Bucs' non-roster invitees list includes familiar names
Prospects Cole, Taillon to be joined by veterans Liriano, Hawpe in Spring Training
In 2011, Joe Beimel converted the opportunity into becoming the primary lefty in the Pirates' bullpen for the first half of the season.
Last spring, Juan Cruz earned a significant role as a valuable setup reliever.
Who can emerge from this Spring Training's non-roster invitee bunch to make a major contribution to the Pirates? The intrigue and the occasional revelation provided by these camp "outsiders" highlights preseason work. The Bucs pan for gold like other Major League clubs, some with guest lists approaching 30.
Those heading to Pirate City include some familiar names on both ends of the baseball spectrum -- youngsters waiting to make their marks and veterans hoping to reclaim theirs.
They range from Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, the right-handers sitting atop Pittsburgh's highly-rated farm system, to veteran big league outfielders Brad Hawpe and Felix Pie.The Bucs also signed right-hander Kyle Waldrop to a Minor League contract on Tuesday with an invite to camp. The 27-year-old posted a 2.53 ERA in 17 relief appearances with Minnesota in 2012.
With the addition of Waldrop, Pittsburgh's NRI list stands at 18, and there is at least one more on the way: Indications are that Francisco Liriano -- when all the roadblocks to formalizing his signing are cleared -- will wind up coming to camp on a Minor League deal and an invite.
The Pirates' 40-man roster is full. Furthermore, other recent moves have already forced off that roster and onto the waiver list a couple of right-handers the Bucs weren't looking to lose: Chad Beck was claimed by Toronto, and Zach Stewart by the White Sox.
Bringing in Liriano on a Minor League deal would give the team ample time to figure out how to make room on the 40-man for the veteran lefty, whose participation figures to be delayed due to the broken right arm that complicated his signing.
The best chance to make a quick impact belongs to another left-hander, Kris Johnson. This is the 28-year-old beanpole (6-foot-4, 170 pounds) who has bounced around the Minors for seven years, but has never been as good as he was last season (8-4, 3.19 ERA between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis). And he just kept getting better in pitching Escogido to the championship of the Dominican Winter League.
In many ways the opposite of the prototypical lefty, Johnson doesn't throw hard but knows where he is throwing. He pitches to contact and has terrific control. With the Bucs seeking a second lefty in the bullpen next to Tony Watson, Johnson will get an extended chance to prove his 2012 was for real.
Also factoring into the bullpen competition is Mike Zagurski, whose 45 appearances last season were the most for an Arizona lefty.
With the Pirates considering backup infielders a major area of need, it's interesting that four of the five non-roster infielders bring Major League experience. Included in that group is Hawpe, who -- while having some first-base experience -- has played the majority of his 893 big league games in the outfield but is listed as an infielder because of a greater need there.
The infield candidates also include Matt Hague, who was the Pirates' regular first baseman for long stretches last season but couldn't hit with enough power to convert the chance; 30-year-old Anderson Hernandez, whose most recent big league action came with Cleveland and Houston in 2010; and Ivan De Jesus, acquired from Boston in the Joel Hanrahan deal.
Pie will have a hard time standing out in the outfield crowd. He was the Opening Day center fielder for the Cubs in 2008 and Orioles in 2010, but he eventually played his way off both teams and spent all of 2012 in the Minors with Atlanta.
Catcher Ali Solis, claimed on waivers from the Padres, will get a lot of early action before he departs to join Team Mexico for the World Baseball Classic. However, the look figures to be only for future considerations: The Bucs won't carry more than two catchers, and Russell Martin and Michael McKenry are entrenched.
As for Cole and Taillon, of course all eyes will be on them. But they figure to go out of eyesight quickly, especially if they appear ready to run with their chances. The Bucs are sworn to not rush the jewels, and will defuse any mounting pressure to accelerate their development.
This, naturally, would be known as the "Marte Maneuver." Starling Marte was the early sensation of last year's Grapefruit League schedule, hitting .520 in a dozen games. Then he was gone, reassigned to the Minor League camp before anyone could get any big ideas.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.