Thoughts on the Pirates’ NRI List

The Pirates yesterday released their list of non-roster spring training invitees, 26 in all.  It’s an interesting list, pretty different from past ones.  As a refresher, here it is:

Pitchers

Cody Bolton
Chase De Jong
Yerry De Los Santos
Jandel Gustave
Clay Holmes
James Marvel
Braeden Ogle
Quinn Priester
Shea Spitzbarth
Blake Weiman

Catchers

Jason Delay
Joe Hudson
Christian Kelley
Arden Pabst
Andrew Susac

Infielders

Ji-Hwan Bae
Will Craig
Wilmer Difo
Nick Gonzales
Kevin Kramer
Mason Martin
Liover Peguero

Outfielders

Cal Mitchell
Canaan Smith-Njigba
Troy Stokes, Jr.
Travis Swaggerty

The most interesting thing about the list is the guys who aren’t on it, specifically, the usual horde of veteran minor league free agents.  The only ones are De Jong, Gustave and Difo.  Well, and Susac and Hudson.  I’m reluctant to count catchers because the Pirates’ catching depth chart is just not a fun topic, so let’s agree to avoid it.  I guess you could count Spitzbarth, who was a minor league Rule 5 pick, and Stokes, who was a waiver claim and got Dragmired.  But that’s still not many.  I used to do a series of position-by-position “who are these guys” articles for another web site, covering all the players on minor league deals; each entry would have this many guys or more.

Of course, after I write all this the Pirates will probably sign a few free agents.  Signings seem to be happening very late this year for obvious reasons.  The Bucs certainly will have to come up with some rotation depth.  Right now it’s limited to the loser of the Cody Ponce/Wil Crowe fifth starter battle, plus Marvel and De Jong, and also Miguel Yajure, who’s on the 40-man roster.  The Pirates needed eight starters just for their 60-game pandemic season, so that’s a grim prospect.  Hopefully, Bolton will add to the depth soon.

The most interesting player on the list, to me, is Yerry De Los Santos.  With relievers, it’s often to tell for sure whether the team sees them as prospects.  As a refresher, De Los Santos signed way back in 2014, but missed most or all of 2016-18 due to Tommy John surgery.  The Pirates sent him to the South Atlantic League in 2019, and he had an 0.88 WHIP and 13.1 K/9.  He was passed over in the Rule 5 draft both in 2019 and 2020.  That plus the fact that “relief prospect” is a bit of an oxymoron left me wondering a bit whether I’d been too impressed with low A stats.  The fact that he’ll be in camp despite not having pitched above low A, though, probably indicates the Pirates think he has some upside.

Of course, there’ll be a bunch of other players in camp who haven’t advanced very far yet.  The most extreme is Priester, who has yet to pitch above the GCL beyond one game in the New York-Penn League.  Peguero hasn’t played in full season ball.  Bae and Smith-Njigba haven’t played above low A.  Ogle, Martin, Mitchell and Swaggerty have yet to play above high A.  And Gonzales, of course, hasn’t played a pro game yet.  I prefer to think that they’re going to be in camp at least partly because the front office wants to push them aggressively rather than going the “one-year-at-a-time” route.

It’s also good to see Weiman on the list.  I thought he’d be potential depth in 2020, but he wasn’t at the training facility in Altoona.  I’m still guessing he wasn’t healthy, so hopefully he is now.  Both he and Ogle could be options at some point in 2021, which would be nice because the team’s LHP situation isn’t much better than the catcher situation.

There’s also a contingent of erstwhile prospects who’ve lost their roster spots:  Holmes, Marvel, Craig and Kramer.  I’m still somewhat hopeful about Holmes, if he can stay healthy.

A quick refresher on the noobs:

De Jong is a finesse righty who had low K rates after he got to the upper minors.  He found himself in independent ball in 2019-20, but Houston picked him up for the shortened 2020 season.  He started throwing a lot more breaking balls and missing a lot more bats in a small number of innings with the Astros, but didn’t pitch well overall.

Gustave had Tommy John in 2018 and returned in 2019.  The Giants cut him at the start of the 2020 season and the Pirates signed him to a minor league deal running through 2021.  He didn’t pitch in 2020, but I don’t know why.  He throws in the upp-90s with some control problems.  He’s done well in about 40 major league innings.

Spitzbarth is a rare minor league Rule 5 pick who may have some upside.  He’s a righty who doesn’t throw hard but has a good change and has had very high K rates in the minors, pitching strictly as a reliever.  He’s had a very rough time in AAA.

Difo is a utility infielder who played in varying amounts for the Nationals every year from 2015-20.  He’s a solid defender and doesn’t hit much.

Stokes is an outfielder who hit for decent power in AA in 2017-18, but struggled in AAA in 2019.

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