The Pittsburgh Pirates’ bench is different than previous seasons.
In the past, the bench typically provided good defense, but little on offense. In 2014, for example, the bench had three of its members – Jayson Nix, Michael Martinez and Brent Morel – batting under .200 on it. Pinch hitters were usually easy outs, and instead just good defensive substitutions.
Now, the script has been flipped.
Three spots on the five-man bench are secured by Sean Rodriguez, Chris Stewart and whoever in the first base platoon of Michael Morse and John Jaso is not starting. Jason Rogers is also likely going to make the bench, considering the Pirates gave up a possible roster player in Keon Broxton and mid-level pitching prospect in Trey Supak to the Milwaukee Brewers for Rogers.
Rogers and Morse or Jaso are kept for offense, though do not offer much in terms of defensive upside. Stewart makes it as backup catcher, and Rodriguez as a super-utility player.
That leaves one spot left. And the Pirates have options.
Considering that Rodriguez is the only plus defender on its bench, Pittsburgh may opt to keep Pedro Florimon as a late-game defensive replacement in the infield. If that were to happen, Rodriguez would serve as the top backup outfielder.
Florimon drew the ire of fans last season, being booed at the plate in PNC Park in the midst of a year where he batted .087. While he would be the last option as a pinch hitter, he is a rangy-defender with speed. Florimon was mostly a defensive substitution and pinch runner in 2015, where he found some success.
He may be a near automatic out as a hitter, but he would be the Pirates’ best defensive option off the bench after Rodriguez.
Another option the Pirates could choose is former All-Star Matt Joyce.
Joyce, who was signed as a non-roster invitee on Feb. 20, has seen his offensive numbers slip every season since being named an All-Star in 2011, and his OPS fell to .564 in 2015. If he makes the roster, he’d likely be a left-handed platoon hitter, but not used much in the field.
The Pirates also have Jake Goebbert on the 40-man roster. He can play both first base and the outfield, and would give the Pirates another left-handed bat. However, he is already 28 and 2014 was his only year in the majors. He hit .218, and does not bring much speed or defensive upside, so he likely won’t make the roster unless a slew of injuries hit the Pirates.
Top prospect Alen Hanson is unlikely to make the initial roster, unless Jung Ho Kang has to begin the season on the disabled list. If that happens, Josh Harrison would start at third and Hanson would compete for the second base job.
Regardless of how the bench plays out, the players on it are likely to be on a short leash. With Hanson and fellow top prospect Josh Bell set to join the Pirates some time in 2015, it could push a couple players off the team all-together.
But that is a good thing for the Pirates. The pressure of having two top prospects ready to take over could bring the best out in the team’s first base and middle infield options.