BRADENTON, Fla. -- It was only a matter of time before the Pirates reassigned Jameson Taillon to their minor league camp, the better to put their No. 2 prospect on a regular schedule. He had plenty of time to impress a national audience as well as his employers before that happened.
The Pirates removed Taillon and 10 others from major league camp Monday, thinning the ranks to 51. They optioned right-handers Vic Black, Stolmy Pimentel, Hunter Strickland and Duke Welker, first baseman Clint Robinson and right fielder Jerry Sands to Class AAA Indianapolis. They also sent right-hander Erik Cordier, infielders Matt Hague and Anderson Hernandez and outfielder Darren Ford to the minor league camp.
The Pirates delayed their first round of cuts because of the World Baseball Classic and injuries, but felt the moves made room for competition in the major league camp while allowing those who won't make the active roster to play.
"The worst thing we can do as a front office is leave a guy in camp late, he's played nine innings once, he's gotten four at-bats once, he's gotten an at-bat there, he's gotten sporadic defense -- and then we run him out there for six straight days in [Class AAA], nine innings a pop," general manager Neal Huntington said. "It's just not fair."
Taillon, 21, pitched two official Grapefruit League innings and allowed one unearned run, but impressed while pitching for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. He allowed two runs, one earned, in four innings Sunday against the United States, walking one and striking out three against a United States lineup featuring Ryan Braun, David Wright and Joe Mauer.
"Unnerving leading up to [it], for a GM to watch a young pitcher with as high expectations and hopes that we have, to go pitch a make-or-break game for Team Canada against Team USA, but he handled himself well," Huntington said. "Showed the maturity, the poise, the stuff that's got us so enthusiastic about his future."
"I gave him a big hug after and told him I couldn't be prouder," said Chris Leroux, Taillon's teammate on the Canadian squad. "He just made everybody excited about what the future holds."
Sands, 25, was competing for bench spot as a first baseman or outfielder. The presence of Gaby Sanchez, Jose Tabata, Garrett Jones and Travis Snider made a roster spot for Sands unlikely. Snider and Tabata also are out of options. Sands had four hits in 22 at-bats this spring.
"There's very little doubt in our minds that [Sands] is going to help us at some point, probably this year, maybe sooner than later," Huntington said.
The Pirates believe Pimentel, 23, can be a starter and will allow him to do so, though he may start the season at Class AA Altoona instead. He allowed two runs, one earned, in 32/3 innings this spring.
"We're going to give him every shot in the world to show us that he can be a major league starting pitcher somewhere down the road," Huntington said.
Black, 24 allowed one run and walked two in four innings this spring. He struck out 85 in 60 innings at Altoona in 2012. Welker, 27, allowed one run in three innings this spring. He reached Indianapolis in 2012 and struck out 30 in 312/3 innings there.
"[They] showed that they were comfortable, poised, competitive, quality major league stuff," Huntington said. "Those are guys that we feel very comfortable can and will help us at some point this summer."
Hague, 27, will work at third base as well as first in Indianapolis. He had six hits in his past seven at-bats and hit .364 in 22 at-bats this spring.
"We told him, tough to send him out in the middle of the stretch that he's in," Huntington said. "We've got some other guys ahead of him in the competition and want to make sure he gets his at-bats."
Robinson, 28, also was stuck in the first-base fight, though the fact that he's left-handed means he could get a look this season. Robinson hit well the past two seasons in Class AAA Omaha while with the Kansas City Royals organization, hitting .292 with 13 home runs and a .393 on-base percentage in 2012. He and Hague likely will alternate at first base in Indianapolis, with Sands playing right field.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @BrinkPG. First Published March 14, 2013 4:00 AM