Phil Gosselin making case for super-utility spot on Pirates roster
March 17, 2017 12:00 AM
Pirates second baseman Phil Gosselin tags out Tampa Bay's Corey Dickerson during a game March 9 in Port Charlotte, Fla.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Like most major league job-seekers, Phil Gosselin won’t be choosey.
When the Pirates acquired Gosselin from the Arizona Diamondbacks Feb. 10 for minor leaguer Frank Duncan, general manager Neal Huntington didn’t yet have many specifics to share with Gosselin about how the Pirates planned to deploy him. Gosselin recalled Huntington saying there was an opportunity for him in Pittsburgh, and he’d to get chance to compete for a job.
By now, it’s clear the Pirates expect Gosselin to do a little bit of everything. He has put himself into position to potentially secure a spot on the opening-day roster by providing a dependable right-handed bat off the bench and defensive versatility across the infield and in the corner outfield spots.
Between last season in Arizona and this spring training in Bradenton, Gosselin, the 28-year-old natural shortstop, has played every defensive position except pitcher, catcher and center field.
“Guys looking for jobs, guys who want to be in the big leagues, are real comfortable bouncing around,” manager Clint Hurdle said this week regarding Gosselin’s super-utility transition, adding the Pirates will “wait and see” about whether Gosselin is fully ready for the outfield.
Gosselin admitted it can be “a little tough” to find practice reps at every position, but he’s picked up pointers from utility men he has met along the way. His start in left field Wednesday was little help, since starter Jameson Taillon induced mostly ground-ball outs and Gosselin got no action in left.
“Maybe next time,” Gosselin said with a grin.
Gosselin created his own excitement that day. At bat in the fifth inning, he skied a fly ball to right-center field off the Baltimore Orioles’ Zach Stewart and saw it clear the wall for a grand slam. As Gosselin rounded the bases, broadcaster Steve Blass bellowed, “The Goose is loose!”
“The wind helped me out a little bit there, probably,” Gosselin said. “But I put a good swing on it.”
The “Goose” nickname isn’t new, he said, but it’s not a bad one either.
“I guess I’m used to it now,” he said.
In 501 major league plate appearances, Gosselin has a .283 batting average and .716 OPS. He isn’t known for his extra-base power. Last year, he had two home runs in 220 at-bats for Arizona. This spring, Gosselin is 13 for 37 (.351) with three doubles, a homer and nine RBIs.
The Pirates have a surplus of super-utility players in camp. Josh Harrison could reprise the role this season, but for now he’s penciled in the starting lineup. Adam Frazier is the primary reserve. Behind him are Gosselin, Alen Hanson, Max Moroff — former infielders who have picked up a number of new positions in recent years.
Under usual circumstances, Gosselin might be a lesser option than Hanson, despite having far more major league experience. The Pirates entered spring with one vacant spot on the bench. Gosselin has a minor-league option remaining, and Hanson has none. Hanson has been inconsistent both offensively and defensively in his professional career, but he is only 24, and he has blazing speed.
The current circumstances, however, are not typical. Until Jung Ho Kang is reinstated from the restricted list, the Pirates have an empty spot on their 25- and 40-man rosters. If David Freese is counted as the starting third baseman, two spots remain open alongside the incumbent bench players — backup catcher Chris Stewart, corner infielder/outfielder John Jaso and Frazier.
The Pirates don’t have a traditional fourth outfielder on the roster. Last year’s bonus outfielder, Matt Joyce, rode a strong 2016 season to a two-year free agent deal with the Oakland Athletics. The Pirates could add a non-roster invitee such as corner outfielder Jose Osuna or Joey Terdoslavich — they have the roster space until Kang returns — or they could use forgo the fourth outfielder and instead use two super-utility players, likely Gosselin and Hanson, to fill the final spots on the bench.
Opening-day decisions are due in 17 days. So far, Gosselin hasn’t hurt his case.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
Score: Red Sox 4, Pirates 3
Starter: Ivan Nova: 5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K.
Hitter: Jose Osuna: 2 for 3. 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB.
Of note: Barrett Barnes left the game in the second inning with right hamstring discomfort. He was injured while legging out an infield single and is listed as day to day.
News of the day
Nova was the first Pirates starter to throw five innings in a game this spring, and he made it look easy. Nova struck out five Red Sox hitters, walked none and threw 45 of his 65 pitches for strikes.
“It was a snapshot of what we saw the last couple months of the season,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Efficient would be the operative word.”
Nova has allowed one earned run in 10 innings over three starts this spring. Last week, he threw a simulated game in Bradenton rather than start and focused on attacking the zone.
“Obviously, whatever I did out there translated to today,” Nova said. “I feel really good.”
In the fifth inning Thursday, Nova threw Josh Rutledge back-to-back changeups for strikes and finished him off with a curveball in the dirt. When you’re fighting for a rotation spot, Nova said, you take fewer chances — you’re more focused on results than on developing plus pitches.
For Nova, no longer.
“Now,” Nova said, “[I’m] working on some stuff that will help in the season.”
Friday: vs. Orioles, 1:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton, Fla. TV: Root Sports.
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