The first full day of spring training in Bradenton, Fla., is a few days away, but Pirates manager John Russell already has some advice for his players: Better pack lots of focus and energy, because both will be required in large doses from start to finish.
"We don't want anybody to get too comfortable and complacent," Russell said. "We expect everybody to be in shape and ready to play. Obviously, there aren't games on Day One, but they have to be ready to go at the start."
Because the talent base throughout the organization is greater than it has been in years, Russell expects a more competitive and spirited training camp than in recent memory.
Catcher Ryan Doumit, right fielder Garrett Jones, second baseman Akinori Iwamura, third baseman Andy LaRoche, left fielder Lastings Milledge and center fielder Andrew McCutchen are firmly entrenched as starters. Ronny Cedeno and Jeff Clement are the lead candidates at shortstop and first base, respectively, but there will be competition at both positions.
The fifth starter in the rotation and the final spots in the bullpen also will be monitored closely in the weeks ahead.
"Ronny Cedeno did a nice job for us last season, but we also have Bobby Crosby, who is used to playing shortstop every day as well," Russell said. "Whether Jeff Clement is our first baseman or not, we have options. Garrett Jones, Steve Pearce and Brandon Moss have played there also. There are spots in the rotation and the bullpen that guys will compete for as well. We'll see how it shakes out."
The 25 players that open the regular season at PNC Park are likely to come from the group that will be at Pirate City next week. General manager Neal Huntington made several personnel moves this winter, but he did not expect another significant one in the near future.
A number of veteran free agents remain unsigned, a list that includes first baseman Hank Blalock, pitchers Braden Looper and Jarrod Washburn and outfielders Rocco Baldeli, Jonny Gomes and Jermaine Dye among others.
"As we head into spring training, we feel very good about the players that we have already," Russell said. "We feel confident that we have guys to fill the starter positions. We feel very good about our bench."
While Russell welcomed the increased number of options at his disposal, he conceded that they would make for more late nights than normal. He expected the discussions to be greater in number and more comprehensive in nature.
"We want to be careful about how we make our evaluations in spring training," Russell said. "As we progress through spring training, the coaches and I will talk daily. We'll meet with Neal a lot. We'll also take with the rest of the front office members. We want to make sure that the 25 players we take north are the bunch that give us the best chance to win."