Pittsburgh Pirates set to begin mini-camp

The Pittsburgh Pirates are set to get first a look at several key off-season acquisitions as mini-camp opens.

UPDATE: 10:07 AM – Rob Biertempfel reports Jung-ho Kang is in fact at Pirates voluntary mini-camp. He did some long toss before continuing with the rehab staff and working in the weight room. It’s an encouraging sign that Kang’s recovery is progressing following a leg injury he suffered on September 17, 2015 when Chicago’s Chris Coghlan slid into him at second base to break up a double play.

Given the weather system that dumped snow across the Northeast in time for the Monday morning commute, it may be hard to remember that spring is quickly approaching.

Today, the Pittsburgh Pirates will test the waters, as they begin the long road back to replicating the success they’ve had over the last three seasons. The Pirates are coming off of three consecutive seasons that resulted in the Pirates playing in the Wild Card game, despite winning 94, 88, and 98 games, respectively, in those years.

The five day voluntary mini-camp begins once again for the Pirates in Bradenton, FL. Invitations went out, and players flocked back to the Pirates City facilities. Rob Biertempfel reported that 33 lockers were set up, although lockers may be added or subtracted later. Gregory Polanco, Tony Watson, Josh Bell, and Reese McGuire are some of the early names mentioned to be attending the camp.

Pirates pitching prospects Trevor Williams and Jameson Taillon also took to Twitter to alert everyone of their plans for the week.

While mini-camp may not seem that significant, coaches have the opportunity to gauge the progress of off-season workout programs and make any adjustments or changes.  The camp also gives new Pirates John Jaso, Williams, Jon Niese, and Daniel Bard, among others, a chance to get acquainted with the facilities and staff before players from the entire organization return in a month.

New Pirates’ signee reliever Daniel Bard, 30, last pitched in the major leagues in 2013 for the Red Sox, before failed stints in 2014 with the Rangers and 2015 with the Cubs. The Red Sox attempted to convert Bard to a starter in 2012, and it failed miserably. He was outstanding in 2010, and his 2011 campaign was better than his 3.33 ERA would suggest. Bard joins an already crowded depth core for the bullpen, which we analyzed on Friday. If Bard wants any chance of remaining with the club, he will have to prove that he has fully recovered from the thoracic outlet surgery he underwent in 2014. Hopefully Ray Searage can resurrect the career of yet another reliever because Bard had an absolutely dominant slider and a flaming four-seamer once upon a time, both of which could make him an interesting acquisition to watch as spring training goes on.

Bard won’t be the only one with something to prove. Jameson Taillon will get his first chance of the season to show the coaches whether or not he’s still a viable candidate for the rotation sometime before the middle of the season. Taillon was set to make his MLB debut at some point in 2014 before having Tommy John surgery at the end of spring training. He returned strong in 2015 before suffering another setback with a hernia which required surgery to correct. Now two years removed, for the most part, from pitching competitively, he seeks to prove that he is still the same pitcher that was once the number two prospect in the organization. To any critics that doubt whether he will be back, Taillon said, “Because those two lost years, I was working with the best pitching coaches, away from the drawing board, getting to refine what I was weak at. I got to work out more and get on a better eating schedule. I think that ‘two lost years’ is kind of bogus, because I definitely got a lot better. I didn’t stall out by any means.”

Of course, just about every player has something to prove to justify their place on the team, either as a prospect or as one of the moves made this off-season that have fans questioning how serious General Manager Neil Huntington and owner Bob Nutting are about competing in 2016.

Regardless, the Pirates are back in Bradenton, and that means baseball is right around the corner.

Thank you for checking out Pirates Breakdown!  Please follow us on twitter and jump into the hot stove conversation with us!