Middle-infield battle may go down to wire

Middle-infield battle may go down to wire

BRADENTON, Fla. -- While it appears as if Pedro Ciriaco is the frontrunner to be the Pirates' backup middle infielder this season, both Corey Wimberly and Josh Rodriguez remain in camp and in competition for that spot.

All three of the potential middle infielders bring a different mix of tools. Wimberly and Ciriaco would both add a speed option on the bench, while Rodriguez seems to have the most offensive potential of the group. Ciriaco is the most polished defensively, and his ability to handle the shortstop position has so far been the separator.

As a Rule 5 Draft pick, Rodriguez must be offered back to Cleveland if the Bucs don't add him to the 25-man roster by the time the season opens. The Pirates have carried their Rule 5 player on the Opening Day roster in each of the last three seasons. Pittsburgh's other option -- and one the club is seriously considering -- is to work out a trade with the Indians so that Rodriguez can remain in the organization without having to take up a big league roster spot.

Wimberly has fared much better at the plate recently, after starting off hitless in his first 13 at-bats. However, the 27-year-old has struggled defensively at short, and that remains a concern. He has also drawn six walks and swiped three bases. Wimberly's ability to play center field is a plus, though the Pirates' focus is finding a defensively-strong shortstop.

"That was the question that Wimberly had to answer," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We still have time to answer that question."