09/10/08 7:44 PM ET
Bucs finalize offseason assignments
Morgan, Pearce among those set to participate in winter ball
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
Among those set to play in winter ball in Mexico are Steve Pearce, Nyjer Morgan, John Van Benschoten and Dave Davidson. Outfielder Chris Duffy is also tentatively slated to play there, though that assignment is not yet set in stone.
Both Pearce and Morgan will play in half of the 68-game winter ball season, each with differing developmental goals outlined by Kyle Stark, the Pirates' director of player development.
"In Nyjer's case, it's to try and get ready for next year," Stark said. "In Steve's case, it's trying to improve the consistency of his at-bats."
Stark added that Pearce will primarily play first base during the winter, a comment to which Pearce joked that he now needed to go dig up his old first baseman's glove. The reasoning behind putting Pearce back at his natural position is so that he can focus solely on his hitting, without dedicating too much energy to further work in the outfield.
For Van Benschoten, there are already indications that his future in Pittsburgh is hardly secure, making his growth during the Mexican League season influential in the upcoming decision management will have.
Van Benschoten has exhausted all his option years. As a result, if he is not put on the 25-man roster out of Spring Training next season, the former first-round Draft pick would have to clear waivers to be sent to Triple-A.
Van Benschoten moved from a starting role to a relief one during the final month of the Minor League season with the hope that a reduced role would make him more dominant. The results were disappointing: nine earned runs allowed on 14 hits and nine walks in 16 innings (nine appearances).
"It wasn't as promising as we would have liked," Stark said. "We were hoping for a little more in terms of stuff and we didn't see it."
Van Benschoten's velocity topped out only at 93 mph out of the 'pen, which wasn't even as high as he had reached at times as a starter earlier in the season.
Heading the Pirates' group playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic will be right-hander Jesse Chavez and catcher Ronny Paulino, both of whom were called up to the Major League club at the start of September.
Paulino will be returning to his normal winter ball routine after not participating in the league last season for the first time in his professional career. Chavez will pitch the entire two-month schedule for a team managed by Pirates bullpen coach Luis Dorante.
The Pirates currently have plans for seven players to participate in the near-two month Hawaiian Winter League. That list includes: infielder Jim Negrych, infielder Brian Friday, outfielder Miles Durham, lefty Kyle Bloom, right-hander Eric Krebs, righty Harrison Bishop and right-hander Moises Robles.
Going on simultaneously will be the annual Arizona Fall League. As was announced a few weeks back, the Pirates will be sending the following players to play on the Scottsdale, Ariz., club: RHP Jimmy Barthmaier, RHP Jared Hughes, RHP Jeff Sues, RHP Michael Crotta, catcher Steve Lerud and infielder Shelby Ford.
Those players will be joined by at least one more from the organization. The Pirates anticipate finalizing those last few participants in the next day or two.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.