Multiple Bullpen Spots Up For Grabs

Pitchers and catchers will report to the Pirates’ spring training facility in Bradenton, Florida in less than six weeks. It’s time to start looking at how the 25-man roster may shape up for the 2013 season. The bullpen is one particular area of the team that will feature some roster spot battles.

In 2012, the Bucs had one of the best ‘pens early in the season. Despite faltering down the stretch, the relievers finished with a 3.36 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP in 498.2 innings pitched. They held opponents to a .234 batting average, which was the ninth-lowest clip in the league. Joel Hanrahan completed another successful season as closer by racking up 36 saves. The Hammer essentially pitched himself out of Pittsburgh, as a salary projected near $7 million resulted in a trade to Boston. Jason Grilli was tremendous (for most of the year) in the setup role, earning himself a high-paying contract. Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, and Chris Resop were mostly solid in middle relief, with pitchers such as Juan Cruz, Brad Lincoln, and others providing help along the way.

Here’s what we know going into 2013:

- Grilli, entering his age 36 season, assumes the closer role with the departure of Hanrahan.

- Mark Melancon, coming off a tough year in Boston, looks to bounce back in the easier NL Central and could be useful as Grilli’s setup man.

- Watson, who now has 111 MLB games under his belt, looks to be the top lefty in the Bucco bullpen.

- After posting a 1.150 WHIP and notching 50 strikeouts in his first full campaign, Hughes should be a lock to return in middle relief.

Assuming the Pirates will utilize the standard 7-man bullpen, there should be three spots to fill. Here are some possible pitchers to fill those holes:

- Bryan Morris (pictured above) is a strong candidate to make the team for a few reasons. First, he’s one of the top relief pitching prospects in the system; second, he’s out of minor league options. Morris, who turns 26 in March, allowed one earned run in five appearances for Pittsburgh late last season.

- Another pitcher out of options is 26 year old Vin Mazzaro, who came over in a trade with Kansas City earlier this offseason. While Mazzaro may not be the most intriguing candidate, he offers the Pirates a bit of potential as both a long reliever or back of the rotation starter.

- Right-hander Chris Leroux has thrown 41 innings for the Bucs since 2010, but hasn’t been able to stick at the Major League level. He, like Morris and Mazzaro, is out of options. He’s also running out of time to prove himself, as he turns 29 in April.

- In terms of pitchers with minor league options remaining, Justin Wilson is a strong candidate, especially if the Pirates would like two southpaws in the ‘pen. He posted a 1.93 ERA with seven strikeouts in eight appearances in 2012. Wilson could probably serve as a starter as well, but he seems to be a fit for the bullpen.

- Another left-handed option is Andrew Oliver, who was acquired via trade with Detroit at the Winter Meetings. Oliver made his MLB debut as a 22 year old in 2010 and failed to find his control. He allowed 29 runs in 31.2 big league innings between 2010 and 2011. Oliver has one option remaining, so he could spend time in Indianapolis.

There are a couple other pitchers, such as Zach Stewart and Mike Zagurski, who could vie for a spot with strong springs, but those types of relievers are probably better off starting the year in Triple-A. In addition, there a few young hurlers on the 40-man roster, including Vic Black and Duke Welker, that could make impacts in Pittsburgh in the near future.

We could see the Pirates forming a bullpen of Grilli, Melancon, Watson, Hughes, Morris, Mazzaro, and Wilson, but it’s still too early to tell. Leroux and Oliver could make strong cases to make the roster, and there should be a few surprise candidates to compete in spring ball. The Bucs could even acquire another arm, as there is still plenty of time to do so.

It’ll be interesting to see how the club decides to build up the bullpen, as the relievers will definitely be a crucial piece to the team’s success in 2013. We’ll be sure to keep you posted with any news or info as it comes along.

Go Bucs

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