Pirates' Jordan Luplow shipped to minors; more decisions loom
BRADENTON, Fla. — Outfielder Jordan Luplow is gone, but that's only the beginning of the decisions facing Pirates general manager Neal Huntington.
Luplow was one of four players the Pirates said they trimmed from the major league roster Saturday.
Also sent to the minors were Jacob Stallings, the organization's No. 3 catcher behind Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz, and pitchers Tyler Jones and Richard Rodriguez. All four are expected to start the season in Indianapolis.
There will be more hopes shattered, possibly as soon as Sunday, as the Pirates consider whether to keep 13 pitchers and 12 position players or the opposite.
If they decide to play one position player short early in the season, reserve outfielder Bryce Brentz could lose the roster spot he had been expected to fill when he was acquired from the Boston Red Sox on Feb. 20 in a cash deal.
But the need for an additional arm and Jose Osuna's versatility — he can play first base, third base and the outfield — diminished Brentz's chance of going north with the team.
Even Osuna may have to start the season in Triple-A Indianapolis, with the Pirates possibly prepared to start the season with their eight starters and a bench of Adam Frazier, David Freese, Sean Rodriguez and Diaz.
The decision that impacted Luplow, Osuna and Brentz most was the Feb. 22 trade with the Tampa Bay Rays that immediately thrust Corey Dickerson into the starting lineup in left field.
"(Luplow) is in that tough spot that we like him so much that we want him to continue to play and continue to develop," Huntington said. "We told him we see him as a quality major league outfielder for years to come."
Last year, Luplow, who hit 23 home runs between Altoona and Indianapolis, was brought to Pittsburgh after only 160 plate appearances in Triple-A.
"That's quick for us," Huntington said. "We reminded him where he was a year ago, and that was in minor league camp. He came over (to LECOM Park), and (first-base coach) Kimera Bartee remembered the at-bat where he turned (Boston Red Sox ace) Chris Sale around and opened some eyes.
"A year later, to be one of the last send-outs out of major league camp, it's exciting to think about what the next steps are for him."
Elsewhere on the roster, the Pirates are mulling the fates of two relief pitchers: veteran left-hander Kevin Siegrist and right-hander Jordan Milbrath, a Rule 5 pickup from the Cleveland Indians.
Siegrist, who was signed to a minor league contract Feb. 24, pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2013-2016 before a forearm strain and spinal sprain forced his exit last year.
This spring, he has pitched an inning at a time (42⁄3 total), with only one walk. Two of his four outings were scoreless and hitless, and he'll get another shot Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I'm getting there, for sure," he said. "I feel healthy. That's the main thing."
Siegrist, 28, doesn't know if he'll go north with the Pirates, but he's approaching the final days of spring training with confidence.
"It's one thing that you'd like to know a little bit in advance, but I don't know how they're making their decisions," Siegrist said. "If I stay healthy, I know I can pitch in the league."
Huntington gave no indication of Siegrist's future.
"(We're) just working through how ready he's going to be on opening day to help the major league team," he said. "Or, is there some more time that he and we would benefit from, potentially in Triple-A, as he continues to build arm strength?
"The results have been solid. The fastball played a tick better (Friday) than it has so far. Obviously, he's not where he was velocity-wise even last year at this point in time."
Milbrath, 26, never has pitched above Double-A. If the Pirates decide not to put him on the major league roster, he must be offered back to the Indians. If the Indians decline, Milbrath must clear waivers before he could return to the Pirates.
"We like what we've seen, a couple tough outings," Huntington said, "but better these past couple of outings (two hits, one walk in three innings).
"You see the power sink. You see the velocity. You still see the inconsistency in the release point, which is to be expected for a guy coming out of Double-A."
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.