Pirates prospects from trades attempt to show they belong

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Earlier this winter, Clint Robinson was on track for his third consecutive season at Class AAA Omaha.

Never mind the minor league first baseman's performance over the previous two years. Eric Hosmer, one of the game's most promising young hitters, stood in his way.

Robinson's trade to the Pirates opened the door to a new opportunity. He is one of several recent additions who will compete for a roster spot in spring training.

Right-handers Vin Mazzaro and Zach Stewart, left-hander Andrew Oliver and first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands fall into the same category.

While Mazzaro fights for a spot in the bullpen, Stewart, Oliver and Jeanmar Gomez, acquired Wednesday via trade, likely will serve as depth in Class AAA with an outside chance at making the rotation.

They could replace an injured starter or earn a spot if they pitch well in spring training and Jeff Locke or Kyle McPherson struggle.

Sands and Robinson will compete for a bench spot behind Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez.

Robinson, Stewart, Oliver and Sands have minor league options remaining, while Mazzaro and Gomez do not.

The Royals told Robinson they would do their best to trade him after designating him for assignment Nov. 20 along with Mazzaro.

"I had kind of run into an opportunity to start with a new organization because I was kind of stuck in Kansas City," said Robinson, who joined the Pirates along with Mazzaro from the Royals in late November.

In addition to being blocked by Hosmer from reaching the majors, Hosmer forced him to serve as the designated hitter when the two played at the same minor league level. Robinson followed a 2011 season that featured 23 home runs and a .326 average with 13 home runs, a .292 average and an .845 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 2012.

"Eric was in the big leagues, so I got to play a lot more first base last year, which was nice," Robinson, 27, said. "I felt the difference of playing a hundred and something games at first base instead of DH-ing for a year."

Mazzaro, 26, said manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage hope to use him out of the bullpen, but also told him to prepare as a starter.

"The last month of last year, I was in the bullpen," Mazzaro said. "That was the first time I was actually in the bullpen. I threw out of it almost every other day. I liked it."

When the Pirates acquired Mazzaro, general manager Neal Huntington said Mazzaro possessed the pitches necessary to work his way into a late-inning relief role. Once Mazzaro joined the Royals bullpen full time in September, he struck out four and walked seven in 112/3 innings.

Stewart, who came to the Pirates from the Boston Red Sox, joined his third organization in the past seven months. Last season, he bounced from the Chicago White Sox to the minor leagues in Charlotte, N.C., and Pawtucket, R.I., Boston and back to the minors in Pawtucket. Stewart said the youth of the Pirates made Pittsburgh an attractive destination.

"I saw last season they made a good, strong push in the middle of the year," Stewart said. "It was definitely a positive look for me to be coming over here."

He is familiar with the instructions to enter camp prepared to start, but also to remain open to a relief job.

"That's kind of how it was last year going into camp with Chicago," he said. "They ended up making me the long guy, which was good. I was happy with that."

Stewart, 26, and his wife recently built a house in Buckeye, Ariz., allowing him to throw outside year-round.

"I love it out there," he said. "You don't have to throw in a gym when it gets cold."

Oliver, 25, said he will stay in Florida after the conclusion of this week's minicamp to continue to rehabilitate a case of biceps tendinitis that slowed him last season.

He spent time on the disabled list in 2012 because of the injury, then pitched in relief once he returned.

Oliver walked at least 80 batters in each of the previous two minor league seasons.

"It's just kind of making adjustments," he said of the control problems. "I changed a couple things the year before. Just trying to feel comfortable with what I'm doing and trying to be more consistent with it."

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @BrinkPG.


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