INDIANAPOLIS - The Pittsburgh Pirates have strengthened their bullpen this offseason, which should mean good things for our hometown Indianapolis Indians. The Bucs signed closer Felipe Rivero to a four-year extension and acquired three relievers via trades. Now that full-team workouts are underway, the battle for openings in Pittsburgh's 'pen will ultimately leave the Tribe bullpen in good standing come Opening Day.
Kyle Crick: Acquired in the Andrew McCutchen trade in January, Crick makes his way to Bradenton after his first taste of big league experience with San Francisco in 2017. The right-hander has always boasted a power fastball but struggled with control, topping 60 walks four times in his career. With the Giants, he registered 17 in 32.1 innings. Most of his work last season came in Triple-A Sacramento, where the former first-round pick churned out three strikeouts for every walk and only allowed a single homer in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Left-handed batters in the minors recorded a measly .157 batting average against him last year, as well. With a 40-man roster spot already in hand, the former top-40 prospect in all of baseball aspires to make the Bucs' Opening Day roster.
Tyler Jones: Jones made 44 relief appearances for International League North Division champion Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. To begin 2018, he is a non-roster invitee to Pirates spring training. The former LSU Tiger surrendered an earned run in just over a fourth of his games, at one point putting together 12 straight appearances without allowing one. Jones also racked up 37 strikeouts with runners in scoring position. Mainly fulfilling the role of setup man, the 2015 Southern League All-Star tied a career high in wins (6) and set a new career high in innings since becoming a reliever (63.2).
Jack Leathersich: After declining a team option on southpaw Wade LeBlanc and Dan Runzler hitting free agency, Leathersich serves as much-needed left-handed depth in Bradenton. The 27-year-old lefty performed well in Triple-A Iowa last season, holding opposing hitters to a .167 average, striking out 72, and posting a 2.84 ERA. In his only appearance for the Cubs, however, he failed to make it a full inning by walking four and allowing two earned runs. When Pittsburgh picked him up in September, Leathersich redeemed himself to the tune of no runs and six strikeouts in six games, giving the club a reason to keep him on board going forward with a chance at making the big league roster.
Damien Magnifico: He pitched primarily for Triple-A Salt Lake a season ago, but he spent time with four organizations in 2017 after Pittsburgh added Magnifico in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft. The former organizational All-Star for Milwaukee took the mound 47 times last season, and most of his work in Salt Lake came as a closer. In 10 ninth-inning appearances, he allowed 14 hits and 10 earned runs. A four-time midseason minor league All-Star, Magnifico collected 18 saves for Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2016 and looks to regain form in spring training as a non-roster invitee.
Brett McKinney: The first homegrown name on this list, the Pirates selected McKinney in the 19th round of the 2013 draft. Since then, he has steadily climbed the minor league ladder, culminating in 40 appearances for Indy in 2017 and a non-roster invite to Bradenton this spring. Last year, the Ohio State product went 3-1 with a 3.47 ERA on the mound for the Tribe, notching a win in consecutive appearances in early May and walking multiple batters in just four outings. Pitching coach Stan Kyles called McKinney a "Swiss Army knife," able to get the job done in many situations. McKinney is again expected to be slotted into the platoon of short to middle relievers and throw plenty of innings for the Indians in 2018.
Dovydas Neverauskas: Last year was one of firsts for Neverauskas. In Pittsburgh, he became the first born-and-raised Lithuanian to appear in the majors. In Indy, he led the Tribe staff in saves (13) for the first time. One of four Indians pitchers with five or more save opportunities, the 25-year-old proved to be the most efficient as 22 of his 46 overall strikeouts came in the ninth inning. Compare that to his 21 walks all season, and it's no wonder he appears on the Pirates' 40-man roster. MLB.com scouts raved about his "effective" fastball-slider-cutter combo, and it contributed to a .176 opposing average when he faced runners on with two outs. Neverauskas received national exposure last season, but his ability to maintain it going forward could depend on earning a spot among Pittsburgh's Opening Day relievers come April.
Richard Rodriguez: Another impactful closer, the right-handed Dominican made relief appearances for both Triple-A Norfolk and Baltimore last season. Rodriguez converted 10 of his final 11 save opportunities in Norfolk and didn't allow a single run while pitching 14.2 innings in the ninth. When the Orioles called him up in September, though, he gave up nine earned runs in five appearances out of the bullpen. His Triple-A success is difficult to ignore, posting a 1.05 WHIP, 19 total earned runs and 80 strikeouts for the second time in his career. The 27-year-old fireballer now sits on the list of non-roster invites working out in Bradenton for the spring.
Edgar Santana: Santana made 19 appearances for Pittsburgh following a strong 2017 campaign with the Indians. His 2.79 ERA gave him the third-best mark on the team and the best among all relievers. Add that to 32 appearances without suffering an earned run and only 12 walks all season, and it's clear the right-hander has the control to become a regular at the MLB level. Fanning 20 batters in 18 innings last year was a good first step to reaching that goal, and the Pirates are giving the 26-year-old Dominican even more hope with his spot on the 40-man roster. He has major league potential, but Tribe fans would love to see Santana on the mound at Victory Field in 2018 to build on six saves at home, a 1.28 WHIP and just one appearance with multiple walks.
John Stilson: The final pitcher on Pittsburgh's non-roster invite list was signed to a minor league contract after electing free agency from Triple-A Buffalo. Stilson has played in three levels of Toronto's system since his surgery for a torn labrum in 2014. He was assigned to Double-A New Hampshire from Buffalo in May but returned to Triple-A within a month. The former Texas A&M Aggie won his only two games of the season in his return to Buffalo and didn't register a loss in July or August. In fact, three of his last seven starts resulted in either a win or a save. The big righty served up 51 total strikeouts to 22 walks in 2017. His experience in the International League could give Indy solid depth on the back end of its bullpen for 2018.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.