Pirates

Projecting Pirates’ roster on original opening day

Thursday was supposed to be the start of the MLB season. If the Pirates were playing the Rays, what might their team look like right now?

Roberto Clemente Bridge, this week. - DEJAN KOVACEVIC / DKPS

Today was supposed to be a joyous day.

It is March 26, the original start date for the regular season.

That, obviously, will not happen.

This was supposed to be the unofficial first day of spring. The first official game of manager Derek Shelton and general manager Ben Cherington‘s tenures with the Pirates, and the 134th in franchise history. Instead, the start of the season has been postponed until mid-May — and likely even later than that — due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that can’t stop us from forecasting what that opening-day lineup and roster might have looked like. Most of the transactions had been completed, and after a month of spring training, it was starting to become clear which direction the club was going with a lot of their players.

A quick disclaimer: There is some guesswork in this. Educated guesses, but guesses none the less. Shelton played a lot of his cards close to the chest this spring, being stingy on who might bat where or what his rotation would look like. He never named an opening-day starter.

“We were not close,” Shelton said on that topic during a conference call last week. “We still had games and outings and decisions to be made.”

So this isn’t an exact science, and it very likely will continue to evolve as we near the actual start of the regular season. But if the season started today, who would be on the bump, and what would be the starting nine?

And what better way to set up this faux game than with a live file?

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla., last month. – DEJAN KOVACEVIC / DKPS

TAMPA, Fla. — Looking ahead to (what should have been) first pitch …

• Who: Pirates vs. Rays
• When: 4:10 p.m.
• Where: Tropicana Field
Pitchers: RHP Chris Archer vs. RHP Blake Snell
• TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: 93.7 The Fan
• Streaming: Pirates.com
• Tickets: Not Available
• Boxscore: MLB Gameday
Media notes: Pirates | Rays

THE LINEUP

SS Kevin Newman
LF Bryan Reynolds
2B Adam Frazier
1B Josh Bell
DH Gregory Polanco
3B Colin Moran
RF Guillermo Heredia
C Jacob Stallings
CF Jarrod Dyson

SP Archer

Let’s break down the reasoning here: 

Most of these picks require little explanation. The starting lineup was more or less decided, with the only real variable being who would be the designated hitter.

As for the order, Reynolds and Bell consistently batted second and clean-up, respectively, this spring. Both are well-deserving of their spots, and Newman is the ideal lead-off hitter, combining a high on-base percentage with speed.

Those three seem like safe bets. The rest could be juggled around. Frazier batting in the three-hole is admittedly less than ideal, but he does not fit particularly well anywhere in this lineup, assuming Newman hits first. He did hit better in the back half of the season, catching fire in early July and then closing with a strong September, recording an .836 OPS over the final three months of the season. He revealed in February that he fractured a finger last spring training and slightly separated his shoulder on opening day in Cincinnati. Perhaps that had a greater impact on his slow start than he let on. If nothing else, this proposed lineup would put the high OBP guys in front of Bell.

It also allows Polanco to protect Bell in the order and gives them another legitimate power threat.

“He extends our lineup completely,” Shelton said about Polanco earlier in spring training. “When he’s been here and he’s been healthy, he’s been a really good player.”

Polanco was the DH more than a handful of times this spring, easing into his time in the field. He wants to play 140-150 games this season. It seems like a safe bet he would have been the designated hitter for at least one game this season. Let’s make it opening day. That gives Heredia a theoretical opening-day nod, too.

Moran and Stallings are what they are at the dish and will fall into place somewhere in the lower half of the order. Dyson is the other wild card. His best tool on offense is his speed, and it’s hard to find ways to utilize it effectively at the end of the lineup. His OBP is fine and he could wind up batting lead-off instead of ninth, but with the benefit of playing in the American League and the pitcher not batting, the ninth spot in the order is important. If he gets on, then the top of the order gets to bat with an elite runner on first. That’s a pretty good proposition.

THE REST OF THE ROSTER

On the bench: Luke Maile, Jose Osuna, Erik Gonzalez, JT Riddle

Not too many surprises here. Maile is probably the closest to being on the fringe, seeing how his competition, John Ryan Murphy, clobbered three homers this spring. But Cherington wants the team’s catchers to get the best out of their pitchers, and the pitching staff praised Maile’s game planning and communication skills during games.

Derek Holland, one of spring training’s biggest surprises, has made a point to compliment Maile every time he catches him. His reaction after their first game may have been the best though, when Holland, unprompted, simply said, “He was perfect behind the plate.”

In the bullpen: SP Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams, Mitch Keller and Derek Holland, CL Keone Kela, RP Kyle Crick, Nick Burdi, Edgar Santana, Richard Rodriguez, Michael Feliz, Robbie Erlin, Chris Stratton

The rotation was more or less decided once Steven Brault was injured, even if Shelton did not want to admit it. Again, nothing too unexpected, with the exception of perhaps Holland, who impressed in just about every outing he had, especially with his offspeed stuff.

Shelton did, however, name Kela his closer near the beginning of camp, though he did consider Crick as well. Santana was recently optioned to triple-A, but that was mostly because he still had options remaining. Burdi, Feliz, Stratton and Erlin need to make the team or be potentially lost.

Injured list: Steven Brault, Clay Holmes

Two 40-man roster spots will need to be cleared to add Holland and Erlin, who both signed minor-league contracts this offseason. Dovydas Neverauskas showed a little something this spring, but he is out of minor-league options, so he is designated for assignment after failing to make this club.

The other cut isn’t as clear, though Yacksel Rios and Sam Howard seem like candidates. Both were claimed off waivers before Cherington became general manager and were optioned to triple-A last week. Of course, since the season is not starting Thursday, that means Brault and Holmes could be ready for the real opening day, meaning there is no pressure to make any 40-man moves at this time.

THE SETUP

Yeah, I know. Everyone wants Archer vs. Tyler Glasnow, or at the very least Charlie Morton. Those two ex-Pirates would have likely pitched in games two and three of the series, but Snell pitched on Mar. 11, putting him in line for the opening day start. He’s their ace and a Cy Young winner. Hard to argue anyone else should get the opening-day start, however fitting the narrative would have been. This would have also been the first time the Pirates face Austin Meadows, who has quickly established himself as the Rays’ best hitter.

As for Archer, while Shelton was adamant that he had not chosen an opening-day starter, signs were pointing to Archer starting game one. That was, of course, contingent on if he was healthy. Archer was scratched from his first start this spring with a sore neck and didn’t get started until March 6. He did pitch a simulated game on March 11, which was an off-day for the club, and assuming he would stick to a five-day schedule, that would give him time for two more starts before opening day. That’s a shorter spring than most players get, but it could have been enough.

Archer is looking to bounce back from his worst season as a big leaguer, though he did seem to regain his form in the second half of the season before his campaign was cut short with a shoulder injury.

“I went back to just being myself,” Archer said about his stronger second half earlier in camp. “I went back to the windup. I went back to predominantly four-seam fastballs and sliders. My changeup’s come a long way, too. But just really getting back to myself and pitching like me. And the new staff has been great about encouraging that.”

FOLLOW LIVE

Whenever that may be.

30 Comments

30
Join the discussion

20 Comment threads
10 Thread replies
3 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
26 Comment authors
Groat2Maz2StrangegloveJLPittsburgh Innocentstruben35JAR Recent comment authors
  Follow Discussion  
Newest Oldest Most voted
Notify of:
Groat2Maz2Strangeglove
Groat2Maz2Strangeglove

I like Dejan’s starting line up better.
Jose Osuna the new Migeul Sano.

JL
JL

1-5 is respectable. I can’t recall a worse 6-9 going back to the mid ’80s.

Pittsburgh Innocents
Pittsburgh Innocents

I hope the Bucs don’t play the Rays. I’m striving to erase that trade from my memory.

truben35
truben35

Bench is horrible!

JAR
JAR

Boy do I miss bucco baseball, or any baseball, or honestly any sports. I have been watching all of the old games on MLB.TV because im a baseball junkie. its all we have right now.

However, it does feel like baseball season on this post with all of the negativity around this team that hasn’t played a game in 2 full weeks 🙂

scoman203
scoman203

That ladies and gentlemen is what a last place roster looks like.

mikerozier30
mikerozier30

Fear mongers just cost 2.3 million americans their jobs.

Mizery
Mizery

My wife is on the front lines of dealing with this pandemic and it is chaos at the hospitals. Don’t insult my wife’s contribution and sacrifice as she is risking her health and her families by what she is doing. You sitting in your home or ignoring it completely like the moron you claim everyone else is, is why My wife is overworked, exhausted and quarantined from her family at this time.

TVC15
TVC15

Props to your wife mize and I couldn’t agree more.

OldSchool
OldSchool

Are you able to read? Have you heard of Italy? Perhaps New York City rings a bell. I live outside the city and currently know at least 7 people with the virus, at various stages of fighting it. And one who has died

Dejan Kovacevic
Dejan Kovacevic

There’s no cure for what Mike’s got.

Fred
Fred

Polanco sucks ( my opinion from my seats in Section 221)

DLFord
DLFord

He should be healthy this season. Give him a month or so to confirm or disprove your opinion first. 😉

bigdaddy
bigdaddy

There is no way that Erik Gonzalez should be on this roster. He brings NOTHING to this team.

tcollins999
tcollins999

Opening Day did not even happen today and the Pirates are already 10 games out of first.
🙁
#buccoslife

Leo Walter
Leo Walter

Polanco in RF, Moran DH, Gonzalez 3b

Tom_P
Tom_P

In lieu of live baseball, I watched the first four innings of Game 7 of the 1971 World Series on YouTube last night. My wife says, “Don’t you know how this ends?”. I said, “Yes, but I never saw it before.”. (I was 6, and I was canoeing with my Dad and brother. One of the other dad’s on the trip told us the final score.)

bigboyboo
bigboyboo

I had tickets for Sunday. The Bucs were last in St. Pete in 2014. Guess I will have to wait until 2026 to see a regular season game vs Rays unless they will be in Montreal for a half of a season.☹️

mikomark
mikomark

Um, no, Alex, not Snell; Morton would be the starter for the Rays.

Zebug
Zebug

I throw Musgrove day 1. He’s a leader in that clubhouse and deserves the ball. I’d also go with Bell at DH and Osuna playing 1B.

I take it you got Kuhl staying stretched out in Indy? That’s one of the bigger story lines here. It’s not a bad thought as there will be injuries.

mikomark
mikomark

I do remember Shelton saying after the Marte trade that Reynolds was “his guy” for that #3 spot, so why is Frazier in there? I disagree with you about his OBP–numbers aside–because his overall numbers as an everyday player demonstrate–in the words of *Uncle* Jimmy Leyland: “This guy can hit.” He will get on base; is a gap hitter; occasional power; and Reynolds much better suited for #3?

Sisyphus
Sisyphus

You can make a very strong argument that your best hitter should bat second. I’m not sure that I buy that theory, but it could be correct.

On the other hand, the difference between the best possible lineup and the worst in runs scored for a full season isn’t anywhere near as big as you would expect. I love arguing about lineups as much as anyone, but we’re pretty much arguing about maybe 10 or 20 runs over the course of a full season.

HappyG
HappyG

I was so bummed this morning. I live in the Tampa area and had tickets to today’s game and Sunday’s game. I need baseball in my life again!!!!

mikomark
mikomark

Me, too; had tickets for Sat., primarily to avoid having to watch Archer (in any uniform) and maybe seeing Glasnow; irony abounds in that 3 games: Archer/Shelton vs Morton/Glasnow/Meadows (and the absurd ticket price); then again, probably the only sell-out of the year for the Rays, so yeah price-gouging.

21inRF
21inRF

Osuna a better option for RF.

Nappy
Nappy

Glass half full: The Pirates will still be tied for first place in May.

josham623
josham623

Ian Snell? Thank goodness it’s not Blake. At least we have a chance then. 😛