That leaves us with five jobs to be had: one in the starting rotation, three in the pen and the final bench spot.
Let’s take a look at how the battles could shape out.
Final starting spot
Candidates: Jeff Locke, Jonathan Sanchez, Kyle McPherson, Jeanmar Gomez
Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon won’t be ready to open the season in Pittsburgh, so I believe the battle for the final spot comes down to Locke and McPherson. Personally I would lie to see Karstens in the pen and keep both youngsters, but the likely scenario is one makes the team out of spring training and the other begins in Triple-A, but will be heard from sometime this season. I give the edge to Locke now as I think he is ready to assert himself as a big league starter: Winner: Locke
Final Three Bullpen Spots
Candidates: Chris Leroux, Jose Contreras, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, McPherson, Locke, Vin Mazzaro, Gomez
This really may not be much of a battle after all. The only thing that throws a quirk into things is if Hurdle elects to keep whoever doesn’t crack the rotation and keep them around as a reliever. Leroux should be the long guy in the pen, while Morris should be able to lock down a middle innings role for now. That leaves the last spot and for a change it would be nice to see two lefties coming out of the bullpen. Pencil in Wilson as the seventh reliever. Winners: Leroux, Morris, Wilson
Final Bench Spot
Candidates: Brad Hawpe, Mercer, Brandon Inge, Jerry Sands, Alex Presley, Clint Robinson, Felix Pie, Matt Hague, Ivan DeJesus, Chase d’Arnaud
I really can’t see Hurdle keeping three first baseman, so you can scratch Hague and Robinson off the list. In addition DeJesus and d’Arnaud would have to do something special to make the team. As for Pie, just too many people in front of him right now, not that he would have much of an opportunity anyway based on his skill set. In addition if Harrison makes the team, that likely means that Mercer doesn’t.
That leaves us with Hawpe, Sands, Inge and Presley.
Sands is the intriguing guy and one I would like to see have an opportunity, but if there isn’t a role for him to get consistent at bats, I can’t see him being kept as a fifth outfielder. In addition with Jones on the team, there is no real need to carry five outfielders, which hurts the chances of Hawpe and Presley. That leaves Inge, who should get the job anyway thanks to his versatility and intangibles he brings.
If Hurdle decides to go with only 11 pitchers out of the gate, that could open up an opportunity for Hawpe or Presley, but keep a close eye on Sands this spring as he could ultimately force his way onto the Opening Day roster. But for now the final spot goes to the veteran Inge: Winner: Inge