The smell of spring is in the air. In 46 days the Pirates will start their 2009 campaign in St. Louis. Are there any players that were non-roster invitees that stand realistic chances to make the squad? Here are the guys with the best shot:
1. RHP Daniel McCutchen
McCutchen was acquired in a mid-season trade from the New York Yankees and had a fairly productive season in AAA for both New York and Pittsburgh. He went 7-9, logging an ERA of 4.03 in 118.1 innings.
The most promising number was the fact that he gave up very few walks. In fact, in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh's AAA affiliate, he only gave up seven walks in 49 innings. His strikeout to walk ratio was great, as he had 99 K's to only 18 walks.
Look for McCutchen to compete for, and possibly win, the fifth starter spot or a long relief slot. If not, he should start the year in AAA and possibly make an impact at some point this year.
His future in Pittsburgh looks bright.
2. CF Andrew McCutchen
He is more of a long-shot to make the team than the other McCutchen listed above. He's a 22-year-old prospect and is considered one of the best in the game. Last year, at age 21, he hit .283 with 9 HR's, 50 RBI for AAA Indianapolis. He also stole 34 bases, but got caught 19 times. He is a stout defender, only committing three errors in 120 games.
He's a long-shot to make the club simply because Pirates management has said numerous times they don't want to rush young Andrew. Unless he has a huge spring this year, I'd expect him to see another year of seasoning in AAA.
3. OF Craig Monroe
When I first heard of this signing it didn't make much sense to me. However, after looking at it further, it makes perfect sense.
If Monroe has a great spring, the Pirates should throw him on the big league team and make him the fifth outfielder. If he has a poor spring, they should just cut ties with him. They owe him nothing.
Monroe could be an excellent addition to the team if he plays in the form he showed from 2003-2006 with Detroit. During those three years he hit around .270 and approximately 22 homers per year.
He surely won't see everyday time with Pittsburgh, but he could make a great bench bat to bring added power.
4. 2B Shelby Ford
Shelby is a 24-year-old second baseman that appears to be the heir-apparent to Freddy Sanchez at this time. He's been progressed slowly through the minor leagues and has steadily improved each stop along the way.
Last year at AA Altoona, he hit .282 with four homers, 32 RBI, but also added 22 doubles, 10 triples, and 19 steals in only 81 games. Doing the math, those numbers over a 162-game schedule turns to be .282, 8 HR, 64 RBI, 44 doubles, 20 triples, 38 steals!
His glove is a little suspect. He was a .972 fielder last year, but was a .989 fielder the year before at High A ball. I think Shelby has an excellent chance of making the squad this year if he has a good spring.
He surely won't start, but he would be a great bench bat and is insurance in case a Freddy Sanchez trade happens at any point in the year. I expect him to start the year in AAA, however.
5. LHP Daniel Haigwood
Last year Daniel was a part of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Red Sox AA affiliate. He's seemingly been stuck in AA ball since 2005, which is not good, but last year he had a solid season in Portland.
He went 2-3 with a 3.36 ERA over 67 innings.
Unlike McCutchen, he lets up a low amount of walks (42 in 67 IP's), but also strikes out more than a batter an inning (fanning 70 this year). He also gives up fewer than one hit per inning and has done that at almost every level (55 in 67 IP). If he can get better control, he could surely be a long reliever this year in Pittsburgh.
Last year, he worked primarily as a reliever in the minors for the first time in his career appearing in 38 games and only starting three. I'd project him to be in the bullpen at some point next year, and pending a good spring at the start of the season.
There are other non-roster invitees that look to have promise, but I feel these five could still be around when the Pirates head to St. Louis for Opening Day.