Cole in the majors? Not yet.


Late this morning, the Pirates announced they’d signed 1B/OF Brad Hawpe and C Lucas May to minor league deals with non-roster invites to spring training. Also, RHPs Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole got non-roster invitations. Since then, I’ve gotten more than a few queries via email and Twitter that essentially consist of some version of these two questions: 1. Does Cole have a chance to break camp with the big league club? 2. OMG, does Hawpe really have a chance to make the team?

First, Cole. And the answer is … NO. Cole, the top pick in 2011, threw a grand total of six innings last summer at Triple-A Indy. Every scout agrees Cole is close to being major league-ready, but he’s not that close. He’ll start the season at Indy and probably stay there until at least July. The hole in the rotation created by Francisco Liriano’s injury probably will be filled by Jeff Karstens (assuming he makes it though his physical and signs the contract). At the winter meetings last month, I asked GM Neal Huntington if Cole had even an outside short of wearing black and gold on Opening Day. Huntington’s response: “Gerrit just finished his first full professional season and we couldn’t be more pleased with his growth and his development. We’re going to do everything in our power to put him in a position to be successful. There are some guys who are flying through systems and being successful. There’s a lot of guys who have flown through systems and you wonder whatever happened to them. Gerrit’s an important piece of our future, so we’ve got to make sure we coordinate his development … not just because we’re a little bit uneasy about who’s in our rotation on Opening Day.”

Now, Hawpe. And the answer is … NO. Hawpe hasn’t worn a major league uniform since 2011. Last year, he appeared in 35 games for Double-A Frisco, then was released. He hasn’t played in more than 100 games in a season at any level since 2010. Hawpe and manager Clint Hurdle know each other from their days together with the Rockies. Signing Hawpe to a minor league deal is a low-cost, low-risk move by the Pirates — it gives Hawpe a chance to stay in shape, show what he’s got (or what he’s lost) and stay in the game a while longer. But the Pirates already have plenty of (perhaps even too many) 1B/RF candidates: Garret Jones, Travis Snider, Gaby Sanchez, Jerry Sands, Felix Pie, Darren Ford … yadda yadda.

»»» I think I should note that this will be Taillon’s first time in big league training camp. And before you ask … NO, he will not be with the Pirates on Opening Day. During minicamp, Taillon told me he’ll start the season at Double-A Altoona. But the fact he’s been asked to work out with the big boys shows he’s made great progress and should be in the majors sooner than later. As Tony Sanchez tweeted: “First one of many @JTallion19 Congrats my man #ST2013″

»»» Friday morning, the Pirate Parrot and some front office folk will visit East Catholic School in Forest Hills to gather donations of school uniforms and athletic clothing. Pirates Charities will transport the material to the Dominican Republic, where it will be given to needy school kids. When the Pirates opened a new, 46-acre baseball academy a couple of years ago in El Toro, D.R., the club began a relationship with several nearby schools.


Four file for arbitration


It was basically a formality Tuesday when Garrett Jones, Neil Walker, James McDonald and Gaby Sanchez were among 133 players who officially filed for salary arbitration. The four players and the Pirates will exchange salary figures Friday. Arby hearings, if necessary, will be held in February. The two sides can continue to negotiate a contract until a hearing is finalized. If it goes the full arbitration route, the arbiter must choose either the team’s salary request or the player’s; there is no compromise.

Here is what each player can expect to get via arbitration, as projected by Jones $4.4 million, McDonald $3 million, Walker $2.9 million and Sanchez $1.8 million.

Don’t be surprised if the club soon reaches agreements with all four guys. Last year, the Pirates came to terms and avoided arby hearings with seven of their eight eligible players. The exception was Jones, who lost his hearing and was awarded $2.25 million instead of the $2.5 million he wanted. Since the process began in 1974, the Pirates are 10-10 against players in arbitration hearings.

The Pirates went into this offseason with eight arbitration-eligible players. Jeff Karstens was non-tendered, which made him a free agent, and he is on the verge of re-signing for around $2.5 million. Charlie Morton quickly agreed to $2 million for 2013 and avoided arbitration. Chris Resop and Joel Hanrahan were traded. Morton has one year of arby eligibility left. Jones and McDonald have two years to go. Walker qualified for Super 2 status, and still has three years of arby remaining.

»»» Team USA’s provisional roster for the World Baseball Classic will be released at 10 p.m. Thursday during on MLB Network’s “Hot Stove” show. The network will reveal rosters for the other 15 teams at 4 p.m. As I wrote the other day, Jason Grilli (Italy) and Russ Martin (Canada) have agreed to play. Starling Marte (Dominican Republic) and Chris Leroux (Canada) also have been invited, but I haven’t gotten confirmation yet of their final decisions. I’d expect Leroux will play for Canada and Marte will opt to remain in spring training camp with the Pirates.


Leroux more likely for pen than rotation


BRADENTON, Fla. — Chris Leroux wants to get a crack at making the Pirates’ starting rotation, but most likely will go into the season as a long reliever and spot starter. “You remember Jeff Karstens?” pitching coach Ray Searage said, referring to the swingman who spent five seasons with the Pirates. “We’ve got that type of pitcher in Chris Leroux. We’ll see how things play out in spring training. Hopefully, he falls into the bullpen. Because if he’s in the rotation, something (bad) happened.”

Then again, perhaps something bad has happened. The Pirates hoped to sign free agent lefty Francisco Liriano as their No. 3 starter, but that deal is in limbo because Liriano seriously injured his non-throwing arm in late December. A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald already are locks for the rotation. “Whatever (role) the Pirates throw at me, I’m going to be ready for it,” Leroux said.

More about Leroux in Thursday’s Trib.


Injury puts Liriano deal on hold


BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates’ plans to sign free-agent left-hander Francisco Liriano are on hold after the pitcher injured his right (non-throwing) arm sometime around Christmas. Citing medical privacy laws, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington declined to reveal either the nature or extent of Liriano’s injury. “We continue to have dialogue with Francisco’s (agent), but there is nothing to announce at this time,” Huntington said.

On Dec. 21, the Pirates and Liriano were close to finalizing a two-year, $12.75 million contract. The deal was pending the completion of a physical exam. Liriano, 29, pitched last year for the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox. He has a fastball that touches 95 mph, but also has put up a plus-5.00 ERA and averaged five walks per nine innings each of the past two seasons.

The Pirates wanted Liriano to fill the No. 3 spot in their starting rotation, behind veterans A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez. Righty James McDonald, who was erratic last year, would have gone into the No. 4 slot, with one of two rookies – Kyle McPherson or Jeff Locke — in the final spot. Right-hander Charlie Morton is recovering from Tommy John surgery and isn’t expected back until mid-season at the earliest. Management would prefer to have top pitching prospect Gerrit Cole begin the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. If the club’s interest in Liriano continues to ebb, Huntington will look at other free-agent and trade options for starter candidates. “We’re always looking for ways to improve our club,” Huntington said. “But it there is not an acceptable upgrade out there, we’re ready to go forward with this group.”


McPherson healthy, eager to compete for job


BRADENTON, Fla. — The shoulder strain that forced right-hander Kyle McPherson to bolt early from winter ball likely will not cause him to be behind that the start of spring training. “Everything’s gone well (with rehab) so far, so I’ll be ready for spring,” McPherson told me this morning at minicamp. “I’m probably just a little bit behind (other pitchers) but I’m still in a good spot. We’ve got a good bit of time left before spring training, so I’ll be ready to go. I expect to be 100 percent by Day 1 (of spring training).” Pirates pitchers and catchers report to camp on Feb. 11 and begin workouts the next day.

The shoulder injury first flared up midway through spring training in 2012 and caused McPherson to miss the start of the regular season. He’d hoped to make up for some of that lost time by pitching in the Dominican Winter League. “I got down there and wound up straining the front part of my shoulder and it developed into a little bit of tendinitis,” McPherson said. “So we took the precautionary route and shut it down. I want to be prepared for this year because it’s a big year for me.”

McPherson and lefty Jeff Locke will go into camp as the two candidates for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation. Charlie Morton (elbow surgery) is out until mid-season and GM Neal Huntington already has said top pitching prospect Gerrit Cole will open the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. “I definitely have my mind set on taking that spot, just like Locke does,” McPherson said. “It will be up to (management) to decide. Charlie will be back soon, too. But, it’s mainly us two guys, me and Locke, going into spring training. It’s a big year and both of us will be ready.”

»»» It’s no great surprise, but Jameson Taillon told me this morning he’ll begin the season at Double-A Altoona. Last year, the righty went 6-8 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.168 WHIP at High-A Bradenton and 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA and 0.706 WHIP at Altoona. “It was an interesting year,” Taillon said. “I had a real good start in Bradenton, then kind of hit a wall for a bit. I learned a lot there about myself. Eventually, I got the callup to Double-A. It was only for a month or so, but it was really big for me to see how it is. I felt like I took a big step, on and off the field, as a professional player.”

»»» Updates 10:40 a.m.: C Michael McKenry checked into minicamp this morning, sporting a black goatee. “Something different,” he said, grinning. … Matt Hague took grounders at third base for the second day in a row. Hague made 16 appearances in the field, all at first base, in the majors last season. At Triple-A Indy, he played in 41 games at first and 50 at third. … 1B Gaby Sanchez made some  nice picks during the drawn-in infield drills. Sanchez looks thinner than he was at the end of last season and appears to be in great shape.

»»» Updates 11:40 a.m.: Jerry Sands put on a little bit of a show during batting practice on Clemente Field, mashing back-to-back shots onto the roof of the batting cages beyond the tall left field fence. Sands also made some nifty scoops at first base during fielding drills. … Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata were in Sands’ hitting group, the last one of the day, and each hit some long drives. Tabata ended the session with a shot that crashed onto the batting cage roof, then tossed his bat and smiled. … McCutchen and new hitting coach Jay Bell had a long, quiet conversation on the field before batting practice began.


My Hall of Fame ballot


bondsBRADENTON, Fla. — I was 7 years old when Roberto Clemente died and, as far as I can recall, I saw him play just once at Three Rivers Stadium. Honus Wagner, arguably the greatest Pirate of all time, ended his playing career nearly a half-century before I was born. So when people ask me who was the best Pirates player I ever saw, I reply it was Barry Bonds. I became engrossed in baseball in the mid-1980s and watched Bonds in action with the Pirates and San Francisco Giants dozens of times from his rookie season in 1986 until his final season in 2007. When he bolted from Pittsburgh as a free agent after the 1992 season, I already firmly believed Bonds was on a path toward the Hall of Fame.

I’ve been covering baseball for the Trib since 1994, but this is just my second year as a Hall of Fame voter. It was my first chance to vote for Bonds, to ratify what I had judged him to be more than two decades ago. I take the voting process very seriously. I evaluate candidates throughout the year by poring over stats, doing research on the Web and seeking input from former MLB players and execs as well as fellow reporters. And I consider more than just raw stats; the instructions from the Hall make it clear that a player’s character and respect for the game should be taken into account. By making the Baseball Writers Association its voters, the Hall has sort of made us caretakers of the game’s history and reputation. The results of this year’s voting will be announced at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

My ballot arrived in early December. I mulled the list of 37 candidates for another week before making my picks (each voter can choose up to 10). I selected six players: Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Lee Smith. I did not vote for Barry Bonds, the best Pirate — perhaps the best player — I ever saw.

I believe Bonds was a Hall of Fame talent in 1992. I also believe Bonds later enhanced his skills to monstrous proportions by stepping beyond the bounds of what is ethical. I believe he cheated the game. Bonds’ stats are famous, but the aura around him is infamous. He seems to care everything about the former and nothing about the latter, which is why I couldn’t bring myself to put a check next to his name on my ballot. Bonds still could get into the Hall someday — actually, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t happen. I’ll keep an open mind about him next year and every one after that until he is either elected for falls off the ballot. But, I also think a player getting inducted the first time he is on the ballot is a special thing. It’s a sort of ring of honor among an already elite group of men. Clemente deserved that. So did Wagner. Not Bonds.

OK, end of sermon. Here’s a bit more about the fellas I did vote for … Morris, Bagwell and Smith were on my ballot last year. Morris was the template for a successful pitcher in the ’80s. Smith sticks in my mind forever as a dominant closer, a guy no one (well, except Bonds) wanted to face with the game on the line. I saw Bagwell play when he was still in Double-A and even then his slugging was eye-opening. I bypassed Raines on my ballot last year and regretted it. He was one of the finest leadoff batters of all time, maybe the best ever in the National League. Biggio and Schilling are newcomers to the ballot. Biggio could flat-out play as a hitter, fielder, runner and leader. Schilling was durable, nasty on the mound and nails in big games.


De Jesus eager for another shot

A broken leg sidetracked Ivan De Jesus in 2009.
A broken leg sidetracked Ivan De Jesus in 2009.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Once the presumed second baseman of the future for the Dodgers, Ivan De Jesus now is eager for any opportunity he can get with the Pirates. “These last three or four years have been up and down,” De Jesus said Monday before the start of minicamp. “It’s not been easy. But this (past) year, I was feeling more confident. I’m going to be confident and be patient and, when the moment comes, I’ll be ready.”

A former second-round pick, De Jesus lost a shot to open the 2012 season with the Dodgers when he tore his oblique during spring training. It was the second time De Jesus was sidetracked by a preseason injury. He played in just four minor league games in 2009 after shattering his leg in a home plate collision during spring training.

Drafted as a shortstop, De Jesus was moved to second base after his leg healed. But he scuffled in brief stints with the Dodgers the past two seasons and was traded to the Red Sox in August. Almost exactly four months later, De Jesus was sent to the Pirates as part of the Joel Hanrahan trade. He has a chance to stick with the Pirates this year as a utility infielder. “I’ve moved around — third base, shortstop, second. There’s not any position I prefer,” he said. “The last three years, I’ve been playing more second base, so I’d say (I prefer) second. But, wherever they put me, I’ll try to do the job.”

In 48 games with the Dodgers and Red Sox, De Jesus batted .205 with a .500 OPS. Over eight seasons in the minors, he hit .298 with a .759 OPS. He’s not a base-stealer (just 21 thefts in the minors) nor a slugger, but he has sometimes shown patience at the plate and an ability to make contact. He doesn’t expect the Pirates to try to reconstruct his mechanics. “I don’t mess with my swing,” De Jesus said. “I know my swing and I know the type of hitter I am. I know I’m not going to hit for a lot of power, so I’ll stay with my gap-to-gap approach and try to get on base. I’ll let the big guys get the RBI.”


Minicamp under way


BRADENTON, Fla. — Good morning from Pirate City, where 36 (give or take) players are gathered for a week-long, voluntary minicamp. A handful of veterans – Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen, Charlie Morton, Jared Hughes, Clint Barmes, Michael McKenry and Alex Presley — are slated to attend, along with some non-roster invitees, guys on the 40-man roster and prospects Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole. (As of 8:30 this morning, McCutchen and McKenry were the only ones who had not yet arrived.) Manager Clint Hurdle also is on hand. Players will work out in the cages and on the fields from 9 a.m. to noon daily. There also are some informal get-to-know-you gatherings set: a golf outing this afternoon, a BCS game viewing party tonight, fishing on Tuesday and a USF hoops game Wednesday.

»»» Update 9:30 a.m. McCutchen has checked in and is taking hacks with the position players in the indoor batting cages.

»»» Morton has been rehabbing here since having Tommy John surgery last summer. He’s throwing long-toss — a progression from 60 to 90 to 120 feet, about 75 total throws per day — and last week started throwing on back-to-back days with an off day in between. Morton said he is on track to start throwing off the mound in late January or early February. Morton grinned when I asked if he expects to pitch in a major league game this summer? “Absolutely. One-hundred percent yes,” he said.

»»» Minicamp is especially valuable for newcomers such as Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus Jr., who arrived last month in the Joel Hanrahan trade. “The first thing I’ve got to do is learn my way around this building,” Sands said. De Jesus played winter ball in Puerto Rico, but his winter season came to an early end last week. DeJesus and his Manati teammates were suspended after refusing to play in a game because, they said, the team was behind on its salary payments. Ineligible for the playoffs, DeJesus instead came to Bradenton begin to fit in with his new mates. DeJesus won the Puerto Rican Winter League batting title with a .364 average.


Minor league managers set


The Pirates today promoted Carlos Garcia to manager of Double-A Altoona. Garcia, 45, spent the past two seasons as manager of High-A Bradenton. He was a Pirates infielder from 1990-96 and was an All-Star in 1994. Garcia replaces P.J. Forbes, who led the Curve to a winning record last season but left the organization in October after being offered a position in a lower level of the minors.

The Pirates also announced the rest of their minor league managers for 2013: Dean Treanor (Triple-A Indianapolis), Frank Kremblas (Bradenton), Michael Ryan (Low-A West Virginia), Dave Turgeon (short-season A Jamestown), Milver Reyes (Gulf Coast League Bradenton), Keoni De Renne (Dominican Summer League I) and Gera Alvarez (DSL II).

This will be Treanor’s third season at the helm in Indy. The Indians were 89-55 last season, which was the best regular-season record in all of Triple-A. Kremblas worked last year as a special assistant to minor league operations. Kremblas managed at Indy in 2009-10. Ryan, a native of Indiana, Pa., will make his debut as a manager. Turgeon last summer managed the New York-Penn League club in State College; the Pirates switched affiliates this offseason.