Pirates Plan Ahead For Bullpen

Several in the mix heading to spring training

PITTSBURGH—The Pirates plan to get an up-close look at their four most advanced pitching prospects this spring.

In addition to having righthander Bryan Morris and lefthander Jeff Locke in camp as members of the 40-man roster, the team invited lefthanders Rudy Owens and Justin Wilson as non-roster players, with the aim of having all four understand how close they are to pitching in Pittsburgh in 2011.

"Owens and Wilson fall within our general parameters of inviting guys we feel have a chance to reach the major league level that season," general manager Neal Huntington said.

That is saying something, considering all four pitchers are 23 and all were in Double-A last season as part of a strong rotation for Eastern League champion Altoona. Morris, Owens and Wilson are ticketed for promotions to Triple-A Indianapolis, and Locke is a possibility, too. That means all four, in theory, could be pushing the major leagues sooner than most had anticipated.

In the meantime, management is eager to have all four get to know new manager Clint Hurdle, pitching coach Ray Searage and the rest of the staff.

"Part of the reason for the invitation is familiarity," Huntington said. "The familiarity should be beneficial as the player advances and progresses toward the major league level."

Morris went 6-4, 4.25 for Altoona, moving to relief late in the season because his innings count was high; he finished with 134 innings. Locke went 3-2, 3.59 in 10 starts for the Curve after a midseason promotion. Owens went 12-6, 2.46 for the best ERA among Pittsburgh farmhands. And Wilson, the winning pitcher in the decisive game of the 2008 College World Series for Fresno State, went 11-8, 3.09 in 26 starts.

Although the Pirates have not stated intent to rush any of the four, there surely is urgency: Pittsburgh's starters last season won just 37 games, and the only notable additions to the rotation so far have been free-agent signings Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen, both of whom had ERAs higher than 5.00 last season.

Treasure Trove

• The Pirates are also considering lefthanders Daniel Moskos and Tony Watson and righthander Diego Moreno as possibilities to help the Pittsburgh bullpen in 2011.

• Righthander Sean Gallagher, who spent part of last season in the Pittsburgh bullpen, should open 2011 in the Indianapolis rotation.