Pittsburgh Pirates: Predicting the Bucs' Opening Day roster

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Spring training has just begun for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but it is never too early to look forward to Opening Day – April 1 at PNC Park against the Chicago Cubs.

With that being said, I thought it would be interesting to project what Clint  Hurdle’s Opening Day 25-man roster will look like when the  Bucs take the field to kick off the 2013 season.

For a change there aren’t a lot of jobs open, as I see it there are five spots to be won.

With that being said, here’s how I project things to look, which will likely change as some guys spring performance will win them jobs, while some guys will lose opportunities with spring struggles.

Feb 12, 2013; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett takes the field during a workout session for spring training at Pirate City. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

As a note, I’m projecting Hurdle to carry 12 pitchers and 13 position players to start the season, but he could go with 11 pitchers and 14 position players to start the season and make the switch sometime in late April.

The Locks:

Starting Pitchers

1. A.J. Burnett: Opening Day starter.

2. Wandy Rodriguez: Follows Burnett in rotation.

3. James McDonald: His first half performance in 2012 guarantees him a spot.

4. Jeff Karstens: If healthy, Karstens is a lock for the rotation. That may not necessarily be a good thing, but the Bucs could probably do worse.

Bullpen

1. Jason Grilli: With Joel Hanrahan in Boston, Grilli is your new closer.

2. Jared Hughes: Coming off a solid rookie season, expect Hughes to play a bigger role in Hurdle’s bullpen.

3. Tony Watson: Right now the only lefty in the pen, so Watson is assured of a job, but he has been dependable the past couple of seasons.

4. Mark Melancon: The newly acquired Melancon could earn a late inning role if he proves that his struggles from a season ago in Boston are a thing of the past.

Catchers

1. Russell Martin: The Pirates prize of the offseason will be the primary catcher and should be a huge upgrade at the position.

2. Michael McKenry: “The Fort” is back to backup duty, where he should thrive not having to play too much.

First Base

1. Garrett Jones: Jones will play first base against right handed pitching and hopefully he can duplicate what he did in 2012, although he will be a trade candidate during the season.

2. Gaby Sanchez: I would like to see Sanchez get more of a look, but for now he will play against southpaws.

September 8, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez (24) breaks on a ground ball against the Chicago Cubs during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Chicago Cubs won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Second Base

1. Neil Walker: Hopefully the injuries of 2012 are behind him and the Bucs can get a full season out of Walker in 2013.

Third Base

1. Pedro Alvarez: I expect a big year from “El Toro” as he builds off a very productive 2012 campaign.

Shortstop

Clint Barmes: Barmes had a steady season with the glove last season, but struggled big time with the bat. I think he will have a better offensive season, though nothing spectacular. He can’t be as bad as he was last year.

Backup Infielder:

1. Josh Harrison: Personally I don’t understand the infatuation with Harrison, as he is pretty much a below average major leaguer. But hey, he had his own commercial last season and you don’t send those guys to the minors. On a serious note, he is a lousy pinch-hitter and offers up very little value in other areas. But Harrison is Hurdle’s first bat off the bench for some reason, so I figure he makes the team. Personally I give this spot to Jordy Mercer as he is a better glove in the middle infield, but Harrison is likely a lock to make the squad.

Outfielders

1. Andrew McCutchen: If Cutch can put it together for six months, could we be talking MVP?

2. Starling Marte: I don’t particularly like Marte in the leadoff spot, but I am excited to see what the kid can do over the course of a full season.

3. Travis Snider: Speaking off seeing what a guy can do over a full season. If Snider gets a full look in right field, I think people will be surprised with his numbers.

4. Jose Tabata: Tabata falls to the No. 4 outfielder spot, which could ultimately be the No. 5 outfielder as Jones could still see some time in right. Either way, Tabata’s stock hasn’t fallen that much to the point that he won’t make the team coming out of camp. He has the opportunity to play his way into more at bats. We will see if he takes advantage of it.

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