in 110 2015 games. 2014 was a bit better for Diaz (.278/.310/.418 with 12 homers and 63 RBIs in 131 games). He seems to be able to play any of the infield spots so the versatility could help quite a bit. It's always a good idea to have some decent depth in your organization and that's exactly what Diaz provides.
Prediction: Indianapolis bench. However, if there's ever serious thought to calling him up, there's most likely a big problem in Pittsburgh (a la the 2014 days of Morel/Nix/Martinez on the Pirate bench)
C Ed Easley (70): Basically the same situation as Diaz, except just a catcher instead of an infielder. The former first round pick, the 30 year old has spent the past two seasons with St. Louis after making it to AAA with Arizona. While he saw his first four major league games in 2015, he played 88 more with AAA Memphis, hitting .251/.345/.337 (just a year after hitting .296/.359/.473 and two years removed from hitting .334/.394/.478 at the AAA level in a similar amount of games) with 4 homers and 36 RBI. Easley likely slots fourth in the catching depth chart with the Pirates, behind Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, and Elias Diaz.
Prediction: Indianapolis backup catcher, playing as somewhat of a mentor to the prospect Diaz in AAA.
IF Cole Figueroa (24): This signing is one that I'm really excited about (well, as excited as you can get for a minor league free agent signing.) I even had him listed as a top target in a "Minor League free agents the Pirates should sign" article, but of course I never published it and he was actually brought into the organization. Anyway, Figueroa has 25 major league games over the past two seasons with Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees. He has played most of the past four seasons at the AAA level, spending most of 2015 with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The 28 year old infielder played both second and third base during the season, and hit .292/.355/.359 in 121 games for the RailRiders with 3 HRs and 44 RBIs. GM Neal Huntington himself said that Figueroa would likely have every chance to make the major league roster, so if there's one player on this list you should expect to see in Pittsburgh this year, it's likely to be Figueroa.
Prediction: Pirates bench/Indianapolis starter, being one of the first considered for a call up if he doesn't make the club going north.
IF Adam Frazier (73): Drafted as a 6th rounder in 2013, Frazier has put up solid numbers during his time in the system. He has a fair amount of versatility, seeing time at shortstop and in the outfield. His 2015 season, spent in Altoona, resulted in a .324 average (which would have been good enough for the Eastern League batting title if not for a quirk in the rule book) and the Pirates liked his play enough that he was sent to the Arizona Fall League. There isn’t any immediate need for Frazier to rush in the upper levels, but his season last year certainly warrants a move to Indianapolis for 2016.
Prediction: Indianapolis starter, most likely to spend the whole season in AAA.
LHP Jim Fuller (78): The 28 year old pitcher hasn’t done much spectacular in his career, but has managed to make his way to AAA anyway, putting up solid numbers (2.78 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 27 games) with AAA Nashville in Oakland’s system last year. The Pirates are Fuller’s 4th different organization in 4 years, as his final season with the Mets, the organization who drafted him, came in 2013. Fuller then pitched 2014 in AA for the Twins and spent last year in the A’s system.
Prediction: Indianapolis bullpen.
IF Dan Gamache (74): Gamache has become an interesting prospect in the Pirates system, one who hasn't shown top level skills but has performed well enough to move through the system relatively well. Splitting his 2015 between AA Altoona and AAA Indianapolis in 104 games, Gamache hit a combined .312 (.335 in Altoona) with 5 homers (all in AA) and 48 RBI's. Funny enough, Gamache won the Eastern League Home Run Derby this past summer also. He can move around quite a bit defensively, which is a theme of sorts for a lot of these players, but has mostly played second and third base. Seeing him in a Governor's Cup playoff game in September, he didn't seem to be overly comfortable at third base, and his career defensive stats there have somewhat reflected that. His bat could be enough to get him to the Major Leagues, although it might not look as if he will become a regular in the bigs.
Prediction: Indianapolis starter/bench, could be considered as September call up.
OF Matt Joyce (67): Just officially signed on February 20th, the 31 year old outfielder is among the non-roster invitees with a minor league deal. Having a decent amount of success in his career in Detroit and Tampa Bay, he had far and away the worst season of his career in 2015 following a trade to the Angels. In 93 games there, he hit just .174/.272/.291 with 5 homers and 21 RBI. The Pirates are hoping last season was simply a fluke, as Joyce has played well throughout his career (.250/.342/.435 and a 2011 All Star selection throughout six seasons for the Rays) and swinging from the left side could provide a good option against right handers (hits just .180/.252./302 vs LHP) off the bench this season. He's already in the same locker room as the rest of the 40 man roster players despite being an NRI, so it appears the Bucs will give him every shot at earning a spot in the big leagues.
Prediction: Earns a bench spot in Pittsburgh and has a solid season.
RHP Guido Knudson (63): The "G-Man" (as is listed as a nickname on his Baseball Reference page) was a waiver claim from Detroit earlier in the winter who managed to stick around in the system and sneaking through waivers (also being briefly released and brought back on a minor league deal) who made his big league debut after spending his whole career in the Tigers system. Those five major league innings didn't go so well, but his minor league statline from 2015 looks pretty solid, with a 2.34 ERA and 44 Ks with a 1.16 WHIP in AAA Toledo, all out of the bullpen. His minor league stats have varied, but Knudson could be yet another solid depth piece for the club.
Prediction: Indianapolis bullpen, likely to see brief Major League time in 2016.
RHP Chad Kuhl (66): The starting pitcher was drafted in the ninth round in 2013 and has put up very solid numbers in 67 career minor league starts, 26 of them coming with AA Altoona last season, with an 11-5 record and 2.48 ERA only building on what has been an impressive resume. He got an agressive push in 2014 from short season A to high A in Bradenton, but did well, especially being over two years younger in age difference than the average in each of the past two seasons. The 23 year old could be a sleeper to jump into the future rotation within a couple of years, if he can keep up the consistently good minor league stats.
Prediction: Similarly to Brault, likely headed to the Indianapolis rotation, probably for a full season, to target a 2017 debut.
LHP Cory Luebke (26): Signed just about a week before pitchers and catchers reported, Luebke will look to return to a big league mound for the first time since 2012. His only full Major League season in 2011 with San Diego (6-10, 3.29 ERA in 46 games, 17 starts) earned him a decent contract extension with the Padres, but after just 5 starts in 2012 Luebke was forced to have Tommy John surgery, and injury after injury has continued to stack up for the now 30 year old lefty, which included another Tommy John procedure in early 2014. His most recent action on the mound was seven games last season throughout the Padres system. This move looks very similar to last year's Clayton Richard signing, and could end up with a similar result in the end, although Luebke probably will have a better chance of actually pitching with the Pirates.
Prediction: Extended Spring Training leading to Indianapolis bullpen until needed in Pittsburgh.
LHP Kelvin Marte (76): This signing reminds me of some previous Pirates NRI guys from the past couple of years such as the aforementioned Boscan, Jay Jackson and Jake Brigham, among others. Marte is, as these other pitchers were, a pitcher who isn't much of a prospect anymore, but who has become a steady minor league veteran who provides solid depth in the upper levels of the system. Spending his entire career to this point in the Giants system, Marte briefly reached AAA in 2014 for six starts (1-2, 5.45 ERA) and was a swingman for AA Richmond in 2015, pitching in 26 games (19 starts) going 10-6 with a 2.63 ERA and a 1.215 WHIP.
Prediction: Indianapolis bullpen/spot starter or Altoona rotation if needed.
C Reese McGuire (84): The Pirates #6 prospect has played decent baseball in his time in the system since being drafted 14th overall in 2013. The 20 year old posted some lower stats in 2015 than the previous two seasons with high-A Bradenton (.254/.301/.294 with no home runs, 34 RBI's) but has put up great defensive numbers, and is arguably one of the best defensive catchers in all of minor league baseball. He still has a ways to go before being truly ready for the big leagues, but has been respectably moving up the system and should get plenty of time in AA this season. McGuire (like fellow 2013 1st rounder Austin Meadows) still has plenty of time to perfect his game, as the Pirates are well set at catcher for years to come, whether it comes by extending Cervelli or placing Diaz behind the plate.
Prediction: Altoona starter, spending a full season in AA to truly test him in the upper levels.
LHP Eric O'Flaherty (34): Signed the same day as Luebke, O'Flaherty also enters the spring with plenty of uncertainty, but a much more solid past. The 30 year old lefty had an absolutely dominant run in the Braves bullpen from 2009 to 2013, putting up a 1.99 ERA in 316 appearances, keeping an impressive ground ball rate and fair strikeout and walk numbers. His season last year, in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery, went terribly, as his combined 30 innings with Oakland and the New York Mets led to an 8.10 ERA and rough peripherals to go along with it. Sounds like another perfect candidate to become the next big Pirates reclamation project, right?
Prediction: Should be given every chance to earn the last spot in the Pirates bullpen. If he doesn't, he will either be moved or will go to Extended Spring Training and try to earn a spot.
OF Danny Ortiz (68): Saying himself this offseason that he hopes to make the Major Leagues in 2016, Ortiz should have a solid opportunity to get playing time due to the lack of big league outfield depth. Spending his whole career in the Twins system until now, Ortiz has spent parts of the last two seasons in AAA, with all 131 games of his 2015 spent with Rochester. Ortiz hit .248/.295/.430 with 17 homers and 78 RBI's, playing as a corner outfielder. The 26 year old could craft himself a decent future with another good season this year.
Prediction: Indianapolis starter, seeing some MLB time throughout the season in a role similar to the one Jaff Decker (who is now out of the system) saw the past couple of years.
RHP Curtis Partch (46): The 29 year old right hander could spend some time in the bullpen this year, as he does have 20 games of experience in the big leagues with Cincinnati in 2013-14. After spending his entire career up to that point with the Reds organization, Partch signed with the Giants last season (who actually originally drafted him in 2005, but he did not sign) and pitched 2015 with AAA Sacramento, with a respectable 3.53 ERA in 48 games. He seems to have decent career strikeout numbers, with an 11.5 K/9 out of the River Cats bullpen last year and a 3.12 strikeout to walk ratio. While he may be a quad-A type of player, it seems the Pirates have found some good minor league depth with Partch.
Prediction: Back end of Indianapolis bullpen, could see some Major League time in 2016.
OF Antoan Richardson (62): The speedy outfielder's most impressive career accomplishment will most likely be something that will also stumble most of us in future baseball trivia, as he scored the winning run on Derek Jeter's walk off single in #2's final career game at Yankee Stadium. That was part of a 13 game call-up Richardson received in 2014 with the Yankees organization, which coupled with nine games in Atlanta in 2011, results in all of the big league experience for the 32 year old. Apparently he was drafted on four separate occasions before signing, and when he actually signed, it was when drafted in round 35, the lowest of his four draft selections. Enough with the trivia though. Richardson didn't play much in 2015 due to a back injury, making it into just 13 games in the Rangers system. His last extensive action was with AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014, where he hit .271/.380/.364 in 93 games, which included 26 stolen bases.
Prediction: Indianapolis bench, likely to get a fair amount of action there, and should only see the Major Leagues as the designated September pinch runner.
RHP Jorge Rondon (57): One of the many offseason waiver claims, Rondon managed to get past waivers and should have a decent chance to contribute in 2016. 11 games of big league experience for the 28 year old pitcher have been split between three different organizations (He spent his career in the Cardinals system before last season) and his 2015 was split between the Rockies and Orioles organizations. 35 games in relief combined in AAA last season resulted in a sparkling 2.23 ERA and 0.97 WHIP for Rondon, and he's likely to get plenty of opportunity to build on those impressive stats in 2016.
Prediction: Indianapolis bullpen, serving in an important role there.
RHP A.J. Schugel (31): Another waiver claim by the Pirates, the 26 year old swingman has gone through that process multiple times this offseason, and he managed to slip through after the Pirates snagged Jesse Biddle. The past two seasons for Schugel have been spent in the Diamondbacks organization, and he earned a five game cup of coffee in Arizona in the midst of a 21 start season split between AA and AAA, where he went 9-9 with a 4.84 ERA. He should serve as solid depth throughout the season.
Prediction: Indianapolis swingman, whatever role is necessary for him. Possibly something similar to what A.J. Morris did for Indy last year.
C Jacob Stallings (83): In the Pirates system, Stallings is in a bit of a hard place when it comes to his playing time and development. While he is developing well as a catcher, he doesn't appear to be the #1 option anywhere. 74 games in AA Altoona led to a .275/.313/.370 slash line and a 37% caught stealing rate last season. If he were to return to Altoona, he would block prospects below him, most notably McGuire. If he were to move up to Indianapolis, he would be caught behind Diaz. It appears Stallings' ceiling in Pittsburgh would be as a backup catcher, and that should be the role he will step into in 2016. He went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft over the winter but could be someone for clubs to think of next winter if he plays well in Indianapolis. If Stallings plays well early, just by my speculation and reasoning, he could also find himself mixed in a trade somewhere near the deadline.
Prediction: Indianapolis backup catcher, possibly playing in a catcher/DH situation similar to what Diaz and Tony Sanchez did in 2015.
RHP Trevor Williams (64): Williams was a nice pickup for the Pirates as what was said to be a compensation move from the Marlins for hiring away front office members Marc DelPiano and Jim Benedict, as the Pirates only had to give up a rookie-level starter in Richard Mitchell. Drafted in the second round in 2013, Williams split 2015 between AA and AAA in the Miami organization, going 7-12 with a 3.85 ERA in 25 games. While he isn’t a top prospect, Williams could serve as nice rotation depth in 2016 and beyond for the Pirates.
Prediction: Back of the Indianapolis rotation, should spend the whole season at AAA.
LHP Robert Zarate (39): Zarate is quite a mystery, having a very small track record in affiliated baseball before last season. He pitched internationally after failing to make it out of rookie ball in his first four seasons, but was brought in by the Rays organization in 2015 and pitched impressively. 17 games (5 starts) in AAA Durham led to a 2.90 ERA in 40.1 innings. He also posted a 1.09 WHIP and 10.9 K/9. Depending on how the 29 year old lefty does in Spring Training and in the early parts of the season, he could pitch himself into the conversation for a big league job.
Prediction: Important role in Indianapolis bullpen with chance of a 2016 debut.
While very few of these guys end up making major contributions to the Major League roster in the season in which they were invited, each and every one of these guys either serve as solid depth for the Pirates, are looking to rebound from rough career stints, or are prospects lining themselves up well for a future in the big leagues. The players should serve important roles in Spring Training games, and should be good additions to the Pirates minor league system.