MLB Insiders: Pittsburgh Pirates

Garrett Atkins

It hardly could be said that the Pirates' bench was responsible for the club's 57-105 record in 2010, but it surely did not help: Consider that, among their most frequent contributors, Delwyn Young batted .236, Bobby Crosby .224, Andy LaRoche .206, Jeff Clement .201, Aki Iwamura .196, Ryan Church .182 and Jason Jaramillo .149.

Then consider that the Pirates' pitchers allowed the opponents' No. 9 hitter to bat .217.

The composition of the 2011 bench is getting clearer, with general manager Neal Huntington building a possible platoon in right field with Garrett Jones and newcomer Matt Diaz, as well as adding a slew of minor league tryout types -- though most have some major league experience -- to compete for backup duty.

The latest addition was third baseman Garrett Atkins, once a mainstay with Colorado.

The Pirates signed Atkins to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training, and general manager Neal Huntington told him he will be given a chance at a reserve corner infield job, backing up Pedro Alvarez and/or Lyle Overbay. Atkins, 31, batted .214 with one home run in 44 games for Baltimore last season before being released in July. But in seven seasons with the Rockies -- mostly under new Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle -- he batted .289 with a .354 on-base percentage.

Atkins' direct competition in the spring will come from Steve Pearce, another right-handed hitter with strong numbers against left-handed pitching. Two catches there: Pearce's only positions are first base and right field, which might hurt Pearce. And yet, Pearce is on the 40-man roster, which gives him a leg up.

Andy Marte and Josh Fields, other minor league signings, also will compete for reserve roles. They have significant major league experience. For the moment, prospect Pedro Ciriaco appears in line to back up Ronny Cedeno at shortstop, but Ciriaco has only a handful of at-bats in the majors, and that likely will change. Josh Rodriguez, the No. 1 pick in the recent Rule 5 draft, will challenge Ciriaco.

NOTES, QUOTES

--2B Corey Wimberly was acquired from Oakland for RHP Ryan Kelly in a minor trade. Wimberly, 27, batted .284 in his first full season of Class AAA and has stolen 50 or more bases three or more times in the minors. He will be invited to major league spring training and could compete for super-utility duty, having played most infield and outfield positions in his career, including shortstop.

--New manager Clint Hurdle said in early December that he hopes for more left-handed help, but the Pirates sent away their only southpaw. The Pirates claimed LHP Aaron Thompson, a minor league starter, off waivers from Washington and designated for assignment LHP Wil Ledezma, though there remains a chance Ledezma could be retained if no team claims him. Thompson, 23, went 4-13 with a 5.80 ERA in 26 Class AA starts, and he will remain in the minors.

--One left-handed reliever the Pirates are pursuing is free agent Brian Fuentes, as they have been identified as one of 11 teams to express interest.

--The Pirates continue to entertain offers for C/RF Ryan Doumit and LHP Paul Maholm, though discussions were quiet -- as they are all through baseball -- during the holidays. Especially because of all the options the Pirates have added for first base and right field, a Doumit trade seems highly likely.

--LF Quincy Latimore, one of the Pirates' top performers with high Class A Bradenton last season, is playing his winter ball in Australia and was batting .344 with a .385 on-base percentage, five home runs and 18 RBI in 23 games for Adelaide. Latimore, 22, is regarded highly by many in the front office despite a general lack of patience at the plate.

BY THE NUMBERS: .491 -- LF Jose Tabata's on-base percentage through 41 at-bats in Venezuelan winter ball. He is batting .317 with a home run.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I wouldn't say we're done. We're always trying to get better, and there's plenty of work ahead." -- GM Neal Huntington

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