Cruz, Monroe earn final two spots
Infielder makes first Opening Day slot; outfielder could play large role
BRADENTON, Fla. -- By the end of the day, the Pirates should have their bench completely filled out.
Infielder Luis Cruz was told Wednesday morning that he will assume one of the two remaining bench spots unless the team makes a waiver claim or other acquisition before the season opens on Monday. General manager Neal Huntington, however, confirmed that no such acquisition is imminent or expected.
"We like what we have," Huntington said. "We feel good about the options that we have internally really at every spot. Now we just need young guys to step up and capture their opportunities."
Cruz will be joined on the bench by outfielder Craig Monroe. Monroe has an escape clause, which he could have triggered to force his release on Wednesday if he hadn't made the team. However, the Pirates officially added Monroe late on Wednesday and opened up a roster spot by designating reliever Romulo Sanchez for assignment. The team now has 10 days to waive, release or trade Sanchez.
While Monroe and Cruz have earned spots, Wednesday marked the end for a group of others who had come to camp trying to win bench jobs. Andy Phillips, Garrett Jones and Jeff Salazar were all reassigned to Minor League camp on Wednesday and will begin the season at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Management's final decisions came down to versatility and need. Cruz has the ability to play anywhere across the infield and outfield. Phillips was seen as a front-runner for that utility infielder job until he went down with a lower back injury in March and missed three weeks. He has since returned to the field, but did not have enough time left this spring to show management what it needed to see.
Phillips could very well be in line for a callup shortly after the season starts now that he is healthy.
As for Cruz, this will be his first time on an Opening Day roster. He made his Major League debut as a September callup last year and impressed with his defensive abilities and versatility.
His grandmother died on Monday, leaving Cruz with a bit of a bittersweet reaction to the news.
"I'm not sure how to feel right now," Cruz said. "But I know she would be very happy for me."
It's been a tough spring offensively for Cruz, who has just eight singles in 42 at-bats. He will sit behind Ramon Vazquez on the bench and on the depth chart.
Monroe will give the Pirates the right-handed-hitting outfielder that they desperately needed. All four of the team's other outfielders are left-handed. It was largely because of this that Jones and Salazar, both of whom are left-handed, were seen as unlikely options for the Opening Day bench.
Heading into Wednesday's game, Monroe has a .270 average with six homers and 13 RBIs this spring. Four of those home runs came within a five at-bat span during the second week in March.
Monroe signed a Minor League deal with the club in January, hoping to resurrect his career after getting minimal playing time with Minnesota last season. With no other right-handed-hitting outfielders and looming questions about how Nyjer Morgan and Brandon Moss will handle everyday roles, Monroe could very well get significant playing time this year.
Both Salazar and Jones made substantial impressions this spring, too. After having been stuck in the Twins' farm system for years, Jones signed with the Pirates this offseason hoping to catch a roster break. He hit .294 with four homers, 11 RBIs and a team-high 17 runs scored this spring. He'll see time in right field and at first base in Triple-A.
Salazar finished with a .280 average in Grapefruit League play and drove in a team-best 15 runs. He, too, showed signs of being a capable Major League bench option and may get that opportunity midseason with the Pirates.
Catcher Eric Kratz was also reassigned to Minor League camp on Wednesday. Kratz was not in competition for a roster spot but had stayed with the club to serve as an additional backup catcher.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.