Pitchers and catchers have reported to Bradenton, so that means baseball season is officially upon us.
As the Pittsburgh Pirates prepare for the 2013 season in an attempt to break a two decade long losing streak, they will go only as far as their pitching carries them.
There is a spot in the rotation and several bullpen spots that can be won in spring training, but this time of year also provides an opportunity for some players to open up some eyes for a potential call-up later in the season.
With that being said, let’s take a look at 10 arms that all eyes should be focused on in spring training.
10. Justin Wilson: Wilson had a very good minor league season a year ago and it got him a call-up to the big club late in the season. He doesn’t appear to be viewed as a starter, but with a good spring could force his way into a bullpen spot on Opening Day. It would be nice for Clint Hurdle to have a pair of lefties to turn to late in games instead of just Tony Watson.
9. Jeff Locke: Locke looked to be a guy that would have a chance at the No. 5 spot in the rotation, but that seems close to out of the question now. But Locke can say a lot about where he opens the season with a good spring.
8. Kyle McPherson: McPherson is a guy with high upside and performed well during his late season call-up last year. He is likely destined for Triple-A to begin the season, but he is a guy that displays good control and could still be in play for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. At the very least he could leave a good impression and be a guy the Bucs will call on later in the season.
7. Jonathan Sanchez: Which Sanchez will show up? Will the Bucs get the guy that was successful for the San Francisco Giants or the guy that had one of the worst seasons in recent major league history last season with Kansas City and Colorado? It will take something special in the spring out of Sanchez for him to make the rotation or even the team, but he will be given the opportunity.
6. Francisco Liriano: All eyes will be on the Pirates newest signing to see if his injury to his non-throwing arm will affect him being ready by Opening Day. Also it will be interesting to see what Pirates’ pitching coach Ray Searage can do about Liriano’s control problems.
5. Bryan Morris: Morris is a guy that should have received more of a look a season ago. The guy just gets hitters out and should be in contention for a bullpen job this year. With a good spring he could throw his name in the hat for a late inning role.
4. Jared Hughes: Hughes was sharp last season as a rookie and could have something to say about who is the setup man for new closer Jason Grilli. He gets ground balls and if Mark Melancon doesn’t rebound from an awful 2012 in Boston, Hughes could pitch his way into a bigger role in 2013.
3. Mark Melancon: Melancon was acquired in the Joel Hanrahan trade and is penciled in as the setup man for now and could be a guy used as a closer in a pinch. But Melancon must show that his struggles in Boston are behind him. If he doesn’t have a good spring, it would be hard to just throw him into pressure situations with games on the line.
2. Gerrit Cole: Common opinion is that the Cole will be in a Pirates uniform sometime this season. He is going to start the season in Triple-A, where he could use some more seasoning, but he has the opportunity to use spring training to open up enough eyes and show that he could be the breakout star of 2013.
1. James McDonald: J-Mac was my X-Factor a season ago and is so once again this year. He is a huge question mark heading into the season and can make or break the Pirates pitching staff, as we saw a season ago. Will we see the dominant McDonald of the first half of the season or the erratic J-Mac during the second half of 2012? Spring training isn’t usually a gauge for established pitchers, but given the way McDonald’s control faltered down the stretch last season, this spring will be important to see how he is locating his pitches, even against marginal competition. If McDonald is all over the place, is it unthinkable to think he can pitch his way out of the rotation by Opening Day?