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01/07/11 3:26 PM EST

In twist of fate, Clement trying to fit with Bucs

Once in position to claim first base, infielder falls on depth chart

PITTSBURGH -- Jeff Clement will report to Spring Training in Bradenton, Fla., next month as a non-roster invitee. And what a difference one year can make.

At this time last year, Clement was poised to continue his crash course as a first baseman during camp. He knew that if he could prove capable of playing the position, the spot would be his in Pittsburgh on Opening Day.

Clement did enough last February and March for the Pirates to give him the chance. That opportunity quickly slipped away, however, mostly due to a lack of offensive production. By June, Clement was down in Triple-A.

Clement returned to Pittsburgh later in the summer but never reclaimed his starting job. And now, it looks like he never will.

With all that the Pirates have done this offseason, Clement has only fallen further down the depth chart. His health -- he underwent left knee surgery -- isn't expected to be much of a concern during Spring Training, but it's hard to see where Clement could find a fit on this club given the Pirates' other first-base options.

"You don't want to ever say a player has missed it," general manager Neal Huntington said of Clement, who joined the organization as one of five players acquired from Seattle for Jack Wilson and Ian Snell in July 2009. "The potential is still there. We have seen the raw power. We still see the things that we liked when we acquired him as part of the five players that we got from Seattle. But there may be some things out of his control."

The first-base position briefly filled by Clement now belongs to Lyle Overbay. Garrett Jones and Steve Pearce are available to step in and play regularly, if needed. Pittsburgh has also signed a handful of corner infielders to Minor League deals -- the list includes Garrett Atkins, Andy Marte and Josh Fields -- and they all would seem likelier backup fits than Clement at this point.

It's unlikely, too, that Clement will shift back into his natural position as a catcher. With multiple knee surgeries now behind him, durability is a concern for the 27-year-old.

Ultimately, Clement will only resurrect a once-promising big league career if he shows that he can hit Major League pitching. With a sample size of 129 games, Clement has a .223 batting average. He has struck out 103 times in 363 at-bats.

"You hate giving up on young players, and especially when you still see the potential," Huntington said. "If for whatever reason the potential goes away, you kind of scratch your head, wonder where it went or if you misevaluated it."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.