With nearly the full Pittsburgh Pirate team settled in Bradenton and the Bucs' first game just over a week away, it's time to take a look at position players to watch over the next six weeks.
Given the current construction of the Pittsburgh roster, this list could just as easily be called "corner outfielders to watch." The Bucs are set at most other positions and a big goal for the early part of the year is to find out which of their promising, unproven corner outfielders is ready to make the leap.
There are clear clubhouse leaders for Opening Day roles at this point, but Pirate fans will be paying close attention to the spring training performance of each candidate.
Barring injury, Starling Marte will be the Pirates' starting left fielder in April. However, Pittsburgh fans will still be looking for several signs of improvement from the exciting young player.
Marte performed as advertised following his call-up last season, displaying his bat speed, power and overall defensive prowess. With that being said, his flaws were evident as well.
Marte needs to improve upon his plate discipline and pitch selection. It will be a good sign to see him working pitch counts and taking quality at-bats, even against lesser pitchers.
Snider, who the Bucs acquired from Toronto at the 2012 trade deadline, likely has the inside track on the right field job. However, his hold on the position is not nearly as strong as Marte's.
Snider is a former top prospect who has dominated every level of the minors and plays pretty solid defense in right field, but he hasn't yet put it all together at the plate in the major leagues.
There were some noticeable improvements in his approach last season, and his walk rate spiked as a result. The key for Snider is simply swinging and missing at less pitches. If he can't do that against spring training stuff, it's not a great sign for the coming year.
Sands, another fringy outfield prospect, was part of the haul the Pirates received from the Red Sox in exchange for Joel Hanrahan this winter.
Like the other candidates for the Pirates' corner outfield slots, Sands combines significant power potential with a strong minor league track record. However, he also joins them in having failed to put together a complete major league season.
Sands is not nearly as good defensively as Marte (and probably a bit inferior to Snider as well), so even greater focus will be placed on his performance at the plate.
Clint Robinson doesn't directly figure into the Pirates' outfield rotation, but a breakout season from the Four-A player would likely move Garrett Jones to right field.
Robinson has been outstanding for years in the minors, and unlike the other players on this list, he has never really received a major league opportunity. One has to assume there is a reason for this, though his minor league statistics translate to decent major league numbers at first base.
The Pirates now have a chance to see if Robinson can pull off the transition. Given the Pirates' struggles at first base and corner outfield, he will certainly get a fair shot.
Pedro Alvarez is by far the most established player on this list, and his job is clearly not in jeopardy at this point. However, Pirate fans' hopes will continue to sway with every at-bat he takes.
Alvarez had a bit of a breakout year in 2012, hitting 30 home runs, but the season also highlighted his inconsistency. Alvarez alternated between weeks where he looked like the best hitter in baseball and weeks where he looked entirely overmatched.
Pedro was able to smooth out his performance somewhat over the the final third of the year, but it would be a very good sign to see him minimizing the number of bad at-bats. Pirate fans do not want to relive Alvarez' terrible 2012 spring training performance, which led to a very slow start for the player.