Many possible directions for Bucs' roster

Many possible directions for Bucs' roster

Many possible directions for Bucs' roster
TAMPA, Fla. -- Two weeks from Tuesday, the Pirates will be in PNC Park, holding their lone on-site workout the day before the hoopla and the Phillies of Opening Day. Fourteen days have seldom seemed so constraining, considering the decisions crowding manager Clint Hurdle's plate.

No accident that, at 43 players, the Pirates continue to run one of the most populated of the 30 Major League camps. It reflects the difficult roster calls that still have to be made, and the extra time needed to make them.

The remaining 15 exhibitions pose a quandary: As the season nears, you want your regulars' playing time to increase so they can hone their edge, yet Hurdle and his staff also need the games to help make up their minds.

A snapshot look at the season-opening 25-man roster as a work in progress:

Starting rotation
• In (4): Erik Bedard, Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, James McDonald
• Looking to get in (1): But not immediately

A.J. Burnett is a future consideration, and so probably is Charlie Morton, since off-days will delay the need for a fifth starter until April 15. Thus Morton, whose conservative program toward full recovery from hip surgery has him still a week behind the others, could also begin the season on the disabled list, freeing up a valuable extra bench spot for the first 10 days.

Bullpen
• In (6): Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek, Jason Grilli, Daniel McCutchen, Juan Cruz, Daniel Moskos
• Looking to get in (1): Jared Hughes, Ryota Igarashi, Shairon Martis, Chris Resop, Doug Slaten

Moskos, having built upon the good first impressions he had made as a rookie last year, appears in line for one of the left-handed relief jobs. If the reading is correct on Cruz, a non-roster invitee, only one bullpen seat remains up for grabs. Hughes, a big righty with the swing-and-miss stuff Hurdle loves, could have the inside track if the Bucs go with only one southpaw.

That seems likely, with the big lefty bats of the injured Chase Utley and Ryan Howard both missing from the Phillies' lineup for the opening series.

Something else Hurdle likes in his relievers: a slow heartbeat, as in, remaining calm in the middle of chaos. Grilli, signed by the Bucs a day after his release by Philadelphia last July, has the slow ticker.

"He got some big outs for us in meaningful, leveraged situations," general manager Neal Huntington said of a low-profile move that may work out as one of his best. "He's a vet who has been around. The situation doesn't affect him. He wants the ball, and there's a lot of life left in the arm."

Catching
• In (2): Rod Barajas, Michael McKenry
• Looking to get in (0): None

The Pirates' intent to carry only two catchers was telegraphed by having only the above pair on their 40-man roster. Creating roster room is always a possibility, but there are no candidates among the non-roster invitees compelling enough to trigger that shakeup.

The most practical solution would have someone like Jake Fox earn a reserve spot. Fox can play everywhere but in the middle of the infield, and he has shown a big bat here off the bench. The Pirates may be wary because last year he swooned quickly following a torrid Spring Training with the Orioles.

Infield
• In (4): Clint Barmes, Neil Walker, Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee
• Looking to get in (4): Pedro Alvarez, Matt Hague, Yamaico Navarro, Josh Harrison, Nick Evans, Jeff Clement, Fox

If you're taken aback by Alvarez's consignment, be aware that it reflects management's possible approach toward a player it regards as pivotal to the team's long-range hopes. Alvarez had a miserable, injury-wrecked 2011 season, and his Spring Training isn't going better. If it doesn't pick up in the next two weeks, the Pirates may not want to risk a slow start completely eroding Alvarez's confidence. They may prefer for him to open the season in Triple-A Indianapolis, generate some heat -- then rejoin them on an upswing.

Navarro and Harrison are the only middle infielders, and both figure to crack the team. Navarro's added versatility means they are not necessarily competing for the same job.

If Alvarez is given a Triple-A timeout and McGehee is needed at third, Hague is virtually assured of a spot. But Hague could have an inside track regardless of the decision on Alvarez, offering a bigger threat in a pinch than McGehee or Jones, neither of whom is accustomed to coming off the bench.

"We've gotten a good feel for Matt," Huntington said. "He's obviously an intelligent hitter. Being able to play multiple positions [first and third] off the bench, or in a part-time role, makes him an interesting option."

Hurdle may want to use the roster spot not needed for a fifth starter for an extra veteran bat, such as Clement's or Evans'.

Outfield
• In (4): Andrew McCutchen, Alex Presley, Jose Tabata, Nate McLouth
• Looking to get in (0): The Pirates are pretty much locked into that four-man outfield. The only fifth outfielder remaining in camp is Brandon Boggs.

The huge variable here is Navarro's ability to also play the outfield, which makes him extremely valuable.

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.